By Olga Dzyubenko and Polina Ivanova
Three people injured when a taxi drove into pedestrians in central Moscow on Saturday will be released from hospital in coming days, state news agency RIA cited a city health official as saying
Moscow police said initial investigations indicated the driver had fallen asleep at the wheel, swerving into pedestrians near the Kremlin. Seven people were injured, including two Mexicans visiting the city for the soccer World Cup, which Russia is hosting.
Russia, increasingly isolated on the world stage, is keen to use the tournament to project an image of stability and strength. Authorities have vowed a safe event, and any security incidents involving fans could jeopardise Russia’s efforts.
Video of the incident posted on social media showed a yellow taxi pull sharply out of a line of stationary traffic, accelerate and mount a narrow pavement, knocking over several people.
Three of the injured remain in hospital in stable condition and will soon be discharged, RIA cited Alexei Khripun, head of the Moscow city health department, was quoted as saying on Sunday.
Others who were injured had already been discharged, Khripun said, according to RIA.
Moscow’s streets were still packed with people after the incident on Saturday, listening to street musicians perform or sitting at pavement cafes.
“We’re not scared but disappointed,” said Youseff Fraige, 27, from Monterrey, Mexico.
“We didn’t expect something like this to happen… It could happen anywhere in the world, but that it happens here in Moscow, in the middle of the World Cup, it’s shocking for us.”
The taxi driver, whose licence was issued in the predominantly Muslim ex-Soviet republic of Kyrgyzstan, according to the Moscow traffic management authority, said he had accelerated by accident after working a 20-hour day.
“I regret very much… I wanted to go home afterwards, to have a sleep,” the driver said in a video published by Moscow police.
A criminal investigation has been opened, police said. A court will hold a sentencing hearing on Monday, TASS reported.
The U.S. State Department on Friday updated its travel advice on Russia, saying terrorist groups were plotting attacks.
“Terrorists may attack with little or no warning, targeting tourist locations, transportation hubs, markets/shopping malls, and local government facilities,” the travel advice stated.
The Moscow traffic authority said it identified the driver from his licence as Chingiz Anarbek Uulu, 28, from the town of Kochkor-Ata in Kyrgyzstan, near the border with Uzbekistan.
Chingiz’s brother, Almaz Anarbekov, told Reuters that Chingiz was an experienced driver and an award-winning kickboxer who had travelled to Moscow around eight months ago to earn money to fund the construction of his house.
“He has an unfinished house and he went to make some money and his wife went along to help him,” Anarbekov said, speaking to Reuters at the family home, a one-storey grey house in the village of Muras-Ordo, near Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan’s capital.
Asked if Chingiz could have been influenced by extremist ideas, Anarbekov said no.
“God forbid! … He is not that kind of person, he has no interest (in radicalism), he just wanted to make some money. I know him very well, he often helps people. He is an athlete.”
Anarbekov said he was in touch with his brother’s wife, who lives in Moscow, where she works as a cook at an Asian restaurant. They have two daughters.
After the incident, Chingiz’s wife spent the night at a police station, said Ulan Koshmatov, a member of the family based in Moscow. It was unclear whether she had been detained or had gone to the station to be with her husband.
The Kyrgyz embassy said its lawyers were also at the police station at the time.
An account on Russian social media platform Odnoklassniki for someone with the same name and date of birth as Chingiz was last updated two years ago.
The last video posted on the page depicted chapter 82 of the Koran, Islam’s holy book, which discusses judgment day. There was nothing on the page to suggest any links to, or sympathies with, Islamist militant groups.
(Additional reporting by Andrey Ostroukh; writing by Jack Stubbs and Polina Ivanova; editing by Jason Neely and Ros Russell)