Russia Arrests Concert Hall Gunmen As Death Toll Rises To 115

Russia reported on Saturday that 11 people, including four gunmen, have been arrested in connection with the Islamic State-claimed attack on a Moscow concert hall, bringing the death toll to 115.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has yet to react publicly on the attack, and Moscow has not responded to the Islamic State’s claim of responsibility, despite some parliamentarians pointing to a probable Ukrainian connection.

Camouflaged gunmen opened fire on the packed Crocus City Hall in Moscow’s northern district of Krasnogorsk on Friday evening, just before a concert by Soviet-era rock band Piknik, in Russia’s worst attack in at least a decade.

According to Russia’s FSB security service, some of the offenders escaped to the Russia-Ukraine border and had “appropriate contacts” in the nation.

It did not provide further details.

Some Russian lawmakers also pointed to Kyiv, without providing evidence.

“The main interested party could most likely be Ukraine and its patrons … we can’t rule it out,” said senior Russian MP Andrey Kartapolov.

Ukraine, which has been fighting a Russian military incursion for the past two years, had “nothing to do” with the strike, according to a Telegram message from presidential assistant Mykhailo Podolyak.

The Kremlin said the head of the FSB security service briefed President Vladimir Putin about the arrests, while authorities warned that the number of dead will continue to rise, with more than 100 people still hospitalized and a search of the burned-out arena underway.

“FSB Director Alexander Bortnikov reported to the president on the detention of 11 people, including four terrorists involved in the terrorist attack at Crocus City Hall,” according to the report.

Putin has not made any public statements or been seen in public in the more than 12 hours following the incident.

The Kremlin stated that he was kept continually informed, and a government official expressed his wishes for the victims’ swift recovery.

At least 115 killed

Russia’s Investigative Committee, which investigates significant crimes, said rescue teams were still on the scene, removing bodies from the building.

“As the rubble was being removed, emergency services discovered more bodies. The dead toll has now reached 115, according to a Telegram announcement.

The number of casualties was expected to grow higher, since the governor of the Moscow area stated that rescuers would continue to search the site for “several days.”

According to investigators, victims perished from gunshot wounds and smoke inhalation as a fire overtook the 6,000-seat stadium.

“The terrorists used a flammable liquid to set fire to the concert hall’s premises, where spectators were located, including wounded,” the Investigative Committee’s report stated.

Following reports of the mass shooting, flames quickly spread throughout the venue on Friday, sending frightened concertgoers running to emergency exits.

Some individuals filmed the gunmen from the top levels as they appeared to stroll methodically through the stalls, shooting people, according to social media footage.

On Friday, the Islamic State claimed responsibility, claiming that its militants struck “a large gathering” on Moscow’s outskirts and “retreated to their bases safely”.

Global condemnation

Russian authorities described it as a “terrorist attack,” but have not responded to the Islamic State’s claim.

According to Russia’s Emergency Situations Ministry, 107 people remained hospitalized on Saturday morning.

Russian Telegram channels, notably Baza, which is connected to the intelligence services, and a politician stated several of the suspects were from Tajikistan, a central Asian republic.

Tajikistan’s foreign affairs ministry issued a statement stating that it had received no information from Moscow regarding the involvement of its citizens.

Residents in Moscow lined up in the rain on Saturday morning to donate blood, according to videos posted by state media agencies.

According to the Russian news agency RIA Novosti, memorial posters displaying a single candle have replaced advertising billboards at some Moscow bus stops.

Major events around the country were canceled, including a friendly football match between Russia and Paraguay scheduled to take place in Moscow on Monday.

World leaders continued to issue condemnations.

According to a spokeswoman from Afghanistan’s foreign ministry, the Taliban strongly condemns the recent terrorist incident in Moscow. He sees it as a clear violation of all human principles.”

US warning dismissed

Following the incident, attention has turned to Russia’s strong intelligence services.

Just three days ago, Putin openly disregarded Western warnings of an impending attack in Moscow as propaganda intended to scare Russian citizens.

On March 7, the US embassy in Russia issued a security notice stating that it was “monitoring reports that extremists have imminent plans to target large gatherings in Moscow, to include concerts.”

Washington said it had explicitly alerted Russian officials about a “planned terrorist attack” that could target “large gatherings” in Moscow.

The US had “shared this information with Russian authorities,” according to National Security Council spokesperson Adrienne Watson.

But meeting to FSB commanders last Tuesday, Putin said: “Recent provocative statements by a number of official Westerns structures about the possibility of terrorist attacks in Russia … resembles outright blackmail and an intention to intimidate and destabilise our society.”

Earlier in March, the FSB announced that it had killed Islamic State members who were planning an attack on a Moscow synagogue.

In recent weeks, the agency has announced nearly daily the arrest of multiple pro-Ukrainian saboteurs it claims were planning assaults against Russian military facilities.

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