By RFE RL
(RFE/RL) — Belarus’s KGB security service says it has identified a young man of non-Slavic appearance as a main suspect in the Minsk subway explosion that killed 12 people on April 11.
KGB chief Vadzim Zaytsau told reporters the suspect is “27 years old and well built” and “dressed in a brown coat and a woolen hat.”
Local media released a police composite sketch of the man drawn showing him unshaven and wearing a hat, but it was not immediately clear if he was suspected of being the perpetrator of the attack.
Zaytsau also said three individuals were in detention but the suspect whose picture has been released is still on the run.
A powerful bomb packed with metal fragments and with a force equivalent to 5 to 7 kilograms of TNT ripped through Minsk’s central Kastrychnitskaya (October Square) station on April 11 during the evening rush hour — a rare act of indiscriminate violence in the tightly controlled country.
The device was reportedly hidden under a platform bench and exploded as a train entered the station. Interior Minister Anatol Kulyashou said it had probably been detonated by remote control.
More than 200 victims remain hospitalized with injuries, 26 of them in serious condition.
Authorities have not elaborated on the possible perpetrators.
Although the bombing bore similarities to recent attacks in Russia, Belarus is not home to an Islamic insurgency and has not been involved in U.S.-led military operations in Iraq or Afghanistan.
Lukashenka: ‘Gift From Abroad’
President Alyaksandr Lukashenka, who has ruled Belarus with an iron fist since 1994, vowed to turn the country “inside-out” to hunt down the attackers.
“Men, you see the challenge is thrown down to us and we have to understand — it is a very serious challenge,” he told an emergency meeting late on April 11. “We have to give an adequate answer. And this answer has to be found.”
Lukashenka called the blast an attempt to destabilize the country. The Kastrychnitskaya station lies just 100 meters from his headquarters.
He linked the blast to a previous unsolved explosion at an open air concert in 2008 that wounded about 50 people, saying the two incidents could be “links in a single chain.”
Lukashenka, who has been isolated by the West over his authoritarian rule and his brutal crackdown on postelection protests in December, said the latest explosion could be “a gift from abroad.”
Condolences and messages of support nonetheless flowed from Western officials.
“I sent my condolences to the families of those who have lost loved ones or had injuries in what’s happened in Belarus and we are continuing to monitor that situation, too,” EU foreign-policy chief Catherine Ashton said today in Luxembourg.
The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) also extended its condolences. The organization was forced to shut down its office in Minsk after declaring that the December 19 election that authorities said gave Lukashenka a landslide victory was flawed.
In Belarus, some worry that Lukashenka will take advantage of the explosion to further tighten control on opposition forces.
Political analyst Yury Chavusau notes that the 2008 explosion, as well as a previous blast at a cafe in Vitebsk in 2005, “were accompanied by sweeping, massive arrests of opposition figures. So we can assume that the response to this terror attack and the investigation process will be similar: massive and irrational.”
Shock, Rumors Spread
The blast has sparked fears of further attacks.
“We are all in shock,” Minsk resident Natalya told Reuters. “Nobody imagined that it could happen in Minsk — anywhere else but not in Minsk.”
The subway has been reopened, but Olga, a student in the capital, said commuters are jittery.
“No one is safe from this. I was travelling by subway just now and I could see how nervous people were, they looking around all the time,” she said. “There were no sleepy faces around this morning. It really affected us.”
Security at stations and airports has been stepped up, and police today were carrying out spot checks on roads.
Rumors of two other bombings, one at another subway station and one at a bus terminal, quickly spread through Minsk today. The Emergency Situations Ministry, however, denied the rumors.
Meanwhile, shocked residents continued to stream to the site of explosion to lay flowers and light candles in memory of the dead.
Belarus will hold an official day of mourning on April 13.