Putin Admits Gunmen Responsible for Mass Shooting Are Islamic Terrorists, Masterminds Not Yet Known

A police officer stands guard holding an anti-drone rifle in the outskirts of Moscow, Russia, Monday, March 25, 2024 near the Crocus City Hall, which was hit by a terrorist attack on Friday. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlyanichenko)

(AP) – Russian President Vladimir Putin said Monday that the gunmen who killed 139 people at a suburban Moscow concert hall are “radical Islamists,” but he repeated his accusation that Ukraine could have played a role despite Kyiv’s strong denials.

Two days after the Islamic State’s Afghanistan affiliate claimed responsibility for Friday night’s attack at the music venue, Putin acknowledged during a meeting with government officials that the killings were carried out by extremists “whose ideology the Islamic world has been fighting for centuries.”

Putin, who declared over the weekend that the four attackers were arrested while trying to escape to Ukraine, said investigators haven’t determined who ordered the attack, but that it was necessary to find out “why the terrorists after committing their crime tried to flee to Ukraine and who was waiting for them there.”

An Islamic State affiliate in Afghanistan claimed it carried out the attack, and U.S. intelligence said it had information confirming the group was responsible. French President Emmanuel Macron said France has intelligence pointing to “an IS entity” as responsible for the attack.

Despite all signs pointing to IS, Putin continued to suggest Ukrainian involvement — a claim Ukraine roundly has roundly rejected, accusing Putin of trying to drum up fervor in his war efforts.

“We are seeing that the U.S., through various channels, is trying to convince its satellites and other countries of the world that, according to their intelligence, there is allegedly no Kyiv trace in the Moscow terror attack — that the deadly terrorist act was committed by followers of Islam, members of the Islamic State group,” Putin said during the meeting with top law enforcement officials.

He added that “those who support the Kyiv regime don’t want to be accomplices in terror and sponsors of terrorism, but many questions remain.”

The attack Friday night at the Crocus City Hall music venue on Moscow’s western outskirts left 139 people dead and more than 180 injured, proving to be the deadliest in Russia in years. About 100 people remained hospitalized, officials said.

The four suspected attackers, all Tajikistan nationals, were remanded by a Moscow court Sunday night with carrying out the attack and ordered to remain in custody pending the outcome of the official investigation.

Russian media reported that the four were tortured while being interrogated, and they showed signs during their court appearance of having been severely beaten. Russian officials said all four pleaded guilty to the charges, which carry life punishment, but their condition raised questions about whether their statements might have been coerced.

IS, which fought Russian forces that intervened in the Syrian civil war, has long targeted the country. In a statement posted by the group’s Aamaq news agency, the IS Afghanistan affiliate said it carried out an attack in Krasnogorsk, the suburb of Moscow where the concert hall is located.

In October 2015, a bomb planted by IS downed a Russian passenger plane over Sinai, killing all 224 people aboard, most of them Russian vacationers returning from Egypt.

The group, which operates mainly in Syria and Iraq but also in Afghanistan and Africa, has claimed responsibility for several attacks in Russia’s volatile Caucasus and other regions in past years. It recruited terrorists from Russia and other parts of the former Soviet Union.

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