Putin says radical Islamists carried out Moscow attack but maintains suggestion of Ukraine role

Vladimir Putin has said that the terrorist attack on the Crocus City concert hall in Moscow was conducted by radical Islamists but reasserted his earlier claims that Ukraine could have been involved in the shooting that left 139 people dead.

“We know that the crime was committed by the hands of radical Islamists,” Putin said during a meeting with government officials late on Monday.

“We are interested in who ordered it,” he said, adding that the shooting fit in to a wider campaign of intimidation by Ukraine.

“This atrocity may be just one part 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.”

Putin didn’t mention the affiliate of the Islamic State group that claimed responsibility for the attack, despite growing evidence that the Afghan branch of IS, known as Islamic State Khorasan Province (ISKP), masterminded the attack.

Kyiv has denied any role in the attack and has accused Russia of falsely suggesting it was to blame to escalate the fighting in Ukraine.

IS has said several times since Friday that it was responsible, and IS-affiliated media channels have published graphic videos of the gunmen inside the venue.

Referring to US statements that Washington had no indication that Ukraine had been involved in the attack, Putin said: “The US is trying to convince everyone that there is no Kyiv trace.”

Putin then repeated his earlier assertion the attackers had planned to escape to Ukraine before they were arrested.

“Who was waiting for them there?” Putin asked.

Putin’s statements on Monday appear to further lay the groundwork for blaming Ukraine for the deadliest terrorist attack in Russia in more than two decades. His comments came after the country’s state media intensified its efforts to link Ukraine to the shooting.

Putin on Saturday first claimed without evidence that Ukraine had aided the attackers and had planned to “open a window” for the gunmen to escape.

Although US intelligence services had warned that IS cells in Russia were plotting to target concert venues, Putin’s spokesperson, Dmitry Peskov, said Russia’s security services had not accepted any help from the west. “No, our security services are working on their own, no assistance is currently on the table,” he said during a telephone call with journalists.

Russia’s foreign ministry spokesperson, Maria Zakharova, called into question assertions by the US that IS 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 added that the US, which has said it received intelligence that the terror group acted alone, was spreading a version of the “bogeyman” of IS to cover its “wards” in Kyiv.

On Monday, France joined the US in saying intelligence indicated IS was responsible for the attack. The French president, Emmanuel Macron, told reporters: “The information available to us … as well as to our main partners, indicates indeed that it was an entity of the Islamic State that instigated this attack.”

He said it would be “cynical and counterproductive” of Moscow to suggest Ukraine was to blame.

Emmanuel Macron says it would be ‘cynical’ for Russia to pin Moscow attack on Ukraine – video

On Sunday, four suspects appeared in court in Moscow charged over the attack. The men were identified as citizens of Tajikistan and were remanded in custody for two months.

The court released a video showing police officers bringing one of the suspects into the courtroom in handcuffs, as well as photographs of the same man sitting in a glass cage for defendants. One of the suspects was led blindfolded into the courtroom. When his blindfold was removed, a black eye was visible. Another suspect was brought into the courtroom in a wheelchair.

The men, identified as Saidakrami Murodali Rachabalizoda, Dalerdzhon Barotovich Mirzoyev, Shamsidin Fariduni and Muhammadsobir Fayzov, face charges of a “terror attack committed by a group of individuals resulting in a person’s death”, according to Tass. All four pleaded guilty.

Limited details have emerged regarding the background of the alleged shooters. Fariduni, 25, worked in a factory in the Russian city of Podolsk, on the outskirts of Moscow. The youngest of the group, Fayzov, 19, previously worked as a barber in a city north-east of Moscow. A Turkish security official told Reuters on Monday that two of the attackers had left Turkey to travel to Moscow on the same flight on 2 March. The official said they entered Turkey to renew their Russian residence permits but that they were not radicalised there. He said the attackers had been living in Moscow for a long time.

The men were apprehended in the southern Bryansk region, where authorities said they disabled their vehicle, and caught several of the suspects as they fled into a nearby forest. Videos have been published showing Russian security forces interrogating the men, at least one of whom spoke Tajik during an interrogation. Tajikistan’s foreign ministry initially denied that the suspects were citizens of the country.

In a phone call on Sunday, Putin and Tajikistan’s president, Emomali Rahmon, “noted that security services and relevant agencies of Russia and Tajikistan are working closely in countering terrorism, and this work will be intensified”.

ISKP has previously been reported to have recruited radicalised nationals from central Asia, including Tajikistan.

Some of the videos of the interrogations suggest that the men were tortured by Russian security services. One of the clips, circulated by Russian bloggers, appears to show members of the security forces cutting off the ear of a man who is later interrogated over the attack, and stuffing it into his mouth. Another appears to show security forces beating a suspect with their rifle butts and kicking him as he lies in the snow.

Tanya Lokshina, the Europe and Central Asia associate director of Human Rights Watch, said the videos that suggested torture were “shocking but not surprising”.

Lokshina said that although Russian security services had a long track record of torturing suspects, it was rare for them to circulate the evidence to the public. “What is different now is the clear demonstrative nature of the torture.”

Putin tells Russians Ukraine linked to attack on Moscow concert hall without evidence – video

On Monday, a Moscow court ordered three more men to be put in pre-trial detention in connection with the shooting. The men are accused of aiding and abetting terrorism and reportedly previously owned the car that the assailants used to escape the scene.

The incident near Moscow is the deadliest IS-claimed assault on European soil and the deadliest terror attack by any group in Russia since the 2004 Beslan siege.

Latest news
Related news