Russia: Nun killed in cathedral gun attack

A police officer watches over the scene at the cathedral on Sakhalin Island. Picture: AFP/Getty Images
A police officer watches over the scene at the cathedral on Sakhalin Island. Picture: AFP/Getty Images
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A MAN employed as a private security guard opened fire yesterday in a cathedral on Russia’s Sakhalin Island in the Pacific, killing a nun and a parishioner and wounding six other people.

Law enforcement officers detained the 24-year-old man at the scene and were last night trying to determine why he had attacked the Russian Orthodox cathedral in the city of Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk.

The man worked for a private security firm in the city and was armed with a rifle. His name was not released.

Concerns about security in Russia are especially high because of the Winter Olympics currently under way in Sochi, but there was no apparent connection from this incident to the games. Sakhalin Island is more than 4,500 miles from Sochi.

The six parishioners who were wounded were hit in the legs and their lives were not in danger, state news agency RIA Novosti reported.

The gunman entered the cathedral shortly after a service had ended and began shooting at parishioners and targeting religious icons on the wall, priest Viktor Gorbach said in an interview with the LifeNews cable television channel.

He said only a few people were left in the cathedral when the attack began, and some managed to flee, but the nun and a male parishioner tried to stop the attacker and were killed. The priest said the man, who also destroyed a cross, had expressed his hatred of the church.

In Moscow, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church honoured the dead as heroes.

“Those who died today, they in any case died in the temple of God,” Patriarch Kirill said after a service in a Kremlin cathedral.

“They tried to prevent that person from defiling our sacred place. They died as heroes, as soldiers on the front line.”

Patriarch Kirill said the attacker may be mentally ill or may have been influenced by those who speak ill of the church.

The Church has been criticised by those who oppose its resurgence and its symbiosis with the Kremlin under President Vladimir Putin.

A prayer service for the victims was held last night at the cathedral, which is the main Russian Orthodox church in the region.

Russian television showed footage of mourners laying flowers and lighting candles outside the Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk cathedral.

There have been a handful of shooting sprees in offices and public places in Russia in recent years, but they are relatively rare.

The shooting on 3 February at a Moscow school, in which a student used his father’s rifles to kill a teacher and a police officer, has led to calls for stiffer punishment for gun owners whose weapons are used in attacks.