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4 Sep, 2009 04:31

Alleged nationalist assassinated ahead of trial

A young man of ethnic Caucasus origin has been shot dead in Moscow – an hour before he was supposed to be tried in court for a racially motivated attack.

He was one of seven men, allegedly members of a gang dubbed the Black Hawks, accused of a xenophobic assault on two Russians in the Moscow metro last year.

That random knife attack on two students on the Moscow metro has led to claims Russia has its own version of the Black Panthers – the notorious gang that fought for black power in the U.S in the 60s.

The lawyer of the group on trial maintains that last year's crime had nothing to do with race.

“I can assure you, that the youths we're protecting have absolutely nothing to do with this nationalistic group. I call it a myth, which has no confirmation,” said lawyer Aga Manafov.

While Thursday's shooting has many talking of revenge, some say more sinister motives are afoot.

“I believe that an organized criminal group was operating in Moscow and that it was funded by some other countries’ secret services,” says Sergey Stashevsky from the First Moscow Lawyers Collegium.

No matter who is responsible, it will do little to calm fears that racially motivated attacks are out of control in Russia. The usual victims are nationals from former Soviet republics and Asian or African foreigners.

In this year alone 42 people have been killed and more than 200 injured in neo-Nazi or racist violence, according to Moscow human rights group Sova.

While the number is down by nearly a half compared to the same time as last year, the concern now is Thursday's shooting could trigger a dangerous chain reaction.

“This is a war, and the aggression will be rising from both sides. I hope that ethnic organizations will try to control the youngsters, at least some of them,” said Sova representative Galina Kozhevnikova.

Combating racial hate crimes has become a state priority, but with Thursday’s shooting of the defendant, the government will have to do more to make sure cases are settled in court, and not on the streets.