Russia mourns concert attack dead as Isis suspects due in court


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Four suspects in the largest attack on Russian soil in more than a decade were due to appear in a Moscow court on Sunday as the country held a day of mourning over the assault at a concert that killed at least 133 people and injured more than 150.

Flags were flown at half-mast on Sunday and Russians brought flowers to the site of Friday’s attack, a vast concert hall on the capital’s outskirts that now stands as a burnt-out shell after a fire started by the assailants tore through the building.

Jihadist group Isis swiftly claimed responsibility and shared a photograph of the four assailants taken before the attack. Russia’s interior ministry said the four main suspects were foreign nationals. Reports in Russian media and interrogation videos posted online suggested the men were from Tajikistan, a Central Asian country from where large numbers have been recruited to extremist Islamist organisations.

The FSB security service said it had detained 11 people in total including the four main suspects, who the service said it had caught as they tried to flee the country.

On Sunday, the area around the Basmanny court in central Moscow was cordoned off by police ahead of an expected hearing in which the men will be formally arrested and sent to jail to await the results of a criminal investigation and their subsequent trial.

Videos shared on social media, apparently filmed by the security services on Saturday, showed the four suspects being detained in woodland. Russia’s top criminal investigative body said the men were apprehended in the Bryansk region that borders Ukraine.

A police officer ties a mourning ribbon to a Russian flag in St Petersburg on Sunday © Dmitri Lovetsky/AP

The men seem to have been brutally interrogated by Russian security services, appearing bloodied and injured in some of the videos. One was apparently mutilated, according to the footage. Another was filmed being interrogated via a translator in a hospital ward after being heavily injured, apparently losing the use of one eye. Only one of the men appears to speak some Russian.

Russian officials have sought to direct popular anger over the attack towards Ukraine, which has strongly denied any involvement. In a brief televised speech on Saturday, Russian President Vladimir Putin made no mention of Isis or Islamist terrorism, despite the group claiming the attack.

Kyiv’s foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba in a statement on social media platform X on Sunday called Putin a “pathological liar” who was “desperately attempting to link Ukraine or other western nations to the mass shooting near Moscow, despite the fact that there is no evidence to support such claims”.

Putin spoke to Tajikistan’s President Emomali Rahmon, in a call in which Rahmon condemned the attack and said the two countries would continue working together closely to fight terrorism and extremism, the Tajik government’s press service said on Sunday.

Tajikistan, which shares a border with Afghanistan, is an impoverished country where large numbers of people travel to Russia as migrant workers. Hundreds of its citizens joined Isis in Iraq and Syria in 2014-15, and Tajiks now make up a large share of Isis-Khorasan or Isis-K, the militant group’s Afghan branch, according to analysts who monitor extremist groups. The US has indicated it believes Isis-K to be responsible for Friday’s attack in Moscow.

Russia’s top criminal investigative body said the suspects were apprehended in the Bryansk region that borders Ukraine © Ostorozhno Novosti via Reuters

In his address to the country, Putin pledged that Russia would find and punish everyone involved in the attack, “whomever they may be, and whoever sent them”.

“We will identify and punish everyone who stands behind the terrorists, who prepared this evil act, this attack on Russia,” he said. Some Russian propagandists and pundits began calling for the death penalty.

The number injured in the attack rose to 154 on Sunday, according to the health ministry of the Moscow region, which shared lists of names of hospitalised people. The death toll, currently at 133 people, may rise further as emergency services continue to work at the site.

Gunmen stormed through the building shooting at crowds ahead of a rock concert by the band Piknik, while other victims died in the blaze after the attackers set off explosions in the hall.

The assault has shocked Russia, triggering an outpouring of grief and recalling the Islamist insurgencies that marked the first decade of Putin’s rule. The US embassy in Moscow and six other western countries’ missions had issued alerts in early March warning about attacks on public venues, including concerts.

Putin has held phone calls with the leaders of Turkey, Syria and several former Soviet Union countries since the attack.

Additional reporting by Christopher Miller in Kyiv

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