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'We don’t know how he got to Belgorod' Relatives say alleged military training ground shooter disappeared in Moscow five days before the attack

Source: Meduza
Taisia Vorontsova / URA.RU / TASS

Journalists from Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s Tajik service have identified the family of one of the possible perpetrators of the mass shooting at a military training ground in Russia’s Belgorod region on October 15. The man in question is a 24-year-old named Ehson Aminzoda. The Russian authorities have not officially named him as a suspect, but several days after the incident, Ukrainian blogger Anatoly Shariy published a photo of an official military document listing Aminzoda as a private along with photos of the shooting victims. Shariy didn’t indicate whether Aminzoda was one of the gunmen or one of the victims.

People who knew Aminzoda said he didn’t plan to join the war and wasn’t a religious radical. They told Radio Liberty that he went to Russia seven months ago and worked at a restaurant. A friend of Aminzoda, speaking anonymously, told journalists that Aminzoda had no intention of joining the war and that he wanted to return home to Tajikistan and have a wedding after saving up some money. “He didn’t have radical leanings; he was no different from any other young guy. If he were an Islamic radical, he never would have worked in a restaurant,” said the friend.

According to Aminzoda’s family, he stopped contacting them on October 10 — five days before the shooting at the training ground. His brother, Firuz Aminzoda, said that on the evening of October 10, Ehson called him and said he was going to meet some friends (according to one friend, Ehson “met some guys he knew near the Lyublino metro station” in Moscow). From that point on, his phone was turned off. “We don’t know how he got to Belgorod,” said Firuz Aminzoda, who told journalists he was called to the military prosecutor’s office in Moscow. Ehson Aminzoda’s father confirmed his son’s death to Radio Liberty but declined to comment on the situation.

It’s not clear how Ehson Aminzoda ended up in the Russian army. In mid-October, Moscow police were reportedly rounding up draft-eligible men outside of metro stations. According to Aminzoda’s family, however, he wasn’t a Russian citizen and thus could not legally be conscripted into the army. While Russia’s mobilization campaign has been rife with legal violations, Moscow was unable to find evidence that people without Russian citizenship were forcibly enlisted. Foreigners can, however, sign up to fight in the Russian army willingly, and the Telegram post from Anatoly Shariy, who published a picture of the document with Aminzoda’s name, indicates that the gunmen were volunteers.

On October 17, Russian media published the names of 11 people who were allegedly killed in the attack. Two of them turned out to be alive. After the news outlets Astra and Baza published a list of victims’ names, two of the soldiers — Denis Sinitsyn and Alexey Sapkalov — contacted the journalists to tell them they’d been added by mistake.

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The mass shooting at the training ground in the village of Soloty in Russia’s Belgorod region occurred on October 15. According to reports from the Russian Defense Ministry and Investigative Committee, 11 soldiers were killed and 15 were injured. There have been unofficial reports that more people — between 22 and 28 — were killed, but this remains unconfirmed. The Russian Defense Ministry said that the attack was carried out by two citizens of “one of the CIS countries” (though multiple witnesses have anonymously said that there were three gunmen and that one of them escaped). The ministry described the event as a terrorist attack. The Investigative Committee reported it was opening a criminal case, but did not specify the charges.

According to Astra, the attack was carried out on religious grounds. The outlet reported that after one of the unit’s commanders, Andrey Lapin, got angry at three soldiers (one of them Dagestani, one Azerbaijani, and one Adygean) for refusing to stay in the army and called the war in Ukraine “holy,” two ethnically Tajik soldiers responded that a holy war is one waged by Muslims against non-believers. Lapin then allegedly called Allah a “weakling” and a “coward.” The Tajik servicemen allegedly then told other Muslims on the firing range to step aside, killed the lieutenant colonel, and started firing randomly. They were reportedly killed by another soldier.

Astra stressed that the account was unconfirmed, as was the identity of their source. The person they spoke to claimed the gunmen’s names were Bikzot, Ami, and Anushe. The following day, Astra published a list of alleged perpetrators and victims, and this time two more men were listed as attackers: Aminzod Tojiddin and Mehrob Rahmonov. The list of victims did not include Andrey Lapin, who supposedly called Allah a “weakling.”

Russian authorities have still not officially reported how many gunmen were involved in the shooting or why the attack occurred. The Telegram channel VChK-OGPU, citing unnamed sources in Tajikistan, reported that one of the shooters may have been a man named Muhammad Dilshodboizoda. According to the source, Dilshodboizoda disappeared in Moscow on October 10 along with Ehson Aminzoda. “According to information his family received, he may have been forcibly ‘mobilized’ along with Ehson,” VChK-OGPU reported, adding that Ehson’s relatives were notified that he was stopped by police in the Lyublino metro station on the day he disappeared. Radio Liberty, who spoke to Ehson’s family, hasn’t reported this allegation.

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