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Rescuers pulled more bodies from the rubble of a concert hall in the Moscow region on March 23, as the death toll from a deadly attack claimed by the Islamic State (IS) militant group reached 133 people and Security officials said four suspected gunmen had been arrested in connection with the Russian operation. worst terrorist violence in nearly two decades.

Russian officials said the suspects were all foreign nationals and that a total of 11 people had been arrested.

President Vladimir Putin condemned it as a “bloody and barbaric terrorist attack” and said in a video speech recorded and released by the Kremlin that “the main thing now is to prevent those behind this bloodbath from commit a new crime.

Later, after U.S. officials repeatedly condemned it as a “heinous” attack, the White House called the Islamic State a “common terrorist enemy.”

The day after camouflaged gunmen burst into Crocus Town Hall and opened fire on people waiting for a concert to begin, searchers were still searching the rubble of the venue for victims. More than 120 people were injured and remained hospitalized in various conditions, health officials said.

The Emergency Situations Ministry has released the names of 29 of the 133 people who have died so far, and Moscow region governor Andrei Vorobyov warned that the death toll could rise further “significantly.”

Hundreds of mourners solemnly placed flowers, stuffed animals and messages of grief or defiance on the sidewalk just outside the Crocus City Hall building.

Other makeshift memorials were erected for the victims in Moscow, St. Petersburg, Yekaterinburg and many other Russian cities, including flowers, candles and messages to the victims’ families. Flags were flown at half-mast above government buildings in some places.

At the dug-out site of one of the deadliest acts of terror in modern Russian history, School No. 1 in Beslan, southern Russia, where 333 people, most of them schoolchildren , were killed after being held hostage for three days in 2004, the Russians stated “Moscow we cry” with candles.

Some pro-Putin officials have already raised the subject of reinstate capital punishment in response to attacks.

Chairman of the Constitutional Law Committee of the Russian Upper House, Andrei Klishas, ​​sparked more such discussions on Telegram by saying that neither chamber of parliament can “circumvent the decisions of the Constitutional Court” .

The death penalty remains enshrined in the Russian Constitution but has been subject to an indefinite moratorium for almost three decades, notably since the Constitutional Court effectively banned lower courts from ordering executions in 2009.

In his recorded speech, Putin also echoed earlier suggestions from other Russian officials about Ukrainian involvement, saying the four suspected gunmen “tried to hide and were heading towards Ukraine, where according to preliminary information , the Ukrainian side had prepared a window for them to cross the border.”

Putin has not provided any evidence to support this claim.

Ukrainian officials have repeatedly denied any involvement.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy accused Putin of trying to “shift the blame onto someone else.” Referring to previous violent incidents in Russia, he said: “This has happened before. And there have been houses blown up, shootings and explosions. And they always blame others.”

The Islamic State (IS) militant group issued a statement of responsibility shortly after the attack and on March 23 published pixelated photos of four men it claimed were the attackers.

The group said it had dealt a “heavy blow” with assault rifles and explosives as it targeted “Christians” as part of a “raging war” against countries fighting Islam.

“The attack was carried out by four IS fighters armed with machine guns, a pistol, knives and incendiary bombs,” IS said via Telegram.

The hall is a popular concert venue located in an upscale neighborhood on the outskirts of Moscow that attracts major Russian musical groups.

The deaths were caused by either gunshot wounds or asphyxiation, apparently due to burning materials, said the investigative committee, adding that the toll was likely to rise. The attackers used an unspecified flammable substance to set the place on fire, the committee said.

The Russian Investigative Committee declared that it was reward a man for his “unprecedented courage” when he “selflessly neutralized one of the terrorists” while trying to protect his wife, “saving the lives of the people around him.” This did not allow the man to be further identified.

The identity and motivations of the attackers remain unclear. Aleksandr Bortnikov, director of the Federal Security Service (FSB), was quoted by Russian news agencies as saying that 11 people had been arrested, including four of the suspected gunmen.

Later, the Russian Interior Ministry said the Crocus attackers were foreign nationals.

Anonymous officials and Telegram channels known for their ties to security services have suggested that several of the attackers could be Tajiks or Russian citizens of Tajik origin. THE reports prompted a response from Tajikistan’s Foreign Ministry, which denied the reports and released detailed information on several of the men whose names were being circulated.

Russian state broadcaster Channel One TV broadcast footage of the interrogation of four men it called suspects and a white Renault car they allegedly used to try to escape. The daylight video followed their capture in Khatsun, the station said.

The attack began around 7:30 p.m. local time when camouflaged men armed with automatic rifles arrived at the scene in a minivan. At least five men are believed to be involved, according to Russian media.

A man who escaped the attack told Current Time that the shooting began just moments before the concert began.

“It was supposed to start when we heard something that I thought was fireworks or gunshots inside the room,” the eyewitness, identified only as Dave, said in an interview telephone. “The next moment we saw below us a stream of people running inside the hall. After that, gunshots were already heard inside (the hall). Of course, the panic also started on the balcony. People didn’t know where to run. »

Hours after the incident began, Islamic State-affiliated Telegram channels said the attackers had “safely retreated to their bases”, although this claim could not be positively confirmed. independent.

U.S. officials confirmed the authenticity of ISIS’s claims in comments to several U.S. media outlets.

On March 7, the American Embassy in Moscow warned Russia that “extremists” had imminent plans for an attack in the capital.

On the same day as the US embassy announcement, the Federal Security Service claimed to have stopped an attack on a Moscow synagogue by the Islamic State affiliate in Afghanistan, known as Islamic State-Khorasan (IS-K).

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken expressed “our deepest condolences to the families and loved ones of those killed and to all those affected by this heinous crime” and said: “We condemn terrorism in all its forms and We stand in solidarity with the Russian people in their mourning. the loss of life following this horrific event. »

On March 23, German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser told the newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung: “Based on everything known so far, it can be assumed that the Islamic State terrorist group in the province of Khorasan (IS-K) is responsible for the deadly terrorist attack near Moscow.”

World leaders also condemned the attack.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres reportedly said he “condemns in the strongest possible terms” the incident, and the United States, France, Turkey, Italy, the European Union and other leaders also issued statements deploring the violence.

It was the worst attack in Russia since 2004, when gunmen took more than 1,000 hostages at the Beslan school and ultimately left 333 people dead, almost half of them children.

With reporting from RFE/RL Tajik Service and Reuters, AFP and dpa

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