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From 'Suspected' Terrorist To Apparent Victim: Kazakh Man Caught Up In Russia Subway Blast

People gather in front of a damaged train door shortly after an explosion in St. Petersburg's subway on April 3.
People gather in front of a damaged train door shortly after an explosion in St. Petersburg's subway on April 3.

In the aftermath of the April 3 subway bombing in St. Petersburg that killed 14 people and wounded dozens, several Russian media outlets suggested the authorities had identified a Kazakh student as a suspected suicide attacker.

Some news sites even published images allegedly from surveillance cameras that purported to show 22-year-old Maksim Aryshev, an IT student who appeared to be thriving at the St. Petersburg State University of Economics, as the suspected bomber.

Aryshev, however, appears to have had no hand in the bombing. Instead, Kazakhstan's Foreign Ministry said on April 4, he was a victim.

"We convey with sorrow that according to information confirmed with the St. Petersburg city administration and the Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation, Kazakh citizen Maksim Aryshev, who was previously reported missing, was killed in a terrorist act in St. Petersburg on April 3," the ministry said in a statement.

Russian authorities on April 4 said they had determined that the bomb was set off by 22-year-old Akbarjon Jalilov, a Russian citizen who, like Aryshev, was born in Central Asia -- only in Kyrgyzstan, not Kazakhstan.

Russia's Investigative Committee said that Jalilov's "genetic traces" were discovered on a backpack that contained an undetonated bomb discovered at another St. Petersburg subway station after the blast.

The media reports suggesting Aryshev's involvement in the bombing echoed early coverage of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, when several individuals were wrongly identified as suspects in the attack on social media, as well as in the New York Post.

Most of the Russian media reports identifying Aryshev as a suspect cited the St. Petersburg website, which has excellent sources among law enforcement in the tsarist-era capital.

While the original report mentioning Aryshev did not explicitly name him as a suspect, the structure of its report strongly suggested he was the bomber. Its April 3 headline stated that three people killed in the blast had been identified, "including the alleged suicide attacker."

The short item then states that Aryshev (incorrectly spelled "Arishev") was "at the epicenter of the blast," noting that he was from Kazakhstan. It added that two others were killed, giving their names and ages, but no other details about them.

Several media outlets did the math and fingered Aryshev as the attacker. The prominent daily Kommersant even ran an April 4 headline that read, "Alleged Suicide Attacker Maksim Aryshev Was Not Found Among The Dead And Injured In St. Petersburg."

(The Kommersant report did include a statement from Kazakhstan's National Security Committee stating that Aryshev had nothing to do with the bombing.)

A group of Russian and Western bloggers known as Conflict Intelligence Team (CIT), however, cast doubt on the prospects of Aryshev's complicity in the bombing, noting that he had logged onto social media shortly before the blast.

Friends of Aryshev's also told the Russian newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda that they never believed that he could have been responsible for the explosion.

"He was a wonderful guy with whom you could talk about anything," the newspaper quoted a fellow student, identified only as Valery, as saying. "That's the first thing that comes to mind about him. This is a great tragedy for us."

Yury Romanov, who studied with Aryshev, said the Kazakh student decided not to go to his fourth class on April 3 and instead left to take the subway. Romanov and another friend got on the same train, but in a different car, he told the website.

Romanov said he exited the train at the final station before the bomb tore through the subway car carrying Aryshev and other passengers.

"Ten seconds later, I heard an explosion," he said.

The Kazakh Foreign Ministry said Aryshev's parents arrived in St. Petersburg on April 4 and identified their son's body.

With reporting by Merhat Sharipzhan and RFE/RL's Kazakh Service.
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    Carl Schreck

    Carl Schreck is an award-winning investigative journalist who serves as RFE/RL's enterprise editor. He has covered Russia and the former Soviet Union for more than 20 years, including a decade in Moscow. He has led investigations into corruption, cronyism, and disinformation campaigns in Russia and Central Asia, as well as on poisoning attacks against Kremlin opponents and assassinations of Iranian exiles in the West. Schreck joined RFE/RL in 2014.

RFE/RL has been declared an "undesirable organization" by the Russian government.

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