Russian police said on Friday that they have found and surrounded the gang of cop killers that they have been chasing through the forests of the Far East over the past days.
Some of the suspects have been killed, but the rest were putting up resistance and reportedly had a hostage.
On Friday morning, RIA Novosti news agency reported that law enforcers had tracked and surrounded the armed group that had been attacking policemen in the Far Eastern region over the past week. Two suspects were killed in a shootout, while one has surrendered and another has locked himself in a shop, holding a saleswoman hostage. Two policemen and a passerby were wounded in the gunfight, the source said.
Later in the morning news agencies reported that two of the surrounded men shot themselves and the last suspect surrendered himself to police after talking to his mother.
The operation took place in the city of Ussuriysk, in Primorye Region. The local directorate of the Main Investigation Committee of the Prosecutor General’s office has neither denied nor confirmed the report.
Last week, the group staged an audacious raid on a police station. On Tuesday, traffic officer Arkady Povalyaev was the latest to be in their gun sights.
“We saw a suspicious vehicle passing by. When we told them to stop they didn't. We followed them. They turned in to a field, came out and started firing straight at us. We had to escape. I was shot in the leg,” Arkady Povalyaev remembers.
Over the past two weeks there have been three such attacks on police officers. At least one officer has been reported killed, while several have been shot. The gang is also suspected of killing two civilians whose car they stole.
Before the series of attacks hit the region, the gang sent out letters addressed to law enforcement forces, Russian newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda reports. The criminals demanded resignations in police bodies. The threats were dismissed at the time.
Someone claiming to be the gang's leader has also posted messages on an Internet forum. He has accused law-enforcement officers of “occupying” Russia, and said the gang members are ready to lose their lives in fighting them.
Now, allegedly holed up in the forests of the taiga with a huge manhunt underway, a final shootout with the police seems inevitable.
“We are combing the forests. They are heavily-armed and one is a trained bomb-maker. But our ring is closing around them,” police department official Yury Krikunov acknowledged.
So far five members of the gang have been identified, but the police admit there could be more involved. According to a local police source, it is not clear how many criminals from the gang are currently enclosed in the forest. The source says the police will soon demand that the group surrenders, otherwise the police will have to use force, Interfax news agency reports.
Internet speculation is rife about the gang's identity and motives. While most have a poor opinion of the assailants, others have praised them as modern-day Robin Hoods.
Boris Kagarlitsky from the Institute of Globalization and Social Movements estimated that “One of the problems in society is that people have less and less reason to trust justice of the official side, to trust things that are going to be resolved in the legal way.”
“It is too early to say what drives these men. People say it is ideological. But they haven't just attacked policemen. We suspect they were involved in robberies as well, and they may just be attacking the police because we are on their tail,” police department official Yury Krikunov assumed.
Police believes the group of bandits has military training and connections to extreme nationalist movements.
Officials say it is vital the criminals are stopped before they escape further East, using their underground connections in the large city of Vladivostok, which will make them harder to hunt down.
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