Police said they found smashed fragments of a century-old figure of Mephistopheles
Saint Petersburg - AFP
Russia has launched a probe after a century-old figure of Mephistopheles was ripped down in Saint Petersburg, with Orthodox activists claiming responsibility amid fears of an increasing intolerance in the country.
Police said on Friday they had found smashed fragments of the figure in rubbish sacks after it disappeared from the facade of a historic building in the centre of the northwestern city on Monday.
"We knocked down this devil," a group calling itself the Cossacks of Saint Petersburg said in a letter peppered with grammatical mistakes.
The figure encouraged "open worship of Satan," said the letter sent to local news website Fontanka.ru, adding the landmark figure was unacceptable because it was opposite a church.
Cossacks once defended the borders of the Russian empire but now often campaign to promote conservative values.
Established Cossack groups in the city denied any knowledge of this group, however.
The seemingly religiously-motivated act of vandalism caused an outcry in the former imperial capital.
The figure on Lakhtinskaya Street dated back to around 1910 and depicted a "mythical bat-winged creature," the city's heritage committee said.
Prosecutors on Thursday opened a probe into destruction of cultural heritage, which carries a jail term of up to two years.
Residents also launched an online petition urging Prosecutor-General Yuri Chaika to intervene and track down the culprits.