MIA: All Hostages Freed, Operation Underway to Arrest Robber

In a statement released at 04:50 of October 22, the Interior Ministry of Georgia said all hostages, including the remaining four, held captive by a grenade-wielding bank robber have been released and an operation is underway to arrest the assailant.

The Ministry stated earlier at 01:00 of Thursday, that a total of 43 hostages have been freed, without providing details about the whereabouts of the assailant and four persons, including three hostages and Head of Samegrelo-Zemo Svaneti Police Department Avtandil Galdava, who acted as a negotiator.

The robber, who kept at least 19 people hostage for some 8 hours, left the bank premises at around 22:00 of October 21 and drove away a police car together with the said four persons. The reports emerged that Galdava brought money the assailant demanded at the crime scene.

The assailant, armed with firearms and hand-grenades and dressed in military uniform, broke into the Bank of Georgia building in the western Georgian town of Zugdidi in the afternoon of October 21, taking both, bank staff and customers, hostage. Police officers cordoned off the area soon after and launched an operation to neutralize the assailant, who demanded USD 500,000 and safe passage.

The Ministry of Internal Affairs reported in the afternoon that it launched an investigation under the Articles of 144, 179, and 236 of the Criminal Code of Georgia, involving taking hostages, aggravated robbery, and illegal carrying of ammunition, respectively.

The Bank of Georgia issued an announcement stating that they are “fully coordinating” with the Ministry of Internal Affairs, and following their instructions.

Incident Fuels Pre-Election Tensions

The incident, coming some 10 days before crucial October 31 parliamentary polls, has added to pre-election tensions. 

Pro-governmental Imedi TV dug up the story that Irakli Kvaratskhelia, one of the hostages who was instructed by the hostage-taker to call into the live broadcast on pro-opposition Mtavari Arkhi TV and transmit the assailant’s demands, is a supporter of the United National Movement party. Imedi TV insinuated that UNM was linked to the robbery and sought to benefit from it electorally. 

Senior Georgian Dream MP Irakli Kobakhidze made a statement on behalf of the ruling party, slamming the opposition politicians for being “political marauders,” and accused them of utilizing the incident for campaign gains. 

In a related turn of events, Giorgi Gabedava, Zugdidi majoritarian candidate of the nativist Georgian March accused Gigi Ugulava, European Georgia’s majoritarian candidate in Zugdidi of pulling the strings. His words triggered physical retaliation and led to a brawl between the supporters of the two parties. 

MP Giga Bokeria of European Georgia, on his part, accused the ruling party of “demonizing” the hostage based on his party affiliation, adding that “Ivanishvili’s regime” is responsible for employing a “pro-Putinist group of Giorgi Gabedava” to stage provocations against European Georgia.

President of Georgia Salome Zurabishvili weighed in, appealing to the political parties to refrain from mounting “artificial tensions” around the incident. 

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