BISHKEK/ST PETERSBURG - The main suspect in a blast in a St Petersburg train carriage that killed 14 people and wounded 50 is a Russian citizen originally from mainly Muslim Kyrgyzstan, authorities there said yesterday.
The perpetrator had radical Islamist links, Russian media cited law enforcement officials as saying, raising the possibility the attack could have been inspired by Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), which has not struck a major city in Russia.
There has been no official confirmation or claim of responsibility. The Kyrgyz GKNB security service identified the suspect as Akbarzhon Jalilov, born in the city of Osh in 1995, but provided no other details.
The explosion in the middle of the afternoon on Monday occurred when the train was in a tunnel deep underground, amplifying the force of the blast.
The carriage door was blown off and witnesses described seeing injured passengers with bloodied and blackened bodies.
State investigative authorities said fragments of the body of the suspect had been found among the dead, indicating that he was a suicide bomber.
The National Anti-Terrorist Committee said yesterday that an explosive device had been found at another station, hidden in a fire extinguisher, but it had been defused. It was unclear who had placed that device and no arrests have been made.
Russia has been on alert against attacks in reprisal for its military intervention in Syria, where Moscow's forces have been supporting troops loyal to President Bashar al-Assad against Western-backed armed groups as well as the hardline ISIS, which grew out of the conflict.
ISIS, now under attack by all sides in Syria's multi-faceted war, has repeatedly threatened revenge and been linked to recent bombings elsewhere in Europe.
If it is confirmed that the metro bomber was linked to radical Islamists, it could provoke anger among some Russians at Moscow's decision to intervene in Syria, a year before an election which President Vladimir Putin is expected to win.
ACT OF TERRORISM
Officials said they were treating the blast as an act of terrorism, but there was no official confirmation of any link to Islamist radicals.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said it was cynical to say the bombing in St Petersburg was revenge for Russia's role in Syria. He said the attack showed that Moscow needed to press on with its fight against global terrorism.
Russian officials said they did not want to reveal the suspect's identity, but a picture started to emerge yesterday of the man named by Kyrgyz authorities.
A page on social media site VKontakte, the Russian equivalent of Facebook, belonging to someone with the same name and year of birth as Jalilov, included photos of him relaxing with friends in a bar, smoking from a shisha pipe. He was dressed in a jacket and a baseball cap, and showed no outward sign of any religious affiliation.
A Reuters reporter visited a house in Osh, southern Kyrgyzstan, which neighbours said was the family home of Jalilov. The home, a modest but well-maintained one-storey brick building, was empty.
Neighbours said Jalilov was from a family of ethnic Uzbeks, and that while they knew his parents, they had not seen the young man for years. They said his father worked as a panel-beater in a car repair shop.
Osh is part of the Fergana Valley, a fertile strip of land that straddles Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan which is mainly populated by ethnic Uzbeks. It has a tradition of Islamist radicalism and hundreds of people have set out from the area to join ISIS.
Two acquaintances of Jalilov's, contacted by Reuters via social media, said he moved to St Petersburg several years ago. One of the acquaintances said he had worked with Jalilov in a chain of sushi restaurants in the city between late 2012 and late 2013.
The second said he had seen Jalilov in the crowd at sambo matches in St Petersburg.
Jalilov has been registered at an apartment in the north of St Petersburg since 2011, according to a source in the Russian authorities, and he has a Daewoo Nexia car registered in his name.