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Putin says all four gunmen held as death toll reaches 133

March 23rd, 2024

Russian investigators at the scene of an attack at the Crocus City Hall on the western edge of Moscow, Russia.Photograph: AP

Vladimir Putin said Russia had arrested all four gunmen responsible for the shooting that killed 133 people at a concert hall on the outskirts of Moscow, claiming that the perpetrators of one of the worst terror attacks in the country’s history planned to flee to Ukraine.

Putin, in his first public comments on the terrorist attacks that shocked the nation, made no mention of Islamic State’s claim to have carried out the attack.

Instead, Putin on Saturday suggested without evidence that Ukraine may have been involved in Friday’s attack, saying that “the Ukrainian side” had “prepared a window” for the terrorists to cross the border from Russia into Ukraine before they were apprehended.

“They tried to hide and move towards Ukraine, where, according to preliminary data, a window was prepared for them from the Ukrainian side to cross the state border,” Putin said in a televised address.

But his comments came short of directly blaming Ukraine for the attack, saying that those responsible would be punished, “whoever they may be, whoever may have sent them”.

Islamic State, through an affiliated news agency, claimed responsibility for the attack late on Friday in a post on Telegram, in which they claimed the gunmen had managed to escape afterwards. On Saturday, IS released a photo of what it said were the four attackers behind the shooting rampage.

In a statement, the group said the shooting came within the context of the “raging war” between Islamic State and countries fighting Islam.

A US official said Washington had intelligence confirming Islamic State’s claim.

Russian officials and state news channels have been quiet about Islamic State’s claim to have carried out the attack.

Kyiv has vehemently denied it had any involvement in the attack.

Russia’s security services earlier said that 11 individuals had been arrested in connection with Friday’s terrorist attack at the Crocus City Hall outside Moscow, including four suspects involved in the shooting. Russian investigators said the four suspects were arrested the Bryansk region that borders Ukraine.

The four suspected gunmen were all foreign citizens, Russia’s interior ministry later said.

Related: Who is thought to be behind the Moscow attack?

Russian officials have described the attack as an act of terrorism.

Earlier in the day, the FSB security service appeared to point the finger at Kyiv, saying that the gunmen were arrested while trying to cross into Ukraine.

“They had contacts on the Ukrainian side,” the FSB said in a statement.

Some Russian officials also speculated that Ukraine, the country against which Russia launched a full-scale invasion two years ago, was responsible.

Alexey Chepa, the first deputy chair of the state duma committee on international affairs, said the “events were connected to Ukraine”.

Ukraine’s foreign ministry said in a statement that Russian officials were engaged in accusations against Kyiv “with the goals of stirring up anti-Ukrainian hysteria in Russian society and creating conditions to boost mobilisation of Russian citizens into the criminal aggression against our state”.

Meanwhile, the death toll from the attack had risen to 133 by Saturday afternoon, according to a statement from Russia’s investigative committee. Putin declared a day of mourning for Sunday and passed his condolences on to the families of those killed in the attack.

Russian authorities said at least 145 people had been injured, with 16 people in a “critical state”.

“The number of victims of the terrorist attack will grow significantly,” said Andrei Vorobyov, the governor of the Moscow region.

Photos on Friday evening showed Crocus City Hall engulfed in flames as graphic videos appeared to show several people being killed by the unidentified gunmen. In one clip, three men in fatigues carrying rifles fired at point-blank range into bodies strewn about the lobby of the concert hall. ​​Other video footage showed people screaming, crawling on their hands and knees out of the music venue or fleeing down stairwells.

The attack came minutes before a veteran Russian rock band was to start playing in front of a sold-out audience.

Witness accounts describe scenes of chaos and confusion, with many concertgoers initially assuming the sound of gunshots was part of the show.

“We were sitting in the back rows, waiting for the show to start. At one point I noticed loud pops, like fireworks, thinking it was part of the concert,” one witness told the Meduza outlet.

The Russian investigative committee said those killed in the concert hall died of gunshot wounds and “poisoning” related to the fire.

The committee added that the attackers had used “a flammable liquid to set fire to the premises of the concert hall”.

Baza, a telegram channel close to Russia’s security services, said more than 10 bodies of the victims had been found in one of the toilets of the Crocus City Hall.

According to the channel, the victims were hiding from the shooting but later died because of the smoke.

The international community condemned the incident, with the UN security council calling it a “heinous and cowardly terrorist attack”.

The British foreign secretary, David Cameron, said the UK “condemns the deadly attack in the strongest possible terms”.

The Crocus City Hall shooting was the deadliest attack in Russia since the 2004 Beslan school siege, in which 334 people, including 186 children, were killed after being held captive by militants for two days.

Questions will be raised as to why Putin appeared to have rejected a terror warning weeks before the attack.

The attack on Friday came two weeks after western countries led by the US had issued terror warnings and told their citizens not to join public gatherings in Russia.

The group that claimed credit for the deadly terrorist attack was an Islamic State affiliate in Afghanistan called Islamic State Khorasan Province, or ISKP.

According to US officials, Washington had collected intelligence in March that ISKP had been planning an attack on Moscow, according to officials.

Putin had called the March warnings from western embassies a “provocation”.

But citing a source in Russia’s security services, the state agency Tass on Saturday admitted that Russian security services did indeed receive information from the US over a potential terrorist attack.

The FSB previously said it had foiled an attack on a Moscow synagogue by ISKP, a group that seeks to create a caliphate across Afghanistan, Pakistan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Iran.

On Saturday, Russian state news aired footage of interrogations of three alleged attackers, including one where the suspect is speaking in Tajik through an interpreter.

ISKP has previously been reported to have recruited radicalised nationals from central Asia, including Tajikistan.

In one of the clips, circulated by Russian bloggers, presenters of the security forces are seen cutting off the ear of a man who is later interrogated over the attack.

Russian authorities had also recently carried out a series of raids against armed Islamist militants in the region of Ingushetia, leading to firefights between police and the fighters.

Paweł Wójcik, a specialist in Islamic State messaging and propaganda, said IS messaging after the Moscow attack was similar to previous attacks that the group claimed in Tehran and Kabul.

“The messaging we saw from IS following the attack was standard,” Wójcik told the Guardian.

Wójcik said IS would have “many motives” to launch a terrorist attack in Russia, including Moscow’s involvement in the campaign against IS in Syria, Mali and Burkina Faso.

Putin changed the course of the Syrian civil war by intervening in 2015, supporting the country’s president, Bashar al-Assad, against the opposition and IS.

Wójcik added that ISKP had recently “strongly embraced anti-Russia narrative in its propaganda output”.

This content was originally sourced and posted at Yahoo Canada Sports – Sports News, Scores, Rumours, Fantasy Games, and more »
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