Russia casts doubt on Islamic State responsibility for concert attack


MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia on Monday cast doubt on assertions by the United States that the Islamic State militant group was responsible for a gun attack on a concert hall outside Moscow which killed 137 people and injured 182 more.

In the inside Russia for two decades, four men burst into the Crocus City Hall on Friday night, spraying people with bullets just before Soviet-era rock group Picnic was to perform its hit “Afraid of Nothing”.

Four men, at least one a Tajik, were remanded in custody for terrorism. They appeared separately, led into a cage at Moscow’s Basmanny district court by Federal Security Service officers.

Islamic State has claimed responsibility for the attack, a claim which the United States has publicly said it believed, and the militant group has since released what it says is footage from the attack. U.S. officials said they warned Russia of intelligence about an imminent attack earlier this month.

But President Vladimir Putin has not publicly mentioned the Islamist militant group in connection with the attackers, who he said had been trying to escape to Ukraine.

Putin said some people on “the Ukrainian side” had been prepared to spirit the gunmen across the border. Ukraine has denied any role in the attack and President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has accused Putin of seeking to divert blame for the concert hall attack by referring to Ukraine.

Russia’s Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, Maria Zakharova, called into question U.S. assertions that Islamic State, which once sought control over swathes of Iraq and Syria, was behind the attack.

“Attention – a question to the White House: Are you sure it’s ISIS? Might you think again about that?” Zakharova said in an article for the Komsomolskaya Pravda newspaper.

Zakharova said the United States was spreading a version of the “bogeyman” of Islamic State to cover its “wards” in Kyiv and reminded readers that Washington supported the “mujahideen” fighters who fought Soviet forces in the 1980s.

The U.S. has intelligence confirming Islamic State’s claim of responsibility two U.S. officials said on Friday.

GUNMEN

Putin said 11 people had been detained, including the four suspected gunmen, who fled the concert hall and made their way to the Bryansk region, about 340km (210 miles) southwest of Moscow, to slip across the border to Ukraine.

Unverified videos of the suspects’ interrogations circulated on social media. One of the suspects was shown having part of his ear cut off and stuffed into his mouth.

One man, a Tajik named Dalerdzhon Mirzoyev, leaned against the glass cage as the terrorism charge was read out. Saidakrami Rachabalizoda, his ear in bandages, sat.

Muhammadsobir Fayzov, appeared in gaping hospital clothes and sat in a medical chair, his face covered in cuts. Shamsiddin Fariduni, his face bruised, stood.

Putin ordered a full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, triggering a major European war after eight years of conflict in eastern Ukraine between Ukrainian forces on one side and pro-Russian Ukrainians and Russian proxies on the other.

The U.S. and its European allies have supported Ukraine, extending billions of dollars of money, weapons and intelligence in a bid to defeat Russian forces.

The French government said late on Sunday it was raising its terror alert warning to its highest level following the shootings in Moscow.

(Writing by Guy Faulconbridge in Moscow and Lidia Kelly in Warsaw; Editing by Lincoln Feast.)



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