Russian authorities say dozens dead in attack on Moscow concert venue


At least 40 people died and more than 100 were injured after attackers opened fire at a large concert venue in Moscow late on Friday and a blaze took hold of the building.

At least four men dressed in camouflage burst into the Crocus City Hall concert venue on the outskirts of Moscow, where a band called Picnic was due to perform, the Ria state news agency reported, citing one of its reporters, who was an witness.

The shooting was the largest loss of life in a terrorist attack in Russia in at least a decade, and recalled the Islamist insurgencies that marked the first decade of president Vladimir Putin’s rule.

The FSB, Russia’s main security service, cited preliminary information saying 40 people were killed and more than 100 injured in the attack. It said “all necessary measures” were being taken as its forces stormed the building.

News outlets on social media app Telegram posted graphic videos that appeared to show several people being killed by the unidentified men and cited unverified death tolls several times higher than the FSB’s.

Videos from outside the building showed an enormous blaze engulfing the roof, sending a billow of smoke into the night sky.

Officials described the attack as an act of terrorism. Valentina Matvienko, speaker of Russia’s senate, said the attackers would “inevitably get the punishment they deserve”.

“A horrible tragedy took place today in Crocus City. My condolences to the loved ones of all the victims,” Sergei Sobyanin, Moscow’s mayor, said in a statement. Shortly after, he cancelled all large-scale public events due to take place this weekend in Moscow. People were also evacuated on Friday night from big malls in some other Russian cities over fears of similar attacks.

Andrei Vorobyov, governor of the Moscow region around the capital, said he had arrived on the scene and set up a rapid response centre. More than 70 ambulance brigades were operating by the hall, the governor said.

Terror attacks rocked Russia in the 1990s and 2000s, mostly related to two bloody separatist wars in the southern republic of Chechnya, which formed the backdrop to Putin’s rise to power.

Friday’s attack will bring back memories for Moscow residents of the Nord-Ost siege, when Chechen fighters took hundreds of people hostage in a Moscow theatre in 2002, leading to the deaths of more than 170 people.

After Putin’s security services quelled Islamist insurgencies in Chechnya and neighbouring Dagestan, major attacks had largely subsided in the past decade, with the most recent coming in a 2017 suicide bombing in the St Petersburg metro that killed 15 people.

The US embassy in Moscow and six other western countries’ missions issued alerts in early March warning about attacks on public venues, including concerts, in the next 48 hours.

No attacks followed, prompting Putin to dismiss what he said were “provocative statements” from the western embassies while speaking to Russia’s FSB security service on Tuesday.

“This all recalls outright blackmail and the intention to scare and destabilise our society,” Putin said, fresh from extending his 24-year rule until at least 2030 after last weekend’s presidential elections.

The attackers began firing automatic weapons and then threw an explosive device into the crowd, which led a fire to engulf the building, the agency said.

“People who were in the hall fell to the ground to protect themselves from the shooting, and were lying there for 15-20 minutes, before starting to crawl out,” the Ria news agency cited its reporter as saying. 

Videos posted on Russian social media showed two men with automatic weapons roaming the lobby of the venue, driving screaming people into a corner, and shooting several of them at point-blank range.

Some people could be seen prostrate on the floor of the lobby, apparently after being shot.

Another video, taken by a concertgoer, showed seats on fire inside the hall, and people trying to flee as automatic fire can be heard and smoke fills the room. “They’ve set fire to the hall,” the man filming the video can be heard saying.

In another, people are seen falling between the rows of seats to protect themselves as explosions rock the room.

“I was in the lobby, I heard machine gun fire, the crowd was running out through the service entrance,” the Russian RBC magazine cited a concertgoer as saying. “There was a crush. Once on the street I heard the machine gun fire again.”

The FSB and Russia’s national guard stormed the building, where the attackers had holed up, according to state media. Videos showed emergency helicopters circling over the flaming roof.

Crocus City Hall is located just outside the perimeter of the Russian capital, and is a big concert venue close to an exhibition centre of the same name which regularly hosts conferences and other events.

The hall, at full capacity, can host 6,200 people. Tickets for the concert by Picnic, an older generation Russian rock band which began performing in 1978, were sold out.