In Russia, Fingers Point Anywhere but at ISIS for Concert Hall Attack


Bodies were recovered, flowers were laid and fingers were pointed on Sunday as competing narratives took shape over who was behind the terrorist attack on a Russian concert hall where at least 137 people out to enjoy an evening of music were killed.

President Vladimir V. Putin has hinted that Ukraine was behind the Friday night attack. He stopped short of accusing Kyiv directly, but on Sunday, some of his allies showed no such compunction.

American officials have said that the attack appeared to be the work of an offshoot of the Islamic State, and that there is no evidence connecting Kyiv to it. But many Russian nationalist commentators and ultraconservative hawks are pushing the idea that Ukraine is the obvious culprit.

A pro-Kremlin analyst who is a regular on Russian state television, Sergei A. Markov, wrote in a post on Telegram that the Kremlin must work at isolating the Ukrainian leadership by “connecting the terrorist act not with ISIS but with the Ukrainian government as much as possible.”

Russian state news outlets barely mentioned that ISIS itself claimed that it was responsible for the attack at Crocus City Hall, a concert venue in the outskirts of Moscow. The ISIS offshoot U.S. officials believe was tied to the attack, the Islamic State Khorasan, which is known as ISIS-K, has been active in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran.

Late Sunday, four men who appeared to have been badly beaten appeared in a Russian courtroom and were charged with committing a terrorist attack.

Three of the men told the court they were from Tajikistan, and according to Russian news outlets, the fourth suspect is, too. The Islamic State has attracted thousands of adherents from countries in Central Asia, including Tajikistan.

All four suspects had visible bruising, and one had bandages on his head. Another had to be wheeled in and out of the courtroom. Videos purporting to show the men being brutalized while under interrogation have been circulating widely on Russian social media.

On Sunday, a spokeswoman for the Russian Foreign Ministry, Maria V. Zakharova, said that the West was pointing at ISIS-K to shift the blame away from Ukraine. Russia has not presented any evidence of Ukraine’s involvement, and Ukrainian officials have dismissed the accusations.

So has the Biden administration.

“There is no, whatsoever, any evidence — and, in fact, what we know to be the case is that ISIS-K is actually by all accounts responsible for what happened,” Vice President Kamala Harris said Sunday on ABC’s “This Week.”

The reactions to the attack reflect in part the state of anxiety that Russia has been living in since its forces invaded Ukraine.

For the past two years, propaganda outlets have been competing to advance one narrative, conspiracy theory or bit of speculation after another, and now some analysts and Kremlin critics say that Mr. Putin might falsely pin the attack on Kyiv to justify another escalation in his war.

On Saturday, Mr. Putin pledged to punish the perpetrators — “whoever they may be, whoever may have sent them.” He made no mention of ISIS-K.

Russia was observing a national day of mourning on Sunday for victims of the fiery attack.

Under a gray sky, stunned Russians came to lay flowers and light candles at a memorial set up outside the concert hall. Scores of people waited in a long line for their turn, many clutching red bouquets, as work continued inside the hall to dismantle the remains of the stage. Flags were lowered to half-staff at buildings across the country, and state media released a video of Mr. Putin lighting a memorial candle in a church.

A top Russian law-enforcement body, the Investigative Committee, said Sunday that 137 bodies had been recovered from the charred premises, including those of three children. It said that 62 victims had been identified so far and that genetic testing was underway to identify the rest. Many of the more than 100 people wounded in the attack were in critical condition.

The names of the men described as the four main suspects were released as they were brought into court to be charged. A court spokesman identified them as Dalerjon Mirzoyev, 32; Saidakrami Rachabalizoda, 30; Shamsidin Fariduni, 25; and Muhammadsobir Fayzov, 19.

In a Russia shaken by the worst terrorist attack to hit it in more than two decades, it was not just Ukraine that was coming under scrutiny. Some commentators did criticize Russian security services for failing to prevent the tragedy, and there were open questions about whether Russia had adequately followed up on a warning from the United States about the threat of an attack.

Conspiracy theories abounded.

Hard-line anti-Kremlin activists, speaking from abroad, speculated that the Russian state could have orchestrated the attack so that it could blame Ukraine or further tighten the screws of repression inside the country.

Some lawmakers in Parliament were already arguing that the government needed to get tough on migrants. Lawmakers also pledged to discuss whether capital punishment should be introduced in Russia.

Aleksei Venediktov, a Russian journalist and commentator and the former editor of the influential Ekho Moskvy radio station said that “different political forces are starting to use” the attack. “The Kremlin, most of all,” he said in an interview broadcast on YouTube. “But others too, who say that it was all organized by the Kremlin.”

Some nationalist activists said that disorientation could have been the attackers’ ultimate goal.

Yegor S. Kholmogorov, a Russian nationalist commentator, wrote in his blog on the Telegram messaging app that Russian society was “strongly united by the war and President Vladimir V. Putin’s victory in the election” before the attack. Now, he lamented, Russia has turned into a “society that is split.”

As Russia mourned, the war in Ukraine carried on.

Ukraine’s air force said it had shot down 43 out of 57 Russian missiles and drones launched overnight against different parts of the country. And Ukraine’s military said it had struck two large landing ships that were part of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet. There was no immediate comment from Russia military officials.

Neil MacFarquhar and Matthew Mpoke Bigg contributed reporting.



Source link

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top