Abror Azimov, sentenced to life in prison for Petersburg subway bombing, disappears during transfer: there has been no news of him for a month The Insider
November 2, 2021
Abror Azimov, sentenced to life imprisonment in the case of the Petersburg subway bombing, has disappeared on his way to a penal colony. The convicted man’s father Ahral Azimov has told The Insider that nothing has been known about his whereabouts for over a month.
In mid-September, Abror Azimov was allegedly transferred from the Crosses pre-trial detention center in Petersburg. By verdict of the court, he was to be delivered to a high-security penal colony. The other defendants in the case have already been taken to various penitentiary facilities, including Abror’s brother Akram Azimov.
The last time Abror Azimov telephoned his parents was on September 14 from the Crosses. He said then that all the other defendants in the case had been transferred, and suggested that he would probably be transferred soon, too, the convict’s father said.
According to Petersburg philologist Elena Efros, who has been corresponding with Azimov, the last letter she received from him was from the Butyrka pre-trial detention center in Moscow on September 29, the day he was sent to the next transit prison. “There he writes that he would let me or his father know as soon as he arrived, but so far we’ve heard nothing,” Efros said.
Abror’s father sent several appeals to the authorities asking them to inform him which colony his son was sent to. On October 26, a response came from the Russian Federal Penitentiary Service office for St. Petersburg and the Leningrad Region, in which they claim that the wardens at Pre-Trial Detention Center No. 1 (The Crosses) had sent a letter to the convicted man’s father informing him about the place where his son was serving his sentence. Ahral Azimov says he has not received any letter. In this regard, he submitted an appeal to the prosecutor’s office, requesting they conduct an inquiry.
Abror Azimov’s lawyer Jargalma Dorzhiyeva told The Insider that she also has no information about his whereabouts. “I have no information about where Azimov is. Currently, I only have his consent to file a cassation appeal,” the lawyer said.
In December 2019, Azimov was sentenced to life in prison. His brother Akram Azimov and another defendant in the case, Muhamadusup Ermatov, were sentenced to 28 years in a maximum-security penal colony. Eight more defendants were sentenced to prison term of up to 19 years. All of them denied any wrongdoing, and four of them, including Abror and Akram Azimov, reported that they had been brutally tortured.
The blast on the line between the subway stations Sennaya Ploshchad and Tekhnologicheskii Institut occurred on 3 April 2017. Sixteen people were killed and fifty more were [hospitalized].
Abror Azimov reported that he and Akram were abducted and tortured in a secret FSB prison in the Moscow Region before their official detention. During the trial, he testified that he had been tortured into confessing to organizing the terrorist attack. The other defendants in the case have also repeatedly stated that they had nothing to do with the terrorist attack. All of them had come to Russia at different times to earn money: they worked on construction sites, in cafes and as taxi divers. At one of the first hearings in the trial, they pressed sheets of paper against the glass of the cage on which they had written “We were framed,” “We are not guilty,” and “You will see that there is nothing on us.”
Translated by the Russian Reader. Please read my previous posts on the presumed terrorist attack in the Petersburg subway, the case against its alleged “financiers and planners,” its roots in the Islamophobia that has infected Russia under Putin, and the shocking lack of local and international solidarity with the eleven Central Asian migrant workers scapegoated and convicted in the case.
Tomorrow, December 7, a court hearing will be held in the Moscow suburb of Vlasikha on the appeal of the verdict against of Shohista Karimova. The name of this middle-aged woman from Uzbekistan, who worked as a food prep worker in the Moscow Region, surfaced in the media in connection with the criminal case into the 3 April 2017 terrorist attack in the Petersburg subway—and, most likely, it was immediately forgotten. Journalist Natalia Sivohina recalls Karimova’s story.
On 3 April 2017, an explosion occurred in the Petersburg subway on a train traveling between the stations Sennaya Ploshchad and Tekhnologichesky Institut, killing 16 passengers and injuring about a hundred.
The security forces voiced several conflicting explanations of the tragedy, but soon reported that the perpetrators had been found.
In the dock were eleven people, migrant workers from Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Uzbekistan. According to investigators, they were members of an Islamist organization.
On 5 April 2017, relatives of one of the future defendants in the case of the Petersburg Eleven, Muhamadusup Ermatov, reported him missing. As he later told human rights activists and journalists, he had been kidnapped. The kidnappers (presumably FSB officers) put a plastic bag over Ermatov’s head, beat him up, intimidated him verbally, tasered him, and demanded that he give the testimony they wanted to hear.
Other defendants in the subway bombing case also claimed they had been subjected to the same “investigative methods.” The evidence obtained under torture was the basis of the sentences the defendants received on charges of terrorism. Karimova, the only woman among the defendants, was sentenced to 20 years in prison.
Karimova worked as a food prep worker in a café near Moscow. According to the case file, she “provided the [terrorist group] with means of communication.” As she said later, she lent a phone to her coworker and, later, co-defendant Abror Azimov. That was the extent of her alleged involvement in the bombing.
When FSB officers came to her house, the Uzbek national meekly complied with all their demands: she held the detonator in her hands, leaving her fingerprints on it, and let them take DNA swabs of her mouth and scalp.
Karimova trusted the authorities and hoped to the last that the truth would out. In the end, however, she was found guilty of possessing a bomb on Tovarishchesky Lane in Petersburg, a city to which she had never been before she was arrested.
Karimova had come to Russia to help her daughter. She worked for 25 thousand rubles a month [approx. 400 euros a month in 2017] and sent money home to her family. The verdict sent her into shock: her terrible screaming during the reading of the verdict was included in journalistic accounts of that day. But few journalists wrote anything about Karimova’s own story.
Screenshot of a letter, quoted below, sent by Shohista Karimova from prison, dated 18 May 2020
“When a guard at Pre-Trial Detention Center No. 2 asked why I didn’t go out for a walk, my cellmate replied that I was afraid. I was so afraid that a man in the uniform might hurt me—I was scared and cried constantly. My brain was just turned off. After a year, I started to recover from the stress and the extreme emotional state. And I was very afraid for my loved ones: they could have been framed as well,” Karimova wrote in a letter to a friend, adding, “I now believe that any innocent person can be charged [with a crime they did not commit].”
