Unexplained shooting of 13 people in Baku feeds speculation about foreign ”terrorist” plots aimed at undermining stability.
By Boyukaga Agayev in Baku (CRS No. 492, 8-May-09)
A multiple shooting at the state oil academy in Baku has caused shockwaves in Azerbaijan, prompting student protests and fuelling speculation about possible extremist motives.
The assassin, an ethnic Azeri citizen of Georgia named Farda Gadirov, killed 13 people and wounded 13 more before turning his gun on himself on April 30.
When IWPR visited the site of the tragedy, just an hour after it happened, riot police were cordoning off the building. Journalists were not allowed within 50 metres of the entrance of the academy, a centre for the training of oil industry specialists.
The fact that police provided scant details of the incident, refusing even to tell journalists what hospitals the injured had been taken to, added to an air of mystery, spawning rumours about what lay behind the tragedy.
When journalists went to an emergency hospital, where most of the wounded were reportedly receiving treatment, to donate blood, they found hundreds of people already queuing there.
Within hours, the hospital’s duty doctor said more than 3,000 had offered to become donors, many of whom had to be turned down because the hospital had run out of room to store blood.
Police have since arrested a man from Gadirov’s village, named Nadir Aliev, who ran a snack stand outside the oil academy, and another man, named as Javidan Farman-oglu Amirov, charging both with complicity in the killings.
While law-enforcement bodies remain tight-lipped on what lay behind the killings, experts are divided over whether it was the act of a madman or a politically-motivated crime.
Ali Hasanov, a senior official in President Ilham Aliev’s administration, initially denied that the outrage might have been politically motivated, saying it appeared more like a “tragic accident”.
But Rauf Mirkadirov, a commentator with the newspaper Zerkalo, holds very different views. “This was an act of terror carried out by some external forces,” he claimed.
“I don’t believe the lone killer theory. It’s obvious that the act of terror is a warning addressed to the Azeri authorities, just as was the recent assassination of General Rail Rzaev.”
The commander of Azerbaijan’s air force, then 64, was shot dead outside his home in the capital in February.
Military expert Azad Isazade agreed with the conspiracy theory. “This was an act of terror for sure, though I can’t say who may have needed it,” he said.
“It’s also difficult to be certain that it was planned to take place in the oil academy, not somewhere else.
“[The perpetrators] might have initially contemplated other targets – there are many important facilities in the area. The day it happened, the impression was that what we had was a case of a lone killer, a mentally unbalanced person or some religious fanatic.
“However, it has since turned out that he shot professionally, aiming at people’s heads, not at random. I think that he was not alone, and that someone covered him, as he walked around [inside the academy].”
Meanwhile, hundreds of students gathered outside the oil academy on May 1 and 4 to demonstrate outrage at what had happened – as well as over the state of country in general.
Chanting “No to terror!” as well as “No to corruption!”, they tried to stage a march along the central streets of Baku and demanded a day of mourning for the victims of the massacre be declared.
Leaders of youth opposition movements joined the protests carrying their own political placards.
Police made no attempt to break up the demonstrations, although they ensured the movement of the protesters in the city centre was restricted.
Mirkadyrov said that while the student protests were unlikely to grow into anything serious, they were a sign “of the discontent brewing in society.
“This [murder] might spell the end of whatever stability there is now.
“The worst thing is that the government may find itself pitted against a crowd. This is what the organisers of the terrorist act must have aimed at.”
Isazade blamed the authorities’ failure to provide information about the killings for the disquiet and the rumours.
“The youth are angry that there is no information, that no mourning has been declared; they will hit the streets again,” he predicted.
“The government officials should stand by the young and support the slogan ‘No to terrorism!’ Otherwise, terrorists will become more daring.
“If we don’t add our voice to the society’s, we may get new acts of terror.”
Meanwhile, a joint report released by Azerbaijan’s prosecutor-general and the interior ministry revealed that Gadirov was born in 1980 in the villager of Dashtepe in Georgia’s Marneuli district.
He had lived in Russia for a long time before returning to his home village last October, it said.
On March 12 this year, he asked Ariz Gabulov, from the town of Marneuli, the driver of a passenger bus shuttling between Marneuli and Baku, to help him rent an apartment in Baku, according to the report.
It said Gabulov arranged for Gadirov to live in his brother’s flat in an outlying part of the capital and on the following day they both arrived in the Azeri capital.
Later, after police searched the rented apartment, they found a 9-mm bullet, a synthetic black mask with a wolf image printed on it and used medical rubber gloves.
Ariz Gabulov, alongside his brother Arif, is now under investigation.
According to the official report, investigators have found out that Gadirov repeatedly telephoned Nadir Aliev.
The latter is said to have been outside the oil academy building when Gadirov was carrying out the killings.
Over 300 witnesses have been questioned, including some who filmed the shootings on their mobile phones that later were seized as evidence.
An initial forensic ballistic examination confirmed that all the shots came from one and the same gun. It has been proved also that Farda killed himself with this gun.
Currently, intensive efforts are under way to track down other participants of the crime, if there are any.
In the meantime, local media reported a new arrest in connection with the shootings.
They said that hours after the attack on the academy, police hurried to the village of Dash Sadakhly in the Gazakh district to search for a man named Madat Kazimov.
An operation conducted by the Azeri police on the night of May 3-4 resulted in him being arrested and flown to Baku.
Meanwhile, on May 1, the killer’s father, Asad Gadirov, arrived in Baku from Moscow.
After identifying his son from a photo shown to him by the police, he said he disowned him. The mystery over why this young man killed so many innocent people, so far from his home, continues.
This article was originally published on www.iwpr.net