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AP: Explosives deemed cause of Russian jet crashes; no evidence of hijackings

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  • Norbert Strade
    Explosives deemed cause of Russian jet crashes; no evidence of hijackings Tuesday, August 31st, 2004 By MARIA DANILOVA, Associated Press MOSCOW (AP) - Russia s
    Message 1 of 1 , Aug 31, 2004
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      Explosives deemed cause of Russian jet crashes; no evidence of hijackings

      Tuesday, August 31st, 2004

      By MARIA DANILOVA, Associated Press

      MOSCOW (AP) - Russia's transport minister, citing a "black box"
      recording from one of two planes that crashed minutes apart last week,
      said Monday there was no evidence of a hijacking attempt or any other
      disturbance before the explosion aboard the jetliner.

      The conversation inside the cockpit of the Tu-154 plane indicated the
      crew was unable to contact traffic controllers and tried to manage the
      jet for some time after the blast on board. "The words spoken by the
      crew members among themselves are (about) work by the crew to save the
      plane," the minister, Igor Levitin, said.

      Also, new details emerged about two Chechen women who are the focus of
      suspicions that the planes were blown up by terrorists. All 90 people
      aboard the aircraft were killed.

      Gen. Andrei Fetisov, chief of the scientific department at the Federal
      Security Service, said there was no longer any doubt that "both planes
      crashed as a result of explosions," the ITAR-Tass news agency reported
      Monday. He reiterated that traces of the high explosive hexogen were
      found in the wreckage.

      How the explosive may have been brought on board the planes that took
      off from Moscow was still unclear, however, and investigators were
      scraping for clues about Amanta Nagayeva and S. Dzhebirkhanova, two
      Chechen women whose names were listed on tickets for the flights.

      The crashes happened just five days before presidential elections in
      Chechnya, where separatist rebels have been fighting Russian forces for
      five years. Officials had warned that insurgents and their supporters
      could commit terrorist acts to try to undermine the vote.

      Nagayeva, 30, and Dzhebirkhanova, 37, aroused accident investigators'
      suspicions because they purchased tickets at the last minute - and
      because they were the only victims about whom no relatives inquired
      after news of the crashes.

      At the same time, the women's bodies have not yet been identified.
      Officials were considering two scenarios: Either Nagayeva and
      Dzhebirkhanova were indeed suicide bombers, or their passports were used
      by other women, the newspaper Izvestia reported, citing Chechen law
      enforcement officials.

      Nagayeva and Dzhebirkhanova, who lived in an apartment in Grozny,
      Chechnya's war-shattered capital, were seen on Aug. 22 leaving by bus
      from the town of Khasavyurt in the neighboring province of Dagestan, the
      newspaper said. They were believed to be en route to Baku, the capital
      of Azerbaijan, where they often bought clothes and other commodities to
      sell at the Grozny market.

      The women's destination on the bus was not known. They were accompanied
      by two apartment mates and co-workers - Rosa Nagayeva, Amanta's sister,
      and Mariyam Taburova, the newspaper said.

      Nagayeva was single, and Dzhebirkhanova had been divorced. Nagayeva's
      brother disappeared three years ago in Chechnya; the family believes he
      was abducted by Russian forces. A brother of Dzhebirkhanova, who had
      been an Islamic court judge under Chechen separatist president Aslan
      Maskhadov, was killed in 1998.

      An unidentified Chechen Interior Ministry official was quoted as telling
      Izvestia that both women were "clean" of demonstrable rebel ties.
      Relatives of both said they were unaware the women were engaged in any
      activity connected to rebels or terrorists, Izvestia reported.
      Nagayeva's mother said her daughter had never flown on an airplane.

      According to the investigators, if the two women were indeed terrorists
      and had traveled from Grozny to Moscow, Taburova and Nagayeva's sister
      also could be suspects and be in the capital, Izvestia said.

      Several suicide bombings in recent years have been blamed on Chechen
      women who lost husbands or brothers in the war and chaos that have
      plagued the southern republic for most of the past decade.

      A Web site connected with militant Muslims posted a statement Friday
      from the "Islambouli Brigades" claiming responsibility for the crashes.
      It warned that the group supported the Chechen rebels, and that the
      attack marked just the first in a series of planned operations. The
      claim's veracity could not be confirmed.

      A group called "the Islambouli Brigades of al-Qaida" claimed
      responsibility for last month's attempt to assassinate Pakistan's prime
      minister-designate.

      Russia claims that the Chechen rebels have been joined by hundreds of
      foreign Islamic fighters, many of them al-Qaida or with links to the
      terrorist group led by Osama bin Laden.
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