April 21, 2024, 8:20 pm

115 killed, scores wounded in Moscow concert hall attack

  • Update Time : Saturday, March 23, 2024
  • 17 Time View
Photo: Collected

International Desk:

At least 115 people have been killed and 145 wounded in Russia’s worst terror attack in years, as gunmen in combat fatigues opened fire and detonated explosives in a major concert hall on the outskirts of Moscow.

State news agency Ria on Saturday quoted a spokesperson for Russia’s Investigative Committee as saying the death toll could rise and that it was too early to say anything about the fate of the attackers.

Three children were among the dead, Ria cited the regional healthcare ministry as saying on Saturday. Authorities had earlier said five children were among the victims and that about 60 people were in serious condition.

Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack late on Friday, in a post on Telegram in which the group claimed its gunmen had managed to escape afterwards. A US official said Washington had intelligence confirming Islamic State’s claim.

Photos showed Crocus City Hall engulfed in flames as videos emerged showing at least four gunmen opening fire with automatic weapons as panicked Russians fled for their lives.

In one clip, three men in fatigues carrying rifles fired at point-blank range into bodies strewn about the lobby of the concert hall.

The assailants also apparently detonated explosives during the attack. At least two blasts took place at the concert hall on Friday evening, news agencies reported.

By late evening, Russian authorities had launched a mass manhunt for the gunmen in the attack, warning residents in Moscow and its suburbs to look out for signs of the attackers. The Russian government did not immediately identify any of the suspects.

Video published online showed horrific scenes of some people begging for help from the roof of the concert hall as it burned behind them. Other video footage showed people screaming, crawling on their hands and knees out of the music venue or fleeing down stairwells.

One witness said he was about to settle into his seat when he heard “several machine gun bursts” and “a lot of screams”.

“I realised right away that it was automatic gunfire and understood that most likely it’s the worst: a terrorist attack,” the man, who gave his name as Alexei, told Agence-France Presse.

Another concertgoer described scenes of panic as terrified people tried to escape. “A stampede began. Everyone ran to the escalator,” he told Reuters. “Everyone was screaming; everyone was running.”

At least three emergency helicopters had been deployed to extinguish the fire. There had been a partial collapse of the roof of the Crocus City Mall, local media reported. Shortly after midnight, the emergencies ministry said the fire had been contained.

A witness told the Mash Telegram channel that there were “at least five” attackers and that they were “bearded”.

“They act like trained fighters,” the account read. “At the moment of entering the building, the guards and people standing at the door were killed. Then they blocked the main entrance.

“The terrorists are armed with [Kalashnikov] assault rifles. Some carried vests with various ammunition. At least two of the attackers are carrying backpacks, possibly with molotov cocktails.”

In his first comments on the shooting, President Vladimir Putin wished all those injured in the terrorist attack a speedy recovery. The Kremlin said he was being updated by security chiefs about the situation, including from Alexander Bortnikov, the head of the Federal Security Service (FSB).

Russian investigators published pictures of a Kalashnikov automatic weapon, vests with multiple spare magazines and bags of spent bullet casings. A grainy picture was published by some Russian media of two of the alleged attackers in a white car.

Moscow mayor Sergei Sobyanin said that the Moscow government would cancel all cultural, sporting and other mass events for the weekend after the attack, as Russian railways and other major utilities said they were increasing security.

Sobyanin called the attack a “great tragedy”. At least 70 ambulances had been dispatched to the site.

Earlier this month, western countries led by the US had issued terror warnings and told their citizens not to join public gatherings in Russia.

On 8 March, the embassy wrote it was “monitoring reports that extremists have imminent plans to target large gatherings in Moscow, to include concerts, and US citizens should be advised to avoid large gatherings over the next 48 hours”.

Islamic State said late on Friday its fighters had 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.

The US had intelligence confirming Islamic State’s claim of responsibility for the shooting, a US official said, adding that Washington had warned Moscow in recent weeks of the possibility of an attack.

“We did warn the Russians appropriately,” said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity, without providing any additional details.

Russian media reports said riot police units were sent to the area as people were being evacuated and Speznaz units of the Russian national guard began storming the building later on Friday evening.

The shootings at the concert hall were reminiscent of some of Europe’s worst terrorist incidents such as the attack on the Bataclan in Paris in November 2015. Russians are likely to recall the Nord Ost terrorist attack in Moscow in 2002, when gunmen took hostages at a theatre, ultimately leading to the deaths of 40 hostage takers and 132 hostages.

The Moscow attack 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.

The British embassy in Moscow condemned Friday’s attack. “We condemn the terrorist attack at the Moscow region’s Crocus City Hall. It’s a horrible tragedy. We offer sincere condolences to the relatives and loved ones of those hurt and killed in today’s events,” the embassy said in a statement on its Telegram channel.

The UN security council condemned what it called a “heinous and cowardly terrorist attack”.

White House national security spokesperson John Kirby said the “images of the attack were just horrible and just hard to watch”. The White House had no indication that Ukraine was involved in the attack, Kirby added. Russia is fighting a major war in Ukraine.

Yulia Navalnaya, the wife of late Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who died in February in a Russian penal colony, described the attack as a “nightmare”, adding in a post on X: “Condolences to the families of the victims and recovery to the injured. All those involved in this crime must be found and held accountable.”

A top Ukrainian official said the country had no involvement in the attack.

“Ukraine certainly has nothing to do with the shooting/explosions in the Crocus City Hall,” Mykhailo Podolyak, an adviser to the Ukrainian presidential administration, wrote on X.

“It makes no sense whatsoever. Ukraine has never resorted to the use of terrorist methods.”

Dmitry Medvedev, the ex-president of Russia and now deputy chairman of its security council, wrote that “if it is established that they are terrorists of the Kyiv regime, it’s impossible to treat them and those who inspired them differently.

“They all should be found and relentlessly destroyed as terrorists. Including officials of the state that committed such an evil thing. Death for death.”

There was no evidence that Ukraine had any involvement in the attacks.

The attack took place at a sold-out concert by the Russian Soviet-era rock band Piknik. Crocus City Hall, capacity 6,200, is one of the largest and most popular music venues in the Moscow oblast.

The warnings from the western embassies came shortly after Russia said it had foiled a planned shooting by an Afghan group linked to Islamic State.

The FSB said it had foiled an attack on a Moscow synagogue by Islamic State’s affiliate in Afghanistan, known as Isis-Khorasan or Isis-K, and seeks a caliphate across Afghanistan, Pakistan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Iran.

Putin changed the course of the Syrian civil war by intervening in 2015, supporting President Bashar al-Assad against the opposition and Islamic State.

Russian authorities had also recently carried out raids against armed Islamist militants in the region of Ingushetia, leading to firefights between police and the fighters. Putin had called the March warnings from western embassies a “provocation”.

“All this resembles outright blackmail and the intention to intimidate and destabilise our society,” he said earlier this month.

Russia has not faced a large terrorist attack on its own territory since 2017, when 14 people were killed in a blast on the St Petersburg metro.

Suicide bombers killed 34 people in Volgograd in 2013 shortly before the Sochi Olympics. And in 2011, suicide bombers killed 30 people at Moscow’s Domodedovo airport.

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