Deadly Blast Hits Subway Station in Belarus
An explosion believed to have been caused by a bomb ripped through a subway station next to the office of Belarus’s authoritarian president on Monday evening, killing at least 12 people, wounding more than 100 and worsening an already tense political situation there.
No one immediately claimed responsibility for the explosion, in Minsk, the Belarus capital, but witnesses described being hit by a wave of shrapnel that they said was contained in a bomb. Several victims’ limbs were torn off by the force of the blast, paramedics said.
The president, Aleksandr G. Lukashenko, indicated that he believed the explosion was terrorism. Prosecutors said an inquiry was focusing on a bomb.
Investigators and witnesses said the blast occurred on a platform just as passengers were leaving a train in the Oktyabrskaya station about 6 p.m., at the height of the evening rush. The station, in the center of Minsk, is very close to major government offices, including Mr. Lukashenko’s, as well as to his official residence.
While Muslim separatists from southern Russia have carried out suicide bombings in Moscow’s subway system, including one last year, they have never done so in Minsk. Belarus, a former Soviet republic with a population of 10 million, does not have a Muslim insurgency, and Mr. Lukashenko, who has tightly controlled the country since 1994, has portrayed himself as a stabilizing force.
But Belarus has faced political turmoil since Mr. Lukashenko’s re-election in December, which was denounced by his rivals as rigged. When opposition parties conducted a major protest on election night, the security services responded with a far-reaching crackdown, sending the riot police to break it up violently and arresting hundreds of people.
Several presidential candidates were detained for weeks.
Dozens of opposition activists, including at least one presidential candidate, are still in custody and have been threatened with up to 15 years in prison for organizing the postelection rally. Mr. Lukashenko has accused the opposition of plotting a coup with aid from Western governments — charges European and American officials have called absurd.
The powerful security services, still called the K.G.B. in Belarus, a vestige of the Soviet era, had been on heightened alert before the blast because of the political strains. Journalists and opposition figures were still being detained and interrogated, rights groups said.
The opposition to Mr. Lukashenko was largely peaceful before and after the election, but there have been unexplained bombings in recent years. In 2008, a bomb exploded in a Minsk park, wounding dozens of people during an Independence Day festival. The authorities never determined a motive.
In the city of Vitebsk, near the northeastern Russian border, two blasts in 2005 left about four dozen wounded.
On Monday night, Mr. Lukashenko visited the Oktyabrskaya subway station and then had a meeting with top advisers. Mr. Lukashenko made it clear that he believed the explosion had been caused by a bomb, referring to the attackers as “ugly monsters.”
“I don’t exclude the possibility that this present was brought from the outside,” he said sarcastically in remarks broadcast on state television. “But we also should look at ourselves.”
Mr. Lukashenko then spoke directly to the leaders of the security services. “I want to tell you guys that this is a very serious challenge, and an adequate response is necessary,” he said. “I warned you that they would not give us a peaceful life. Who are they? I want you to answer this question without delay.”
Opposition politicians said they feared that Mr. Lukashenko would use the explosion to justify a new crackdown.
Anatoly V. Lebedko, who was arrested after the election protest in December and only recently released, said in a telephone interview that after previous bombings, the security services rounded up opposition figures, even though there was no evidence of their involvement.
“Because of this unfortunate explosion, human rights could possibly be limited,” Mr. Lebedko said. “At the very least, it will lead to further restrictions on the opposition and civil society. This can be expected.”
Witnesses reported that just after the explosion, smoke poured from the station’s exits as bodies were carried out on stretchers.
Aleksandr Vasiliyev, a local journalist at the scene, said by telephone from Minsk that witnesses told him that the explosion had been caused by a bomb that was packed with nuts, bolts and other shrapnel. The authorities would not immediately confirm that.
The explosion occurred in the station, not in a subway car, witnesses told Mr. Vasiliyev.
“Two dead bodies were brought out,” he said.
Police cordoned off subway entrances. Crowds gathered around the main entrance, he said, as passengers emerged bloody and crying.