Cash Couriers Slain in Bungled Heist

MTThe bodies of two Sberbank cash couriers lying near an investigator's briefcase on Leninsky Prospekt on Tuesday.
Armed assailants gunned down two cash couriers Tuesday morning outside a Sberbank in southwest Moscow in a bungled robbery attempt that saw one suspect arrested after checking himself into a hospital.

The two attackers, wearing masks and clad in camouflage, used a white Lada to block the couriers' armored vehicle, which was parked outside the Sberbank branch at 94 Leninsky Prospekt, near the Prospekt Vernadskogo metro station, city police spokesman Yevgeny Gildeyev said.

Two cash couriers exited the bank at around 9:30 a.m. and were met with automatic gunfire from the assailants' Kalashnikov rifles, Gildeyev said.

The two couriers, who were wearing bulletproof vests, died on the spot, and several passers-by were injured in the shootout. A third courier returned fire, hitting one of the assailants in the leg as they fled, Gildeyev said. The robbers did not manage to make off with any money, he said.

The attackers abandoned the Lada -- which had been registered as stolen -- and proceeded to carjack a blue Volvo, throwing the driver out of the car, Gildeyev said. They then ditched the Volvo on nearby Ulitsa Lobachevskogo, where it was discovered with a mask and an assault rifle inside, he said.

After being hit by the courier's return fire, one of the assailants checked himself into City Hospital No. 31 just hours after the attack, where he was subsequently found and arrested by police thanks to a composite sketch created from witnesses' accounts, Gildeyev said.

Avtandil Manveliidze, a top surgeon at the hospital, said the suspect underwent a successful operation on his leg.

"He had a very serious wound," Manveliidze told Channel One television. "If a doctor had not intervened in time, he could have lost his leg."

The second suspect was still at large.

The Moscow branch of the Investigative Committee is handling the investigation. One investigator at the crime scene Tuesday afternoon, Konstantin Vintzeniya, declined to comment, citing the ongoing investigation.

Hours after the attack, the couriers' bloody bodies lay on the pavement outside the Sberbank branch and next to the armored van, which was riddled with bullets. The bank was evacuated and cordoned off as police and investigators patrolled the crime scene.

Natalya Belashova, an elderly woman who lives in the same building that houses the bank branch, said she heard the gunfire Tuesday morning but had no idea what had happened. "There are always loud sounds here because of the nearby construction," she said.

Security experts say attacks on cash couriers are almost always carried out with the help of a company employee who can give the exact time and location for a planned cash transfer.

But it appears that even if the assailants knew the couriers' schedule, they may have been unaware of the amount of cash being delivered. Media reports Tuesday said the armored van contained only 1,000 euros ($1,570), though this could not be confirmed.

Within feet of the dead bodies, various babushkas -- bundled up in jackets and kerchiefs tied around their chins -- sat around the porch by the building, discussing the brutal details. A teary-eyed female Sberbank employee told them that there was no money to be stolen. "We didn't make an order," she said.

Sberbank spokeswoman Irina Kibina said there was "practically no money" in the vehicle. "We lost two colleagues," she said. "No amount of money is comparable to this."