Dramatic video apparently captured a deadly shootout between Belarusian security forces and a man reported to be an IT worker with a US software company amid a violent crackdown on pro-democracy protestors.
Belarus’ State Security Committee said one of its KGB officers was killed Tuesday when a 31-year-old man – who they claimed was a “terrorist” — opened fire on them after he resisted arrest during an apartment raid in Minsk.
The man was shot dead by security forces when they returned fire, the KGB security service said.
Belarus’ pro-democracy opposition identified the victim as 31-year-old Andrei Zeltser — an IT worker with EPAM Systems, whose headquarters are located in Pennsylvania.
A senior adviser to exiled opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya claimed on Twitter that Zeltser was a US citizen who supported the democracy movement in Belarus.
The US embassy has not confirmed if Zeltser was an American citizen.
Forces loyal to President Alexander Lukashenko have unleashed a crackdown on protests ever since last year’s disputed election, which led to mass demonstrations that the dictator violently quashed.
Lukashenko, who has been in power of the former Soviet state since 1994, described the protestors as criminals and terrorists.
The crackdown included searches of apartment blocks where forces believed protesters were hiding.
The IT industry was considered a driving force behind the protests, and EPAM’s Belarusian founder and CEO, Arkadiy Dobkin, was among those to sign an open letter calling for a new election.
EPAM declined to comment on the deadly raid.
Footage of the raid, which was aired on Belarusian state television but has not been independently verified, showed plain-clothed security forces breaking down the door of an apartment.
A man could be seen firing at the officers when they entered the apartment as a woman stood close by, according to the video.
The security service said the man’s wife was arrested in the raid.
“In response to the lawful demands of law enforcement officers, a 31-year-old resident of Minsk refused to open the door of the apartment and was locked inside it. For the subsequent so-called ‘hype’, he was filming,” security forces said in a statement.
“Given the nature of the violence used, armed resistance from a 31-year-old man, he was liquidated with return fire.”
Zeltser’s mother-in-law told local media outlet Nasha Niva that he was not a terrorist.
“I can’t say or think anything. I’m shocked, I don’t understand what’s going on,” she was quoted as saying. “Andrei is a very good person, a wonderful son-in-law.”
She added: “Do I consider Andrei a terrorist? Of course not.”
With Post wires