What the Defense Says
I spoke with Karimova’s lawyer, Viktor Drozdov.
How did you end up taking Shohista’s case? How did it all begin?
I received a call from a person who had previously been in prison and knew the law enforcement system firsthand, and then from other human rights defenders. They asked me to work pro bono on the case, whose defendants were initially represented by court-appointed lawyers. We met and talked, and I agreed to serve as Shohista’s defense counsel.
The tragedy in April 2017 and the media coverage that followed it had attracted my attention. I followed the case quite closely, comparing various reports. It raised a lot of questions, and I decided to find answers to them. I found them.
You have appealed the apparently wrongful verdict. Why do you think it is important to go all the way in this trial?
The defense lawyer’s job is to debunk the prosecution (during trial) and the illegality of the sentence (as now, on appeal), and always be ready to defend their client in subsequent phases in the process. What does “going all the way” mean? The real end came long ago: the justice system was completely “bankrupted” by this trial. It has neither been willing nor able to respond to any of the defense’s arguments.
Does Shohista believe in the possibility of getting justice? What does she think about the upcoming appeal?
Until recently, she had great faith in Putin. She wrote him letters to which she received no response. I don’t ask her that question now. Shohista is painfully aware of the circumstances that caused her to end up in prison completely unexpectedly and absurdly. She knows perfectly well and shares my position on her defense, which is that by defending her, I am defending the Russian justice system, first of all, and her future depends on it.
Shohista is a hostage to the political interests of people who are now quite powerful.
I have started naming these people on my little Telegram channel. They all were involved or somehow complicit in the #Metro17 case.
After the verdict, Shokhista wrote a letter to Judge Andrei Morozov, congratulating him on finally pacifying Russian society by “finding the terrorists” and wishing him health and happiness.
How many lawyers are currently defending Karimova?
Two: the lawyer Sergei Shostak, who joined the defense at my request, also pro bono, and fully shares my position, and me.
Despite the obvious inconsistencies in the trial of the Petersburg Eleven and the defendants’ complaints of torture, the case did not fall apart in court, and the defendants received huge sentences. Why do you think this happened?
The answer, perhaps, can be found in the verdict itself and in the way the trial was run. The text of the verdict does not cite any of the arguments the defense made, nor does it analyze the events of 3 April 2017 themselves. The court point-blank refused (sic!) to examine the [bombed] subway car as material evidence or the improvised explosive devices, entered into evidence by the prosecution, nor did it uphold any significant defense motion on the merits of the charge. And it allowed the illegal presence of unidentified and unmarked masked persons armed with firearms in the courtroom.
The court was neither independent nor fair. I personally feel very sorry for the judges. They did something vile.
Can ordinary people help defendants in political cases?
“Ordinary people” cannot do anything. But I believe in the capabilities of my fellow citizens—caring, thoughtful, and ready to tell the truth. The internet, petitions, collective appeals, and publicity can help—especially publicity.
* * *
The obvious inconsistencies in the case and testimony by the defendants that they had been subjected to hours of torture during the investigation did not prevent the trial court from finding them guilty and sentencing them to long terms in prison.
So far, there has been no massive grassroots campaign demanding a normal investigation of the case of the Petersburg Eleven. The medieval division into “friends” and “foes” has been firmly established in Russian society. Actually, this is nothing new: this is what usually happens amidst the wreckage of social institutions that have become obsolete.
First, people are evaluated by skin color, then people from the “wrong” ethnic groups are imprisoned: all this happened relatively recently by the standards of history. The country that conquered fascism interrogates hundred-year-old veterans who sacrificed their health and strength in that long-ago war with fascism. The so-called prosecution throws random people behind bars—disempowered construction workers, maintenance men, and kitchen workers from the former fraternal republics. So-called public opinion equates the concepts of “immigrant” and “terrorist.” The so-called state turns into a madman fleeing from its own shadow.
Zanovo Media will keep you updated about the plight of Shohista Karimova and the other defendants in the trial of the Petersburg Eleven.
Earlier today, Natalia Sivohina posted the following on her Facebook page by way of prefacing her article: “Recently, I posted a link to the website Zanovo, and today I published my first article there. The article is about Shohista Karimova, who worked as kitchen prep in the Moscow Region and was a defendant in the case of the terrorist attack in Petersburg. This ordinary, very nice woman visited our city for the first time after her arrest. No one knows the current whereabouts of the people actually involved in the crime committed in April 2017. But it is now quite clear to me that the defendants in the case of the Petersburg Eleven are random people who incriminated themselves under torture. Alas, this is the case in today’s Russia, which likes to rant about the ‘fight against fascism.’ Knowing about this case makes me uneasy. I felt quite scared when I wrote this article and talked to Shohista’s lawyer. But, you know, there are things that you can’t keep quiet about, because they concern everyone. Please, if you haven’t heard anything about Karimova, read this article about her. The hearing of the appeal against her verdict is scheduled for tomorrow. I really want to hope for the best.”
Translated by the Russian Reader. Please read my previous posts on the presumed terrorist attack in the Petersburg subway, the case against its alleged “financers and planners,” its roots in the Islamophobia that has infected Russia under Putin, and the shocking lack of local and international solidarity with the eleven Central Asian migrant workers scapegoated and convicted in the case:
TV Rain, April 8, 2020. “Three years after the first terrorist attack in the Petersburg subway, the court sent eleven people to prison—an entire terrorist network. We studied the evidence, talked to witnesses in Russia and Kyrgyzstan, and realized that there are too many secrets and questions left in the case. We assembled our own jury to decide whether the case should be reopened.”
People Freaked Out in a Good Way Ilya Ershov spoke with TV Rain reporter Yevgenia Zobnina about her documentary film on the strange investigation of the April 3, 2017, terrorist attack in the Petersburg subway. Open Space
Why did you decide to tackle this topic?
