Moscow attack suspects paraded in court as two plead guilty

Bloomberg
Bloomberg
Dilovar Islomov, one of the three suspected accomplices in the March 22 terrorist attack on the Crocus City Hal.
Dilovar Islomov, one of the three suspected accomplices in the March 22 terrorist attack on the Crocus City Hal. Credit: TASS/Sipa USA

Russian authorities showed footage of four men charged in court with carrying out the deadly Moscow concert hall attack after interrogations that traced their origins to Tajikistan.

Two of the men pleaded guilty to involvement in the worst atrocity in the capital in more than two decades, the Moscow courts service said on its Telegram channel. All four are detained through May 22. It gave no information on pleas by the other two.

Aminchon Islomov, one of the four suspected accomplices in the March 22 terrorist attack on the Crocus City Hall,.
Aminchon Islomov, one of the four suspected accomplices in the March 22 terrorist attack on the Crocus City Hall,. Credit: TASS/Sipa USA

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Islamic State has claimed responsibility for the assault by gunmen at a rock concert at Crocus City Hall that killed at least 137 people on Friday. Russian President Vladimir Putin pointed the finger at Ukraine on Saturday without offering evidence, an allegation the government in Kyiv has flatly rejected.

The violence was the biggest single loss of life from a militant assault in Moscow since Chechen separatists took hostages in 2002 at the Nord-Ost theater. At least 170 people, including dozens of attackers, died during a botched rescue mission.

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The scale of the tragedy has shocked Russians and shattered an illusion of stability in a city largely untouched by violence in recent years, including following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Putin’s reaction is stirring fears in Russia that he could even call another mass mobilization to push forward with the war that’s now in its third year.

Putin will chair a meeting later Monday with heads of law enforcement and social agencies to discuss measures since the attack, the Interfax news service reported.

“I would call the situation in which Putin finds himself difficult,” said Vladislav Inozemtsev, head of the Center for Post-Industrial Studies, based in Moscow. “Of course, he would like to use what happened for his own purposes, but this will not be easy.”

Saidakrami Murodalii Rachabalizoda suspected of taking part in the attack of a concert hall that killed 137 people, the deadliest attack in Europe to have been claimed by the Islamic State jihadist group, sits inside the defendant cage as he waits for his pre-trial detention hearing at the Basmanny District Court in Moscow on March 24, 2024. A Russian court on March 24, 2024 ordered the continued detention of the first suspect in the Moscow concert hall attack that left more than 130 people dead. Moscow's Basmanny district court ordered Dalerdjon Barotovich Mirzoyev, a citizen of Tajikistan, to remain in custody until May 22 pending a terrorism investigation, according to a statement from Moscow city courts on Telegram. (Photo by Olga MALTSEVA / AFP)
Saidakrami Murodalii Rachabalizoda suspected of taking part in the attack of a concert hall that killed 137 people. Credit: OLGA MALTSEVA/AFP

US officials have said Islamic State bears sole responsibility for the attack, and that Washington earlier warned Moscow of the risk of an impending terrorist threat including against large public gatherings.

“The investigation continues. No solid theory has been announced just yet,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Monday after fielding questions from reporters about why Russian authorities did not mention Islamic State as possible perpetrators and whether Moscow deemed the US assessment as credible.

Even as Putin and other top officials tried to link the atrocity to Ukraine, much of the Russian media coverage Monday was focused on Islamic State, suggesting the Kremlin narrative wasn’t fully taking hold.

The four suspects were shown entering the court late Sunday, their faces visibly swollen and bruised. One of the men was brought to the hearing in a wheelchair while another was heavily bandaged over one ear.

Video circulating on social media suggested that some of the men had been subjected to torture during interrogation by agents from the Federal Security Service, known as the FSB.

NOTE GRAPHIC CONTENT - This is the moment one of the four terrorists who carried out the Moscow concert hall massacre cried and screamed as he was caught by Russian soldiers, who then went on to cut off his ear and make him eat it. Russian border guards and FSB agents were seen furiously battering a man understood to be suspect Saidakrami Murodalii Rachabalizoda after chasing him through dense woodlands, in the 90-second-long clip
Video circulating on social media suggested that some of the men had been subjected to torture. Credit: X formerly Twitter/Zvezdanews/X formerly Twitter

Broadcaster RBC said they were all from Tajikistan and the Interfax news service said they had been questioned in the Tajik language. There were no further details. Authorities had previously said a total of 11 people had been detained, including the four suspects.

