MOSCOW – A suicide bomber killed at least 35 people and wounded dozens Monday when he blew himself up in the packed arrivals hall of Moscow's largest airport in an attack slammed by the Kremlin as an act of terror.
There were scenes of carnage at Domodedovo airport in southern Moscow as corpses were stretchered out of the smoke-filled arrivals area after the blast, the latest deadly attack to hit the capital after the metro bombings in March.
Describing the attack as an act of terror, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev chaired an emergency meeting of top officials and ordered a special security regime across the country's main airports and railway stations.
Russia's Western partners strongly condemned the blast, with US President Barack Obama describing the attack as "outrageous" and German Chancellor Angela Merkel saying she was dismayed by the "cowardly" act.
"Today at 4:32 pm (1332 GMT) an explosion went off in the international arrivals hall of Domodedovo airport," the Russian investigative committee said in a statement.
Airport spokeswoman Elena Galanova said that the blast had gone off in a freely accessible public area of the airport where passengers meet relatives after passing customs.
At least 35 people were killed, she said, a figure confirmed by the investigative committee. At least 130 were wounded, the health ministry said in a statement. It said that of the wounded, 20 were in a serious condition.
"All of a sudden I heard a huge bang, as if something had fallen. No-one understood what had happened," Elena, a Lufthansa stewardess, told an AFP correspondent at the airport. "Everyone was in shock."
A Briton and other foreigners were among those killed, the Interfax news agency quoted a security source as saying. However despite the mayhem, the airport carried on working normally with only handful of flights affected, Domodedovo said.
Russian investigators on Monday found a head of "Arab appearance" that is presumed to have belonged to the suicide bomber responsible for setting off the blast, Interfax said.
According to preliminary information, the bomber was a resident of the overwhelmingly Muslim Northern Caucasus region, Interfax said.
"A blast went off at Domodedovo that, according to preliminary information, was an act of terror," Medvedev said in televised remarks. "It is necessary to introduce a special regime in all airports and transportation hubs."
Medvedev said the incident showed that Russia's security regulations were not being followed properly. "What happened indicates that far from all the laws that need to be working are being used correctly," said Medvedev.
Russian security services had received warnings that an act of terror would be carried out at one of the Moscow airports and three suspects had even been identified, the RIA Novosti news agency said.
The LifeNews.ru website said many victims had metal fragments embedded in their bodies and the explosive device was packed with bolts, nuts, nails and ball bearings.
"Burned people are running about.. they are carrying pieces of flesh on stretchers," one eyewitness, named as Andrei, told Russian City FM radio.
Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has been informed of the incident, his spokesman Dmitry Peskov told Interfax.
The blast also represented a major setback for Russia's international image and confidence in its security as it gears up to hold two major sporting events, the Winter Olympics in 2014 and the 2018 World Cup.
Medvedev has postponed his visit to the World Economic Forum in Davos, planned for this week, as a result of the blast, Kremlin spokeswoman Natalya Timakova said.
Moscow police on Monday stepped up security across the city after the blast, Interfax quoted law enforcement officials as saying.
Domodedovo Airport is Russia's largest airport in terms of passenger numbers and takes flights from top international companies including British Airways, Lufthansa and Swiss.
The Russian capital has been repeatedly rocked by attacks over the last years blamed on militants from the Northern Caucasus region, where Russia has for years been battling an Islamist insurgency.
Double bombings carried out by two female suicide bombers on the Moscow metro on March 29, 2010, killed 40 and wounded more than 100.
The Kremlin fought two wars against separatist rebels in Chechnya in the 1990s but the insurgency has now become more Islamist in tone and has spread to neighbouring Ingushetia and Dagestan.
However officials have repeatedly warned of the risk of attacks in Russia's heartland.