Russian law enforcement officers on Tuesday killed three suspects on trial over 17 gang murders after they seized guns from their guards and tried to flee a court in the Moscow region, officials said.
Five handcuffed defendants were being escorted in a lift under guard at the court some 20 kilometres (12 miles) northwest of Moscow city, Russia’s Investigative Committee said.
One of the prisoners attacked a guard and attempted to suffocate him. The prisoners were able to free themselves and grab weapons from their escorts, investigators said.
When the lift opened on the third floor of the court building officers from Russia’s national guard began firing on the attackers.
“Three of the prisoners were liquidated and two wounded,” police said in a statement, adding that one law enforcement officer was taken to hospital with gunshot wounds.
Investigators said two convoy guards also suffered multiple injuries and one was being treated in hospital.
A lawyer at the court, Sofya Rubasskaya, told AFP: “I heard shots, there were more than 20 shots.” She said that she saw a wounded female guard whose “face was all bloody.”
After the shootout, everyone in the court was evacuated and all hearings have been postponed, the lawyer said.
The five suspects went on trial last summer over the series of high-profile drive-by shootings around Moscow’s ring road, dubbed the “Grand Theft Auto” gang by Russian media over apparent similarities with the video game.
In the dead of night, the gang members placed metal spikes on roads to burst the tyres of passing cars, then ruthlessly gunned down their drivers and disappeared.
The investigation into the gang charged a total of nine defendants, all of whom originated from ex-Soviet Central Asian states, with murder, “banditry”, robbery and arms trafficking. The gang’s suspected leader was killed during an attempt to capture him.