Tajikistan President Emomali Rahmon spoke to Putin Sunday to express condolences, according to a Kremlin statement that said the two leaders agreed to intensify cooperation by their security services.

France raised its security alert to the highest level late Sunday, citing Islamic State’s claim that it was behind the Moscow violence. The step, which followed a defense and security council meeting organized by President Emmanuel Macron, was necessary given “the threats weighing on our country,” Prime Minister Gabriel Attal said.

“Russia has been hit by an Islamist terrorist attack the like of which we unfortunately have also known in recent years,” Macron told reporters after arriving in French Guiana for a two-day visit on Monday. “We know how much this profoundly hurts a nation.”

France has contacted Russian authorities at technical and ministerial levels to propose increased cooperation, he said, while warning Putin not to use the attack against Ukraine.

France Raises Security Alert to Max Level After Attack in Moscow

Putin said in a televised address Saturday that security services had captured the four suspects as they were trying to flee to Ukraine. While he didn’t directly accuse Ukrainian authorities of involvement in the attack, Putin said a “window” had been prepared for the men to cross the border.

The suspects were detained in Russia’s Bryansk region, which borders both Ukraine and Russian ally Belarus. The FSB said the men planned to cross into Ukraine where they “had contacts,” Interfax had reported.

“Their only goal is to motivate more Russians to die in their senseless and criminal war against Ukraine,” Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said in a post on X, formerly Twitter. Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has called the attack a false-flag operation by the Kremlin.

Islamist groups have targeted Russia in the past citing what they call anti-Muslim policies by the Kremlin. The seizure of a school in Beslan in the south of the country led to more than 330 fatalities, many of them children, in 2004. In 2010, twin suicide attacks in Moscow subway stations killed dozens, the last major atrocity in the capital before Friday.

Terrorist attack in the Crocus City Hall concert hall. Between two and five people attacked the concert hall and shooting occurred. Fire in the concert hall building. Law enforcement officers at the scene.
22.03.2024 Russia, Moscow region, Krasnogorsk
Photo credit: Igor' Ivanko/Kommersant/Sipa USA
Terrorist attack in the Crocus City Hall concert hall. Credit: Kommersant Photo Agency/Sipa USA

The FSB said earlier this month it had prevented an attack on a Moscow synagogue by what it called an Afghan branch of Islamic State, Interfax reported.

The attack took place less than a week after Putin cemented his grip on Russia by claiming a fifth term with 87% of the vote in a presidential election whose outcome was predetermined. The election result has allowed the Kremlin to claim he has overwhelming public support to pursue his war in Ukraine and confrontation with the West.

“The mood can slightly worsen but it won’t affect authorities ratings,” said Denis Volkov, a sociologist at Moscow’s independent Levada center. The fact that Russia is under attack could even bring unity in terms of response, although national fervor already reached a momentum during Putin’s election campaign, he said.

epa11239004 A handout still image taken from handout video provided by the Russian Investigative Committee press-service shows rescuers working inside the burned Crocus City Hall concert venue following a terrorist attack in Krasnogorsk, outside Moscow, Russia, 23 March 2024. On 22 March, a group of up to five gunmen attacked the Crocus City Hall in the Moscow region, Russian emergency services said. According to the latest data from the Russian Investigative Committee, 133 people died and more than 100 were hospitalized. On the morning of March 23, the director of the Russian FSB, Alexander Bortnikov, reported to Russian President Vladimir Putin about the detention of 11 people, including all four terrorists directly involved in the terrorist attack.  EPA/RUSSIAN INVESTIGATIVE COMMITEE H HANDOUT  HANDOUT EDITORIAL USE ONLY/NO SALES HANDOUT EDITORIAL USE ONLY/NO SALES
Rescuers working inside the burned Crocus City Hall concert venue following a terrorist attack in Krasnogorsk, outside Moscow. Credit: RUSSIAN INVESTIGATIVE COMMITEE H/EPA

The US said it had shared information with Russia in early March about a planned terrorist attack in Moscow. US officials pointed out a public warning posted by the US Embassy in Moscow on March 7 which cited “reports that extremists have imminent plans to target large gatherings in Moscow,” including concerts.

Putin dismissed those warnings when he met last week with senior FSB officers before the attack, saying the US and its allies were attempting “to intimidate and destabilize our society.”

--With assistance from Samy Adghirni.

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