I was working as a correspondent for TV Rain in Petersburg and spent the whole day [of April 3, 2017] outside the Tekhnologicheskii Institut subway station. The most amazing thing was what happened afterward. The entire city raised money [for the victims and their families], government-organized rallies were held, and then somehow everyone abruptly forgot about it . Then there were fragmentary reports that the culprits had been caught. Next there was the trial. On the first day, reporters came running to film and photograph those eleven [defendants]. That was it. And then there was the verdict. There has been a good trend in journalism, on YouTube, of returning to the sore spots in our history. It seemed to me that this story should also be told.
Were there things you found out when shooting the film that didn’t end up in the film?
There was this thing with one of the relatives of the Azimov brothers, who had been corresponding on WhatsApp with unknown numbers. The investigation used some of them as evidence of [the brothers’] connection with terrorists. One of the relatives said, This is my number, I exist, I live in Ukraine, I am not a terrorist. If Ukraine had not gone into quarantine, we could have found more witnesses there.
How many people refused to talk to you?
It was a big problem for the relatives of the defendants to give their relatives’ contacts, because everyone is scared. None of the relatives turned us down. They were happy that someone was interested in their lives. They say that if their relatives were terrorists, the local security service would not have left them alone. But they came once, took their information, and never showed up again.
How openly were Kyrgyzstan’s human rights defenders ready to communicate with you? Were they and the relatives [of the defendants] under pressure from the local security services?
It was a great surprise for me to talk with Sardorbek, a lawyer at the [Kyrgyz] human rights organization Justice. He says that they know how to assert their rights. In Kyrgyzstan, there are laws that enable one to defend one’s rights. When they found out about the disappearance of their relatives, the Azimov family practically lived in the offices of the human rights defenders for several days, and no one came and tried to take them away. But we did not find any attempts by [the governments of] Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan to stand up for their citizens.
Have the Russian authorities reacted to the film?
We made official inquiries even as we were making the film, but we didn’t get any answers. This film was made for society, not for the state.
What kind of reactions have their been to the film in general?
People have freaked out in a good way. Their reaction has been, “Wow, why is it like that in our country?”
You staged a jury trial in the film? Are such trials the future?
There should be jury trials at some stage. But there will never be a jury trial in this case. [On the day the verdict in the real trial was announced] Putin came to Petersburg: how could those people have not been convicted? In the film, the jury was there to keep us from turning into accusers of the FSB. We thought it vital to turn this into a conversation about what was wrong with the case. Jury trials are demonstrative. Every detail of a case is examined carefully, because both sides understand that they are facing people who do not understand anything about it. The verdict depends on how you explain the evidence. When we begin to explain what happened in the investigation of the terrorist attack, everything immediately becomes clear.
Thanks to Ilya Ershov for the heads-up and for permission to translate and publish this interview here. Translated by the Russian Reader. Please read my previous posts on the terrorist attack, the case against its alleged financiers and planners, its roots in the Islamophobia that has infected Russia under Putin, and the shocking absence of local and international solidarity with the eleven people convicted and sentenced to long prison terms in the case:
I received a Federal Penitentiary Service (FPS) Letter Service letter from Dilmurod Muidinov. (He is 22 years old, and he was sentenced to nearly the same number of years—20—for the bombing in the Petersburg subway, something he obviously had nothing to do with.) He wrote super-small on the reply form to make as much fit as possible , while the resolution of scan was very low, and so I wound up with a bunch of pixels. (Update: Lyova helped me with the image, so I’ll be able to read it, yay!)
Dilmurod is a gnarly letter writer and an interesting correspondent who has a sense of humor and a fascinating story. He has permitted me to publish his letters, so I’m going to post here his previous letter, in which he writes about how he came up with a cake recipe called “Gentle Morozov” (named after the judge who sentenced him to 20 years in maximum security), and about how he, an ethnic Uzbek, witnessed the ethnic riots in Osh in 2010, when he was 13 years old.
A scan of Dilmurod Muidinov’s letter to Jenya Kulakova. Courtesy of Jenya Kulakova
“I made a cake the other day. I turned on my imagination and made it following my own recipe, which I gave the name “Gentle Morozov.” :) Maybe I can treat you to it someday, and if I am somehow able to sell the recipe to a pastry shop, I will ask that they not change the name.”
“When I was 13 years old, we had a genocide in our city. I witnessed women, old people, and children being killed and burned only because they were from a different ethnic group, and at the age of 22 I witnessed everything that has happened to me now.”
Read his letter and write to Dilmurod or anyone else from the group of eleven people convicted for the bombing in the Petersburg subway. You can read about the case and the defendants on this website: http://3apr2017.tilda.ws. And here is information you need to send letters via the FPS Letter Service.
Remand Prison No. 5 (Arsenalka): Кarimova, Shohista Sodikovna, born 1971 (sentenced to 20 years in prison)
Remand Prison No. 6 (Gorelovo): Azimov, Abror Ahralovich, born 1990 (sentenced to life in prison)
Remand Prison No. 1 (Kresty):
Azimov, Akram Ahralovich, born 1998 (28 years in maximum security)
Ortikov, Sodik Zokirovich, born 1979 (22 years in maximum security)
Ermatov, Muhamadusup Bahodirovich, born 1991 (28 years in maximum security) Ermatov, Ibrahimjon Bahodirovich, born 1993 (27 years in maximum security)
Mirzaalimov, Mahamadusuf Dilshadovich, born 1995 (20 years in maximum security)
Mahmudov, Azamjon Asadovich, born 1994 (20 years in maximum security)
Hakimov, Seifulla Vahitovich, born 1978 (19 years in maximum security)
Ergashev, Bahrom Hasilovich, born 1978 (19 years in maximum security)
Muidinov, Dilmurod Furkatovich, born 1997 (20 years in maximum security)
Translated by the Russian Reader. Please read my previous posts on the presumed terrorist attack, the case against its alleged “financers and planners,” its roots in the Islamophobia that has infected Russia under Putin, and the shocking lack of local and international solidarity with the eleven defendants in the case:
Court Asked to Sentence Some Defendants in Petersburg Subway Bombing Case to Life in Prison Mediazona
November 18, 2019
The prosecutor has asked the court to sentence some of the defendants in the 2017 Petersburg subway bombing case to life in prison, our correspondent has reported from the courtroom.
