Police were looking for a man and woman in a silver Lada on Monday in connection with the bomb blast that derailed the St. Petersburg-bound Nevsky Express train on Friday night, killing at least 26 people and injuring more than 90.
The attack - the deadliest Russia has seen in the last five years - included two blasts, but no one was harmed in the second, which coincided with visits from senior investigative officials.
Among those killed were Federal Reserve Agency chief Boris Yevstratikov and former senator Sergei Tarasov, chairman of the state company Avtodor.
A criminal investigation has been instigated under article 205 (terrorist attack). RIA Novosti quoted a source in the Novgorod law enforcement services as saying that police were looking for a man aged about 30 and a woman in a silver VAZ-2109. Earlier, police chief Rashid Nurgaliyev described one of the suspects as a stocky red-headed man about 40 years old.
The ultra-nationalist Combat 18 group claimed responsibility for the blast, Ekho Moskvy radio reported, but media reports also point to suspects connected to Chechen separatists.
The train, which was carrying 661 passengers and 21 crewmembers, left Moscow at 7 pm. The bomb exploded at about 9:40 pm under the locomotive of the train while it was traveling at about 200 kilometres an hour on the Aleshinka-Uglovka section of the railroad, near the northern border of the Tver region. According to police sources cited by the Kommersant daily, the bomb, estimated at about
7 kilogrammes in TNT equivalent, contained a mix of explosives that included ammonium nitrate, which was responsible for the flare that passengers on the train reported seeing. The bomb was buried under the right rail and was reportedly activated via a wire attached to the detonator, explosives experts cited by the paper said.
The second bomb, placed near an electric pole a few metres from the rail, went off at 2 pm on Saturday, just as Alexander Bastrykin, chief of the Investigative Committee of the Prosecutor General's Office, was touring the scene of the previous blast.
The blast had all the trappings of a previous attack on the same Nevsky Express on August 13, 2007, Kommersant reported. Then, 60 people were injured. Although extremist nationalists were initially suspected in the attack, two Ingush nationals, Maksharil Khidiyev and Salambek Dzakhiev, were arrested for bringing the explosives. They were said to have been acting on the orders of former military serviceman Pavel Kosolapov and Chechen militant warlord Doku Umarov, both of whom are subjects of an Interpol search.
Kosolapov was named as a possible suspect on Sunday, Kommersant reported, adding that he is also described as stocky and red-headed. But it had not yet been confirmed whether Umarov was linked to the latest blast, police sources said.
Incidentally, Khidiyev had insisted on his innocence in court until Nov. 26, the day before the latest blast, Gazeta.ru reported. That day, he admitted planting the explosives for the 2007 attack.
President Dmitry Medvedev held a meeting Saturday about the attack, while the government set up a commission dealing with the disaster.
Health Minister Tatyana Golikova announced Saturday that families of those killed would receive 300,000 roubles from the government, while those who were injured would receive between 50,000 and 100,000 roubles. Russian Railways has said it would pay victims' families up to 500,000 roubles.
RIA Novosti quoted Golikova as saying that six foreigners were injured in the wreck. An Italian citizen was hospitalised in a serious condition with multiple fractures, while the condition of a Belgian was deemed "satisfactory". There were no reports on the health of four other foreigners, an Azeri, two Ukrainians and one Belarusian.
A box with 1.5 kg of heroin was found in the car that suffered the most damage in the wreck, Gazeta.ru cited a source in Russian Railways as saying. The publication estimated that the box could be worth about 2.5 million roubles.
If confirmed to be a terror attack, Friday's blast is the deadliest since a spate of bombings in late summer 2004, including a metro blast and two downed airliners.