GROZNY, Chechnya (CNN) — Chechen President Akhmad Kadyrov and at least three others died in an explosion Sunday during celebrations at a stadium in the Chechen capital, officials said.
Russia’s presidential press service confirmed Kadyrov’s death, and a spokesman for the Russian Interior Ministry said that another 44 people were wounded in the blast at Grozny’s Dynamo stadium.
The stadium was crowded with people celebrating Victory Day, which marks the defeat of Nazi Germany in World War II.
Among the wounded was the top commander of Russian forces in Chechnya, Gen. Valery Baranov.
The blast happened beneath the VIP stand where political and military leaders were reviewing a military parade commemorating Victory Day.
A spokesman for the Chechen Interior Ministry said that the bomb may have been buried in concrete as many as three months ago while the stadium was undergoing a renovation.
The spokesman said that there were detailed security checks on Saturday evening and Sunday before the event.
There were scenes of pandemonium at the stadium after the blast with people running around in panic and smoke rising from the wreckage.
Shots rang out around the stadium, apparently fired by security forces.
Television showed a man carrying a young boy, unconscious and bleeding from the mouth, down the terraces.
An old man, blood pouring through a bandage on his head, was helped away by two men.
Reuters journalist Adlan Khasanov, who was covering the event, was among those killed.
Although elected on a platform that promised to unite the troubled republic, Kadyrov was routinely criticized by human rights groups.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said: “He was a genuine and heroic person who showed in everything he did that there can never be any equality between bandits, terrorists and an entire people.”
The blast comes a few weeks after Putin, in his annual state of the nation address, proclaimed the “military phase of the conflict may be considered closed” in Chechnya.
Chechen separatists have been fighting for independence from Russia since the mid-90s and are being credited in the Russian media for having carried out the attack.
Victory Day is a major national celebration in Russia.
The Grozny ceremonies were mirrored by festivities throughout the country, including a march in Moscow’s Red Square.
Chechen rebels have in the past targeted official events and public gatherings for attacks.