Thursday, 22 April 2010

Father stabbed on Hitler’s birthday

Moscow travel agency manager Alan Al-Khalidi was coming home to his wife and baby daughter when he was attacked and brutally stabbed by a group of as-of-yet unidentified young men.

The incident, which occurred at 8:30 pm on April 20 - Adolf Hitler's birthday - shocked the quiet neighbourhood around Akademika Artsimovicha Ulitsa, near Belyayevo metro station, and raised new questions about racist violence in the capital.

"I believe Russian fascists were celebrating Hitler's birthday, and so they stabbed my son," Al-Khalidi's mother, Svetlana Bekoyeva, told The Moscow News.

Bekoyeva said that her son was hospitalised with 13 stab wounds. On Thursday, his condition was described as critical, but stable.

Al-Khalidi, 36, is a relative of a journalist at The Moscow News. He has two children: Nikolai, 11, and Milana, who is four months old.

Several people came to Al-Khalidi's aid immediately following the attack and helped him get in touch with his wife, Marina Karakozyan. The attackers were young men with shaved heads, at least one of whom was sporting Nazi-style regalia, Karakozyan said.

"It happened right by where we live. I was waiting for him at home, and he was running late," Karakozyan said. "When I got him on the phone, all he could say was, ‘I've been attacked, I'm dying.' We have an infant at home. I had to leave the baby with the neighbours, and then I ran outside to be with him."

Karakozyan said that public attention needed to be drawn to such attacks.

"I want the man I love to get better, and then I'll think about the people who did this to him," Karakozyan said. "But I also want people to notice this. It shouldn't be kept quiet. People need to know."

Neighbours spoke of Al-Khalidi's good character and expressed outrage at the fact that something like this happened on their street.

"What's scary is that this didn't happen in a dark alley somewhere," said Dasha, a young neighbour of Al-Khalidi's who declined to give her surname.

"This is a very open area. He was just minutes away from his home."

"He is a regular customer of mine and a very kind man," said a local shopkeeper, who asked not to be identified for fear of reprisal. "What happened is shocking."

Alan Al-Khalidi's family is well respected in the area, with his father, Husam, an Iraqi businessman, starting the Soviet Union's first professional football club, Asmaral, in Moscow in 1991. The name "Asmaral" was derived from the names of Husam's children: As for Assil, Mar for Mariam, and Al for Alan.

Husam Al-Khalidi went missing on a trip to visit his relatives during the US occupation of Iraq in 2004. "My son's father, Husam, did a lot of charity work in Russia," Bekoyeva said.

Racist violence is all too frequent in the city, but for the last few years Hitler's birthday has passed with relatively few reported incidents of hate crimes.

"Because of increased police vigilance, April 20 has been considered a safe day for foreigners in the capital," said Galina Kozhevnikova, deputy director of Sova, an anti-racist monitoring organisation. "I'm not sure why this year was different. Perhaps we are dealing with a case of an initiation ceremony of newbies into a racist gang.

One used to get more information about this on Nazi forums, but now that such sites are closely monitored, this is no longer the case."

Sova has information that four people including Alan Al-Khalidi were attacked within the space of four hours that night in the same part of the city, Kozhevnikova said.

"There was Alan, there were two ethnic Kalmyks, and a man from Central Asia, all stabbed," she said. "One Kalmyk and the Central Asian man were killed. The prosecutor's office is currently saying that the attack on the ethnic Kalmyks was not a hate crime, but it's too much of a coincidence."

Residents of Akademika Artsimovicha Ulitsa also suspect that the attack on Al-Khalidi was far from an isolated incident.

"My boyfriend saw a group of young men chasing a maintenance worker later that night. The worker was obviously of non-Slavic background," said Dasha, Al-Khalidi's neighbour.

"My boyfriend said the guy was able to outrun them. We're not sure if this was a related incident, but it probably was."

It seems that Al-Khalidi's assailants knew exactly what they were doing. Doctors told Svetlana Bekoyeva that her son's attackers had managed to strike his heart.

"Of course, these young men are well prepared to carry out such attacks," Kozhevnikova said. "Military-patriotic clubs will train them in hand-to-hand combat, knife fighting and using firearms. And the overwhelming majority of these clubs are run by ultra-right groups."

Police investigators have not yet commented on Al-Khalidi's case in depth, beyond issuing a statement that an attack was carried out and an investigation is underway.

"I believe the police are taking this seriously," Bekoyeva said. "There were eight attackers, who were probably responsible for more than one attack that night. I think at least some of them will be found."

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