TBILISI, DFWatch–An ongoing police hunt in Georgia as so far failed to turn up a former soldier suspected of taking dozens of people hostage in a bank in Zugdidi, a town in west Georgia, and escaping with USD 500,000 of ransom money.
Into the evening Monday, the police searched several houses belonging to the suspect’s family and relatives.
The main suspect of the armed bank robbery Wednesday has been identified as Badri Esebua, 32, is a former member of the Georgian Army.
The hostage-taking saga began 21 October in the afternoon. Most of the hostages were released unharmed over the course of the evening, until a masked assailant emerged from the bank late at night with four hostages and a hand-grenade in his arm. The suspect then made his escape and let the four last hostages go.
Despite a major police mobilization, the assailant has so far evaded capture. The police chief of Samegrelo-Zemo Svaneti region, Avtandil Galdava, was among the four hostages who were with him when he escaped.
The drama began at about noon on Wednesday, when a masked man in military camouflage entered a Bank of Georgia branch in Zugdidi and took everyone in the main hall hostage. Both bank employees and clients were among the 19 hostages.
The police managed to evacuate about two dozen people from the roof of the bank.
The assailant was carrying a Kalashnikov rifle and held a hand-grenade with the safety ring pulled, so that if he had been shot by a sniper, the grenade would have exploded.
In the course of hours of negotiation, the assailant freed most of his hostages, including a pregnant woman and several seniors.
An investigation is underway under articles of criminal code which cover “terrorist act, hostage-taking for a terrorist purpose and illegal purchase, storage and carrying of firearms”.
With only a few days to go until a general election, the case has become a major point of contention between the government and the opposition. The government and the ruling Georgian Dream party describe the incident as a major success by the police and the government in general, while the opposition claims it is a symptom of the state’s fundamental weakness.
“Such a thing is impossible in a slightly organized state, in any other country. But the thing is that the state of Georgia has practically been destroyed [by GD] and yesterday we were witnesses of that,” said ex-President Mikheil Saakashvili in a video address published on Facebook.
Thea Tsulukiani, former Minister of Justice and No. 4 on the GD electoral list, on Tuesday accused the opposition of wanting to see the sidewalks of Zugdidi “strewn with corpses”.