Poison, Explosives Found Before World Leaders’ Visit, Russia Says
Authorities have recovered a cache of poisons and a truck loaded with explosives they believe were intended for use in terrorist attacks during a visit here next week by President Bush and more than 50 other world leaders, police said Thursday.
Maj. Gen. Ilya Shabalkin, spokesman for Russia’s regional counter-terrorism headquarters in the North Caucasus, said the amount of liquid cyanide and another still-unidentified poison recovered during a law enforcement operation this week near the Chechen border was sufficient to kill 3,000 to 4,000 people.
“The use of these strong-acting poisons in small doses in highly populated areas, key installations and in reservoirs could have caused large numbers of victims,” the Federal Security Service said.
Authorities also said they seized a large truck Thursday near Grozny, the capital of the Chechen republic, that was filled with about 2,600 pounds of explosives. Two people were detained.
In a separate incident, police attempted to arrest two women identified by an informant as potential suicide bombers who were blockaded in an abandoned house in Chechnya. The women blew themselves up during the operation, authorities said.
Shabalkin said police discovered the poison after receiving information that militants were planning “a series of terrorist acts in Chechnya and in other cities and towns of Russia, using highly poisonous substances.”
Acting on the tip, officers “discovered a hidden cache which contained a serious amount of highly dangerous poisons,” he said in a telephone interview.
There was no independent confirmation of the various announcements, although the counter-terrorism office released photographs of glass vials and a large truck covered with blue canvas.
On Monday, Bush and the other leaders will join about 8,000 guests in Moscow’s Red Square for celebrations marking the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II in Europe. Russia has massed 30,000 police and Interior Ministry troops in the capital and plans to cut off most vehicle and subway traffic in the city center the day of the parade.
Russian air force officials said this week that the U.S. had been flying additional U-2 reconnaissance missions over the Caucasus region in preparation for Bush’s visit to Moscow on Sunday and Monday and to Georgia, which borders Chechnya, on Tuesday.
Major attacks by Chechen militants, who are seeking the republic’s independence from Russia, have twice marred May 9 celebrations. Most recently, Chechen President Akhmad Kadyrov and six others were killed in a bombing at a Grozny sports stadium last year.
“There is not even a shadow of a doubt that terrorists will attempt to stage large-scale acts of terror somewhere in Russia during the upcoming festivities, including in Moscow itself,” said Viktor Alksnis, a member of parliament and a reserve colonel in the Federal Security Service.
“If the terrorists succeed, their success will demonstrate to the whole international community that the Russian leadership is powerless to fight terrorism and is unable to ensure the ... physical safety of its own citizens and foreign VIP guests even on such a highly important national holiday,” Alksnis said.
Andrei Kortunov, president of the New Eurasia Foundation in Moscow, said the focus on security in the capital left other regions of Russia more vulnerable to attack.
“As for the current declarations on the part of the security services that they already prevented some terrorist acts, it is hard to say how much of this information corresponds to reality and how much of it is intended to demonstrate how reliable, watchful and vigilant they are,” he said.
Shabalkin said he could not reveal where the poison cache was found, except that it was near Chechnya’s border with the neighboring Russian republic of Ingushetia.
Times staff writer Sergei L. Loiko and Alexei V. Kuznetsov of The Times’ Moscow Bureau contributed to this report.