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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Gangland Bomb Blast Kills 11 at Cemetery

Moscow suffered one of its worst gangland massacres ever Sunday when a bomb exploded in a cemetery, killing at least 11 people and wounding another dozen at a gathering of the mafia-linked Afghan War Veterans' Fund.


The bomb, which went off shortly after 11:30 Sunday morning at Kotlyakovskoye Cemetery in south Moscow, killed Sergei Trakhirov, the current head of the fund and other veterans who were part of a 130-member crowd that gathered to mark the second anniversary of the death of the previous director of the fund, himself killed in a bomb attack two years ago.


The blast, which investigators said was equivalent to 2 to 3 kilograms of TNT, left a huge crater in the cemetery and sent bodies and body parts flying in the air as far as 50 meters away from Mikhail Likhodey's grave.


On the scene an hour after the blast, the ground 50 meters from the bomb was still covered with human remains and body parts were literally hanging from trees. Witnesses said that at least one body had been blown out of the cemetery.


Stanislav Zhorin, a senior investigator for Moscow's Federal Security Agency, said that a party of around 130 friend Sergei Trakhirov, who was killed in Sunday's blast, replaced Likhodey as head of the fund on April 10, 1995. Valery Radchikov, president of a rival branch of the fund, was seriously wounded in a recent assassination attempt.


The nationwide fund was established in May 1991, to provide support and help find jobs for veterans wounded in the 1979-1989 Soviet war in Afghanistan.


The fund was given special tax exemptions and licenses in order to raise money for this purpose, including the right to import alcohol and cigarettes tax free and the right to export millions of tons of crude oil and metals.


No government control existed on how the millions of dollars in profits were used, and the fund became a center of mafia activity.


The government has recently moved to crack down on the tax concessions enjoyed by the Afghan War Veterans' and other "charitable" funds, including the National Sports Fund which has been linked to former presidential body guard Alexander Korzhakov.


Franz Klintsevitch, a member of the Afghan fund, told Agence France Presse at the bomb site that the organization was riven by bitter disputes, and there were constant threats against its members.


The foundation was allowed to sell alcoholic drinks free of duty, he told reporters, but to do so it had to use commercial structures, which were controlled by mafia gangs.


Money collected for invalids was therefore handled by criminal organizations.


Klintsevitch, who was accompanied by four bodyguards, also said the entire leadership of Trakhirov's branch was due to have attended the memorial service, but some had gone to another funeral.


Mikhail Gorelov, the Southern District police spokesman, said there were no warnings or reported threats before the explosion. According to Gorelov, however, there were threats at the time of Likhodey's burial in 1994.


Security officials quoted by Interfax said that after Sunday's bombing police teams were rushed to churches where other memorial services for Likhodei were planned, to check them for bombs.


Police feared a bomb may have been planted in the Cathedral of the Epiphany in central Moscow, the sources said.


Sergei Romanov, the director of the Kotlyakovskoye Cemetery, said that the site is accessible from any side, and there is no control over who visits the graves.


Romanov said that the cemetery was not informed about the visit of such a big group. "All our workers were in the office at the time of explosion," he said. "At first I thought it was a gas pipe explosion, because it was very loud," he added.


According to Romanov the section of the cemetery where Likhodey was buried two years ago is a specially allocated territory for Afghan veterans.


The bombing follows closely on the contract killing of U.S. businessmen Paul Tatum in another professional contract killing.


Tatum, who had been embroiled for several years in a dispute over control of the Radisson Slavyanskaya Hotel, was shot in a metro underpass one week ago.


That killing has drawn international attention because of Tatum's high profile in the media and his nationality.


But mafia-style killings have become almost a fact of life in post-communist Russia, with one or more businessmen and bankers being hit on most days.


Interior Minister Anatoly Kulikov last week warned of a rise in such kilings.