Chaos after a burst of firing: What we know about the Moscow concert hall attack

KRASNOGORSK, Russia: First there were rounds of machine gun fire, then piercing screams of panic while a Moscow suburban concert hall went up in flames.

An attack by gunmen at the Crocus City Hall on Friday (Mar 22) left at least 60 dead and injured 145 more.

Here’s what we know about the attack before a concert by the Piknik rock band, and Islamic State’s motives for attacking Russia.

Fans had been at the hall in the Krasnogorsk suburb north of Moscow for the concert. But just minutes before the music was due to start, armed individuals entered the 6,200-seat theatre and opened fire.

A witness told AFP automatic gunfire rang out. There were screams and then panic, said Alexei, a spectator who did not give his family name.

“There were three or four bursts, and then some more,” he said.

Emergency services quoted by the Interfax news agency said between two and five armed attackers dressed in “tactical uniforms” and carrying automatic weapons entered the concert hall and opened fire.

Russian social media channels close to the security services showed videos of at least two men walking into the hall. Others showed bodies and groups of screaming people rushing towards exits.

A RIA Novosti journalist at the concert said that the attackers opened fire and threw a “grenade” or “incendiary bomb”, which set off the fire.

Scores of people hid behind seats in the hall or rushed towards entrances to the basement or roof to escape the bullets.

Black smoke and flames were seen coming from the roof of the concert hall. Part of the roof had collapsed.

Verified video showed people rushing for the exits in the hall as repeated gunfire echoed above screams. 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.”

The Emergency Situations Ministry said that fire services helped about 100 people escape through the basement of the concert hall.

Authorities said a hunt had been launched for the attackers and that a “terrorism” investigation had been launched.

The United Nations and the United States condemned the attack, as did the European Union and other Western countries that have sided with Ukraine since Russia’s 2022 invasion.

A statement released by the Islamic State group claimed responsibility but Russia did not immediately blame anyone. Former president Dmitry Medvedev did say, however, that Ukrainian leaders found to be involved would be “destroyed”.

The United States condemned the “horrible” events and said there was no sign of Ukrainian involvement.

Ukraine intelligence blamed “Russian special services”, saying the attack would be used to step up the war.

The Ukrainian foreign ministry said accusations against the country were “a planned provocation by the Kremlin to further fuel anti-Ukrainian hysteria in Russian society”.

Islamic State’s Afghan branch, known as Islamic State Khorasan (ISIS-K), is one of the most active regional affiliates of the militant group.

It has a history of attacks, including against mosques, inside and outside Afghanistan.

Experts said the group has opposed Russian President Vladimir Putin in recent years. In September 2022, ISIS-K militants claimed responsibility for a deadly suicide bombing at the Russian embassy in Kabul.

“ISIS-K has been fixated on Russia for the past two years, frequently criticising Putin in its propaganda,” said Colin Clarke of Soufan Center, a Washington-based research group.

Michael Kugelman of the Washington-based Wilson Center said that ISIS-K “sees Russia as being complicit in activities that regularly oppress Muslims”.

He added that the group also counts as members a number of Central Asian militants with their own grievances against Moscow.

The US embassy had said two weeks before the Moscow attack that there was a risk of “extremists” targeting mass gatherings in Moscow, including concerts.

Russian authorities announced on Mar 3 that six suspected Islamic State fighters had been killed in an operation in Ingushetia, a small Muslim-majority republic in the Caucasus region.

Russia has been the target of past attacks by Islamic militants, but also mass killings with no clear political link.

In 2002, Chechen separatist fighters took 912 people hostage in a Moscow theatre, the Dubrovka, demanding the withdrawal of Russian troops from the Caucasus republic.

Special forces attacked the theatre to end the hostage-taking and 130 people were killed, nearly all suffocated by a gas used by security forces to knock out the gunmen.

Z24 News

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