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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Arson Attack on City Pool Hall Kills 8

Eight people were burned to death in a mafia-style arson attack on a Moscow club over the weekend, with four of the five survivors in critical condition.

Witnesses told police that two men armed with Kalashnikov assault rifles entered the "Pub" billiard club in Yasinevo, southwest Moscow, around 6:30 a.m. Saturday, poured gasoline from a canister over the premises and set it alight, barricading the door as they left.

Andrei Pashkevich of RUOP, the Organized Crime Squad, said his department was dealing with the case in conjunction with the local Criminal Investigation Department.

RUOP would not speculate on the motive for the attack, but a spokesman for the Yugo-Zapadnaya police station, who identified himself only as Igor Alexandrovich, said the incident was "clearly" a "bandits' razborka (armed conflict)."

"They had some things to sort out, now they've sorted them out," he said.

The Yugo-Zapadnaya fire station received an emergency call at 6:44 a.m. and were on the scene by 6:52 a.m., said Igor Stepanov of the Moscow Fire Department. "In cases of arson the fire spreads very quickly," said Stepanov. "It was a large open area, and the place was already burning fiercely when [the fire brigade] arrived."

Bombings and assassinations have become a relatively common occurrence in the Russian business world, but the brutal and apparently indiscriminate nature of this attack marks a new low in the nature of criminal conflicts.

"There is no economic reason for killing that many people," said one casino industry insider, who has managed several of Moscow's major casinos. "It could only be to scare people. Perhaps the [club's] managers thought that they were going to lose their license under Luzhkov's crackdown [on gambling and organized crime], so they stopped paying their krysha (protection racket)."

There has been speculation that Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov's widely publicized crackdown on the city's gambling industry would cause mafia turf battles. Although some media reports referred to the "Pub" club as a casino, it was not, according to the Moscow mayor's office gambling department, registered as one.

"It is too early to say what the reasons were for the attack," said RUOP's Pashkevich.

Police did not release the identity of the victims, saying only that both staff and customers were among the dead and injured.

One survivor was identified by a casino source as "Roman," a young croupier with a five-month-old son from a neighboring casino. "Roman" is in critical condition in a burns unit in south Moscow.

"It is still a mystery as to why so many strong young people were not able to escape," said the fire department's Stepanov. "Our preliminary version of events is that fires were started in several places."

On Monday afternoon fresh flowers had been placed by the charred remains of the pool hall, which had been sealed off by police forensic scientists. A distinct smell of gasoline still hung in the air, and locals gathered around to stare at the gutted premises.

"These damned hooligans," said one elderly woman at the scene, who did not give her name. "They're all bandits here, every last one. ... Let them burn each other somewhere else, not here, where respectable people live. They deserve everything they get."