Flags flew at half—staff in the southern Russian city of Vladikavkaz on Friday and stunned residents laid flowers in a square where a suicide car bombing killed 17 people and wounded more than 140.
Thursday’s bombing near the central market of the capital of the North Ossetia republic was the most serious attack in Russia since the March subway bombings in Moscow that killed 40 people.
Of those wounded, 107 were in local hospitals and 11 severely injured victims had been flown to Moscow, North Ossetian Health Minister Vladimir Selivanov said on Friday, according to state news agency ITAR—Tass.
In Dagestan, another republic in Russia’s violence—plagued North Caucasus region, officials said on Friday that a policeman and a prison warden were shot to death in separate attacks.
The Vladikavkaz market was cordoned off on Friday. The blast was so powerful that glass in nearby buildings shattered. The area was cleaned of blood and shreds of clothing but twisted wrecks of several cars were grim reminders of the attack.
A few blocks away, weeping neighbors mourned two bombing victims- 54—year—old Yaselin Mamedova and nine—year—old Elnus Ashimov. Their bodies were being prepared for burial later in the day in line with Muslim practice.
There has been no public claim of responsibility for the attack, but suspicion fell on Islamic militants who launch frequent small attacks in neighboring North Caucasus republics, including Dagestan, Chechnya and Ingushetia.
Russia’s ethnically diverse North Caucasus region has been gripped by violence stemming from two separatist wars in Chechnya and fueled by endemic poverty and rampant official corruption. Human rights groups say law enforcement officers frequently resort to extrajudicial killings, kidnappings and torture, breeding hostility and provoking retaliatory attacks.
Unlike the provinces of Chechnya, Ingushetia and Dagestan, where Muslims make up most of the population, North Ossetia is predominantly Orthodox Christian but has a sizeable Mulsim minority.
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin met with Russia’s top Muslim cleric after the blast and said Russia’s 20 million Muslims should play a key role in eradicating Islamic extremism in the nation.
“The crimes like the one that was committed in the North Caucasus today are aimed at sowing enmity between our citizens. We mustn’t allow this,” Mr. Putin said at Thursday's meeting.