Terrorism, human error or mechanical mishap could have caused one of Russia's worst air tragedies in which two planes crashed almost simultaneously and killed at least 89 people, officials said on Wednesday.
President Vladimir Putin, acting swiftly before Sunday's presidential poll in rebel Chechnya, ordered the tightening of security at all Moscow's airports and put the Interior Ministry in charge of screening procedures.
Prosecutor General Vladimir Ustinov told Putin he had no clear view of what happened to the planes, which took off from Moscow's Domodedovo airport late on Tuesday around an hour apart for two different destinations. They crashed within four minutes of each other, informs Reuters.
"The message was generated before contact was lost with the plane and it disappeared from radar screens," the airline said in a statement. The company also said there were indications that its plane exploded in the air. "The distribution of the debris indirectly confirms the conjecture that the plane broke up in midair because of an explosion," a statement said.
Volga-Avia Express, a small regional carrier which owned the TU-134, said the crew did not report any problems on board before the plane crashed with 43 passengers and crew.
Interfax news agency quoted an aviation source as saying the coincidence of both planes leaving from the same airport and disappearing at the same time would suggest it was "a planned action". "In such a situation one could not exclude a terrorist act," the source said. But the FSB officials said they were more likely accidents, according to the Indian Express.
The Chechen rebel leadership denies any connection. But a controversial Chechen election this Sunday has been preceded by renewed rebel attacks in the Chechen capital, and Russia is braced for more terrorism in advance of the vote. In June, Chechen separatist leader Aslan Maskhadov promised "big attacks."
Terrorism or tragic accident; link, or no link, the Chechnya problem is back on the front burner of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Much more than a minor irritant, it has cost Russia lives and rubles through two wars, and taken a toll on its relations with Europe and the US. In mostly Muslim Chechnya, where tens of thousands have been killed, displaced, and persecuted, this ravaged land is now a base for 70,000 Russian troops, reports Christian Science Monitor.
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