Gunmen who raided the Moscow concert hall tried to escape to Ukraine: Putin

Russian President Vladimir Putin (Photo: PTI)

Russian authorities arrested four people suspected of taking part in the attack on a concert hall in a Moscow suburb that killed at least 133 people. They believe they were headed to Ukraine, President Vladimir Putin said during an address to the nation on Saturday.

Kiev, meanwhile, strongly denied any involvement in Friday’s attack on the Crocus City Hall music venue in Krasnogorsk, for which the Islamic State group’s Afghanistan branch claimed responsibility in a statement on social media channels linked to the group. Kiev accused Putin and other Russian politicians of falsely linking Ukraine to the attack in order to fuel Russia’s war in Ukraine, which recently entered its third year.

A US intelligence official told the Associated Press that US agencies had confirmed that IS was responsible for the attack.

Putin said authorities arrested a total of 11 people in the attack, which also injured dozens of concertgoers and left the venue a smoldering ruin. Calling it a bloody, barbaric act of terrorism, he said Russian authorities captured the four suspected gunmen as they tried to escape into Ukraine through a window prepared for them on the Ukrainian side of the border.

Putin also said additional security measures have been imposed across Russia and declared Sunday a day of mourning.

Investigators were combing through the charred rubble of the venue on Saturday for more victims, and authorities said the death toll could still rise. Hundreds of people queued up in Moscow early on Saturday to donate blood and plasma, the Russian Health Ministry said.

We have faced not only a thoroughly and cynically prepared terrorist attack, but also a well-prepared and organized mass murder of peaceful, innocent people, Putin said.

The attack, Russia’s deadliest in years, came just days after Putin consolidated his grip on power in a highly orchestrated electoral landslide and as the war in Ukraine raged on.

Some Russian lawmakers pointed the finger at Ukraine immediately after the attack. But Mychailo Podolyak, an adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, denied any involvement.

Ukraine has never resorted to the use of terrorist methods, he wrote on X. Everything in this war will be decided only on the battlefield.

Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry accused Moscow of using the attack to fuel the war effort.

We consider such accusations as a planned provocation of the Kremlin to further inflame anti-Ukrainian hysteria in Russian society, create conditions for greater mobilization of Russian citizens to participate in the criminal aggression against our country and Ukraine in discredit in the eyes of the international community. , the ministry said in a statement.

Images shared by Russian state media on Saturday showed a fleet of emergency vehicles still gathering outside the ruins of Crocus Town Hall, which could hold more than 6,000 people and has hosted many major events, including the Miss Universe beauty pageant of 2013 with Donald Trump and others. VIPs.

Videos posted online showed armed men inside the venue shooting civilians at close range. Russian news reports quoted authorities and witnesses as saying the attackers threw explosives that started the fire. The roof of the theater, where audiences had gathered for a performance by Russian rock band Picnic, collapsed early Saturday as firefighters spent hours battling the blaze.

In a statement carried by the Aamaq news agency, IS’s Afghan affiliate said it had attacked a large gathering of Christians in Krasnogorsk.

A U.S. intelligence official told the AP that U.S. intelligence agencies had gathered information in recent weeks that the IS affiliate was planning an attack in Moscow, and that U.S. officials had privately shared the intelligence with Russian officials earlier this month.

The official was briefed on the matter but was not authorized to publicly discuss the intelligence information and spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity.

Messages of outrage, shock and support for the victims and their families have poured in from all over the world.

On Friday, the UN Security Council condemned the horrific and cowardly terrorist attack and underlined the need to hold the perpetrators accountable. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres also condemned the terrorist attack in the strongest possible terms, his spokesman said.

Putin, who extended his grip on Russia for another six years in this week’s presidential election after a sweeping crackdown on dissent, had publicly denounced Western warnings of a possible terrorist attack as an attempt to intimidate Russians. All this looks like open blackmail and an attempt to frighten and destabilize our society, he said earlier this week.

In October 2015, a bomb planted by IS brought down a Russian passenger plane over Sinai, killing all 224 people on board, most of them Russian holidaymakers returning from Egypt. The group, which operates mainly in Syria and Iraq but also in Afghanistan and Africa, has also claimed several attacks in Russia’s volatile Caucasus and other regions in recent years. It recruited fighters from Russia and other parts of the former Soviet Union.

(Only the headline and image of this report may have been reworked by Business Standard staff; the rest of the content is automatically generated from a syndicated feed.)

First print: March 23, 2024 | 9:21 pm IST