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Russia casts doubt on Islamic State responsibility for concert attack

Courtesy: Dawn News/Reuters

Russia on Monday challenged assertions by the United States that the Islamic State (IS) militant group orchestrated a gun attack on a concert hall outside Moscow that killed 137 people and injured 182 more, accusing Washington of covering for Ukraine.

In the deadliest attack inside Russia for two decades, four men burst into the Crocus City Hall on Friday night, spraying the crowd with bullets during a concert by Soviet-era rock group Picnic.

Four men, at least one a Tajik, were remanded in custody on terrorism charges. They appeared separately, led into a cage at Moscow’s Basmanny district court by Federal Security Service officers.

A suspect in the shooting attack at the Crocus City Hall concert venue is escorted inside the Basmanny district court in Moscow, Russia, March 24. — Reuters

IS has claimed responsibility for the attack, a claim that the US has publicly said it believes, and the militant group has since released what it says is footage from the attack. US officials said they had warned Russia about an imminent attack earlier this month.

President Vladimir Putin has not publicly mentioned the militant group in connection with the attackers, who he said had been trying to escape to Ukraine.

Putin said some people on “the Ukrainian side” had been prepared to spirit the gunmen across the border. Ukraine has denied any role in the attack and President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has accused Putin of seeking to divert blame for the attack by mentioning Ukraine.

Russia’s Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova called into question US assertions that IS, which once sought control over swathes of Iraq and Syria, was behind the attack.

In an article for the Komsomolskaya Pravda newspaper, she said the US was evoking the “bogeyman” of IS to cover its “wards” in Kyiv and reminded readers that Washington had supported the mujahideen fighters who fought Soviet forces in the 1980s.

Two US officials said on Friday that the US had intelligence confirming IS’s claim of responsibility.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov later told reporters that Russia could not comment on the IS claim while the investigation was ongoing and would not comment on US intelligence, saying it was sensitive information.

Shamsidin Fariduni, a suspect in the shooting attack at the Crocus City Hall concert venue, is escorted before a court hearing at the Basmanny district court in Moscow, Russia, March 24. — Reuters

Video shows part of suspect’s ear being cut off

Putin said 11 people had been detained, including the four suspected gunmen, who he said had fled the concert hall and made their way to the Bryansk region, about 340 kilometres southwest of Moscow, to slip across the border to Ukraine.

Unverified videos of the suspects’ interrogations circulated on social media. One of the suspects was shown having part of his ear cut off and stuffed into his mouth.

One man, a Tajik named Dalerdzhon Mirzoyev, leaned against the glass cage as the terrorism charge was read out. Saidakrami Rachabalizoda, his ear in bandages, remained sitting.

Muhammadsobir Fayzov appeared in gaping hospital clothes and sat in a medical chair, his face covered in cuts. Shamsiddin Fariduni, his face bruised, stood.

The Kremlin’s Peskov left a journalist’s question about the treatment of the detainees unanswered.

Putin ordered a full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, triggering a major European war after eight years of conflict in eastern Ukraine between Ukrainian forces and pro-Russian Ukrainians and Russian proxies.

The US and its European allies have supported Ukraine, extending billions of dollars of financial aid, weapons and intelligence in a bid to defeat Russian forces.

The French government said late on Sunday it was raising its terror alert warning to the highest level after the shootings in Moscow

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