The prosecutor [Nadezhda Tikhonova] asked the court to sentence Akram Azimov, Abror Azimov, Ibrahimjon Ermatov, and Muhamadusup Ermatov to life imprisonment in a high-security penal colony and fines of one million rubles [approximately 14,000 euros] each. She asked the court to sentence Sodik Ortikov to 28 years in a maximum-security penal colony and a fine of one million rubles. She requested sentences of 27 years in a maxium-security penal colony and fines of one million rubles each for Mahamadusuf Mirzaalimov, Azamjon Mahmudov, Seifulla Hakimov, Bahrom Ergashev, and Dilmurod Muidinov.
Defendant Shohista Karimova had a nervous breakdown during the hearing, which led to a thirty-minute recess. After the recess, Karimova refused to return to the courtroom, screaming and resisting attempts to make her move. Consequently, the hearing was postponed until tomorrow.
Convening in Petersburg, the Moscow District Military Court began hearing the case on April 2, 2019. All the defendants pleaded not guilty, and four of them said they had been brutally tortured. On April 17, 2017, an explosion occurred on a subway train traveling between the stations Sennaya Ploshchad and Tekhnologichesky Institut. Sixteen people were killed, and another fifty [sic] people were injured.
Today, the state prosecutor announced her wishes in the Petersburg subway bombing case: life imprisonment for four of the defendants (the Azimov brothers and the Ermatov brothers), and between 27 and 28 years in prison for all the other defendants, except Shohista Karimova. (The prosecutor will request a sentence for her tomorrow.)
And she asked that all the defendants be fined a million rubles each.
Most likely, the sentences handed down by the court will not differ greatly from the prosecution’s wishes. (Maybe the more uproar there is now, the greater the difference will be.)
Most likely, the verdict will be upheld on appeal.
Most likely, someday this case (like hundreds of others) will be reviewed, and the convicted defendants exonerated.
I’d like to live to see the day when that happens. And for the accused and their loved ones to live to see it, too.
Translated by the Russian Reader. Please read my previous posts on the terrorist attack, the case against its alleged planners, its roots in the Islamophobia that has infected Russia under Putin, and the shocking lack of local and international solidarity with the thirteen defendants in the case:
It took law enforcement agencies over a month to deliver eleven suspects and 127 volumes of criminal case files to Petersburg. At the first hearing in the case, on April 2, the reporters who were present got the impression that the Moscow-based judges trying the case had no intentions of dragging the trial out. Nearly all the lawyers who had come onto the case, replacing state-appointed defense attorneys, were turned down in their request to be granted additional time to review the case files.
“Coordinate it during the recesses,” said presiding judge Andrei Morozov.
The indictment claims all the defendants were associated with a certain Sirojiddin Muhtarov aka Abu Salah. He was not among the defendants on trial. Investigators claimed he was currently in the vicinity of Aleppo, along with Uzbek national Bobirjon Mahbubov (code-named Ahmed), who had turned 22-year-old Akbarjon Jalilov into an Islamic suicide bomber.
Investigators claimed Muhtarov and Mahbubov communicated with the defendants on Telegram. Their recruitment into the ranks of the alleged terrorist organization had also, apparently, taken place on the internet, because almost none of the defendants had been abroad except for Jalilov.
The Terrorist Attack
An explosion rocked the Petersburg subway at 2:33 p.m. on April 3, 2017. Twenty-two-year-old Akbarjon Jalilov is alleged to have to set off a homemade bomb on a section of the subway between Sennaya Ploshchad and Tekhnologicheskii Institut stations. The train’s driver, Alexander Kaverin, was able to get the damaged train to Tekhnologicheskii Institut, where the wounded were assisted.
According to the Russian Emergency Situations Ministry and the Russian Health Ministry, eleven people died in the explosion, including the suicide bomber. Another victim died en route to hospital, while two more died upon arrival. The total number of people killed was thus sixteen. Eighty-nine people sought medical attention after the blast; fifty-one of them were hospitalized.
The same day, it transpired that two simultaneous blasts had been planned instead of the one. Another bomb, three times more powerful than the one set off, allegedly, by Jalilov, was found camouflaged as a fire extinguisher by Albert Sibirskikh, an inspector at Ploshchad Vosstaniia subway station. A cursory examination of the bomb revealed it would have been detonated by a mobile phone.
“He was merely at the wrong place at the wrong time,” she said.
The place where most of the defendants were found at the wrong time was the Lesnoye Cafe in Moscow Region’s Odintsovo District, where Jalilov worked as a cook between December 2016 and March 2017. Another such place was a flat at 22/1 Tovarishchesky Prospect in Petersburg. It was here, while they arrested five of the suspects on April 5, 2017, that FSB officers were alleged to have found components of an explosive device. The indictment claims that Jalilov and five of the defendants lived in the flat.
Investigators allege that brothers Abror and Akram Azimov had acted as Abu Salah’s agents in Russia. He supposedly sent them money to buy parts for the explosive device.
Defendants are typically reluctant to talk to the press [sic], but in this case it was quite the opposite. During the hearing, both Azimov brothers petitioned the court to have their testimony televised.
“We are willing to explain how we got mixed up in this case and how we were forced to testify. We are only random Muslims. We have done nothing else wrong,” the Azimov brothers told the court.
Judge Morozov rejected their motion to have their testimony filmed, arguing that only the reading of the verdict could be recorded.
All the defendants in the case have refused to plead guilty to involvement in terrorism. Yana Teplitskaya, a member of the Petersburg Public Monitoring Commission (PMC), told us that she had information the defendants had been tortured. According to Teplitskaya, the Muhamadusup brothers [sic] and Ibrahim Ermatov had related to PMC members that investigators had subjected them to physical violence, but their injuries had not been officially certified by medical personnel. PMC members promised to released more detailed information in the near future.
