- The Washington Times - Monday, December 26, 2005

ST. PETERSBURG — A gas attack in a home-supply store on one of the busiest shopping days of the year sickened scores of people in an incident that police called likely motivated by a commercial dispute or blackmail attempt.

Boxes containing timers wired to glass vials were discovered at the scene of the attack and three other stores in the same chain in Russia’s second-largest city.

Seventy-eight persons sought medical care: 66 were briefly hospitalized and sent home without any lasting ill effects, officials said. Police said the store where the people were sickened had not yet opened for the day and that all those affected were store employees or police, the ITAR-Tass news agency reported.

A police spokesman said some customers had been sickened.

Officials with the Maksidom home-supply chain, which sells furnishings, home-repair materials and other domestic articles, said they had received recent threats that sales would be disrupted around New Year’s, when Russians traditionally give holiday gifts.

Most efforts to undermine competitors’ sales in Russia’s sharp-elbowed free market take the form of negative advertising or damaging rumors. Business-related violence nonetheless remains a feature of the cutthroat capitalism that enveloped Russia after the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union.

“The first reaction is that it is one of the competitors of this store chain,” St. Petersburg Gov. Valentina Matviyenko said in televised comments.

St. Petersburg police spokesman Vyacheslav Stepchenko said the gas appeared to be methyl mercaptan, a gas that smells like rotten cabbage and is both naturally occurring and manufactured for use in plastics and pesticides.

Chemist Lev Fyodorov, head of an environmental group called For Chemical Safety, said in an NTV television report that the gas rarely has long-lasting effects.

Employees at the branch where people were sickened told officials they heard a sharp noise, like a clap or pop, before people inside smelled a garlicky odor and began to feel ill. Police and security officers called to the scene found a mechanism with a timer attached to shattered ampules, Mr. Stepchenko said.

Patients complained of nausea and vomiting — along with chest pain and high blood pressure that probably resulted from nervousness, nurse Alexei Afanasyev said on NTV.



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