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Putin talks tough after Moscow suicide bombings

MOSCOW - The old Vladimir Putin is back, confronting a terrorist attack in Moscow by using the same kind of coarse and colorful language that helped him win the presidency a decade ago.

A day after twin subway attacks by two female suicide bombers killed 39 people, the prime minister told Russians that he is certain the masterminds of the attacks will be found. Security services have blamed extremists from the North Caucasus, a predominantly Muslim region in southern Russia that includes Chechnya.

"We know they are lying low, but it is already a matter of pride for the law enforcement agencies to drag them out of the sewer and into broad daylight," Putin said, directing a transportation security meeting that was shown on Russian television yesterday.

The choice of gutter language recalled Putin's famous threat to "wipe out the Chechen rebels in the outhouse" after they were blamed for a series of apartment building bombings that terrorized Moscow in 1999.

Putin, as prime minister at the time, sent in overwhelming military force to pound the region into submission. Now in his second stint as prime minister after two terms as president, he has an excuse to revert to the tough line that shored up his authority following past terrorist attacks.

While welcomed by many Russians, it also is raising fears that civil liberties may be further sacrificed under the pretext of fighting terrorism. Members of the Kremlin-loyal parliament proposed restoring the death penalty for terrorism.

Russia observed a day of mourning yesterday, with flags at half-staff across the country. Relatives identified the dead at a morgue, and tearful commuters placed candles at makeshift memorials in the two stricken subway stations in the city center.

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