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Nervous Commuters Return To Moscow’s Subway

Russians nervously returned to the streets of Moscow for their morning commute Tuesday, a day after suicide bombs ripped through two subway stations in the capital, killing at least 39 people and wounding dozens more.

A young Russian girl cries while commemorating the victims of the terrorist metro blasts inside the Lubyanka metro station in Moscow on March 30, 2010.
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Above: A young Russian girl cries while commemorating the victims of the terrorist metro blasts inside the Lubyanka metro station in Moscow on March 30, 2010.

In Moscow, flags were flying at half staff to commemorate those killed in the bombings; the toll increased by one overnight when one of the critically wounded succumbed to injuries.

On Monday, authorities quickly blamed the attacks, allegedly by two female suicide bombers, on Chechen separatists. Russian security forces and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov have suggested the attack may be linked to al-Qaida and may have originated from the volatile Afghanistan-Pakistan border region.

Officials have vowed to hunt down those responsible for the bombings, and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin on Tuesday reiterated his earlier tough talk, saying it was a matter of honor for Russian law enforcement to "scrape from the sewers" the masterminds of the attacks.

But throughout the capital, ordinary Russians were worried about their safety. There was a subdued air on the subway for Tuesday's rush hour. The trains were almost as crowded as usual, but commuters gave each other a bit more time and space. Many, including subway commuter Olga Bochagova, were frightened but getting on with life.

"It's scary of course," she told NPR. "Thank God it is not a war, but all the same, you can see what is going on."

"It's not a question for me — to be afraid or not to be afraid," said Yulia Ivanova, another commuter. "My state of mind is normal, thank God. But many will tremble with fear."

The bombing is the second major terrorist act outside the troubled North Caucasus region since 2004. In November, a Moscow-St. Petersburg express train was derailed after a bomb exploded on the tracks, killing at least 26 passengers.

President Dmitry Medvedev said everyone involved in that attack was subsequently killed in police operations. Nevertheless, he said security in the country still needs strengthening.

"It is necessary to tighten up what we do and to look at the problem on a national scale," Medvedev said Monday. "Not just on specific means of transport or in particular places, but on a national scale. Obviously, what we have done up to now is not enough."

Alisa Zhukova, a 22-year-old history student, wants the government to do more to keep her safe.

"It's the state. If we live here, someone should take care of us. We are not here on our own," she said.

The harsh rhetoric coming out of the mouths of Russian leaders strikes a chord with 80-year-old Tatiana Sergeyevna, who blames non-Russians for the violence.

"They all should be kicked out of Moscow, all of them," she said.

The conflict in the North Caucasus has been a constant thorn in Moscow's side since the first Chechen war in the 1990s, but the violence has largely been confined to that region, in southern Russia.

But there are now fears that the rest of the country could be affected.

Alexei Malashenko, an analyst at the Moscow Carnegie Center, said the causes of the problems in the North Caucasus will take years to resolve, and security forces must work more effectively to prevent further attacks.

"There [are] a lot of economic and social problems, such as unemployment and corruption," Malashenko said, adding that the situation can't be turned around overnight.

"It is impossible to solve the problem of corruption tomorrow, or even next year," he said.

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