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Armenia: Investigators Continue Inquiry Into Parliament Attack

Armenian investigators say they have not ruled out any theories about who may have been behind the October shooting spree in parliament, when five gunmen killed the prime minister and seven other officials. Emil Danielyan of RFE/RL's Armenian Service reports from Yerevan.

Yerevan, 7 December 1999 (RFE/RL) -- A senior Armenian prosecutor says law-enforcement authorities are still collecting data about the bloody attack on parliament and have yet to clarify all circumstances leading to the murder of the country's prime minister, parliament speaker, and other officials.

Armenia's chief military prosecutor, Gagik Jahangirian, is leading the official inquiry into the parliament killings. He told reporters yesterday that the investigators are considering "more than a dozen theories" about the motives of the five gunmen, who burst into the chamber on October 27. He said it will take some time before investigators establish the truth about the tragedy.

"We are examining a number of different theories [about the shooting]. In a few days, we'll know if we have new suspects, and as soon as it becomes clear, I promise you that I will meet with you regularly and satisfy your curiosity."

The gunmen, led by former journalist Nairi Hoonanian, surrendered to police the day after spraying the chamber with bullets. They have since been under arrest pending trial. Six other persons, including a little-known parliament deputy, have also been arrested on charges of involvement in the bloodbath.

Jahangirian said a junior police officer who was on duty at the parliament checkpoint on October 27 was detained today and charged with "negligence." Armenian security agencies have been widely blamed for allowing Hoonanian and his gang to enter the parliament building armed with Kalashnikov rifles.

According to Jahangirian, evidence is mounting about the complicity of others. He said "one or two" out of the more than 250 individuals questioned by the prosecutors so far may also be taken into custody in the next few days.

Jahangirian confirmed press reports that the arrested gunmen have given testimony implicating some Armenian political groups and politicians.

"I cannot tell you anything about any serious revelations, as you say. But have the arrested suspects, especially the gunmen themselves, testified about some politicians? Yes they have, but about whom, I cannot say."

He said no theories of the crime have been dismissed by the 21-strong team of investigators, and that all hypotheses are being thoroughly investigated.

While still in the parliament chamber, the gunmen claimed that they murdered Prime Minister Vazgen Sarkissian, Parliament Speaker Karen Demirchian and six other officials for plunging the country into poverty and corruption. But many Armenian politicians believe that Hoonanian's gang was actually carrying out the orders of some organized force that wanted to destabilize the country.

Sarkissian and Demirchian were the leaders of the governing Miasnutyun (Unity) bloc, which won parliamentary elections last May. A power vacuum resulting from their death has ushered Armenia into a period of political uncertainty. Armenia's new prime minister, Aram Sarkissian, is Vazgen's younger brother and a political novice.

The assassinations came at a time when Armenia was believed to be nearing agreement with neighboring Azerbaijan on the Karabakh dispute. Since the killings, Russia's role in the mediation process has grown.

Jahangirian's remarks suggest that the conspiracy theory has not been rejected by the investigators. He implied that the attack was planned long before October 27 but gave no details.

The Armenian prosecutors say they will seek the assistance of foreign, including U.S., law-enforcement agencies only after they have settled on a single credible hypothesis. Solving the complicated case, Jahangirian said, could take months.