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Putin: Airport Attack Retribution 'Inevitable'

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MOSCOW AIRPORT EXPLOSION
AP

MOSCOW — Prime Minister Vladimir Putin vowed revenge Tuesday for the suicide bombing that killed 35 people at a Moscow airport – a familiar tough-on-terrorism stance that has underpinned his power but also led to a rising number of deadly attacks in Russia.

Lax security also was blamed for Monday's explosion in the international arrivals area of Domodedovo Airport that also injured 180 people, with President Dmitry Medvedev criticizing police and managers at the airport, the largest of three that serve the capital.

NTV television showed a photograph of what it said was the detached head of the suspected bomber. Investigators have said that DNA testing will be necessary before the man, who appears to be in his 30s, can be identified.

A two-second video of the blast itself, broadcast on state television and said to be from a closed-circuit TV camera, showed a burst of flames and passengers falling and fleeing as smoke filled the hall.

No one has claimed responsibility for the attack, but suspicion has fallen on Islamist separatists from Chechnya or elsewhere in the restive Caucasus region who have been battling Russian authority for over 15 years.

Chechen insurgents have claimed responsibility for an array of attacks, including a double suicide bombing on Moscow's subway system last year that killed 40 people. They also have used Domodedovo Airport before, with two suicide bombers slipping through its security in 2004 to kill 90 people aboard flights that took off from there.

Putin rose to power in 2000 on a now-famous vow that Chechen rebels would be hunted down and killed "in the outhouse." But despite a second devastating war that brought Chechnya back under Moscow's control and sanctioning the violent rule of his chosen Chechen leader, Putin has been unable to wipe out the Islamic insurgency that has spread across much of the Caucasus.

A brutal crackdown on the insurgency has produced a backlash that has led to almost daily attacks on police and security forces in the Caucasus and brought the terror to Moscow.

Muscovites have also seen a sharp rise in ethnic tensions between Slavic Russians and Muslims from the Caucasus, many of whom come to the capital in search of work.

In an effort to address the poverty and high unemployment that feed the insurgency, the government has made ambitious plans to promote economic development in the Caucasus, including the building of five ski resorts across the mountainous region.

Putin said last week the government would allocate 60 billion rubles ($2 billion) this year toward the construction, but the bulk of the $15 billion needed is to come from private investors.

Medvedev has been given the task of attracting badly needed foreign investment to Russia, a mission he will take Wednesday to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, where he is to be the main speaker at the opening session.

The airport bombing undermined his mission and delayed his departure for a day. Instead of schmoozing with CEOs of major global corporations, Medvedev on Tuesday gave a tough speech to officials at the Federal Security Service, the main KGB successor. He suggested that some of them could have been at fault and told them to do everything possible to find those responsible.

"The nest of these bandits, however they are called, should be eliminated," he said.

Medvedev also blamed the transport police, ordering the interior minister to identify officials who should be dismissed or face other sanctions. Airport officials also did not escape blame.

"What happened shows that obviously there were violations in guaranteeing security. And it should be answered for by those who make decisions there and by the management of the airport," he said.

Medvedev demanded robust checks of passengers and baggage at all major transportation hubs. "This will make it longer for passengers, but it's the only way," he said.

Putin was stern in addressing the Cabinet, vowing that "this crime will be solved and revenge is inevitable."

He did not elaborate and it was unclear what new actions he could take.

Following past major attacks, Putin has used the threat of terrorism as a pretext to consolidate his control and justify new curbs on democracy and civil rights.

After a group of Chechen-led militants seized a school in the southern city of Beslan in a 2004 siege that killed more than 330 people, half of them children, Putin pushed through changes to make regional governors appointed rather than elected.

In 2003, critical TV coverage of a special forces operation to storm a Moscow theater where Chechen militants held 800 hostages led to a Kremlin takeover of all national television networks. The storming resulted in the deaths of 129 hostages, mostly from effects of a narcotic gas that the special forces used to subdue the attackers.

During Putin's eight years as president, the government also pushed through anti-terrorism and anti-extremism legislation that bolstered the already sweeping powers of the police and security services, giving them extra tools to stifle opposition and put pressure on news outlets.

With the March 2012 presidential election approaching, the newly heightened importance of security may strengthen the position of Putin and the security forces that form an important part of his base. Putin and Medvedev, still submissive to his mentor, have said they will decide which one of them will run.

Both leaders took time out Tuesday to visit some of 117 people hospitalized with injuries from the attack.

President Barack Obama called Medvedev to express his condolences.

The Emergencies Ministry said the dead included one person each from Britain, Germany, Austria, Ukraine, Tajikistan. Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan; 16 were Russians and the remaining 12 had not been identified. Nine foreigners were hospitalized.

The attack called into question Russia's ability to safely host major international events like the 2014 Winter Olympics and the 2018 World Cup.

Still, the International Olympic Committee said it has "no doubt" that Russia will deliver a safe Winter Games in Sochi, even though the Black Sea resort is relatively close to the volatile Caucasus region.

Many athletes, officials and visitors traveling to Sochi will need to take connecting flights in Moscow.

Built in 1964, Domodedovo is located 26 miles (42 kilometers) southeast of Moscow and handled more than 22 million people last year.

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Associated Press writers Jim Heintz and Vladimir Isachenkov contributed to this report.

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