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4 Jun, 2008 08:28

Moscow drivers gripped by arson terror

Police are searching for a man they believe is responsible for a series of arson attacks on cars in Moscow. 30 vehicles have been torched in residential areas of the city since Thursday night, with the latest attack coming in the early hours of Tuesday mo

Like the others it was in the south west part of Moscow and the car was parked near a garbage dump outside an apartment block.

Police believe one man is behind the string of blazes and have issued a one million rouble ($42,000 US) reward for information leading to his arrest. The man is described as being between 30 and 40, of medium height, lean and having a hunch back.

The crimes share certain features – they all occur late at night -and police suspect the arsonist gets flammable materials from tips and lights fires under the car wheels or even inside the vehicle.

Most of the cars have been expensive foreign models including an Audi and a BMW. Local residents in the area are uniting to carry out a night watch scheme to protect their property until the culprit is caught.

Who is the mysterious arsonist? Other versions

But a lot of Muscovites think that the arsonist is not a mentally ill person. He may just be trying to attract media and pubic attention to the city’s problems that really need to be solved. Parking is a big issue in the Russian capital. A lot of citizens are distressed by the numerous cars which drivers leave in yards or children’s playgrounds. They complain about flower beds being removed to give space for cars. 

Some suggest the arsonist’s actions can be a protest against pollution.

Others say by burning cars the owners of paid parking lots are trying to show the drivers that it is unsafe to leave the cars unguarded in the yards.  

According to another version, Moscow is dealing with an organised group of arsonists, not a lone maniac. Extremist youths or just groups of drunk kids having fun could be behind the car burns.  

And Liberal Democrat Party leader, Vladimir Zhirinovsky, has a theory of his own. He thinks the car fires could be politically motivated. He compares the current situation in Moscow with the one in Paris before the presidential election of 2007. A lot of cars were on fire in the streets of French capital those days. But as the politician mentioned, it all ended after current French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, came to power.  

Versions differ but the cars keep burning. So the drivers from the districts troubled by the arsonist have started organising night patrols. Police say they will not allow lynch law.

But the authorities are taking the situation seriously. A crisis center to capture the arsonist opened in the city on Wednesday.