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Probe Of Yerevan Hostage Crisis Complete


Armenia - A general view of Erebuni police station seized by gunmen and supporters of fringe jailed opposition leader Zhirair Sefilian, in Yerevan, July 30, 2013

An Armenian law-enforcement agency announced on Wednesday that it has completed the main criminal investigation into last July’s deadly attack on a police base in Yerevan carried out by members of a radical opposition group.

The Special Investigative Service (SIS) said the 14 main suspects in the case will go on trial on a wide range of charges, including illegal seizure of government buildings and weapons and hostage taking.

Two of them also stand accused of murdering three police officers during the armed group’s two-week standoff with security forces. In addition, one of those gunmen, Armen Bilian, has been charged with stealing over 14 million drams ($29,000) in cash from an ATM machine inside the police compound in Yerevan’s southern Erebuni district. Bilian’s lawyer said in November that his client denies the murder charge.

Armenia -- An armed man speaks to the press after pro-opposition gunmen locked in a week-long hostage standoff with Armenian authorities released the final four police officers held captive in Yerevan, July 23, 2016
Armenia -- An armed man speaks to the press after pro-opposition gunmen locked in a week-long hostage standoff with Armenian authorities released the final four police officers held captive in Yerevan, July 23, 2016

The gunmen seized the facility and took several police officers hostage on July 17. They demanded President Serzh Sarkisian’s resignation and the release of Zhirayr Sefilian, the jailed leader of their Founding Parliament movement. Sefilian was arrested on June 20 for allegedly plotting an armed revolt against the Armenian government. He denies the accusation as politically motivated.

Security forces avoided storming the compound during the standoff, which also sparked anti-government demonstrations in Yerevan. Instead, they shot and wounded some of the armed oppositionists. The 20 remaining gunmen holed up in the compound surrendered to the authorities on July 31, hours after freeing medics who were also held hostage in the besieged compound.

The U.S. State Department strongly condemned the Erebuni attack, while urging the authorities in Yerevan to exercise “appropriate restraint.” The European Union Delegation in Armenia likewise called it “unacceptable.”

The SIS statement said that investigators have conducted some 500 interrogations and over 100 forensic tests during the inquiry. It said the findings of the probe have been sent to a senior Armenian prosecutor for approval and subsequent submission to a court. The 14 suspects will face lengthy prison sentences if found guilty.

Their defense lawyers have repeatedly alleged violations of the due process of law in the probe. They have also protested against their clients’ prison conditions and law-enforcement authorities’ reluctance to allow their relatives to visit them.

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