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A Jan. 6 Capitol riot suspect wanted by the FBI was granted refugee status in Belarus

Evan Neumann, who is wanted by the FBI, holds his new Belarusian documents at the department of citizenship and migration office in Brest, Belarus.

Evan Neumann is under federal indictment in the U.S. for more than a dozen charges related to last year's Capitol insurrection. But Belarus, a Russian ally and neighbor to Ukraine, has granted him asylum, saying he is under its protection indefinitely.

"I am very grateful, and it is bittersweet," like eating cranberries, Neumann said in a video posted by state media Belta. "So, very happy and very sad at the same time."

Neumann is currently wanted by the FBI on multiple charges of assaulting police officers during the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, including using a metal barricade as a battering ram. But he fled the U.S. one month after the insurrection, traveling to Ukraine before winding up in Belarus. And now Belarus, which is aiding Russia's attacks on Ukraine, has granted Neumann refugee status.

He received his new Belarusian identification document from the department of citizenship and migration office in Brest, with reporters looking on. Belarus claims that the U.S. charges against Neumann are politically motivated. He was granted refugee status almost exactly one year after the first criminal complaint was filed against him last March.

Belarusian officials say that when Neumann was in Ukraine, he became suspicious that he was under surveillance. Taking only a map, a rucksack and some belongings, they said, he crossed the border into Belarus in August of 2021, whereupon he was detained by military personnel. After arriving, he immediately asked for protection.

"Belarus is very nice," Neumann said, "and I feel safe in Belarus, especially compared to my compatriots in America."

Asked what he will do now, Neumann replied, "Right now, my plans are to stay in Brest. I have started a life here. Now that I have a document, I would like to travel to Minsk. I have not seen that yet."

Neumann, 49, had been living in Mill Valley, Calif., north of San Francisco. The Justice Department says that he confronted law enforcement officers at the western side of the Capitol, allegedly asking them, "I'm willing to die, are you?"

Shortly afterward, he broke down barricades and used his fists and the metal object to strike officers. He allegedly assaulted at least four different officers over the course of several hours, according to the federal indictment against him. He was identified to the FBI by a tipster who reportedly said they were a family friend.

This story originally appeared on the Morning Edition live blog. Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.