Putin blames Islamic extremists for deadly concert attack

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In this photo released by Basmanny District Court press service on Monday, March 25, 2024, Isroil Islomov, a suspect in the Crocus City Hall shooting on sits in a glass cage in the Basmanny District Court in Moscow, Russia.

By Dasha Litvinova | Associated Press

Russian President Vladimir Putin said Monday that the gunmen who carried out the concert hall attack that killed over 130 people in a Moscow suburb last week were “radical Islamists.”

Speaking in a meeting with government officials, Putin said the killings were carried out by extremists “whose ideology the Islamic world has been fighting for centuries.”

Putin, who said over the weekend the four attackers were arrested while trying to escape to Ukraine, didn’t mention the affiliate of the Islamic State group that claimed responsibility for the attack. He again refrained from mentioning IS in his remarks Monday.

He also stopped short of saying who ordered the attack but said 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.”

After the IS affiliate claimed responsibility, U.S. intelligence backed up their claims. French President Emmanuel Macron said France has intelligence pointing to “an IS entity” as responsible for the Moscow attack.

Earlier Monday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov refused to assign blame, urging reporters to wait for the results of the investigation in Russia. He also refused to comment on reports that the U.S. warned authorities in Moscow on March 7 about a possible terrorist attack, saying any such intelligence is confidential.

As Putin spoke, calls mounted in Russia to harshly punish those behind the attack.

Four men were charged by a Moscow court Sunday night with carrying out a terrorist attack. At their court appearance, they showed signs of being severely beaten. Civil liberties groups cited this as sign that Russia’s poor record on human rights under Putin was bound to worsen.

Russia’s Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin said the investigation is still ongoing but vowed that “the perpetrators will be punished, they do not deserve mercy.”

Former President Dmitry Medvedev, now deputy head of Russia’s Security Council, urged authorities to “kill them all.”

The attack Friday night on Crocus City Hall on the western outskirts of Moscow left 137 people dead and over 180 injured, proving to be the deadliest in Russia in years. A total of 97 people remained hospitalized, officials said.

As they mowed down concertgoers with gunfire, the attackers set fire to the vast concert hall, and the resulting blaze caused the roof to collapse.

The search operation will continue until at least Tuesday afternoon, officials said. A Russian Orthodox priest conducted a service at the site Monday, blessing a makeshift memorial with incense.

The four suspects were identified in the Russian media as Tajik nationals. At least two of the suspects admitted culpability, court officials said, although their conditions raised questions about whether their statements were coerced.

The men were identified as Dalerdzhon Mirzoyev, 32; Saidakrami Rachabalizoda, 30; Shamsidin Fariduni, 25; and Mukhammadsobir Faizov, 19. The charges carry a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.

Russia’s Federal Security Service said seven other suspects have been detained. Three of them appeared in court Monday, with no signs of injuries, and they were placed in pre-trial detention on terrorism charges. The fate of others remained unclear.

Russian media had reported the four were tortured during interrogation. Mirzoyev, Rachabalizoda and Fariduni showed signs of heavy bruising, including swollen faces. Mirzoyev had a plastic bag still hanging over his neck; Rachabalizoda had a heavily bandaged ear. Russian media reported Saturday that one suspect had his ear cut off during interrogation. The Associated Press couldn’t verify the report or videos purporting to show this.

Faizov, wearing a hospital gown, appeared in court in a wheelchair, accompanied by medical personnel, and sat with his eyes closed throughout. He appeared to have multiple cuts.

Peskov refused to comment on the suspects’ treatment.

Medvedev, Russia’s president in 2008-12, had especially harsh comments about them.

“They have been caught. Kudos to all who were chasing them. Should they be killed? They should. And it will happen,” he wrote on his Telegram page. “But it is more important to kill everyone involved. Everyone. Those who paid, those who sympathized, those who helped. Kill them all.”

Margarita Simonyan, head of the state-funded television channel RT, shared photos of the four men’s bruised and swollen faces on X, formerly Twitter.

She said that even the death penalty — currently banned in Russia — would be “too easy” a punishment.

Instead, she said they should face “lifelong hard labor somewhere underground, living there too, without the opportunity to ever see light, on bread and water, with a ban on conversations and with a not very humane escort.”

Russian human rights advocates condemned the violence against the men.

Team Against Torture, a prominent group that advocates against police brutality, said in a statement that the culprits must face stern punishment, but “savagery should not be the answer to savagery.”

It said the value of any testimony obtained by torture was “critically low,” and “if the government allows for torture of terrorism suspects, it may allow unlawful violence toward other citizens, too.”

Net Freedoms, another Russian group that focuses on freedom of speech cases, said Medvedev’s remarks, as well as Putin’s recent call on security services to “punish traitors without a statute of limitation no matter where they are,” made against the backdrop of “demonstrative torture of the detained … effectively authorize extrajudicial killings and give instructions to security forces on how to treat enemies.”

“We’re seeing the possible beginning of the new Great Terror,” Net Freedoms said, referring to mass repressions by Soviet dictator Josef Stalin. The group foresees more police brutality against suspects in terrorist-related cases and a spike in violent crimes against migrants.

Abuse of suspects by law enforcement and security services isn’t new, said Sergei Davidis of the Memorial human rights group.

“We know about torture of Ukrainian prisoners of war, we know about mass torture of those charged with terrorism, high treason and other crimes, especially those investigated by the Federal Security Service. Here, it was for the first time made public,” Davidis said.

Parading beaten suspects could reflect a desire by authorities to show a muscular response to try to defuse any criticism of their inability to prevent the attack, he said.

It was a major embarrassment for Putin and came less than a week after he cemented his grip on Russia for another six years in a vote that followed the harshest crackdown on dissent since Soviet times.



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