A 22-year-old man who held Russian citizenship but came from the restive Central Asian republic of Kyrgyzstan was identified Tuesday as the bomber who set off a deadly blast that ripped through a St. Petersburg metro car.
The confirmation by Russian authorities followed reports from the state security service of Kyrgyzstan that identified Akbarzhon Dzhalilov as the suspect in Monday’s blast, which killed at least 14 people and left dozens injured in Russia’s second-largest city.
In previous reports, Russia’s powerful Investigative Committee had called the attack a suicide bombing and said it had identified Dzhalilov by analysis of genetic material found at the attack site. The agency did not say whether Dzhalilov had died in the bombing, however.
Officials in Kyrgyzstan said Dzhalilov came from the city of Osh, which has been the scene of bloody ethnic conflicts and the growth of Islamist militant movements since the Soviet Union began disintegrating three decades ago.
Russia’s Investigative Committee, which holds sweeping law enforcement powers, said Dzhalilov was identified from genetic material found at the site of the attack and on a second bomb that was defused by law enforcement. Dzhalilov was also seen on security cameras in the metro, investigators said.
According to both Kyrgyz and Russian media reports, Dzhalilov left Kyrgyzstan for St. Petersburg with his family in 2011, a year after fighting broke out between ethnic Uzbeks and ethnic Kyrgyz in the city where Dzhalilov’s father, who held Russian citizenship, worked at an auto body shop. Dzhalilov worked as a sushi chef in St. Petersburg and occasionally took martial arts courses at a local gym, Russian media reported.
Russian media reported that a page on a Russian social network was purportedly linked to Dzhalilov, but it was not clear whether he and the man who posted on the page, and who has a similar name and age, were the same person. Russian law enforcement did not release a photo of the suspect, and the Russian news agency Rosbalt said it had contacted the owner of the page, who denied he was the suicide bomber.
No group has claimed responsibility for the attack – which took place while Russian President Vladimir Putin was in St. Petersburg for talks with the leader of Belarus.
“Undoubtedly, the fact that the terrorist attack was committed while the head of state was in the city forces one to reflect,” Peskov told reporters.
In St. Petersburg, friends and loved ones of the victims gathered at city morgues on Tuesday, the first of three days of mourning. At Sennaya Ploshchad, a major subway interchange in downtown St. Petersburg, commuters walked by a mound of red roses and extinguished tea lights.
Police reported that the station itself, as well as nearby Dostoyevskaya station, were closed because of a new bomb threat.
Shortly after Monday’s attack, another explosive device was found at a nearby subway spot and disarmed.
The blast took place in one of St. Petersburg’s most celebrated, and tourist-visited, neighborhoods. The area around the Sennaya Ploshchad station was the setting of Fyodor Dostoevsky’s novel “Crime and Punishment.”
The explosion was the worst suspected terrorist attack in memory in Russia’s second-largest city, and the first attack on a subway in Russia in seven years.
The mood in the shaken city veered between grief, anger and confusion.
A ceremony for one victim, Dilbara Aliyeva, 21, was delayed when investigators from Moscow arrived to perform an autopsy on the body before it was to be sent back to her native Azerbaijan. Nearly 100 relatives, friends and classmates, some carrying her portrait, had gathered at the central Mariinsky hospital morgue before learning of the delay.
A teacher, Irina Berezovskaya, held back tears as she described Aliyeva as a quiet psychology student who was close to her family and loved to cook traditional Azeri dishes.
“She was always bright. She was fascinated by what motivated people and was so good at figuring them out. She was writing her dissertation on motivation and sport; her brother is a professional soccer player,” said Berezovskaya, who wore a black scarf over her hair. “It was her brother who finally told my students, ‘We lost Dilbara.’ I looked on the list of those who died and saw someone born in 1996. I had seen her just hours earlier.”
Some government opponents expressed concern Monday that the Kremlin might use the attack as an excuse to curtail a nascent opposition movement that brought tens of thousands of people into the streets eight days earlier to protest official corruption.
In fact, Putin reminded Russians last week that what started as street protests calling for reforms in Ukraine and the Arab Spring countries degenerated into violence and bloodshed.
Shortly after news of the explosion broke, Putin, who was in his home town for a meeting with Belarusan President Alexander Lukashenko, expressed condolences to the victims’ families in televised remarks. Later on Monday, Putin placed a bouquet of roses at the subway station where the train came to a halt after the blast.
Russian authorities credit the driver, who kept the train moving until it reached the Tekhnologichesky Institut station, with saving the lives of passengers who otherwise might have been trapped.
Islamist militants from the North Caucasus have been blamed in more than a dozen major terrorist attacks in Russia since the country fought two civil wars in Chechnya. Russia still faces a simmering insurgency in neighboring Dagestan province. In March, six Russian soldiers and six militants were killed in a shootout in Chechnya.
But the post-Soviet republics of Central Asia have also been a source of Islamist fighters. Osh, the home town of the suspect, Dzhalilov, was the site of bloody fighting between ethnic Kyrgyz and Uzbeks in 2010. The city is located in the Ferghana Valley, an area shared by three former Soviet republics that is known as a breeding ground for extremism in Central Asia. The security agency said it was checking when Dzhalilov left Kyrgyzstan.
Moscow’s military involvement in Syria, which included heavy aerial bombardments of areas controlled by forces rebelling against that country’s president, Bashar Assad, has also made Russia a target of the Islamic State extremist group. Russian officials have concluded that a terrorist attack was to blame for an October 2015 midair explosion aboard a Russian jetliner over Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula that killed all 224 passengers and crew.
In Washington on Monday, President Trump called the St. Petersburg incident a “terrible thing.” Trump “offered the full support of the United States Government in responding to the attack and bringing those responsible to justice,” the White House said in a statement. “Both President Trump and President Putin agreed that terrorism must be decisively and quickly defeated.”
In Moscow on Tuesday, riot police with bomb-sniffing dogs patrolled outside Kievskaya Metro station, the interchange for three subway lines. Police and security guards stepped up their vigilance at the metal detectors at the entrances to the subway, hotels and shopping malls.
(c) 2017, The Washington Post · Andrew Roth, David Filipov