Defense lawyers also claimed their clients were ordinary people who had accidentally been caught up in the juggernaut of the investigation.
“He pleads not guilty,” Ketevan Baramiya, defense attorney for Ibrahim Ermatov, told us. “It’s a great pity the court rejected the motion to videotape the testimony. The defendants are willing to explain how they got mixed up in this case.”
However, it was not only defense lawyers who had the impression the FSB had chosen the “terrorist conspirators” at random.
“Frankly speaking, they don’t really look like terrorists,” said Yuri Shushkevich, who was injured in the terrorist attack, “especially that woman.”
He meant Shohista Karimova, who has been charged with aiding and abetting the alleged terrorists by buying SIM cards for mobile phones and storing an F1 grenade, which she claims was planted in her domicile by FSB field officers.
“They all look like ordinary guys, but how would I know what terrorists look like?” wondered Shushkevich.
The Strange Investigation of a Strange Terrorist Attack
Leonid Martynyuk Radio Svoboda
February 3, 2018
The investigation of the April 2017 terrorist attack in the Petersburg subway continues. We have assembled thirteen facts that provoke questions and leave us bewildered.
Last year witnessed two major terrorist attacks in Russia’s so-called second capital: in the subway in April, and in a Perekrostok supermarket in late December. They claimed 16 lives and injured another 126 people. In addition, in December, two weeks before the New Year, a joint operation by the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) and the Interior Ministry apprehended seven persons who, according to the security services, were planning a whole series of terrorist attacks in Petersburg, including a blast in Kazan Cathedral. According to the same sources, the CIA had assisted the Russian security services in uncovering the terrorists and their plans.
On December 17, “Vladimir Putin thanked Donald Trump for the intelligence shared by the CIA, which had assisted in detaining terrorists planning blasts in Petersburg’s Kazan Cathedral and other sites in the city. The intelligence received from the CIA was enough to track down and apprehend the criminals.”
Given the fact that last year no similar terrorist attacks or attempted terrorist attacks took place anywhere else in Russia, the activeness of terrorists in Petersburg was especially shocking. Why was Petersburg chosen by terrorists as the only target? However, the security services should first answer not this question, which is, perhaps, rhetorical, but questions about the ongoing investigation and its findings. While little time has passed since the December terrorist attack, and there has been little news about its investigation, it has been nearly nine months since the April attack in the Petersburg subway, and so we can sum up and analyze the available information.
The first person whom the media, citinglaw enforcement agencies, named as the possible terrorist was Ilyas Nikitin, a truck driver from Bashkortostan, who was returning home that day from St. Petersburg’s central mosque.
“A photo of the man whom the CID are seeking in connection with the blast.” Screenshot from the Twitter account of popular Petersburg news website Fontanka.ru
A few hours later, however, Nikitin himself went to the police to prove his innocence. He had planned to fly from Moscow’s Vnukovo Airport to Orenburg. He had gone through the security check, but the flight crew of the Rossiya Airlines plane refused to let him board the plane due to the protests of frightened fellow passengers, who had “identified” him from his photograph in the press.
In the early hours of April 4, the media, citing the security services, identified Maxim Arishev, who was “in the epicenter of the blast in the subway car” and “could be the alleged suicide bomber.”
“Channel Five has published photos of the person who allegedly planted the second bomb at Ploshchad Vosstaniya.” Screenshot from Twitter account of the Conflict Intelligence Team (CIT)
Arishev was identified as a “22-year-old Kazakhstani national.” An hour later, the Conflict Intelligence Team (CIT), a group of investigators, published a message stating Arishev was a victim of the terrorist attack, not the man who carried it out.
“We have concluded that Maxim Aryshev [sic] was among the victims of the terrorist attack, not a suicide bomber.” Screenshot from Twitter account of the Conflict Intelligence Team (CIT)
The third and final hypothesis as to the perpetrator’s identity during the immediate aftermath of the attack was that it was 22-year-old Russian national Akbarjon Jalilov, who also died in the blast. The Investigative Committee’s guess was based on genetic evidence and CCTV footage.
A photograph of Akbarjon Jalilov on his page on the Russian social media website Odnoklassniki (“Classmates”)
Djalilov’s neighbors in Osh, Kyrgyzstan, where he lived until 2011, described his family as secular.
“His family is not religious. Akbarjon did not pray five times a day or grow a beard. On the contrary, he liked wearing ripped bluejeans. He knew Russian well.”
An hour later, the concept had changed, and the Russian security services informed the public through the media there had been one blast, while a second explosive device, planted at the Ploshchad Vosstaniya subway station, had been disarmed in time.
The news chronicle of the terrorist attack in the Petersburg subway is still available on the internet news site Lenta.ru, which is now absolutely loyal to the regime.
Between 3:12 p.m. and 3:44 p.m., that is, over thirty minutes, Lenta.ru published several reports that two explosive devices had exploded at two subway stations.
3:12 p.m.: “There were two blasts. They thundered at Sennaya Ploshchad and Tekhnologicheskii Institut stations.”
3:17 p.m.: “Putin has been informed of the explosions in the Petersburg subway.”
3:44 p.m: The media report that “all stations of the Petersburg subway have been closed due to the blasts.”
After 3:49 p.m., only one blast is mentioned in every single one of Lenta.ru‘s dispatches.
3:49 p.m.: “The number of victims of the blast in the Petersburg subway has grown to thirty, reports Interfax.”
But at 3:55 p.m. Lenta.ru publishes a report of a second unexploded bomb.
3:55 p.m.: “Fontanka.ru reports that another, unexploded bomb has been found at the Ploshchad Vosstaniya station.”
The media’s interpreters of information supplied by the Investigative Committee and Emergency Situations Ministry were offered the following explanation of the false report of two blasts at two stations.
“The explosion occurred on the stretch of track between Petersburg subway stations Sennaya Ploshchad and Teknologicheskii Institut. At the time of the explosion, the subway train had only set out from Sennaya Ploshchad, but it did not stop, braking only at Tekhnologicheskii Institut. Therefore, reports of a bomb exploding arrived from both stations. At one station, the explosion and smoke were seen, while the exploded subway car, and the injured and the dead were seen at the second station.”
