Gunmen Stormed A Crimea Hotel Full Of Reporters On Saturday [PHOTOS]

CrimeaREUTERS/Thomas PeterAn armed man leaves the Moscow hotel in Simferopol, March 15, 2014.

On Saturday, the day before Crimea’s referendum under armed guard, about two dozen commandos took over a hotel in the Crimean capital of Simferpol where numerous journalists were staying.

TIME’s Simon Shuster was one of those journalists, and he reports that the men appeared to be trained professionals who were “armed to the hilt” with silencer-equipped Kalashnikov assault rifles and sidearms.

“We’re looking for an armed criminal,” one of the masked commandos told TIME. “This is a special operation.”

Crimea’s police force said it was a training operation. The office of the peninsula’s leader said it was a search for a cache of weapons that was never found. Whatever it was, and whoever these armed men were, it looked intense.

RTR3H89VREUTERS/Thomas PeterAn armed man leaves the Moscow hotel in Simferopol, March 15, 2014.

Here’s ABC’s Andrew Marquardt, who is also reporting from Crimea, responding to one of Shuster’s tweets:

And one more look at one of the masked men:

RTR3H8AAREUTERS/Thomas PeterAn armed man leaves the Moscow hotel in Simferopol, March 15, 2014.

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