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24 Jun, 2008 00:09

Media blamed for fuelling Moscow arson spree

In a series of arson attacks, dozens of cars have been torched in Moscow since May. Police say copycats are behind at least some of the attacks and are blaming the media for giving people ideas on how to get make the headlines.

The car-torching spree around the Russian capital has seen vehicles burnt every night since the end of May.

Police have arrested one man they suspect was behind a large number of the attacks, but an additional 22 arrests have also been made.

Copycat attacks account for some of the blazes, say police. They've arrested several teenagers on suspicion of arson.

Then there have been the revenge attacks – people burning cars to get at their owners, hoping their crimes would be attributed to someone else

The Russian mass media has come under fire as well. The police say the high-profile coverage these attacks have received has encouraged people to go out and set fire to vehicles.

“They’ve showed cars burning in an accident, but have presented the news as cars that were burnt out by criminals. It’s not professional. You know that everyone trusts television. It has a huge influence on the minds of the people,” said Viktor Birykov from Moscow's Internal Affairs Department.

“The media has created an image of an elusive maniac who pops up in different districts of Moscow at the same time and sets dozens of cars on fire,” agrees social psychologist Natalya Markova. “It’s this anonymous image, which must have inspired lots of marginal youngsters like skinheads and football fans.”

Patrols have been stepped up. Police and local communities are working together to halt the fire-starters, who have caused hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of damage in less than a month.