But this account contradicts reports about the time of the explosion.
“The explosion occurred at 2:40 p.m. in the third car of an electric train traveling on the Petersburg subway’s Blue Line. It happened a few minutes after the train had left Sennaya Ploshchad for Tekhnologicheskii Institut.”
The average speed of a train traveling in the Petersburg subway is 40 kilometers an hour. The train left Sennaya Ploshchad and had been traveling a few minutes before an explosion occurred in one of the cars. Let us assume that train had been under speed for a minimum of two minutes, and during the first minute the train traveled slowly due to the need to pick up speed. During the second minute, the train was already traveling at around 30 kilometers an hour. In one minute, an object moving at a speed of 30 kilometers an hour travels half a kilometer.
This means that at the time of the explosion the train was at least half a kilometer from the departure station. Most likely, however, the train was much farther than half a kilometer from Sennaya Ploshchad. Eyewitnesses reported that the “train was flying along” when the explosion occurred, that is, it was traveling at a good speed.
As TV Rain reported, “According to eyewitnesses, the explosion in the car occurred on the approach to Tekhnologicheskii Institut.”
Under the circumstances, the smoke seen by eyewitnesses, and the noise of the blast, which could be heard at Sennaya Ploshchad, could not have been perceived by witnesses and, much less, by Emergency Situations Ministry and Investigative Committee officers as a “blast at Sennaya Ploshchad station.” It could be identified, for example, as an “explosion in the tunnel” or “smoke on the stretch of track between the stations.”
Another explanation is that reporters mixed everything up. The Emergency Situations Ministry and Investigative Committee never reported an explosion at Sennaya Ploshchad subway station. This hypothesis is easily refuted by the stories filed by news agencies and TV channels, for example, the Federal News Agency. They clearly show that, within an hour of the blast, there were emergency vehicles, firefighters, Emergency Situations Ministry officers, seventeen ambulance brigades, and even an medevac helicopter outside the station. The entrance to the station was cordoned off, and police herded passersby away from the station.
Outside Sennaya Ploshchad subway station, April 3, 2017
Questions arise in this regard. How could professionals from the security services, whom many media quoted, confuse an explosion and a disarmed bomb? How could the Investigative Committee and Emergency Situations Ministry have known there should have been two explosions?
3. Confusion about the Time When the Explosive Device Was Found at Ploshchad Vosstaniya Station
The first report that an explosive device had been discovered at Ploshchad Vosstaniya station was filed at 2:21 p.m. on Motor Vehicle Accidents and Emergencies | Saint Petersburg | Peter Online | SPB, a popular page on the VK social network. (It has 800,000 subscribers.)
“A bag has been left at Ploshchad Vosstaniya subway. An inspector with a sniffing device has arrived. No police. The area has not been cordoned off.”
The post was read 509,000 times.
The post was published at 2:21 p.m, but a photograph was uploaded to VK even earlier, at 2:06 p.m. Reporters from the local business daily Delovoi Peterburgcalled the man who had taken the picture, Denis Chebykin, and asked him to check the exact time on his telephone when he snapped the photo.
“At 2:01 p.m. At any rate, my telephone displays more or less the right time,” he told them.
But in its official report, sent to all media, the FSB’s Petersburg and Leningrad Region Office said the bomb in the Ploshchad Vosstaniya subway station was found fifty-nine minutes later.
“Around 3:00 p.m., a homemade explosive device armed with projectiles was found in the Ploshchad Vosstaniya subway station. The device was promptly disarmed by explosives experts.”
Why did the Federal Security Service (FSB) not want to tell the truth: that the explosive device at Ploshchad Vosstaniya had been discovered at least 32 minutes before the explosion in the train headed to Tekhnologicheskii Institut? Are the security services concealing their own sluggishness?
4. Who Disarmed the Second Bomb?
The media supplied two completely different accounts of who prevented the second explosion. According to the account given at 12:10 p.m., April 4, on the website of Zvezda, the Defense Ministry’s TV channel, the bomb was disarmed by a Russian National Guard officer who happened to be in the subway at the time, was quite familiar with the particular type of explosive device, and thus quickly disarmed the bomb. This was also reported by Ren TV and Moskovsky Komsomolets newspaper.
Another account emerged later, after three o’clock on the afternoon of April 5.
“The explosive device in the Ploshchad Vosstaniya station of the Petersburg subway was defused by officers of the engineering and technical branch of the Russian National Guard’s riot police (OMON).”
The same day, April 5, NTV, known for its close ties to the Russian security services, aired a special report, in which a riot policeman, identified in the captions as “Maxim, senior explosives engineer,” says the riot police (OMON) discovered a black bag, containing a explosive device, which he and his colleagues defused.
The second account of how the bomb was defused was heavily spun by the media, while the original account, of the Russian National Guard officer who happened to be in the subway and defused the bomb, was dropped after April 4.
5. The Terrorist Attack Happened after Massive Opposition Protests
Eight days before the terrorist attack in the Petersburg subway, on March 26, 2017, one of the biggest protest rallies in the past five years took place in Moscow. The protesters, who had not coordinated the event with the mayor’s office, demanded the authorities respond to the charges made against Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev in the Anti-Corruption Foundation’s investigative report “Don’t Call Him Dimon.”
The protest led to numerous arrests. According to official sources, over 600 people were packed into paddy wagons. Human rights defenders claim that over a thousand people were apprehended. Protests took place not only in Moscow but also in other Russian cities. A total of between 32,359 and 92,861 people [sic] took to the streets nationwide on March 26, 2017, and between 1,666 and 1,805 people were detained.
“The governors are getting called and told to make everyone go to the rallies,” a source close to the Kremlin told the newspaper Kommersant.
This information was also confirmed by a source in United Russia, the country’s ruling party.
