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Office tied to Russian troll farm set on fire with Molotov cocktail

October 9, 2018

Federal News Agency, a Russian-based website linked to Moscow’s meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential race, had its office set on fire overnight, regional media reported.

Video footage shared by the website, also known as FAN, showed a fire starting inside its St. Petersburg office shortly before 2 a.m. Tuesday morning.

Authorities said a suspect shattered a window on FAN’s ground-floor office and lobbed a Molotov cocktail inside, the Fontanka new site reported.

No one was injured, and the fire was extinguished without spreading beyond the room.

An investigation last year by RBC, a Russian media organization, found that FAN is part of a network of websites linked to Yevgeny Prigogine, an oligarch accused of operating the Internet Research Agency, the so-called “troll farm” U.S. prosecutors charged with meddling in the 2016 race.

Google initially stopped indexing articles published by FAN in the investigation’s aftermath, but ultimately the company reversed course after receiving complaints from Russia’s Foreign Ministry and Roskomnadzor, Moscow’s internet watchdog. Facebook, meanwhile, banned FAN’s account amid a purge of Internet Research Agency-related accounts in April.

Yevgeny Zubarev, FAN’s chief editor, said he believed Tuesday’s fire was “tied to FAN’s activities.”

“We’re most often attacked online, but these types of attacks have already taken place offline,” he said in a statement.

FAN’s office was previously the subject of a similar attack in March, according to the website.

Police have initiated a criminal investigation into Tuesday’s fire, the State Ministry of Internal Affairs for St. Petersburg and the Leningrad Region said in a statement published by FAN.

Mr. Prigogine and his Internet Research Agency engaged in “information warfare” against the U.S. in part by using social media platforms including Facebook and Twitter to spread politically charged misinformation during the 2016 race, Department of Justice prosecutors wrote in charging documents.

Combined with government-authorized computer intrusions and other cyber activities, the paid internet trolls participated in a state-sponsored influence campaign meant to hurt former Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, U.S. intelligence officials previously concluded.

FAN and a network of 15 other sites previously linked to Mr. Prigogine generated a combined 30 million page views every months, according to RBC’s 2017 report.

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