The Russian faces trial

A serial-offender, nicknamed ‘The Russian’ and ‘The Taliban of the Beiras’, is finally on trial in Guarda, in the north of Portugal, facing a total of 37 charges, including 11 counts of attempted murder, armed robbery and the illegal possession of guns and explosives. Police had been hunting the defendant, 42-year-old António Tapada, a resident of Quinta de Santo António, near Aldeia Viçosa in Guarda, for three years before they cornered him in September 2002 at a health centre, where he was seeking treatment for a leg wound.

Shortly before his arrest, he was apparently reported to be sheltering in various underground bunkers, but when police officers tried to arrest him, he responded by shooting at them. At his trial, Tapada maintained that he had merely shot in the air in a bid to scare the police and “not with the intention of harming officers”. On another occasion, he fired at five bombeiros on their way to a fire, but Tapada claimed that he only did so because he thought they were about to arrest him. As for the hoard of weapons, detonators and munitions seized by police during the course of their investigations, Tapada justified them as part of his professional activities. “All my life I’ve been working with explosives in order to blast stone, wells and ditches,” he said.

The parents of the accused, Maria and António Almeida, said that they hoped “justice would be done”. But they questioned their son’s mental health, saying that he “doesn’t know how to look after himself” and claiming that he has been unwell since a childhood accident in which he had accidentally set fire to himself and sustained head injuries. “The crimes he is accused of stem from this illness and are not his fault,” they said.