This gruesome photograph was taken by Ministry of Interior officials minutes after 10 people were shot dead by mafia in the southern Slovak city of Dunajská Streda. 114 bullets were fired in less than a minute.
photo: TASR/Interior Ministry

On March 25, at about 19:00, three masked men entered the Fontana restaurant in the southern Slovak town of Dunajská Streda and opened fire on the customers, killing 10 people. The gruesome mass murder was the largest in Slovak history.

According to Jaroslav Ivor, director of the Interior Ministry's investigation section, all victims had ties to the Slovak criminal underworld. "I can confirm that all persons who were shot were related to one of the victims, Tibor P. [Tibor Pápay], said to be the boss of the Dunajská Streda underworld," he said, adding that all victims had "colourful criminal records."

Eyewitnesses (one waiter and 14 guests) reported that the three gunmen entered the Fontana bar-restaurant in the early evening using a back entrance from the restaurant's kitchen. "They wore military clothes, bullet-proof vests and black hoods," said the waiter.

The murderers ordered the clientele of the bar to lie on the floor, shouting "this is a police raid, everybody get down." After the customers had obeyed their instructions, the three men ran up to the first floor and opened fire, killing nine young men on the spot. The tenth man died approximately two hours later in a local hospital.

According to the Interior Ministry's Ivor, the firing lasted for about a minute. "The murderers shot 114 bullets at ten targeted men and each was hit several times," he said, adding that after the shooting the three men left the restaurant, using an unidentified car.

Ivor guessed that the mass murder had been very carefully planned, since the victims were unarmed and clearly not expecting to be attacked. "It is very likely that several Mafia groups were set to meet in the Fontana restaurant [that evening]," he said, noting the fact that the table at which the men were seated had been laid for a larger party.

Criminal investigators have narrowed the motive for the killings down to three possible scenarios. "The first is that a score was being settled in Dunajská Streda," said Interior Minister Ladislav Pittner at a March 29 press conference. "The second version takes in [gang warfare in] the whole region of southern Slovakia, and the last one points to an international connection - that the murders were ordered from the Czech Republic or Hungary."

Pittner said that the assassins had probably been paid one million dollars for the contract killings.

The Mafia executions provoked a wave of uneasiness among the citizens of Dunajská Streda, which became famous in 1997 when the head of Rudolf H. was cut off and left in a flower pot in front of a department store. Dunajská Streda district had six murders in 1997, far above the national average.

"Yes, they shot these 10 gangsters, but there are more of them here," said a woman who spoke to the daily paper Sme on condition of anonymity. "You're not a local citizen, you don't know what's going on here. If I tell you something today, I'll be scared to walk the streets tomorrow," she said.

Other Slovaks, including the nation's politicians, took the killings as a sign that organised crime had reached intolerable levels. According to official police statistics, five people were killed and four injured in bomb attacks in Slovakia in 1996. The numbers increased to 12 killed and 16 injured in 1997. Figures have not been released for 1998

"I denounce what happened in Dunajská Streda," said Árpád Duka-Zólyomi, a deputy with the government Hungarian Coalition (SMK) party. "It's not just a local issue, it's a nation-wide problem, since the killings were carried out by representatives of the Slovak underworld as a whole," he added.

Imrich Andrejčák, a deputy with the opposition HZDS party, said he thought the country's gun laws should be amended. "It's important... to deter holders of illegal arms," he said.

On March 30, five days after the murder, five of the ten Mafia victims were buried in a local cemetery. According to the SITA news agency, the ceremony was monitored by investigators, since, according to unwritten Mafia laws, the three murderers were supposed to attend the burial.