Following a series of "almost simultaneous" warnings that shopping centers, railway stations and university buildings in Moscow had been rigged with explosives, authorities ordered the evacuation of more than 10,000 people on Wednesday.
“Twenty sites are currently being evacuated, and more than 10,000 people have been escorted out, though the specific number is still being confirmed,” an emergency services source told news agency Tass.
“This appears to be a case of telephone terrorism, but we have to check the credibility of these messages,” said the source, who noted that the calls began at the same time, and continued after the evacuations had begun.
Emergency services said that specialist units equipped with bomb-sniffing dogs were searching the locations, according to Russia Today. The source, or sources, of the threats have not yet been identified. Though an unidentified law enforcement official in Chelyabinsk said on Tuesday there are grounds to assume that the bomb threats were “all organized abroad.” Though according to Bloomberg, which cited some initial local reports, some suggested that the evacuations might have been some kind of exercise.
Among the affected areas include Moscow's largest railway stations, more than a dozen shopping centers, including GUM, located next to Red Square, and at least one university - though there have been unconfirmed reports of an evacuation at another school. Luckily for commuters, TASS reported that the police investigation had not interrupted service on the city's metro line.
Here's a live feed from Komosomolskaya Square, where things appear to have calmed down:
Video from the evacuation at one Moscow mall can be viewed below:
If the calls all turn out to be hoaxes, they would be the latest in a series of hoaxes that has forced the evacuations of schools, universities, shopping malls and other public centers over the past four days. The hoaxes have been carried out across a broad swath of the country from the Far East to Moscow. According to Interfax via the Moscow Times, authorities recently started receiving the threats, which have all been false alarms.
The evacuations began Sunday in Omsk and continued in Ryazan that evening. Chelyabinsk, Ufa, Stavropol and Kopeisk received as many as 42 bomb threats on Monday. By Tuesday, the anonymous threats were reported in Perm, Novosibirsk, Yekaterinburg and other cities, forcing the evacuation of an estimated 45,000 people. Threats in Saratov were made using anonymous voice-over-IP protocols, according to the regional branch of the FSB, the Russian federal security service.
Authorities vowed to identify the hoaxers.
“The people involved in this are being identified,” the local FSB office’s press service told the FreeNews-Volga agency. Interfax said no explosive devices were found at any of the listed locations."
Under Russian law, terrorist false alarms are punishable by up to five years in prison. According to authorities, multiple police investigations have been opened. However, the possibility that the hoaxers are using pre-recorded messages, automated dialing systems and digital means of concealing their true location could make identifying suspects difficult. At least five cities were targeted by bomb scares in the Russian Far East, according to Interfax. Regional airports in Irkutsk, Yakutsk and Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky were evacuated, as were government buildings, bus stations, train stations and schools. In Siberia, an airport in Abakan was among 19 buildings to receive anonymous bomb threats. Three more Siberian cities evacuated shopping malls, government offices, schools and hospitals.