TARTU - On Thursday, Aug. 11, a lone gunman entered the Estonian Ministry of Defense. Later that day, the Ministry confirmed that an Estonian citizen, born in Armenia - Karen Drambjan, aged 57 - entered the building at 15:04 p.m. He was equipped with a pistol and explosive packages, and he spoke Russian.
In a dramatic two-and-a-half-hour event, Drambjan was killed in a shootout. No one else was seriously injured. Work resumed as normal the next day apparently with only cosmetic touch-ups needed on the building. A Defense League psychologist is now helping those affected.
The Defense Police, who took over the operation, confirmed that the criminal was a citizen of Estonia. He was born in Armenia in 1954 and acquired Estonian citizenship in 1993. He had come into contact with the police in the past, but had no record of criminal convictions.
Although initially it was believed that he had previously served in the Estonian army, this was later found to be untrue. The man was not associated with either the Defense Forces or the Ministry of Defense. He was a lawyer by profession who had been going through some difficulties, having lost his job, home and health. He was a member of the Estonian United Left Party, who were quick to denounce his actions and highlight that the shooting had nothing to do with them or their party politics.
Upon entering the building, Drambjan set off a smoke bomb and fired in the direction of two Defense League members who were guarding the building.
According to the Defense Police, “It was the gunman’s personal weapon [that was used], for which he did have a permit. The individual also used homemade explosive devices that created smoke and loud noises but did not injure people or cause any damage to the structure of the building.” The guard team managed to immediately notify the police, who started an operation to apprehend the criminal. According to a statement by the Ministry of Defense, the “incident” lasted about two and a half hours and the gunman was killed in an exchange of fire with the security forces.
The Defense Police confirmed that “according to preliminary information, three homemade explosive devices were found that had not been detonated; they were rendered harmless. A total of over 10 homemade explosive devices and packets were detonated at the scene.”
Contrary to initial reports, the Ministry of Defense said no hostages were taken; however, two members of staff were “under the control” of the assailant for a short period of time. These two individuals were members of the Defense League. According to current information, the Defense League members were held by the perpetrator for less than half an hour. The offender did not make any verbal demands or issue demands using any other means. No Ministry of Defense workers were hurt during the incident.
The ministry building was evacuated in 20 minutes according to a pre-rehearsed evacuation plan that included people leaving through the back door. Some people close to the unfolding incident on the ground floor left the building through their office windows.
The guard team managed to isolate Drambjan in the administrative area on the ground floor and prevented him from accessing other areas of the Ministry. He spent most of the time alone in that area. Negotiators attempted to contact him on the phones in the room, but he did not respond. According to the Defense Police, “The office in the administrative area is also where the exchange of gunfire took place between the special units and the offender. Preliminary information that suggested that the perpetrator took his own life was false. The man was killed at about 17.25 p.m. in a fire fight with police officers; he had many bullet wounds. Doctors on site immediately began attempts to resuscitate Karen Drambjan, but their attempts were unsuccessful.” One officer suffered a minor injury, another one was shot in his bulletproof vest.
Postimees.ee found out that Drambjan had been detained by the police on May 11, when he was found to be intoxicated with alcohol while carrying a firearm. He had a license for the weapon and was given a fine, which he appealed.
Toomas Hendrik Ilves, the president of Estonia, commented to BNS that he commends the security forces that were in the gun fight, especially as the bullets “did not miss.” What is more, he praised members of staff of the Ministry of Defense, who showed great poise during those hours of crisis – especially as several of them had a gun pointed at them.
Ilves observed that Estonian internal security has to be enhanced every day. “This means strengthening the police and border guards, the Rescue Service and ambulances by giving these good people a sense of security by the state.” He also called for added security for state offices, which can often be targeted.
Nevertheless, it has now been publicly questioned as to whether the Ministry of Defense is secure in its current city-center location and whether it is rational to let the public walk freely up to the front desk, where the guards are posted.
The motives of the shooter remain unclear. The Minister of Defense, Mart Laar (it was during his time in office as prime minister in the early 1990s that Drambjan got his citizenship), was not in the building at the time. It is, however, clear that Drambjan could have inflicted substantial damage in the building.
According to delfi.ee, Drambjan had often posted inflammatory comments on the Internet about the treatment of the Russian-speaking minority in Estonia. In a comment posted on the portal slavia.ee in 2009, before the European Parliament elections, Drambjan said that “it is clear that the Estonian government has chosen the path of a civil war. It is not important what form it will take, but rivers of blood, criminal destabilization and complete poverty will come with it.” Reportedly, when Drambjan entered the Ministry, he rambled on in Russian, but no concrete demands or statements were made.