Suspect in 1991 Soviet crackdown arrested in Austria

Suspect in 1991 Soviet crackdown arrested in Austria
# 16 July 2011 07:39 (UTC +04:00)
Baku – APA. A former Soviet security officer wanted in Lithuania over Moscow’s bloody 1991 crackdown against the Baltic state’s independence drive has been arrested in Austria, the prosecutor said Friday, APA reports quoting Interfax.

"One of the suspects in the ’January 13 case’ was arrested yesterday. The person currently is in custody in the Republic of Austria," prosecutor Tomas Krusna told journalists in Lithuanian capital Vilnius.

Krusna refused to reveal the suspect’s identity or nationality but Lithuania’s commercial LNK television identified him as former KGB officer Mikhail Golovatov.

Golovatov headed the so-called Alpha Group, a special unit that stormed the main TV tower in Vilnius, a focal point of the anti-Soviet freedom movement.

At least 14 civilians died and hundreds were injured in the attack on the Vilnius television tower on January 13, 1991.

The killings came after the state-controlled media had swung behind Sajudis, the freedom movement founded in 1988, two years before Lithuania declared independence.

The suspect was detained in the capital Vienna under a European arrest warrant issued last year and could face life in prison if found guilty of "crimes against humanity and war crimes".

He is one of 23 suspects in the case, 21 Russian citizens and two Belarussians, Lithuania’s prosecutor general said on its website.

The extradition process could take up to 90 days, if the suspect challenges it, as expected, Krusna said. "An Austrian court will take the decision," he added.

Six Lithuanian Soviet-era officials were convicted and jailed in the 1990s for their role in the crackdown, but Lithuania has been unable to try other suspects believed to be hiding in Russia and Belarus. Earlier this year, prosecutors said they wanted to question ex-Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev who was in power from 1985 to 1991, as the Soviet Union unravelled. Ties between Lithuania, a nation of three million, and Russia have been rocky since independence, notably since Vilnius joined the European Union and NATO in 2004.