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WORLD

Russia Detains Suspects in an Attack that Left at Least 143 Dead in a Moscow Concert Hall

MOSCOW (AP) — Russian authorities detained 11 people, state media reported Saturday, after gunmen stormed a concert hall in Moscow in a grisly attack that left at least 143 people dead.

Russia’s Investigative Committee said four of those detained were directly involved in the attack that left the sprawling shopping mall and music venue smoldering with a collapsed roof.

Russian agencies appeared to suggest the attack was linked to Ukraine even though the Islamic State group claimed responsibility in a statement. A U.S. intelligence official told The Associated Press that U.S. agencies had confirmed that that group was responsible for the attack.

The four suspects were stopped in the Bryansk region of western Russia, “not far from the border with Ukraine,” Russia’s Investigative Committee said. They planned to cross the border into Ukraine and “had contacts” there, state news agency Tass said, citing Russia’s FSB. The head of the FSB briefed President Vladimir Putin on the arrests on Saturday, according to Tass.

The attack came just days after Putin cemented his grip on power in a highly orchestrated electoral landslide. The attack was the deadliest in Russia in years and came as the country’s fight in Ukraine dragged into a third year.

Shortly after the attack, some Russian lawmakers pointed the finger at Ukraine. Mykhailo Podolyak, an adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, denied any involvement.

A man places flowers on the fence near the Crocus City Hall on the western edge of Moscow, Russia, Saturday, March 23, 2024, following an attack Friday, for which the Islamic State group claimed responsibility. Over 90 people were killed, including at least three children, authorities said. (AP Photo/Vitaly Smolnikov)

“Ukraine has never resorted to the use of terrorist methods,” he posted on X, formerly Twitter. “Everything in this war will be decided only on the battlefield.”

Images shared by Russian state media Saturday showed a fleet of emergency vehicles still gathered outside the ruins of Crocus City Hall, which had a capacity of more than 6,000 people in Krasnogorsk, on Moscow’s western edge.

Videos posted online showed gunmen in the venue shooting civilians at point-blank range. The roof of the theater, where crowds had gathered Friday for a performance by the Russian rock band Picnic, collapsed in the early hours of Saturday morning as firefighters spent hours fighting a fire that erupted during the attack.

Bodies of victims are loaded into vehicles at the Crocus City Hall on the western edge of Moscow, Russia, Saturday, March 23, 2024, following an attack Friday, for which the Islamic State group claimed responsibility. Russian officials say more than 60 people have been killed and over 100 injured by assailants who burst into a concert hall and sprayed the crowd with gunfire. (AP Photo)

In a statement posted by its Aamaq news agency, the Islamic State’s affiliate in Afghanistan said it had attacked a large gathering of “Christians” in Krasnogorsk. It was not immediately possible to verify the authenticity of the claim.

A U.S. intelligence official told the AP that U.S. intelligence agencies had gathered information in recent weeks that the IS branch was planning an attack in Moscow, and that U.S. officials had privately shared the intelligence earlier this month with Russian officials.

The official was briefed on the matter but was not authorized to publicly discuss the intelligence information and spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity.

Messages of outrage, shock and support for those affected have since streamed in from around the world.

On Friday, the U.N. Security Council condemned “the heinous and cowardly terrorist attack” and underlined the need for the perpetrators to be held accountable. U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres also condemned the terrorist attack “in the strongest possible terms,” his spokesman said.

A woman places flowers at the fence next to the Crocus City Hall, on the western edge of Moscow, Russia, Saturday, March 23, 2024. Russian officials say at least 60 people have been killed and over 100 injured by assailants who burst into a concert hall and sprayed the crowd with gunfire. (AP Photo/Vitaly Smolnikov)

Meanwhile, in Moscow itself, hundreds of people stood in line Saturday morning to donate blood and plasma, Russia’s health ministry said.

Putin, who extended his grip on Russia for another six years in this week’s presidential vote after a sweeping crackdown on dissent, had publicly denounced the Western warnings of a potential terrorist attack as an attempt to intimidate Russians. “All that resembles open blackmail and an attempt to frighten and destabilize our society,” he said earlier this week.

A view of the Crocus City Hall burned after an attack is seen on the western edge of Moscow, Russia, Saturday, March 23, 2024. Assailants burst into a large concert hall in Moscow on Friday and sprayed the crowd with gunfire, killing and injuring multiple people and setting fire to the venue in a brazen attack just days after President Vladimir Putin cemented his grip on power in a highly orchestrated electoral landslide. (AP Photo/Vitaly Smolnikov)

In October 2015, a bomb planted by the Islamic State downed a Russian passenger plane over Sinai, killing all 224 people on board, most of them Russian vacation-goers returning from Egypt. The group, which operates mainly in Syria and Iraq but also in Afghanistan and Africa, also has claimed several attacks in Russia’s volatile Caucasus and other regions in the past years. It recruited fighters from Russia and other parts of the former Soviet Union.

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Associated Press writer Michael Balsamo in Washington contributed to this report.

In this photo taken from video released by Investigative Committee of Russia on Saturday, March 23, 2024, a Kalashnikov assault rifle lies on the ground as Investigators from the Investigative Committee of Russia together with the operational units of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the FSB, work the scene after an attack on the building of the Crocus City Hall on the western edge of Moscow, Russia. Several gunmen burst into a big concert hall in Moscow and fired automatic weapons at the crowd, injuring an unspecified number of people and setting a massive blaze in an apparent terror attack days after President Vladimir Putin cemented his grip on the country in a highly orchestrated electoral landslide. (Investigative Committee of Russia via AP)

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