Russian court charges four men over Moscow concert mass shooting

Friday's attack, claimed by an affiliate of the so-called Islamic State group, is the deadliest on Russian soil in years

Four men have appeared in a Russian court on terrorism charges following an attack on a concert hall in Moscow that killed more than 130 people.

The men, who appeared before a court on Sunday, showed signs of severe beatings as they faced the formal charges, with one appearing to be barely conscious during the hearing.

A court statement said two of the suspects accepted their guilt in the assault after being charged in the preliminary hearing, though the men’s condition raised questions about whether they were speaking freely.

There had been conflicting reports earlier in Russian media outlets that said three or all four men admitted culpability.

President Vladimir Putin said the gunmen were “radical Islamists"..; "whose ideology the Islamic world has been fighting for centuries,” as he spoke in a meeting with government officials on Monday.

The hearing came as Russia observed a national day of mourning for the Friday attack on the suburban Crocus City Hall concert venue that killed at least 137 people.

In this photo taken from video released by Investigative Committee of Russia, a suspect is escorted to the ICR headquarters in Moscow. Credit: AP

Moscow’s Basmanny District Court have formally charged Dalerdzhon Mirzoyev, 32, Saidakrami Rachabalizoda, 30, Shamsidin Fariduni, 25, and Mukhammadsobir Faizov, 19, with committing a group terrorist attack resulting in the death of others.

It is the deadliest attack on Russian soil in years.

What happened?

Crocus City Hall is a large entertainment and shopping complex in Krasnogorsk, a suburb on the northwestern edge of Moscow.

It was built by Azerbaijan-born billionaire and property developer Aras Agalarov, who had ties to Donald Trump before he became US president.

On Friday night, its vast hallways became a scene of slaughter as the gunmen entered and made their way to the auditorium, firing at anyone nearby, sometimes at point-blank range.

Videos taken by those in the hallways and in the auditorium showed people screaming and trying to flee as the gunmen continued firing shots.

In this photo taken from video released by Russian Emergency Ministry Press Service, rescuers work in the burned concert hall. Credit: AP

Some hid behind the dark-red seats and tried to crawl toward the exits, according to footage and accounts of survivors reported in the media.

In one video, a young man says into the camera, with gunshots ringing out, “They set the auditorium on fire. The auditorium is on fire.” For a moment, flames could be seen in a corner of the theatre.

By 8.30pm local time, a massive fire raged inside the building, with thick, black smoke billowing from the roof that later collapsed.

The death toll rose over the course of the weekend and stands at 137 on Monday. Three children were among the dead.

The suspected gunmen

Friday's attack was claimed by an affiliate of the so-called Islamic State group.

The US and French intelligence services backed the groups claims.

Russian authorities arrested the four suspected attackers on Saturday, with seven more people detained on suspicion of involvement in the attack, Russian President Vladimir Putin said in an address to the nation on Saturday night.

(From top left, clockwise) suspects Dalerdzhon Mirzoyev, Saidakrami Murodali, Mukhammadsobir Faizov, and Shamsidin Fariduni held in Moscow. Credit: AP

He claimed they were captured while fleeing to Ukraine.

Again, Putin refrained from mentioning IS in his remarks Monday.

He also stopped short of saying who ordered the attack but said it was necessary to find out “why the terrorists after committing their crime tried to flee to Ukraine and who was waiting for them there.”

Authorities in Ukraine, invaded by Russia more than two years ago, swiftly and vehemently denied any involvement.

The denials were quickly backed by US officials, drawing a sharp reaction from Russian officials.

“On what grounds officials in Washington in the middle of a tragedy are making conclusions about someone’s noncomplicity?” Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said in an online statement.

National Security Council spokeswoman Adrienne Watson said: "(IS) bears sole responsibility for this attack. There was no Ukrainian involvement whatsoever."

The US shared information with Russia in early March about a planned terrorist attack in Moscow, and issued a public warning to Americans in Russia, she also said.

During a meeting with top law enforcement officials Putin said: “We are seeing that the US, through various channels, is trying to convince its satellites and other countries of the world that, according to their intelligence, there is allegedly no Kyiv trace in the Moscow terror attack — that the bloody terrorist act was committed by followers of Islam, members of the Islamic State group.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin lights a candle to commemorate the victims. Credit: AP

He also reiterated the narrative, saying without evidence that “a window” was prepared for the assailants to cross into Ukraine.

He stopped short, however, of blaming Kyiv for orchestrating the attack. He did not mention the claim of responsibility by the so-called Islamic State affiliate.

Russia mourns

Details of the victims, including names and ages, have not yet been released by Russia.

Events at cultural institutions were cancelled on Sunday, flags were lowered to half mast and television entertainment and advertising were suspended, according to state news agency RIA Novosti.

A steady stream of people added to a makeshift memorial near the burned-out concert hall, creating a huge mound of flowers.

Mourners hung flowers on fences and piled them on the ground a short distance from the concert hall where gunmen opened fire on a crowd and set off explosives that started a huge fire.

Mourners lay flowers for the victims in Moscow. Credit: AP

Amid the grief, firefighters pulled bodies from the rubble and worked to put out the flames.

Videos shared on social media showed candles and flowers being laid in memory of the dead and wounded at monuments across Russia and at Russian embassies abroad.

What happens now?

The offence carries a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.

The court ordered the men, all of whom are citizens of Tajikistan, be held in pre-trial custody until May 22.

Russian media had reported that the men were severely tortured during interrogation by the security services, and Mirzoyev, Rachabalizoda and Fariduni showed signs of heavy bruising, including swollen faces.

Another was in a wheelchair and hospital gown. According to independent news outlet Mediazona, whose reporters attended the hearings, he was brought in from intensive care.

Rachabalizoda also had a heavily bandaged ear.

Russian media said on Saturday that one of the suspects had his ear cut off during interrogation. ITV News couldn’t verify the report or the videos purporting to show this.

Russian authorities reported that seven other suspects have been detained, and three of them were remanded by the court Monday on charges of being involved in the attack.

The search operation will continue until at least Tuesday afternoon, officials said.

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