Russia's second city is set to receive the leaders of the Group of Eight industrialized nations in July but has been beset by negative publicity since the start of the year centering on killings and other attacks purportedly carried out by neo-Nazis.
"The crimes were engineered by people who tried to discredit the city ahead of the summit. We know the perpetrators," said Governor Valentina Matviyenko. "The traces apparently lead to Moscow,"
The governor's statement followed an announcement from St. Petersburg Prosecutor Sergei Zaitsev that an eight-member extremist gang suspected of being involved in the killing of a student from Senegal and other crimes had been broken up.
The gang is suspected of murdering Lamzer Samba, a fifth-year student at St. Petersburg's State Telecommunications University, who was shot dead April 7. Police found a gun with a swastika at the scene of the murder, which prompted protests against a slew of suspected race-hate killings and incidents.
But Matviyenko warned against labeling St. Petersburg, which has a population of 4.5 million, as a capital of xenophobia and drew a parallel with a serial killer in the southern Russian city of Rostov.
"If [Andrei] Chikatilo operated in Rostov, it does not mean that Rostov is a capital of maniacs," she said.
Matviyenko also expressed the hope that the gang would soon be brought to justice.
"There is no place for such gangs in the city," she said, adding that the example would hopefully be a good lesson for other extremist criminal groups.
Prosecutor Zaitsev said earlier that six guns, three kilograms of TNT and extremist literature had been found during searches of the suspected extremists' abodes.
He also said the gang had been involved in the killing of a Korean national in 2003 and a senior official at the local anthropology and ethnography museum, the Kunstkamera, who was shot several times when he answered his apartment door in June 2004.
Nikolai Girenko, 64, was a leading expert in inter-ethnic relations and headed a local commission for the rights of national minorities. He had been a prominent critic of race-hate crime and had conducted studies that led to the convictions of several skinheads.
Zaitsev said the gang members had also attacked a post office and cash desks and were suspected of killing two other members of the gang who were considered "weak links."