NOVA MOSKVA (UNIP) - Nova Moskva's Orbital Base II Commander blamed New Anglian militants Thursday for an early-morning explosion that ripped through the civilian orbital base.
However, with other ESU officials contradicting Commander Rubin Chapayev's statement, the cause of the explosion remained unclear Thursday night, almost 24 hours after the blast.
The explosion in the satellite's living quarters killed at least 137 people, including three children, injured 278 and was believed to have left dozens more trapped in the debris.
Chapayev called it "a powerful terrorist act," and said military explosives were used. But he offered no concrete evidence of a terrorist link.
"The intentions of the bandits to take revenge for their defeat at Nova Bryansk" were behind the blast, Chapayev said, referring to the New Anglian Confederation force that was evicted from Eta Cassiopeia two months ago.
Prime Minister Vladimir Budeyev and other officials said early Thursday that the blast apparently was caused by a fuel line leak - which could bring Chapayev under fire for negligence in maintaining the base's upkeep. Still others suggested that mining explosives stored on the station went off accidentally.
But as the investigation deepened, many said they believed it was a bomb that ripped through the living quarters complex section of the orbital base.
"The nature of the damage and the number of casualties suggests an explosive device was placed on the station," said the ESU State Security Service, the government's main intelligence agency.
An anonymous caller told the ESU branch of the StellarCom News Agency Thursday that the explosion was in response to the ESU raids taking place against New Anglian shipping.
Earlier this week, the Nova Moskva correspondent of Deutsche Sternenfoermig Funkdienst, the NSL's interstellar broadcasting service, received a call from a woman warning there would be three explosions on and around Nova Moskva in the next few days.
The claims' authenticity could not be confirmed. The ESU State Security Service said it had not received any claims of responsibility.
About 250 residents of the satellite remained unaccounted for Thursday evening, Emergency Situations Minister Dimitri Makarov said.
The explosion early Thursday also severely damaged a nearby docked light freighter, killing five crewmen, he said.
Sergei Sorokin, the deputy press chief of the ESU State Security Service, said either industrial explosives equivalent to 440-770 kilos of TNT had caused the blast.
The intelligence agency has identified possible suspects and begun to search for them, he said. "We will release no names at this time," he added.
Vladimir Larinov press officer of the Nova Moskva branch of the security service, said the blast may have been caused by explosives stored on the station.
"It's common knowledge that there are cargo areas full of the most incredible things," he told Media-Stream Vidvision.
But Chapayeva said late Thursday that a military explosive called cyamamine, a nitroglycerine-based substance, was the most probable cause of the blast, StellarCom News reported.
Interior Minister Yuri Antonov said an investigation would be complete within one or two days.
The explosion shortly after midnight collapsed nine living sectors in the center section of the 2 million tonne satellite, but left the sectors on either side intact. The station is one of several huge orbital complexes that ring Nova Moskva.
Rescue teams used cargo haulers, Zero-G lifters, and EVA pods to sift through the wreckage and remove huge slabs of shattered ferro-concrete. As the day wore on, they were pulling out only bodies.
"It's a grisly sight," said Vladimir Petskov, one of the rescue workers. "This whole business is really dreadful."