Moscow concert hall attack: death toll rises to 133

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MOSCOW (AP) — Russian authorities arrested four men suspected of carrying out the stroke at a suburban Moscow concert hall that killed at least 133 people and were believed to have been headed to Ukraine, President Vladimir Putin said Saturday during an address to the nation.

Meanwhile, kyiv strongly denied any involvement in Friday’s attack on the Crocus City Hall music venue in Krasnogorsk, for which the Islamic State group’s affiliate in Afghanistan claimed responsibility in a statement posted on social media channels linked to the group. kyiv accused Putin and other Russian politicians of falsely linking Ukraine to the attack to stoke fervor in Russia’s war in Ukraine, which recently entered his third year.

A U.S. intelligence official told The Associated Press that U.S. agencies had confirmed that IS was responsible for the attack and had previously warned Moscow that an attack could be imminent.

Putin said authorities detained a total of 11 people in the attack, which also injured dozens of concertgoers and left the venue in smoldering ruins. He called it “a barbaric and bloody terrorist act” and said Russian authorities captured the four suspected gunmen as they tried to escape to 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.

The attack, the deadliest in Russia in years, is a great embarrassment for the Russian leader and occurred just days after cemented his grip over the country for another six years in a vote that followed the harshest crackdown on dissent since Soviet times.

Some commentators on Russian social media questioned how authorities, who have relentlessly repressed any opposition activity and muzzled independent media, failed to prevent the attack despite warnings from the United States.

The attack came two weeks after the US embassy in Moscow issued an advisory urging Americans to avoid crowded places in light of extremists’ “imminent” plans to attack large gatherings in Moscow, including concerts. The warning was echoed by several other Western embassies.

On Saturday, investigators were sifting through the charred remains of the room for more victims, and authorities said the death toll could still rise. Hundreds of people lined up in Moscow early Saturday to donate blood and plasma, Russia’s Health Ministry said.

“We are faced not only with a meticulously and cynically prepared terrorist attack, but with a well-prepared and organized mass murder of peaceful and innocent people,” Putin said.

His claim that the attackers tried to flee to Ukraine followed comments from Russian lawmakers who pointed the finger at Ukraine immediately after the attack. But Mykhailo Podolyak, an adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, denied any involvement.

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

Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry accused Moscow of using the attack to try to stoke fervor for its war efforts.

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

Images shared by Russian state media on Saturday showed emergency vehicles still gathering outside the ruins of Crocus City Hall, which could hold more than 6,000 people and has hosted many major events, including the 2013 Miss Universe beauty pageant that featured with donald trump and others.

On Friday, crowds gathered to attend a concert by Russian rock group Picnic.

Videos posted online showed gunmen at the scene shooting civilians at close range. Russian news reports cited authorities and witnesses as saying the attackers threw explosive devices that started the fire, which eventually consumed the building and caused the roof to collapse.

Dave Primov, who survived the attack, described the chaos to the AP as concertgoers rushed to leave the building: “People started panicking, started running and crashed into each other. Some fell and others were trampled.”

Messages of indignation, shock and support for the victims and their families have come from all over the world.

On Friday, the UN Security Council condemned “the heinous and cowardly terrorist attack” and stressed the need for perpetrators to be held accountable. U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres also condemned the terrorist attack “in the strongest possible terms,” ​​his spokeswoman said.

ISIS, which lost much of its ground after Russia’s military action in Syria, has long attacked Russia. In a statement carried by the group’s Aamaq news agency, IS’s Afghanistan affiliate said it had attacked a large gathering of “Christians” in Krasnogorsk.

In October 2015, a bomb planted by IS shot down a Russian passenger plane over the Sinai, killing all 224 people on board, most of them Russian tourists returning from Egypt.

The group, which operates mainly in Syria and Iraq but also in Afghanistan and Africa, has also claimed several attacks in the volatile Russian Caucasus and other regions in recent years. He recruited fighters from Russia and other parts of the former Soviet Union.

On March 7, just hours before the US embassy warned of imminent attacks, Russia’s top security agency said it had thwarted an attack on a synagogue in Moscow by an IS cell, killing several of its members in the Kaluga region, near the Russian capital. A few days earlier, Russian authorities said six suspected IS members were killed in a shootout in Ingushetia, in Russia’s Caucasus region.

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

Another US official said the IS branch in Afghanistan had long targeted Russia and reiterated that no Ukrainians were involved in the attack.

Both officials were briefed on the matter but were not authorized to publicly discuss the intelligence and spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity.

Just three days before the attack, Putin had publicly denounced Western warnings of a possible terrorist attack as an attempt to intimidate Russians. “This all looks like open blackmail and an attempt to scare and destabilize our society,” he said at a meeting with senior security officials.


Associated Press writers Michael Balsamo in Washington and Colleen Long in Wilmington, Delaware, contributed to this report.

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