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Georgia: Suspect In Grenade Incident Confesses In Police Video

A photo released by the Georgian Interior Ministry showing Vladimir Arutyunian in a Tbilisi hospital Georgian police have announced the arrest of a man suspected of throwing a live hand grenade in the direction of President Mikheil Saakashvili and his U.S. counterpart George W. Bush during their joint public appearance in Tbilisi on 10 May. The suspect -- identified as Vladimir Arutyunian, a 27-year-old ethnic Armenian -- was captured overnight following a shoot-out that claimed the life of a senior police officer. Today, Arutyunian confessed to throwing the grenade with a view to harming the U.S. president.

Prague, 21 July 2005 (RFE/RL) -- Georgian authorities say the capture was made possible after police were tipped off by some of Arutyunian's neighbors.

Just three days ago, the Interior Ministry had increased to 150,000 laris ($80,000) the reward being offered for any information leading to the location of the man suspected of tossing a grenade toward Bush and Saakashvili while both leaders were addressing tens of thousands of people on Tbilisi's Freedom Square.

The Russian-made explosive device, folded in a red handkerchief, failed to go off. A Georgian security officer reportedly picked it up and removed it from the area.

Earlier this week, the Interior Ministry released pictures of a man it believed had thrown the grenade. Police say the photographs were taken shortly before Bush's open-air address.

Yesterday evening, three police officers - including Zurab Kvlividze, the head of the Interior Ministry's counterintelligence department -- went to Arutyunian's home, in Tbilisi's western Vashlijvari suburb, to check his identity.

At an impromptu press briefing, Interior Minister Ivane (Vano) Merabishvili described what happened next.

"As [police] went to the house of the suspect, Vladimir Vladimirovich Arutyunian, he opened fire, causing the death of one of our men, Zurab Kvlividze," Merabishvili said. "Arutyunian was wounded in the shoot-out that followed and, a few minutes later, detained by a special police unit."

Arutyunian sustained three gun wounds in the leg and chest and was rushed to Tbilisi's Republican Hospital for treatment. His condition is reportedly not life-threatening, but doctors say it does not allow for his immediate transfer to a prison.

Interior Ministry spokesman Guram Donadze today released a short police video of a conversation that he said he had in hospital with Arutyunian. In the video, broadcast on Georgian television channels, the suspect admits to throwing the grenade with a view to harming Bush.

In earlier comments made to Georgia's Rustavi-2 television channel, Deputy Health Minister Irakli Giorgobiani had quoted hospital doctors as saying Arutyunian had confessed to throwing the grenade. But Giorgobiani had also cast doubt on the suspect's mental health.
Georgian media have described Arutyunian as an unemployed man who lives alone with his widowed mother.

News reports say that by yesterday evening prosecutors had still not brought charges against Arutyunian.

Georgian television footage today showed explosives and detonators, as well as chemical substances that could possibly serve to make a bomb, that were reportedly seized at Arutyunian's home. Investigators also found electronic equipment and military literature.

Georgian media have described Arutyunian as an unemployed man who lives alone with his widowed mother. Neighbors describe him as a recluse.

Arutyunian's mother Anzhela, who was briefly detained for questioning, told reporters her son had disappeared for the past three days before unexpectedly returning home overnight.

"He hasn't been home for the past three days," Arutyunian said. "Before that he was always here."

Merabishvili, speaking late last night at a news conference, made no mention of Arutyunian's televised confession. Earlier, the interior minister also said that Arutyunian was still considered a suspect and that police would need some time to determine whether he really is the man who threw the grenade.

Since May, Georgian police have been engaged in a nationwide manhunt that also involved U.S. security officers.

The U.S. Embassy in Georgia yesterday said it welcomed the news that a suspect had been detained over the grenade incident.

The U.S. Secret Service said it was monitoring the Georgian probe. But it denied being involved in Arutyunian's arrest.

Georgia's Imedi private television, however, said FBI agents helped Georgian investigators search the suspect's apartment for further evidence.

The Georgian presidential administration said that following the news of Arutyunian's arrest Saakashvili decided to cut short his vacation in the Netherlands and return to Tbilisi.


Shootout Ends Georgian Manhunt For Grenade Suspect

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