At least 13 people were killed and 13 wounded when a lone gunman went on a rampage at Baku's Azerbaijan State Oil Academy early on April 30, Azerbaijani officials said. The alleged gunman, a Georgian of Azeri origin, was among the dead.
The shooting began as students gathered for their morning lessons. Some survivors reported seeing more than one gunman. "We were attending a lecture. Someone began to kick the door. Suddenly two [gunmen] burst into the room and shot at the students sitting in the front row. The students began to flee the lecture hall. When I left the room I saw a lot of wounded people in the corridor," one student told APA News Agency.
The General Prosecutor's office, however, stated that only one gunman was involved. The shooter was identified as a 29-year-old Georgian citizen, Farda Gadirov, an ethnic Azeri from Georgia's Marneuli region. He was killed at the scene, possibly by his own hand. He was reportedly armed with an Makarov pistol and large supply of ammunition.
President Ilham Aliyev vowed that authorities would take measures to prevent such a tragedy from occurring again. "We share your deep grief and wish you patience and restraint on these heavy days," Aliyev said in a message of condolence to relatives of the victims, according to a report distributed by the APA news agency. "You can be sure that the State of Azerbaijan will make all necessary measures."
ANS TV Channel reported the gunman began firing on students as he walked up to the sixth floor, and witnesses recalled seeing bodies throughout the building.
The death toll may rise in the coming hours and days. Due to the large number of wounded, hospitals were calling on people to give blood. Although several local media initially described the attack as a possible terrorist incident, information subsequently came to light to reinforce the idea that the tragedy was the work of a lone, disgruntled gunman. The motivation for the attack remains unclear.
A woman identified as the aunt of the identified gunman told APA news agency that her nephew had left his native village of Dashtepe for Baku one month ago, after receiving a work offer from a friend. Gadirov apparently had no known connection to the State Oil Academy.
Several news agencies have suggested the shooting may be the result of a conflict between Azerbaijani and foreign students at the university. There are currently 93 foreign students enrolled at the State Oil Academy from 14 countries. Two foreign citizens - one from Syria, the other from Sudan - were among the dead.
Government officials do not appear to believe the shootings were politically motivated. Ali Hasanov, head of the presidential administration's Policy Analysis and Information Department, stated that "such incidents take place in many countries," according to Trend News Agency.
Police shut down the roads around the university and directed traffic away from the crime scene. Photos and video from the scene showed corpses being removed from the academic building in red body bags and pools of blood on the front steps of the building.
This is Azerbaijan's first "school shooting" and many local residents expressed shock that such violence could occur in their city. "When I first heard about the shootings, I felt unprotected," said Narmin Kerimbekova who works two blocks from the university. "There is not a lot of violence in Azerbaijan. This is not Europe or America where these kinds of shootings happen."
"We are not used to seeing this kind of violence. I just feel shocked," Parviz Abbasov, a Baku lawyer, added.
The homicide rate in Azerbaijan is one of the lowest in the former Soviet Union and firearms are used in less than 10 percent of all killings.
The incident, however, has many Baku residents feeling uneasy. In the early 1990s, two bombings rocked the city's metro system. With tensions between Armenia and Turkey simmering, the violence has reminded some of Azerbaijan's tenuous geopolitical situation.
Kerimbekova predicts the attacks will result in a crackdown on foreign visitors in Azerbaijan. "The rules will get stricter as the government tries to prevent another foreign attack," she warned.
The Azerbaijan State Oil Academy, founded in 1920, is one of the oldest and most prestigious institutions of higher learning in Azerbaijan. The late President Heidar Aliyev, father of Azerbaijan's President Ilham Aliyev, is one of its many well-known graduates.
Jessica Powley Hayden is a freelance reporter based in Baku.
Sign up for Eurasianet's free weekly newsletter.