Russian authorities are hunting for two people suspected of organising and carrying out a bomb blast on a St Petersburg metro train, which killed 11 people and wounded dozens more, and leaving a second explosive device at a metro station.
The explosion occurred around 2.30pm local time after the train had left Sennaya Ploshchad station in the centre of St Petersburg. The driver made the decision to continue to the next station, Tekhnologicheskii Institut, to make evacuation easier.
The explosive device had been left inside the carriage, according to law enforcement sources. Those on the train spoke of a blast that was mainly felt in the carriage where it occurred.
“I don’t think it was that loud, but then I was wearing headphones,” said Andrei Shurshev, who was in the next carriage along. He said there were some sparks and dust in his carriage, and a smell of smoke.
“We went to the end of the carriage and got out at the station. In the next carriage there were no lights, and a lot of smoke. People were smashing the windows to get out. I saw a metro employee pulling out an injured person.”
The metro was still working, so he got on a train on another line and continued his journey. Trains continued pulling into the affected platform in the other direction.
“We went past Tekhnologicheskii Institut, and I could see people lying on the platform and smoke,” a passenger named Oleg said. “When the train stopped, people got out, but then the doors quickly closed and the train carried on to the next station.”
In the hours after the blast, Russia’s anti-terror agency said a second bomb had been found and defused at Ploshchad Vosstaniya, another metro station in the centre of the city.
Authorities confirmed the second bomb would have been several times more powerful than the first, and was reportedly disguised as a fire extinguisher that had been rigged with shrapnel.
Ten people were confirmed killed, and St Petersburg authorities said 43 were being treated in hospital.
The blast occurred while Russian president Vladimir Putin was in St Petersburg – his home town. Opening a meeting with Belarus president, Alexander Lukashenko, Putin expressed his condolences to families of the victims.
He said it was “too early to say” what caused the blast but that it could be “criminal or terrorist”.
Shortly after, Russia’s investigative committee said it was working on the basis that the blast was a terrorist act, although other possibilities were also being explored. Authorities were searching for two people, one who left the bomb on the train which exploded, and one who left the unexploded bomb at Ploshchad Vosstaniya.
Some Russian media released a photograph of a man they said was one of the suspects, with a long black beard and wearing a black skullcap and all-black outfit.
British foreign secretary Boris Johnson said he was horrified by the news. US president Donald Trump, at a White House event, said: “Happening all over the world, absolutely a terrible thing,” when asked about the attacks.
There have been no claims of responsibility for the attack, and the internet was awash with various conspiracy theories. Most analysts suggested the most likely culprits would be Islamist insurgents, possibly linked to Islamic State.
For many years, Russia suffered frequent terror attacks from Islamist groups based in the North Caucasus, including blasts on the Moscow metro in 2010. Since a suicide bomber struck at a Moscow airport in January 2011, attacks have largely been confined to the North Caucasus.
Since Russia entered the war in Syria in September 2015, a number of Islamic State propaganda outlets have said the country would be a target. In October 2015, a plane travelling from Sharm el-Sheikh in Egypt to St Petersburg crashed, apparently after an explosive device was detonated on board. Isis claimed responsibility.
St Petersburg’s subway system carries 2 million passengers a day and is busy most of the time. The system was closed after the blast, and a number of streets shut off, as medical helicopters landed at the scene. By evening, several metro lines had reopened.