Police end probe into alleged skinhead murder gang

An investigation into a series racially motivated killings in Moscow has been wound up with the suspects set to go on trial. The Prosecutor General's Office says the nine-strong gang of skinheads murdered 20 non-Russians and attempted to kill 12 others.

The probe was launched after two leaders of the group were arrested in April last year.

Moscow students Artur Ryno and his friend were arrested on suspicion of killing an Armenian businessman.  During questioning, Ryno confessed to 37 racially motivated attacks.  It also became clear he was not acting alone. It emerged that a gang of racists was carrying out his orders. More arrests followed.

Police say the gang went out looking for targets in the evenings, assaulting men they deemed non-Slavic.

According to special crime investigator Aleksandr Klimov, the group kept in touch via mobile phones and the Internet. Then they’d get together for what they called ‘actions’. Their attacks were always sudden and had one purpose only – to kill.

Alexey Bobrov from Moscow Psychiatric Institute believes that by targeting people of other nationalities, they express their identity.

“It’s one of the abnormal forms of self-expression,” Bobrov says.

Human rights observers say people from Central Asia have become the most frequent victims of xenophobic attacks in Russia.

There have been 152 registered incidents of hate crime this year in Russia. Sixty-nine people have been killed and at least 170 have been wounded.

These figures have prompted the authorities to take tougher action. More crimes are now being investigated as racially motivated and more are coming to court.

Last month eight people were given life sentences for the racially motivated bombing of the Cherkizovo Market in Moscow in 2006.  Fourteen people were killed in the attack and 47 others injured.

Some human rights activists see the latest efforts by the authorities as a promising sign.

Authorities say the fact that the Ryno gang case is going to court shows they are stepping up their efforts to fight xenophobia in Russia.