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13 April 2024

Saint Petersburg tourists undeterred after metro attack

By Agencies

Dutch tourist Nina Bollen counted off the string of attacks that have hit Western capitals as she stood in the courtyard of the world famous Hermitage museum in Saint Petersburg.

"Paris, London, Berlin," the student told AFP.

"Terrorists strike everywhere. There's no such place with zero risks. But we can't just all stay in our own countries. People will go on."

Now Russia's second city is reeling after a bombing on the metro system left 14 people dead and dozens injured.

The attack - believed to have been carried out by a 22-year-old Russian national originally from Kyrgyzstan - rocked the former capital just over two months before it hosts the opening game and final of the Confederations Cup football tournament.

The city is a major tourist destination for visitors from around the globe who flock to take in its imperial splendour, grand palaces and glimmering canals.

On the vast Dvortsovaya square Chinese tourists stopped to pose alongside lookalikes of historical Russian rulers Catherine the Great and Peter the Great.

Officials said that they had stepped up security around key locations such as the Hermitage Museum and the metro in response to the attack but visitors insisted life appeared to be continuing as normal.

For Lisa and Frederic, two French tourists, Monday's bombing largely went unnoticed as they spent the day taking in the sights.

"We saw flowers and candles but there were no large gatherings as there had been in Paris" following the November 2015 attack, Frederic said.

"We barely see a difference now."

On Nevsky Prospekt, the city's main thoroughfare, tourists windowshopped and browsed kiosks selling traditional Russian nesting dolls.

- 'Come here' -The local authorities have been quick to try to reassure visitors as they try to ward off any damage to the vital tourism industry that saw some 2.8 million foreign visitors  flock to the city in 2016.

"I can say that just as everyone still goes to Paris and London that they should come here too," said governor Georgy Poltavchenko.

"We live in a world where there is this evil - terrorism, but our task is to provide security for people to enjoy themselves peacefully and I am sure we can do that."

Tour operators said it was still too early to fully gauge the impact of the attack but insisted that there had been no signs of any major cancellations.

"There could be some, but demand remains very high," said Irina Tyorina, a spokeswoman for Russia's tour industry union.

"For summer all hotel rooms are booked up and that is the time when foreign tourists mainly come."

Industry experts from other cities such as Paris and Berlin that have seen recent attacks agreed that while there might be some slowdown in the short term there was unlikely to be any lasting damage.

And for the tourists in Saint Petersburg at the time of the attack there seemed little doubt that the magnificent city would continue to attract people from all around the world.

"Terrorism can be everywhere," said American Nick Hewitt, 33, as he looked out over the grand Neva river

"We're not just going to stop living our lives, stop travelling. It needs to be business as usual."

Saint Petersburg metro driver hailed as hero after blast

Alexander Kaverin, the driver of the Saint Petersburg metro train hit by a deadly explosion, has become an unlikely hero in a tragedy that has claimed 14 lives and injured dozens.

The 50-year-old Russian appeared stunned in the spotlight of state television, describing how he had driven the train through to the next station despite smoke from a blast in one of its carriages.

"I followed the instructions," Kaverin said. "We have already had explosions and smart people developed smart instructions." "At that moment there was no time to be afraid, it was time to work," he added.

Kaverin said he had learned that in such situations, he needed to drive the train all the way to the next station.

Russian investigators on Monday said Kaverin had made the "right decision" by not stopping the train between two stations, which enabled quick evacuation of injured passengers.

The head of Saint Petersburg's metro, Vladimir Garyugin, said that Kaverin had been a "hero." "In emergency situations people become heroes," Garyugin said of the driver. "It would have complicated to carry people out" of the tunnel, he added.

Kaverin, who has worked at the Saint Petersburg metro for 15 years, will be rewarded for his actions, along with another unnamed employee who discovered a second bomb and called in experts to defuse it, said Garegin.

Kaverin, a father of two young children, said that he called his family to say he was alright as soon as he had the chance but was not able to return home on Monday night because of a mob of reporters waiting for him on his doorstep.

