Million Rubles Offered For Car Arsonist's Arrest

Police on Tuesday offered a 1 million ruble ($41,600) reward for information leading to the arrest of a serial arsonist suspected of setting fire to 15 cars in southern Moscow over the past five nights.

Police have issued a facial composite of a criminal based on witness accounts. The search is related to the torching of 11 cars in the North Butovo Administrative District on Thursday night, and four subsequent cases of arson in the district, police spokesman Yevgeny Gildeyev said.

The suspect is described as thin, round-shouldered and of European appearance. He is 30 to 40 years old and 1.70 meters tall. The composite photo shows a broad-faced man with a deeply lined forehead.

Following Thursday's incidents, three cars were set alight in Yasenevo early Monday and, most recently, a BMW was burned early Tuesday on Profsoyuznaya Ulitsa, said Irina Zhurova, a police spokeswoman for the Southwestern Administrative District.

Zhurova declined to say whether there were any witnesses, saying only that the investigation was ongoing.

Two residents of Kaliningrad were arrested on suspicion of arson but were then released, she said.

The tabloid Tvoi Den reported that the arsonist was targeting only gray cars, but Zhurova dismissed the reports as nonsense.

The incidents in the south of the city appear to have generated an increase in reported arsons across the city and put drivers on their guard, although police say they are not all related and some may have been caused by electrical faults.

The cars in all of the reported cases are being examined, and in some cases electrical short-circuits have already been shown to have caused the fires, Gildeyev said, adding that only 14 or 15 incidents in southern Moscow have been confirmed as arson.

"During a wave of arson attacks, any fire is seen as arson," he said.

Early Tuesday, a Gazel truck burned on Flotskaya Ulitsa in northern Moscow. Later that day, a reporter saw the charred remains of the cab, where a set of house keys and the stubs of bus tickets suggested the driver had intended to return shortly.

Viktor Maximov, a police spokesman for the city's Northern Administrative District, said the fire occurred around 5 a.m. and the investigation was ongoing, so he could not provide a concrete answer as to whether arson was involved.

"We imagine that it was an arson attack," he said.

In the Northern Administrative District, four burned-out vehicles have been discovered in the last few days, he said. Two cars were damaged by fire Friday night on Leningradskoye Shosse and one on Smolnaya Ulitsa.

Maximov speculated that the incidents might be copycat crimes.

"It's probably imitation," he said. "After all, people watch television."