Armenia’s most powerful security agency said on Friday that it has arrested two men on suspicion of shooting and wounding presidential candidate Paruyr Hayrikian last week.
The National Security Service (NSS) said the suspects, identified as Khachatur Poghosian and Samvel Harutiunian, confessed to “the murder attempt” after being taken into custody on Thursday.
An NSS statement described Poghosian, 46, and Harutiunian, 40, as unemployed men illegally residing in Yerevan. It said they both were convicted of drug trafficking in the past.
“Motives for the crime are being verified and the public will be periodically informed about the course of the investigation,” added the statement.
President Serzh Sarkisian was reported to welcome the development at an extraordinary meeting with the NSS director, Gorik Hakobian, and other senior law-enforcement officials. The presidential press office said the meeting focused on measures to ensure the personal security of all presidential candidates and their “full-fledged and equal participation” in the election campaign.
In a statement, the office quoted Hakobian as briefing Sarkisian on the ongoing criminal investigation into the shooting attack. He said the investigators are now in a position to fully solve the case, according to the statement.
Hayrikian, who remains in hospital, was quick to react to the arrests. “Only the instruments [of the crime] have been identified so far,” he told reporters. “But there is no word yet on the mastermind.”
“I’m happy that they have achieved something,” he said of the NSS investigators.
Hayrikian said earlier that he can recognize a lone gunman who fired two gunshots at him from close range on January 31. He claimed that the shooter had “European features.” None of the arrested men, shown in pictures released by the NSS, fits that description.
Even so, the presidential hopeful, who leads a small party called the National Self-Determination Union, implied on Friday that he believes one of the suspects is apparently the man who shot him.
Hayrikian commented on this contradiction when he spoke to RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) later in the day. “In connection with this crime, I said some things in order to delude those who were behind it,” he said. “So please do not consider my public statements on the case substantiated because I have my considerations.”
The NSS announced the arrests the day after Hayrikian threatened to reconsider his decision not to seek a two-week postponement of Armenia’s presidential election slated for February 18. He said his health condition has somewhat worsened in the last few days and pointed to his rivals’ “slanderous” allegations that he himself stage-managed the shooting. Hayrikian also said on Thursday that he expects progress in the investigation conducted by the NSS.
Hayrikian announced on Friday he will meet with his close associates later in the day to finally decide whether to ask the Constitutional Court to delay the presidential ballot. A spokesman told RFE/RL’s Armenian service that the court received no petitions from the Hayrikian campaign by the end of the business day.