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Putin says Islamists carried out concert attack, implies Ukraine had a role By Reuters

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© Reuters. A suspect in the shooting attack at the Crocus City Hall concert venue is escorted inside the Basmanny district court in Moscow, Russia March 24, 2024. REUTERS/Shamil Zhumatov

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MOSCOW (Reuters) -Russian President Vladimir Putin acknowledged on Monday that last week’s deadly attack at a concert outside Moscow was carried out by Islamic militants, but suggested it was also to the benefit of Ukraine and that Kyiv may have played a role.

Putin’s remarks, to a Kremlin meeting devoted to measures taken in response to the attack, were delivered as France joined the U.S. in saying intelligence indicated Islamic State was responsible.

In the deadliest attack inside Russia for two decades, four men burst into the Crocus City Hall on Friday night, spraying bullets during a concert by the Soviet-era rock group Picnic.

Alexander Bastrykin, head of Russia’s Investigative Committee, told the Kremlin meeting the death toll had risen to 139, with 182 people wounded.

Four men of Tajik origin were remanded in custody on terrorism charges at Moscow’s Basmanny district court on suspicion of carrying out the attack. Three others, also of Tajik origin, were remanded in custody on suspicion of complicity.

Islamic State has said it was responsible for the attack and has released what it says is footage from the massacre.

‘WHO BENEFITS?’

“We know that the crime was carried out by the hand of radical Islamists with an ideology that the Muslim world has fought for centuries,” Putin said in remarks posted on the Telegram messaging app.

He did not directly mention Islamic State, and repeated his previous assertion that the assailants had been trying to flee to Ukraine, saying there were “many questions” to be examined.

“The question that arises is who benefits from this?” Putin said. “This atrocity may be just a link in a whole series of attempts by those who have been at war with our country since 2014 by the hands of the neo-Nazi Kyiv regime.”

“We know by whose hand the crime against Russia and its people was committed. But what is of interest to us is who ordered it.”

Putin said the purpose of the attack was to “sow panic”. But as Russian forces were advancing through the Ukraine war theatre, he said, it could also be intended to “show their own population that not all is lost for the Kyiv regime”.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy derided Putin’s comments in his nightly video address, saying that for the Kremlin leader “everyone is a terrorist, except himself, though he has been thriving on terror for two decades.”

That was a reference to allegations that Putin was behind several acts of violence in Russia since taking power in 2000.

“When he is gone, the need for terror and violence will disappear with him,” Zelenskiy said.

Putin ordered a full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 after eight years of conflict in eastern Ukraine between Ukrainian forces and pro-Russian Ukrainians.

Ukraine has denied any role in Friday’s shooting and Zelenskiy has accused Putin of seeking to divert blame.

Washington has said it believes the Islamic State claim. U.S. officials said they had warned Russia this month of intelligence about an imminent attack and that intelligence indicates an Afghan affiliate, Islamic State Khorasan (ISIS-K), was responsible.

White House national security spokesperson John Kirby (NYSE:) told reporters in Washington that the U.S. had been “very vigilant” in following Islamic State’s activities.

“It was because of the aggressive way which we have been monitoring ISIS that we were able to give the Russians a warning that, in fact, they were heading for a potential terrorist attack in the very near future,” Kirby said.

French President Emmanuel Macron told reporters that available information “indicates indeed that it was an entity of the Islamic State that instigated this attack.”

“This group also tried to commit several actions on our own soil,” he said during a visit to French Guiana.

Macron said France had offered to help find the culprits, adding: “I think it would be both cynical and counterproductive for Russia itself and the security of its citizens to use this context to try and turn it against Ukraine.”

Hundreds of Russians have laid flowers outside the Crocus City Hall to remember the victims.

Picnic, the band that had been due to perform on Friday, will stage a memorial concert in St. Petersburg on Wednesday together with a symphony orchestra in aid of the victims, the city’s Oktyabrskiy concert hall announced.

ELEVEN DETAINED

Putin said 11 people had been detained, including the four suspected gunmen, who he said had made their way to the Bryansk region, about 340 km (210 miles) southwest of Moscow, to try to slip into Ukraine.

Unverified videos of interrogations on social media showed one having part of his ear cut off and stuffed into his mouth.

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

Muhammadsobir Fayzov appeared in hospital clothes in a wheelchair, his face covered in cuts. Shamsiddin Fariduni stood, his face bruised. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov declined to answer a journalist’s question about whether they had been tortured.

The court remanded in custody two more Tajik natives – father and son Isroil and Aminchon Islomov – and another son, Dilovar, who has Russian citizenship, Interfax news agency said.

The Investigative Committee said it believed Aminchon and Dilovar had been recruited by Fariduni.

Russian media reported that Dilovar had owned a car used by the attackers. Aminchon asserted his innocence, Interfax said.

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