"It was a difficult day yesterday," Kaverin said.

Garyugin said that half an hour before the blast, another metro employee had notified authorities of the presence of an abandoned bag at another station, Vosstaniya Square, which was quickly evacuated.

He "quickly cordoned off the area and called in experts," thwarting another attack, Garyugin said.

'No hysteria'

Garyugin praised passengers for having remained calm and assisting one another during the evacuation.

"Both metro staff and passengers helped out one another," he said. "There were groans but there was no hysteria." Saint Petersburg residents have also reported being offered free rides by willing drivers Monday night and the city's ground transportation was free for commuters.

The Saint Petersburg metro has since reopened, with authorities stepping up security on the city's busy underground transport system.

Russian investigators have launched a probe into an "act of terror" and said Tuesday that they believe they found remains of a suicide bomber inside one of the carriages.

Kyrgyzstan security services said Tuesday the attack was staged by a "suicide bomber" named Akbarjon Djalilov, a naturalised Russian citizen born in southern Kyrgyzstan in 1995.

Russian authorities have not commented on the alleged bomber's identity and it was not clear whether he counted among the 14 dead.

Death toll rises to 14 in Saint Petersburg metro blast

Fourteen people have died as a result of a blast that ripped through a train carriage on the Saint Petersburg metro, Russia's health minister said Tuesday.

"We can state today that 14 people have died,"  Veronika Skvortsova told journalists, adding that 49 people are still hospitalised after the explosion on Monday afternoon. Anti-terror authorities had earlier reported a death toll of 11.

Russia metro attack staged by Kyrgyz suicide bomber: Kyrgyzstan

A suicide bomber from Kyrgyzstan was behind the explosion that killed 11 people and injured dozens more in the Saint Petersburg metro, security services in the Central Asian country said Tuesday.

"The suicide bomber in the Saint Petersburg metro was a Kyrgyz national Akbarjon Djalilov... born in 1995," a spokesman for the country's security services told AFP.

"It is probable that he acquired Russian nationality," he said.

Russia's Investigative Committee said it was probing an "act of terror" over the blast that rocked the metro in the country's second city on Monday afternoon, but added it would look into all other possible causes of the blast.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the explosion.

Blasts in St. Petersburg metro stations kill 10

Ten people were killed and 47 people have been injured when an explosion tore through a train carriage in a St.Petersburg metro tunnel on Monday in what authorities called a probable terrorist attack

Russian news media reported that police were searching for a man recorded on surveillance cameras who was thought to have been involved in the attack, which coincided with a visit to the city by President Vladimir Putin.

President Vladimir Putin, who was himself in St. Petersburg for a meeting with Belarussian leader Alexander Lukashenko, said he was considering all possible causes for the blast, including terrorism. He was consulting with security services

Ambulances and fire engines descended on the concrete-and-glass Sennaya Ploshchad metro station. A helicopter hovered overhead as crowds gathered.

Video showed injured people lying bleeding on a platform, some being treated by emergency services and fellow passengers. Others ran away from the platform amid clouds of smoke, some screaming or holding their hands to their faces.

A huge hole was blasted in the side of a carriage with metal wreckage strewn across the platform. Passengers were seen hammering at the windows of one closed carriage.

Russia has been the target of attacks by separatist Islamist Chechen militants in past years. Islamic State, which has drawn recruits from the ranks of Chechen rebels, has also threatened attacks across Russia in retaliation for Russian military intervention in Syria.

Russian airforce and special forces have been backing President Bashar al-Assad in fighting rebel groups and Islamic State fighters now being driven out of their Syrian strongholds.


St. Petersburg emergency services at first said that there had been two explosions. But a source in the emergency services later said that there had been only one but that the explosion had occurred in a tunnel between stations.

The blast occurred at 2.40 p.m., well shy of the evening rush hour.

Authorities closed all St. Petersburg metro stations. The Moscow metro said it was taking unspecified additional security measures in case of an attack there.