19 ноября 2014 16:58

Explosion in Almaty college: Why was the grenade real?


Classroom after the explosion. Classroom after the explosion.

This Monday an ordinary day in the lives of students of Almaty-based College of Design and Fashion turned into a nightmare. A grenade explosion in one of the classrooms killed a 16-year old student and injured 12 others.

This Monday an ordinary day in the lives of students of Almaty-based College of Design and Fashion turned into a nightmare. A grenade explosion in one of the classrooms killed a 16-year old student and injured 12 others.

This happened during a basic military training class, which is a mandatory course for high schools and colleges in Kazakhstan. The question everyone is asking now is "How could a real grenade possibly get to the classroom?" and "Who is responsible for the tragedy?" 

One of the witnesses of the incident said: "The teacher wasn't there at that moment, he walked out. Sveta, that girl, died on the spot, two of my best friends are in intensive care in grave condition. One of them got a perforating shrapnel wound in the head. That girl (Svetlana) didn't do it. She was just holding the grenade in her hand when a guy sitting next to her yanked the pin out. How could a real grenade possibly have gotten into class?!"

Another student said: "I was in a classroom next doors. I walked out of my classroom because it was a break and then the explosion suddenly came. A girl ran out of that classroom screaming and fell onto the floor right in front of me. Two girls that were walking past that classroom also got injured. One had blood on her arm. It was horrible."

Svetlana's family said that the grenade exploded not in the girl's hands but behind her back. Doctors confirmed this: the girl killed in the explosion had shrapnel wounds in her back.

The girl was buried today, on November 19. The funeral was arranged by the college. 

The teacher was arrested immediately after the accident. Press-secretary of the Department of Internal Affairs of Almaty Saltanat Azirbek said that the teacher would be presented to court for bail hearing within 72 hours.

"The basic military training teacher of Almaty College of Design and Fashion was placed in a pretrial jail. He will be presented to court by the investigators within 72 hours for a bail hearing," Azirbek said adding that the detained teacher, born in 1967, was being questioned.

Citing unconfirmed reports Azirbek said that the teacher was a former soldier.

His apartment was searched after then incident, but nothing illegal was found, she said.

Waiving off the reports of witnesses who unanimously say that the teacher was not in the classroom when the grenade exploded, she declared that during the explosion the teacher was in the classroom. The man did not sustain any injuries, which is why he was not taken to a hospital, she said. Azirbek also denied the information that the teacher resisted arrest.

Now the investigation needs to determine whether the teacher could and had to spot a difference between a fighting and a training grenade. Azirbek said the investigation of this case would take at least two months.

Tengrinews now has the photos of the classroom after the grenade explosion that killed 16-year-old Svetlana Yakovleva and injured 12 other students, who were hospitalized with chest and head shrapnel wounds and concussions. Five of them had emergency surgeries and were transferred to intensive care wards. Three of them can now breathe on their own, while the two others are still on mechanical ventilation. The remaining seven patients are in traumatology, neurosurgery and surgery departments in stable condition. 

Almaty TV Channel reported that the grenade that exploded in the classroom was an RGD-5 grenade designed to destroy enemy personnel. Its radius of spalling is around 30 meters and fuze time is between 3.2 to 4.2 seconds.

According to some eyewitnesses the whole classroom was covered in blood after the explosion but there are no signs of significant blood loss on these photos. 

Retired lieutenant colonel and teacher of basic military training in Almaty Public School №6 Victor Mager spoke to a Tengrinews correspondent about the theoretical side of the incident that occurred in the college.

He said that the main difference between a fighting grenade and a training replica used in Kazakhstan was its colour: real grenades were green and training replicas were black. A model is almost identical in weight to the real grenade. The only difference is the weight of the explosive inside the fighting grenade. But to make the models weight accurate sand or scrap metal is sometimes placed inside instead of the explosive.

When asked whether it was possible to confuse a real grenade with a training grenade provided that they were both coated with black paint he said: "Yes, they are easy to confuse". But if that grenade was green the teacher should have identified it on sight, he added.

None of the eyewitness have so far mentioned whether the grenade that exploded in the classroom was painted in black or green. There is no confirmed information as to where the grenade came from either - from the teacher's cabinet or from a student's backpack.  

