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Witnesses' Fears Hamper Probes Into High-profile Crimes - SKP Chief


The investigation into the recent high-profile crimes in the North Caucasus is hampered by witnesses' reluctance to cooperate with the investigators, because they fear for their safety, chairman of the Investigations Committee of the Prosecutor General's Office (SKP) Alexander Bastrykin said on Friday.

"The progress in these probes, in particular in the case over the murder of rights activist Natalia Estemirova has been slow, because it is very difficult to find eyewitnesses. Many people today are afraid of cooperating with investigators," Bastrykin told reporters.

At present, however, the investigators are working with two witnesses who are describing the suspected criminals, he said expressing confidence that the murder of Estemirova would be solved.

Bastrykin noted "considerable progress" in the case over the assassination attempt on the life of Ingush President Yunus-Bek Yevkurov.

Rights activist Natalia Estemirova was abducted near her home in Grozny in the morning of July 15. The body of the 50-year-old woman was found 100 meters from the Kavkaz federal highway near the village of Gazi-Yurt, Ingushetia, at 16:00, Moscow time, on the same day.

The investigators said the crime was linked with Estemirova's professional activity, and also aimed to unsettle the situation in Ingushetia and Chechnya. Natalia Estemirova reportedly had not voiced fears for her life.

Terrorists attacked the motorcade of Ingush President Yunus-Bek Yevkurov on the federal Kavkaz highway in the Nasyr-Kort neighborhood at 08:30, Moscow time, on June 22. A car packed with explosives rammed the motorcade, killing one guard and seriously injuring the Ingush leader, his brother Uvais Yevkurov and driver Ramzan Yevkurov. The driver later died in hospital.

Also on Friday, Bastrykin said the case over the series of blasts in the Black Sea town of Sochi in the autumn of 2008 would be referred to court.

"The crimes were committed by people who had a certain training, so solving them was difficult," he said.

One of the suspects has not yet confessed to the crime.

"At present, we're completing the gathering of evidence. The case is unique in terms of complexity and required expertise. Nevertheless, we've coped with this task," Bastrykin said.

As a result of the blasts in Sochi last year, five people were killed and another 19 were injured. A local police officer and a cameraman of a local television company were detained on April 15, 2009, on suspicion of staging these acts of terror.

The investigation into the criminal case ascertained that the "explosive devices" were disguised as household articles. On April 3, 2008, two people were injured in an explosion in the Kirov park located in Sochi's Lazarevskoye settlement. The bomb was placed in a cigarette case, which passers-by happened to pick.

On April 7, another two explosions were staged, in which two police officers were inured. One of the bombs was concealed in a man's handbag left unattended in a Sochi park.

In the night of June 11, one person was killed near an apartment house in the settlement of Lazarevskoye. The July 30 explosion in the yard of an apartment house in Sochi's Adler neighborhood killed a man and injured a woman. The woman later told police her acquaintance had found a steel flask on the tennis court which exploded as he tried to open it.

On August 7, an explosion on a municipal beach in Sochi's Lazarevsky district killed a woman and a man, and injured another 11 people.

On November 11, an explosion in the Adler neighborhood injured one person. On February 20, 2009, an explosion on a construction site in the Khostino neighborhood killed one person and injured another.

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