Skinheads in St Petersburg shot dead an African student yesterday, the latest incident in what is beginning to look like a highly organised campaign of white supremacist terror against foreigners in Russian cities. Lamzar Samba, a 28-year-old Senegalese national, had just left a nightclub in the early hours of yesterday morning when a lone gunman ambushed him and a group of friends with a pump-action shotgun.
Mr Samba, who was also a student activist and a campaigner against racism, was shot in the back and in the neck and died on the spot. Russian television broadcast images of his body covered in a blue tarpaulin.
Police, who have been criticised by President Vladimir Putin for their ineptitude in dealing with racist crime, said the murder weapon found nearby suggested the crime was racially motivated. The shotgun had a swastika stencilled on it, the word "skinheads" in English, and various derogatory slogans about non-whites scrawled on it.
The killing drew strong condemnation from politicians and cemented St Petersburg's reputation as one of Russia's most dangerous cities for non-whites, along with Moscow and the student town of Voronezh. Coming just three months before Russia is due to host a G8 summit of world leaders in St Petersburg, it is not the kind of publicity that the Kremlin is seeking.
Michel Tanobian, a friend of Mr Samba who was with him at the time of the attack, said the nightclub was a favourite haunt for Africans. "How can people be so evil?" he told Russia's NTV. "We come here just to study, not for anything else. We don't take anything." Another friend, a student only willing to be named as Teo, said: "I am afraid. I don't know whether to stay here or not."
Last month two skinheads in St Petersburg attacked a nine year-old schoolgirl of African origin as she was about to ring the doorbell to her flat. They sliced her throat, cut her tongue and left her face covered in blood and gashes. Before they ran off they daubed a nearby wall with a swastika and spray-painted a bold claim of responsibility. "Skinheads ... we did it."
The list of other victims is long. On Sunday a Chinese student was attacked outside her apartment; a Ghanaian man was savagely beaten up in the city's suburbs in March; a man from Mali was stabbed to death in February; a student from Cameroon was murdered last December and a Congolese student was killed last September. Emboldened by their apparent impunity, St Petersburg-based white supremacists recently published instructions on how to kill a foreigner on the internet. A Manual For Street Terror urged attackers to wear gloves, shoe covers, and normal clothes to avoid detection and to form "white patrols". The manual is reportedly being handed out in leaflet form on St Petersburg's streets.
A court in the city was perceived to have let a group of skinheads off the hook last month despite their committing one of Russia's worst race crimes of recent years. In 2004 eight youths armed with baseball bats, chains and knives, murdered a nine year-old Tajik girl in St Petersburg. The court refused to find them guilty of murder, however, finding them guilty only of "hooliganism".
As a result the harshest sentence handed down was just five and a half years.
Russian skinheads espouse a mixture of nationalism and fascism and believe that non-whites are responsible for crime, unemployment, and "polluting Russia's gene pool".