6. Islamic State Did Not Claim Responsibility for the Terrorist Attack
At the outset of the investigation, the FSB claimed Jalilov had been a member of an Islamic State commando group. At first, it made this claim anonymously.
“According to Kommersant‘s trustworthy source, the security services knew an attack was planned in Petersburg, but their intelligence was incomplete. It was provided by a Russian national who had collaborated with Islamic State, an organization banned in our country, and detained after returning from Syria. The man knew several members of a commando group dispatched to Russia.”
“The terrorist attack in Petersburg was carried out by an Islamic State suicide bomber. […] FSB officers […] found out he had entered Russia via Turkey in 2014. Currently, the security services have been in contact with their colleagues in neighboring countries to find out the exact itinerary of Jalilov’s journey, but they are certain he visited Syria or, rather, Islamic State-controlled Syria.”
More than eight months have passed since the terrorist attack, but Islamic State never did claim responsibility for the explosion in the Petersburg subway, although Islamic State militants had claimed responsibility for a terrorist attack that happened ten days before the Petersburg attack: an attack on a Russian military base in Chechnya. The attack occurred in the early hours of March 24, 2017, leaving six Russian servicemen dead.
Islamic State also claimed responsibility for a terrorist attack carried out less than twenty-four hours after the attack in Petersburg: the murder of two policemen in Astrakhan in the early hours of April 4, 2017.
7. An Unknown Group Claimed Responsibility for the Terrorist Attack Only Three Weeks Later
On April 25, 2017, Russian and international media reported that an unknown group calling itself Katibat al-Imam Shamil, allegedly linked to Al Qaeda, had claimed responsibility for the attack in the Petersburg subway twenty-two days after the attack. However, there is no information about the group in public sources, and experts have never heard of it.
The long period of time that elapsed between the terrorist attack and this “confession” also raises doubts that the statement was really made by Islamic fundamentalists, rather than by people passing themselves off as Islamists.
8. The Terrorist’s Suspected Accomplices Kept a Bomb in Their Home for Two Days after the Attack
On the morning of April 6, 2017, FSB and Interiory Ministry officers detained six men in Petersburg, claiming they had been involved in the terrorist attack. All the detainees lived in a flat on Tovarishchesky Avenue, where, according to police investigators, a homemade explosive device was discovered during a search. It was similar in design to the devices used by the terrorist in the subway. Investigators had located the suspects by studying telephone calls made by Akbarjon Jalilov.
Let us assume that the suspects really were accomplices in planning the terrorist attack. In that case, it transpires that two days after the attack they were keeping an explosive device in their home. Moreover, they made no attempt to leave Petersburg, knowing that investigators would check people the suspected terrorist had called, and so they would definitely track them down. Meaning that either the arrested men are quite stupid people or, as they have claimed themselves, the FSB planted the bomb in their flat.
9. The Accused Were Provided with State-Appointed Defense Attorneys Who Worked for the Prosecution
A total of ten people were arrested as part of the terrorist attack investigation in Petersburg. All of them were provided with state-appointed attorneys, who have a very bad reputation among human rights activists in Russia. Many of them perform their duties in such a way that no prosecutor is necessary. Meaning they do not need his help to send their defendants to prison faraway and for a long time. This has been borne out in full in the Petersburg terrorist attack case.
Thus, on April 7, 2017, the court considered a motion, made by investigators and supported by the prosecutor, to remand Mahamadusuf Mirzaalimov in custody. The accused plainly stated he did not want to go to a remand prison.
“I object to the investigation’s motion to remand me in custody. I never saw this explosive device,” he said in the courtroom.
However, the defendant’s position was not supported by his lawyer, Nina Vilkina, who left the question of custody to the court’s discretion. Consequently, the court remanded Mirzaalimov in custody until June 2, 2018.
Mahamadusuf Mirzaalimov. Photo by Sergei Mihailichenko. Courtesy of Fontanka.ru
During suspect Abror Azimov’s remand hearing, which took place on April 18, 2017, in Moscow’s Basmanny District Court, his state-appointed defense lawyer cheerfully reported to the judge, “He pleads guilty in fully.”
The lawyere made this statement before the investigation was completed and before any trial had taken place.
The father of the accused brothers Abror and Akram Azimov would later say about the state-appointed lawyers, “These lawyers do not call me and do not say anything. They hide everything. It was only from the press I heard my sons had been detained.”
10. Police Reports and Videos of the Azimovs’ Detention Were Falsified
Since mid April 2017, investigators have regarded brothers Abror and Akram Azimov as the principal suspects in the Petersburg terrorist attack.
According to a statement issued by the FSB, Akram Azimov was detained in New Moscow on April 19. A RGD-5 combat grenade was allegedly found on his person when he was apprehended.
Akram and Abror Azimov, and their father Ahrol Azimov. Photo taken from Ahrol Azimov’s Facebook page
According to Akram Azimov’s mother Vazira Azimova, law enforcement officers snatched her son from a hospital in Osh, Kyrgyzstan, on April 15, the day after he had undergone an operation, and took him to an undisclosed location. The video recording released by the FSB on April 19, in which Akram Azimov is detained at a bus stop in New Moscow, was staged, she claims.
“He had no money for a ticket. He did not have his passport. It was obviously staged. I want justice,” Vazira Azimova said in a statement.
Akram’s father Ahrol Azimov provided RBCwith a photo of his son’s boarding pass for an S7 flight from Domodedovo Airport in Moscow to Osh, Kyrgyzstan, on March 27, 2017. The senior Azimov is convinced his son could not have traveled to Russia on his own: when he was hospitalized he had no money with him to buy a ticket.
The fact that Akram Azimov was snatched from a hospital in Osh by officers of the Kyrgyzstan State Committee for National Security (GKNB) on April 15, 2017, has been confirmed in writing by Zina Karimova, head doctor of the Hosiyat Clinic, a private facility, and Sanzharbek Tohtashev, the attending physician.
According to lawyer Anna Stavitskaya, illegal detentions are a common practice in the CIS countries.
