A powerful bomb blast ripped through a crowded metro station in Minsk, capital of Belarus on Monday evening, killing 12 and injuring more than 200 people.

The bomb went off in a central metro station during the evening rush hour. Police said it was a homemade explosive devise, equivalent to 7 kg of TNT and packed with nails and bolts. It was hidden under a platform bench on Oktyabrskaya station and was apparently detonated by remote control as a train pulled up. Eleven people died on the spot and one more person succumbed to injuries later; 204 people were admitted to hospital, 26 of them in serious condition.

The scene of carnage captured on cell phone cameras was eerily reminiscent of the bombings of the Moscow metro in 1010 and the Domodedovo airport in January this year.

Oktyabrskaya station is one of the busiest among Minsk’s 25 metro stations and lies at the only intersection of the city’s two lines just a hundred metres away from the presidential headquarters.

Police qualified the blast as a terror attack and detained “several suspects” with the help of identikit portraits on Tuesday, hours after Belarus’ autocratic leader Alexander Lukashenko told the security services to “turn everything inside out” in their search for the culprits.

In televised remarks, Mr. Lukashenko said the attack may be linked to an unsolved explosion during Independence Day celebrations in 2008, in which 50 people were hurt, but no one died.

“We must find out who stands to gain by undermining peace and stability in the country,” Mr Lukashenko said.

The Belarus KGB secret service said they had three theories for the bombing motives: an attempt to destabilise the country, an act of revenge by extremist organisations or a hit by a mentally ill person.

Investigators said they were looking for a man of “non-Slavic” look. No one has claimed responsibility for the attack so far.

Opposition in Belarus voiced fears that Mr. Lukashenko could use the bomb attack as a pretext to step up political persecution in the post-Soviet state, which he has ruled since 1994. Dozens of opposition leaders were arrested in the wake of a presidential election last December for staging protests against what they claimed was an unfair vote.

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