A suspect in the shooting attack at the Crocus City Hall concert venue is led to court by security personnel, ahead of a hearing in Moscow, on Monday.—Reuters
A suspect in the shooting attack at the Crocus City Hall concert venue is led to court by security personnel, ahead of a hearing in Moscow, on Monday.—Reuters

• Seven booked on terror charges
• Putin blames ‘Muslim extremists’, insinuates link to Ukraine
• Macron says IS-K plotted to attack France, too

MOSCOW: Russia has ordered at least seven men, accused of killing at least 137 people in a massacre at a concert hall in the Russian capital, to be held on “terror” charges, even as the death toll is expected to climb.

The men face life in prison, although Russian officials have clamoured for the lifting of a moratorium on the death penalty to deliver even harsher sentences.

In a series of late-night court hearings in Moscow that ran into the early hours of Monday, four of the men — with bruises and cuts over their faces — were dragged into the court in front of dozens of reporters who had assembled at the capital’s Basmanny district court.

Russia’s FSB said it had detained a total of 11 people. Security service officers wheeled one in to the hearing on a medical gurney, following reports and videos on Russian social media of bloody interrogations after the men were arrested on Saturday.

One of the suspects was shown having part of his ear cut off and stuffed into his mouth.

Another was shown with his hands tied and his hair held by an interrogator, a black boot beneath his head. Another was questioned in a hospital bed.

When they appeared in court on Sunday night, one had a bandage over his ear, another had a bruised face and another was shown in hospital robes.

Later on Monday, Russian news agencies citing court press officers said that three more men had been charged with terrorism and were being held until May 22.

Putin plays down IS link

Although the West has pinned the attack on the self-styled militant group, the Islamic State (IS), following a claim from the group, President Vladimir Putin made no mention of its involvement, instead insinuating a link to Ukraine.

“We know that the crime was committed by the hands of [extremist Muslims], whose ideology the Islamic world itself has been fighting for centuries,” Putin said in a televised meeting. He said the four attackers “tried to escape and were travelling towards Ukraine” where “a window” had been prepared for them to cross the border.

The Kremlin said on Monday that no country was immune to terrorism when asked if there had been a major failure by security services in preventing Friday’s deadly attack.

“Unfortunately, our world shows that no city, no country can be completely immune from the threat of terrorism,” Kremlin spokesman Dmi­try Peskov said on Monday.

But even Western experts aren’t clear why the IS would attack Russia now. Putin changed the course of the Syrian civil war by intervening in 2015, supporting President Bashar al-Assad against the opposition and Islamic State.

Russia, along with the United States and Syrian forces, played a major role in defeating Islamic State in Syria. Driven out of Syria, its fighters scattered and different branches emerged, including IS-Khorasan, which is active in both Afghanistan and Pakistan as well.

French President Emm­anuel Macron said on Monday that the IS-K had also sought to attack France.

“This particular group made several attempts (at attacks) on our own soil,” Macron told reporters after arriving on a trip to the French South Ameri­can region of French Guiana.

Moment of silence

At the UN Security Council meeting, a minute of silence was observed on Monday to mourn victims of the Moscow attack. The representative of Japan, the current president of the 15-nation body, asked all members to stand to pay their respects at the start of a session on the Gaza conflict. Across the world, people left floral tributes outside Russian embassies.

Published in Dawn, March 26th, 2024

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