‘It’s easier to catch schoolchildren than terrorists’: The Kremlin’s hunt for imaginary ‘Columbine’ killers

Russia has arrested teenagers in a pre-emptive attempt to stop potential school massacres, regardless of whether or not they plan to carry out attacks

Wednesday 05 May 2021 18:18
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<p>Nataliya Kim with her son Igor, who was detained for several months</p>

Nataliya Kim with her son Igor, who was detained for several months

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The cases follow a recognisable pattern. Suspects in their mid-teens, with a history of social problems and/or anarchism. An early morning, demonstrative raid on their parents’ houses. A trip to the state investigative committee. Identical charges alleging preparation of “Columbine-style” attacks – a reference to the 1999 US school shooting that left 13 dead.

While Russia has not experienced anything like the frequency or scale of armed school attacks as the United States, it has a worrying enough history. In 2018 alone, there were three: A knife attack in Perm, Ural region. An axe and Molotov cocktail attack in Ulan-Ude, eastern Siberia. And a shooting and explosion at a college in Kerch, in annexed Crimea, killing 21.

The Kerch tragedy in particular sparked a frenzied search for potential teenage radicals. Russia’s security agency, the FSB, was charged with averting further tragedy. And on paper, they delivered with dazzling success. In 2020 alone, the agency reported that at least 69 potential “Columbine” attacks had been intercepted.

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