Bomb Blows Hole in Intourist Hotel




A bomb ripped a hole in the upper floors of the Intourist Hotel on Monday, injuring 11 people and sending shattered glass raining down on Tverskaya Ulitsa and the Patio Pizza restaurant.


The target of the attack was unknown. The hotel caters largely to foreign tourists and also rents out commercial space. The bomb went off about 2:30 p.m. in an elevator near the 20th floor offices of a firm headed by controversial State Duma deputy and crooner Iosif Kobzon.


Police were searching the city for four suspects believed to have fled in a Moskvich, Interfax reported. Itar-Tass said police also would use the hotel security videotape to see who had entered and left the hotel.


The explosion left a gaping hole in the back of the 22-floor building. Two floors were exposed and damage was visible on nine different floors.


On the hotel facade - facing Tverskaya, just up the street from the Kremlin - curtains hung limply out of broken windows. Glass shards littered the ground up to 100 meters from the building, and a door, torn out of its frame by the blast, landed in the middle of the wide road.


Debris crashed down on the Patio Pizza restaurant at the base of the hotel, smashing part of its glass roof. A woman was reported injured by a piece of glass that hit her while she was eating.


People used fire escapes to leave the hotel right after the explosion, some covering their faces with wet towels to protect themselves from the thick black smoke and dust stirred by the powerful blast. Police said 11 people were injured, and at least six were rushed to hospitals with cuts and burns. Fire trucks and ambulances arrived at the scene within minutes of the explosion. A small fire started on the 20th floor, engulfing an area of some 40 square meters, and was quickly put out.


Part of the street and the sidewalk in front of the Soviet-era hotel were cordoned off by the police. Rescue workers searched for other possible victims inside the building and cleared away the debris.


It was unclear how many people were inside at the time of the explosion. Itar-Tass said 142 tourists were staying at the hotel, which also has several restaurants and shops. The bomb went off in the elevator at or just below the 20th floor, which is mostly occupied by offices.


"When the bomb went off, it knocked out our office door immediately and after five minutes it was so full of smoke and dust we couldn't see a thing," said Lyubov Lukashova, a dentist with the Intermedservice clinic located in the right wing of the 20th floor. Lukashova managed to grab a plastic bag with her wallet and shoes, wrap her face in a wet towel and run down the stairs with other employees.


"Our white office must be all black now," she sighed.


The left wing housed the Moskovit firm, headed by Kobzon, and also the Azteca Mexican restaurant.


There was speculation that the bombers had targeted Moskovit and Kobzon. The blast could be heard at the Duma, parliament's lower house, located around the corner from the Intourist.


"We were sitting down and then there was bang," said Oleg, an assistant to a Duma deputy who refused to give his surname. "It's Kobzon's office."


Kobzon, who was unexpectedly away from the office when the bomb went off, arrived at the hotel an hour later. He was supposed to have had a meeting at the office at 2 p.m., but canceled it and left unexpectedly after getting a call from friends who had just arrived in town.


"God helped me," Kobzon said. The Moskovit office was "partly damaged" and a guard was injured by the glass, he said.


Kobzon denied he was the target.


"You shouldn't think it's an action against Kobzon. It's just another terrorist act in the very center of Moscow ... private, unrelated to politics," he told reporters. "It will pressure our law enforcement agencies to fight terrorism better."


Kobzon, often referred to as the Russian Frank Sinatra, was refused a U.S. visa in 1997 because of his alleged mafia connections.


Several weeks ago there was a bomb threat at the hotel, but the police didn't find anything. Kobzon said terrorists were "testing the way the police would react to it."


The guests of the hotel will have a choice of staying at other Moscow hotels such as the Metropol and Kosmos, Intourist director Vakhtang Tsulaya said, Itar-Tass reported.


A small group of them gathered outside the Intourist in the afternoon, puzzled about the fate of their possessions and wondering when they would allowed inside.


"That's our window over there, the one with the curtains hanging out," said Bruce Simpson, pointing at the 16th floor right under the row of broken windows as his wife pulled out a video camera to tape the scene.


Simpson, who works for a London-based oil company involved in developing oil fields in the Komi republic, is staying in Moscow until Thursday.


Michael Rose, a student and English teacher from the United States, happened to walk past the Intourist several minutes after the blast. "This is a good building to make a statement in," Rose said, showing photographs he took with a digital camera of a car parked in front of the hotel with smashed windows and its back doors hanging open, likely damaged by falling debris.


Rose said despite the blast he wouldn't discourage his friends and relatives from coming to visit him, or from staying at the Intourist, because in a big city like Moscow such things can happen.


There was no indication the attack had been directed against Westerners in the hotel. Anti-Western feeling has grown among ordinary Russians since NATO began airstrikes against Yugoslavia.


The Intourist, an ugly, constructivist mass of concrete, aluminum and glass, became a Moscow landmark in 1970.