Police, troops heavy in bomb-hit Russian city

Eerily empty buses lumbered through the streets, police weighed

down with body armor warily watched pedestrians near a fast-food

restaurant, and members of Cossack units stood guard at bus stops.

Volgograd was an ominous and jittery city on Tuesday, after two

suicide bombings in two days that killed 34 people.

”People are afraid it will happen again; they’re trying not to

go outside if they don’t have to,” said 20-year-old Yulia Kuzmina,

a student. ”We get a feeling that a war has started.”

That is a worry that extends far beyond Volgograd.

Although there has been no claim of responsibility for the

bombing of the city’s main railway station and a trolleybus,

suspicion falls strongly on Islamist insurgents, whose leader

ordered his adherents this summer to do all they could to derail

the Winter Olympics, which start Feb. 7 in the Russian resort city

of Sochi.

Games organizers have introduced some of the most extensive

identity checks and security measures ever seen at an international

sporting event. But even if security at the Games is tight, many

analysts suggest that the Volgograd bombings show how public

transit in Sochi and sites away from the sports venues are

vulnerable.

Police reinforcements and Interior Ministry troops have been

sent into Volgograd, regional police official Andrei Pilipchuk was

quoted as telling the Interfax news agency. He said more than 5,200

security forces are deployed in the city of 1 million, but did not

say how much of an increase that was from normal levels.

Officers and security guards carefully searched the purses of

young women entering a shopping center and waved metal detectors

over both males and females.

The Cossacks guarding some bus stops added an unsettling note.

Although these units are officially authorized volunteer patrols,

they are descendants of the fierce horsemen who protected the czars

and launched raids on Muslims in the Russian Caucasus, where the

Islamist insurgency is now centered.

Volgograd authorities have canceled mass events for New Year’s

Eve, one of Russia’s most popular holidays, and asked residents not

to set off fireworks. In addition, all movie theaters have been

closed until Thursday. In Moscow, festivities were to go ahead, but

authorities said security would be increased.

President Vladimir Putin, in his New Year’s Eve address to the

nation, vowed that the fight against terrorists will continue

”until their destruction is complete,” Russian news agencies

reported.

”What blasphemy. They did it right before the holiday,” said

Arkady Chernyavsky, a 73-year-old retiree. He also bristled at how

the attacks stained the image of a city that prides itself for the

tragic valor of the World War II Battle of Stalingrad, as the city

then was called.

”This is supposed to be the city of heroes and things like this

are taking place,” Chernyavsky said.

Suicide bombings have rocked Russia for years, but the

insurgents seeking to create an Islamic state have largely confined

their attacks to the North Caucasus region in recent years. The

blasts in Volgograd signaled that militants want to show their

reach outside their native region. Volgograd is about 300

kilometers (200 miles) north of the Caucasus and about 690

kilometers (430 miles) northeast of Sochi.

China, host of the 2008 Summer Olympics, on Tuesday expressed

confidence in the security of the Sochi Games.

”The competent authorities on our side have maintained close

communication and cooperation with Russia in terms of the security

work for the Winter Olympics. We believe that Russia is capable of

ensuring security and hosting a successful Winter Olympics,”

Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told reporters on

Tuesday.

The United States would welcome ”closer cooperation” with

Russia on security preparations for the Winter Olympics, White

House spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said Monday.

Associated Press writer Jim Heintz in Moscow and researcher Zhao

Liang in Beijing contributed to this report.