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Russia: St. Petersburg Police Crack Down On Crime

St. Petersburg, 19 May 1997 (RFE/RL) - St. Petersburg police officials have held a news conference to pat themselves on the back for cracking some high-profile criminal cases.

First, the murder of a ranking transport police official, Colonel Vladimir Kutsenko, was solved. The murderers, said the officials, were determined to be police officers themselves.

A second case involved a young couple working as professional contract killers caught red handed trying to kill one criminal group's rival by planting under a Mercedes 800 grams of a powerful trinitrotoluene explosive, the favorite of Russian gangsters and terrorists. The bomb was to be detonated from a distance by a simple paging device. According to a local newspaper, Smena, the young man had served in the Russian military as an explosives expert.

But, the biggest news at last Friday's news conference was the foiling of a series of several bombings officials said were planned by a Kazan mafia gang to throw St. Petersburg into chaos and panic.

Having received tips about the impending wave of terror at the end of April, police special units closed in on a suspect in mid-May, seizing him at his apartment on the Vasilev Island.

The accused is a 28-year-old native of the Siberian city Ufa, Artur Khanafin, a former military officer of the elite airborne troops with a specialty in explosives. In his apartment, where the accused lives with his wife and two children, police found trinitrotoluene explosives as well as detonating equipment.

During interrogation, the accused was reported to have admitted that bombs were targeted for use in the metro, on Nevsky Prospect, at the chic new American restaurant Hollywood Stars, and at the city TV tower.

The bombing spree, officials said, was designed as a way to blackmail city authorities into paying the Kazan mafia group "protection" money against similar actions in the future.