Gunmen kill at least 40 in concert attack near Moscow, Islamic State claims responsibility

Gunmen kill at least 40 in concert attack near Moscow, Islamic State claims responsibility
Gunmen kill at least 40 in concert attack near Moscow, Islamic State claims responsibility

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Nevin Al Sukari - Sana'a - Russian law enforcement officers stand guard near the Crocus City Hall concert venue following a shooting incident, outside Moscow, Russia March 23, 2024. ― Reuters pic

MOSCOW, March 23 ― At least 40 people were killed and 145 wounded yesterday when camouflage-clad gunmen opened fire with automatic weapons on concertgoers near Moscow in one of the deadliest attacks on Russia in decades.

Islamic State, the militant group that once sought control over swathes of Iraq and Syria, claimed responsibility for the attack, the group's Amaq agency said on Telegram.

At least five gunmen began shooting civilians cowering in the Crocus City Hall just before Soviet-era rock group “Picnic” was about to perform to a full house at the 6,200-seat theatre in a suburb west of Moscow.

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Verified video showed people taking their seats in the hall then rushing for the exits as repeated gunfire echoed above screams. Other video showed men shooting at groups of people. Some victims lay motionless in pools of blood.

“Suddenly there were bangs behind us ― shots. A burst of firing ― I do not know what,” one witness, who asked not to be identified by name, told Reuters.

“A stampede began. Everyone ran to the escalator,” the witness said. “Everyone was screaming; everyone was running.”

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Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB), the main successor to the Soviet-era KGB, said about 40 people were killed, while a regional ministry said 145 were wounded. The FSB said extra security measures were imposed.

The death toll made it one of the worst attacks on Russia since the 2004 Beslan school siege, when Islamist militants took more than 1,000 people, including hundreds of children, hostage.

Children were reported to be among the dead and injured at the concert. Dozens of ambulances arrived at the Sklifosovsky emergency care institute in Moscow.

Fire

At Crocus City Hall, flames leapt into the sky, and plumes of black smoke rose above the venue as hundreds of blue lights from emergency vehicles flashed in the night.

Helicopters sought to douse flames that engulfed the large building. The roof of the venue was collapsing, state news agency RIA said.

A grainy picture was published by some Russian media of two of the alleged attackers in a white car.

Islamic State said its fighters attacked on the outskirts of Moscow, “killing and wounding hundreds and causing great destruction to the place before they withdrew to their bases safely.” The statement gave no further detail.

Russian President Vladimir Putin changed the course of the Syrian civil war by intervening in 2015, supporting President Bashar al-Assad against the opposition and Islamic State. The group has claimed deadly attacks across the Middle East, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, Europe, the Philippines and Sri Lanka.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said it was a “bloody terrorist attack” that the entire world should condemn.

The United States, European and Arab powers and many former Soviet republics expressed shock, condemned the attack and sent their condolences. Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak denied any Ukrainian involvement.

Attack warning

Two weeks ago, the US embassy in Russia warned that “extremists” had imminent plans for an attack in Moscow.

The embassy issued its warning several hours after the FSB said it had foiled an attack on a Moscow synagogue by a cell of Islamic State.

“While events continue to unfold, we strongly recommend that US citizens in Moscow avoid the area, follow the instructions of local security services and keep an eye on local media updates,” the US embassy said on Friday.

Putin, who was on Sunday re-elected for a new six-year term, sent thousands of troops into Ukraine in 2022 and has repeatedly warned that various powers ― including countries in the West ― are seeking to sow chaos inside Russia.

Putin was informed in the first minutes of the attack and is regularly being updated, the Kremlin said.

“The president constantly receives information about what is happening and about the measures being taken through all relevant services. The head of state gave all the necessary instructions,” Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said.

After the attack, Russia tightened security at airports, transport hubs and across the capital - a vast urban area of over 21 million people. All large-scale public events were cancelled across the country.

“A terrible tragedy occurred in the shopping centre Crocus City today,” Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin said. “I am sorry for the loved ones of the victims.”

The White House said that images of the shooting were hard to watch, while Germany's foreign ministry called the images “horrific.”

“Our thoughts obviously are going to be with the victims of this terrible, terrible shooting attack,” White House spokesman John Kirby said. ― Reuters

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