“The security services in a number of post-Soviet countries cheerfully cooperate with the FSB when it comes to ‘unofficial’ exchanges of detainees. Practically speaking, it is often a matter of kidnapping. In my practice, there have been several cases when people were apprehended in Russia. The issue of whether to extradite them to Uzbekistan or Tajikistan, for example, was being decided, but the European Court of Human Rights forbade extradition. As soon as the people were released from custody, they were kidnapped with the assistance of the Russian security services and transported to these foreign countries. In this case, it is the other way round.”
Akram Azimov was transported by FSB officers from Kyrgyzstan to Moscow, where, his lawyer Olga Dinze claims, he was held for four days in an illegal prison, after which the FSB staged his apprehension.
“On April 19, the suspect, wearing a blindfold, was taken somewhere in a vehicle. He was told how to behave. He should sit with his hands in his pockets and keep quiet. The ‘officers’ would come up to him and take him to a car. This was the same staged video we all would see later on the internet. After his apprehension was staged, he was placed in the car. His hands were cuffed behind his back and a grenade was placed in his hand. He was ordered to squeeze it so he would leave his fingerprints on it.”
Something similar happened to Akram’s brother Abror Azimov. He was apprehended by FSB officers on April 4. After thirteen days in a secret FSB prison, he was apprehended a second time, for the video cameras, on April 17.
Abror Azimov claims that on April 17 he was taken from his cell, and a hood was pulled over his head and wrapped round with adhesive tape. His capture was then staged. Afterwards, he was put in a car, forced to leave fingerprints on a Makarov pistol, and taken to an investigator, who had already printed out his interrogation transcript.
Before Abror Azimov was officially apprehended on April 17, the house where he lived in Lesnoi Gorodok, Moscow Region, was searched. Investigators carried out the search without a judge’s warrant due to the urgency of the matter, as they explained. It was during this search that the Makarov pistol was allegedly found.
11. The Azimov Brothers Were Tortured After They Were Apprehended
The Azimov brothers were apprehended twice: first with no cameras present, and then for the cameras, so that FSB officers would have several days to illegally interrogate the accused men. The Azimovs claim they were tortured during these interrogations.
According to Olga Dinze, Akram Azimov’s attorney, her client was tortured with electrical shocks.
“He was brutally tortured. He was standing practically naked on a concrete floor. He was not fed or given any water. He was forced to memorize the testimony he would later give to the investigator. When he would give the wrong answer, they would shock him with an electrical current, counting to ten. Periodically, he fainted. He would be brought back to his senses and the torture would resume. The torture not only involved memorizing his testimony but also threats of violence against his wife and children. They threatened to rape his wife. Since Akram knows of such cases in his homeland, he took the threats seriously.”
After he was tortured, Akram Azimov was taken to the Russian Federal Investigative Committee, where he was interrogated in the presence of a state-appointed defense attorney. The FSB officers who had earlier tortured him told him what answers to give, but his state-appointed counsel said nothing, allowing the FSB officers and the investigator to coerce Azimov mentally.
The circumstances faced by the second accused man, Abror Azimov, have been similar. His defense attorney said his client was apprehended and jailed in a secret prison, where he was repeatedly tortured with electric shocks, dunked in water, humiliated in every possible way, and subjected to mental coercion. FSB officers spent two weeks forcing him to admit involvement in terrorist activities.
On April 18, 2017, during his custody hearing, Abror Azimov’s testimony was confused. At first, he stated he was not involved in the explosion, but after an Investigative Committee officer reminded him that he had earlier signed a confession, Azimov said, “I’m involved in this, but not directly.” When the judge asked whether the suspect wanted the court to assign non-custodial pretrial restrictions, Azimov answered in the negative. The question is what kind of person, if he has not been subjected beforehand to physical and mental coercion (torture and threats), would voluntarily agree to be jailed?
12. Their Lawyers Were Not Admitted to the Azimov Brothers
According to lawyers Olga and Dmitry Dinze, they could not begin defending the Azimov brothers for over a week.
“We could not start working on this criminal case, because neither the remand prison nor the investigator would let us see our clients, using whatever trick they could.”
The investigators from the Investigative Committee ignored the lawyers’ calls and conducted the investigation only in the presence of the state-appointed lawyers.
Investigators thus had nearly a month after the official arrest to pressure the accused without being distracted by the legitimate requests of real lawyers.
The Azimov brothers’ problems did not end with the refusal of authorities to let their lawyers see their clients. Since late June, according to their father, the Azimovs have been paid visits by FSB officers who have demanded they renounce their defense lawyers and employ the services of state-appointed lawyers.
13. The Justice Ministry Has Been Pressuring Olga Dinze, Akram Azimov’s Lawyer
On August 3, 2017, officials of Lefortovo Remand Prison in Moscow detained Olga Dinze, Akram Azimov’s lawyer, for three hours, demanding she hand over the notes she received from Azimov concerning the case of the terrorist attack in the Petersburg subway.
The prison wardens wanted to get their hands on documents Azimov had given to his lawyer. The wardens suggested Olga Dinze could sit in a cell for awhile, while her client was threatened with time in a punishment cell. According to Dinze, she had not done anything illegal. Before the visit, guards had searched Azimov and not found anything that could not be taken out of the prison.
In November 2017, the Justice Ministry requested Olga Dinze be barred from the case due to the conflict over obtaining her client’s written testimony. Ramil Akhmetgaliyev, a lawyer with the Agora International Human Rights Group, believes this was obvious coercion of the lawyer.
“Correspondence is one thing, but communication with your lawyer, including written communication, is something else altogether. Usually, the guards do not have a problem with it, but the FSB got involved. They are trying to establish total control over the accused.”
The current Russian regime, conceived in September 1999 amidst the smoke from the exploded residential buildings in Buynaksk, Moscow, and Volgodonsk, has a bad reputation when it comes to terrorist attacks. Any doubts, as a rule, are chalked up by independent observers as strikes against the authorities.
Taken separately, each of these thirteen points cannot serve as proof that the account of the explosion in the Petersburg subway on April 3, 2017, offered by state investigators, is falsified. Taken together, however, these facts do generate serious suspicions.