THE African students did not even see the man raise the swastika-emblazoned shotgun as they emerged from the Apollo nightclub in St Petersburg.
When he opened fire from the shadows behind them, some of the group thought it was a firecracker going off.
Then they saw Samba Lampsar Sall, a 28-year-old student from Senegal, lying dead on the pavement with his throat blown apart.
Within hours, a sinister message had appeared on the website of a group called the Party of Freedom. «The clean-up of the city continues,» it said.
Mr Sall’s brutal murder exposes one of Russia’s most disturbing problems as President Putin prepares to host the G8 summit in St Petersburg in mid-July. For all its grandeur and impressive art collections, Russia’s second city is fast becoming the racist capital of the world.
Critics say that the authorities are not doing enough to combat the extremists who routinely attack, and kill, Africans, Asians and immigrants from the Caucasus or Central Asia.
Seven people have been killed, and 79 injured, in more than 40 racist attacks this year, according to Sova, a non-governmental organisation that monitors extremism in Russia.
Last year, 28 people were killed and 366 injured in racially motivated crimes, it says.

Swastika vigilantes kill foreign students to keep their city ‘clean’