Mass brawl at Moscow cemetery: Hundreds clash, 3 killed, National Guard deployed (VIDEO)
Police and National Guard forces were deployed to deal with the fight at the Khovanskoye cemetery on the southwestern outskirts of Moscow on Saturday.
While many of those involved in the fight were reportedly armed with bats, sticks, and metal bars, gunfire was also heard at the scene, with eyewitnesses saying the shooting lasted at least 15 minutes.
Some of those involved in the fight were armed with Kalashnikov rifles, a source in law enforcement told TASS.
At least 29 people have been hospitalized, TASS reported citing Moscow's Health Department. Four of them are in critical condition. Three bodies were discovered at the scene.
None of those who were involved in the armed conflict are official cemetery employees, RIA Novosti reported citing Moscow police. Most of them are foreign nationals, who are in Russia illegally, officials said.
A group of people, reportedly natives of the North Caucasus, arrived at the cemetery in 15 cars, according to Interfax. They were met by migrants who worked there - privately hired by families of deceased people. The migrants were armed with shovels and crowbars. When the invaders realized they were outnumbered, they attempted to flee, shooting from car windows. The migrants then blocked off roads and the fight began.
As three suspects tried to flee the scene in a car, they reportedly ran over and killed two people.
Around 100 people have been detained, according to TASS' source in law enforcement. Official estimates state that about 200 people participated in the brawl. Other sources have placed the number at up to 400.
Several defunct assault rifles used to frighten the 'enemy' were seized, a source in law enforcement told RIA Novosti. However, other lethal and non-lethal weapons were discovered at the scene. The entire cemetery was reportedly left covered in brick debris, with bullet casings scattered everywhere.
The suspected attackers were heavily armed and wore bulletproof vests, according to TASS citing a law enforcement source. The attack had been "planned long ago," a cemetery employee told RIA Novosti, adding that the invaders "entered from all sides and beat everyone up and shot at cars, right in front of the clients."
The shooting and the elevated security in the area caused massive traffic jams near the cemetery. There have been unconfirmed reports that the cemetery has been closed to the public and burials have been canceled for Saturday.
This was the first time the newly formed National Guard has been deployed, with 200 special forces’ servicemen participating in the operation.
Khovanskoye cemetery’s director was fired following the incident, Aleksey Nemeryuk, the head of Moscow’s Trade and Services Department, told journalists on Saturday, adding that action would also be taken against a private security firm that was responsible for security at the cemetery, but failed to provide it.
According to preliminary reports, none of the graves were damaged, the official said.
"When we were approaching the cemetery, there was only a small traffic jam, with the police gathering nearby. We drove past the cemetery, and started hearing gunshots, but we didn’t pay much attention. And when we were going back, the shots stopped, but the cars along the roads had broken windows. We drove on, and saw some 50 migrants lying on the ground, surrounded by special forces, and medics were carrying a dead body," a witness told Komsomolskaya Pravda radio.
One of the visitors to the cemetery told LifeNews that she and her husband were leaving the grounds after visiting their daughter's grave. As they stood in the traffic jam on their way out, two large men jumped into the back seat of their car.
"Immediately, some 15 people with bats and sticks ran up, they started to hit the car," the woman said. The attackers tried to pull the two men from the car, shouting, "They killed two of ours." The husband got out of the car to stop the attack and was hit in the temple. He is now in hospital.
The conflict at the cemetery wasn’t due to nationality issues, but because of a turf war, the Interior Ministry told Interfax.
Several diasporas participated in the fight, according to the cemetery's administration, as cited by RIA Novosti. Among them were people from the Central Asian former Soviet Republics of Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, who were allegedly attacked by citizens of Chechnya and Dagestan from the North Caucasus. The latter wanted to chase the former from the territory and set up their own businesses providing services for the cemetery. It reportedly yields a substantial income.
"They came and told us, ‘You’d be working for us’. You’ll give us the whole sum, and we’ll give you back 10 percent. We didn’t agree, so they arrived, all armed, about 100 people, and shot people dead, just for that money,” one of the injured told LifeNews.