'Grand Theft Auto' gang blamed for 15 murders of Moscow motorists
Mysterious murderers terrorise motorists in Russian capital, apparently killing at least 15, with police tight-lipped about reported arrests
Authorities in Moscow have been hunting a mysterious gang that has terrorised motorists in recent months with a series of murders resembling scenes in the violent video game
Grand Theft Auto.
The gang, dubbed the GTA gang by Russian media after the video game that involves scoring points for murders, is believed to have killed at least 15 people.
Late at night, gang members placed metal spikes on roads just outside Moscow to burst the tyres of passing cars, gunned down their drivers and disappeared.
Among their victims were a policeman, a senior banker, and even a former dancer from a famous folk dancing troupe.
In a sign of how seriously the crimes are being treated, the police have teamed up with the FSB security agency, the successor to the KGB, to tackle the murders and President Vladimir Putin has become involved.
"Essentially, this crime is terrorist by nature," Putin told Interior Minister Vladimir Kolokoltsev late last week. "I know you are working together with the security services, with the FSB. I hope you will see this through."
Kolokoltsev reported to Putin after law enforcement agencies reportedly caught several members of the gang, and the Russian strongman commended police for "solving" the crime.
But investigators and police have been unusually tight-lipped about the case, and the vast mystery shrouding the crimes and the hunt for the attackers has bred eyebrow-raising theories.
Rossiiskaya Gazeta, quoting police sources, said the gang gunned people down "not for money".
The gang called itself
jaamat (group in Arabic) and was on a mission to kill "infidels", said the government-backed paper.
According to another theory, the attackers are militants affiliated with Islamists who are using the roads around Moscow as a training ground to prepare to join their cause in Syria or elsewhere.
Vladimir Zhirinovsky, the leader of the ultranationalist Liberal Democratic Party, blamed Ukrainians who are fighting a Moscow-backed uprising in Ukraine.
"This is the work of professional subversive elements from Ukraine. They are taking revenge on us," Zhirinovsky said.
After refusing to comment for days, the Investigative Committee, which reports to Putin, broke its silence on Wednesday, saying it had arrested suspects.
One of the gang leaders put up armed resistance and was killed, the committee said in a statement, referring to the gang as the "so-called GTA".
"Investigators established that when killing people, gang members were guided only by motives of profit, stealing their victims' money," it said.
The arrests apparently came as part of a major operation in which authorities rounded up a group of guest workers from Central Asia last week.
According to leaks reported in Russian media, the suspected gang leader was shot dead near Moscow as he tried to attack police with a hand grenade.
In the latest twist, investigators said on Thursday that one of the ringleaders had rented a house from a senior official in the prosecutor general's office. A huge cache of arms and ammunition was believed to have been recovered from the house.
Political analyst Alexei Makarkin chalked up the secrecy surrounding the case to its extreme sensitivity. "This is explosive," he said. "The authorities will do anything to avoid ethnic clashes. These can be exploited by ultra-right nationalists to call for the persecution of migrants."