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Moscow taxi driver who drove into World Cup fans has background in combat sports

Chyngyz Anarbek, the taxi driver arrested for ploughing through a crowd of World Cup fans in Moscow, appears to have a background in combat sports. 

On Saturday, June 16, a taxi driver in Moscow ploughed into pedestrians near the Red Square, injuring five people and hospitalizing three others. Video footage showed the taxi lurch to the right away from standstill traffic, climb the sidewalk, and mow down several unsuspecting pedestrians and World Cup fans.

Police authorities later identified the taxi driver as Chyngyz Anarbek, a 28-year-old Kyrgyz national residing in Moscow. During a video a released by the police the following day, Anarbek could be seen explaining that he had dozed off behind the wheel and gotten confused between the accelerator and brake pedals, though it is unclear whether he spoke freely or under duress.

Anarbek has since appeared in court, where he apologized for his actions and pleaded guilty.

Though little else is known about Anarbek, reports suggest he is a married man and a father to two children. He also reportedly won a bronze medal last year in the world championship of pankration. Anarbek can also be seen training and posing with MMA fighters in social media posts.

Anarbek’s interest in combat sports highlights an interesting trend among central Asian migrants in the Russian Federation. There are dozens of unregistered combat sports gyms across Russia run by central Asian migrants, many of which host unsanctioned fights. Most rent space in near-abandoned buildings for cheaper overhead costs, and offer migrants a sanctuary to hone their craft, and to exercise as part of a community in a safe space.

Kyrgyz nationals find their way to these gyms for many different reasons. One, Bakeet, is a pickpocket trying to earn extra money by competing in the cage. Another, Urnud-Bek, works in construction by day while training by night with the ambition to become a UFC fighter. The two contrasting Kyrgyz nationals are typical stories at migrant fight clubs.

Given the rise of anti-terrorist sentiment and general xenophobic behaviour towards Central Asian migrants, particularly those of the Islamic faith, these gyms will continue to be a place where dejected migrants can find solace through sports. Given the recent St. Petersburg metro bombing, which is believed to have been committed by a Kyrgyz-born Russian citizen (22-year-old Akbarzhon Jalilov), tension and resentment for Central Asian migrants may be at an all-time high.

It remains unclear whether Anarbek will be labeled a terrorist following his actions last week. Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin referred to it as an “unpleasant incident” while Kyrgystan Prime Minister Mukhammedkaliy Abylgaziye apologized to the victims of the crash and asked Russians to refrain from abusing central Asian migrants.

“What happened should not become a cause for persecution and abuse of our citizens working in Russia. This was an accident,” Abylgaziye was quoted as saying by RIA-Novosti.