According to some reports the repainting tactics is sometimes employed by weapon smuggles who disguise combat grenades as training ones by paining them black to make their transportation and customs clearance easier. But it is anyway unclear how a smuggled grenade could have possibly gotten into a Kazakhstani school classroom.  

Victor Mager said that the tragic incident that happened in the Design College was something close to impossible. He stressed that basic military teachers got only dummies and models of weapons and ammunition for their classes, and those models often differed significantly from the real weapons used in fighting.

Training grenades that used to be made of metal like real ones until quite recently are now made of rubber. In addition, the colour of a real grenade is green, while a model is painted black, he continued.

“It is an awful and odd case. It wasn't supposed to happen during a lesson of basic military training. (…) We’ve never had military weapons at schools. Models for schools are procured by the Ministry of Education. Here, in our school, we just recently obtained a fully equipped basic military training class. I, as a teacher, received models of grenades as well - they're made of rubber,” Mager said.

“We spend only one lesson studying grenades. We tell the kids what grenades are, their application, range. Throwing practice lessons are sometimes held, but only during field training outside with 10-graders (high school students) after they complete the classroom part of basic military training,” he added.

"It is possible that it were the teenagers who got the grenade from somewhere and brought it into the class. But the teacher shouldn't have confused a real grenade with a model (provided that the colour was correct). Besides, all the teaching equipment has special marks. But anyone could have brought the grenade to class, both a student or a teacher," he said.

The Prosecutor’s Office, Military Prosecutor’s Office and the Department of Internal Affairs are all be involved in the investigation now. The former has already initiated criminal cases under the articles "Causing death by negligence" and "Illegal Purchase, Transfer, Sale, Storage, Transportation, or the Carrying of Weapons, Ammunition, Explosives, or Explosion Devices."

The Ministry of Education and Science also promise to do all it can to find those responsible for the tragedy. The head of the Department for career enhancement, vocational education and post-secondary non-tertiary education Sabyrzhan Madeyev said that a special commission was created by the Minister of Education to study the materials of the case.

Besides the commission has started re-inventorying and re-examining all the manuals and ammunition models used in basic military training classes in Kazakhstan.

This was, by the way, the first thing that Vice-Mayor of Almaty Yuliy Ilyin ordered on the day of the explosion: to recall and re-examine all the training models of arms and weapons procured by the Ministry of Education of Kazakhstan for high schools and colleges of Almaty. This indirectly hints that the authorities take the version of the real grenade not being smuggled into the school by either the students or the teacher, but instead being accidentally supplied by the Ministry quite serious.   

"We know that the teacher started working in the college only recently. We are checking his background now. Stringent measures will be taken against all those who are responsible for the negligence. It is yet unknown how a real grenade appeared in the basic military training class," Sabyrzhan Madeyev said.

He added that the Ministry extended its condolences to the family and relatives of the victim and to all those injured in the terrible incident.

The Mayor of the city Akhmetzhan Yessimov suggested reconsidering the reasonability of teaching basic military training classes in schools in his letter to the Minister of Education of Kazakhstan Aslan Sarinzhipov, the press service of the Mayor said.

In his letted Yessimov maintained that the basic military training course had stayed virtually unchanged since the Soviet times. The Mayor questioned the relevance of the course and proposed to remove it from school and college curriculum altogether.

"I doubt the relevance of the basic military training course. In the letter I requested a review of the appropriateness of teaching it given the current realities and international experience. There are no school courses studying assault rifle, grenades and etc. anywhere in the world, except for specialized educational institutions. Until the decision is made by the Ministry, the use of ammunition models in classrooms of Almaty will be suspended," Yessimov said.

He informed that the family of the girl who died would receive 1 million tenge ($5,500), while the families of the injured – 500 thousand tenge ($2,750) each as a financial aid from the city.

The answer from the ministry to the Mayor's request was not long in coming. Vice-minister of Education and Science Yesengazy Imangaliyev said that the basic military training classes would not be cancelled in Kazakhstan, STV TV Channel reported.

The official said that immediately after the grenade explosion in the College of Design and Fashion, a workgroup of representatives of the Ministry of Education and law enforcement agencies had been put together. Schools were advised to forego the use of training grenades during lessons and leave it a purely theoretical study.

But completely getting rid of the subject was out of question. Basic military training classes at high schools and colleges are there to stay in Kazakhstan.

Writing by Dinara Urazova, editing by Tatyana Kuzmina

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