Skip to main content

Moscow concert hall attack: Islamic State claims responsibility

Despite claim of responsibility by Afghan branch of the group, Russia hinted it may be probing a Ukrainian link that Kyiv denies
Russian law enforcement officers stand guard near the burning Crocus City Hall concert venue following a reported shooting incident, outside Moscow, 22 March 2024 (Reuters/Maxim Shemetov)

The Islamic State's Afghan branch (IS-K) has claimed responsibility for a shooting attack that killed at least 115 people in a concert hall near Moscow on Friday. 

Russian authorities said they have arrested 11 people, including four suspected gunmen, in connection with the shooting rampage.

Despite the claim of responsibility by IS-K, the Afghan branch of the group, there were indications that Russia was pursuing a Ukrainian link.

The FSB security service said "all four terrorists" had been arrested while heading to the Ukrainian border, and that they had contacts in Ukraine. It said they were being transferred to Moscow.

"Now we know in which country these bloody bastards planned to hide from pursuit - Ukraine," the foreign ministry's spokeswoman, Maria Zakharova, said on Telegram.

Stay informed with MEE's newsletters

Sign up to get the latest alerts, insights and analysis, starting with Turkey Unpacked


A statement from Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak said Kyiv had nothing to do with the attack, the deadliest in Russia in 20 years. 

A senior Russian lawmaker, Andrei Kartapolov, said that if Ukraine was involved, then Russia must deliver a "worthy, clear and concrete" reply on the battlefield.

Russia's investigative committee earlier said at least 115 had died in the attack, in which camouflage-clad gunmen opened fire with automatic weapons at concertgoers in the Crocus City Hall near the capital.

It said some died from gunshot wounds and others in a huge fire that broke out in the complex. Reports said the gunmen had lit the blaze using petrol from canisters they carried in rucksacks.

People fled in panic. Baza, a news outlet with good contacts in Russian security and law enforcement, said 28 bodies were found in a toilet and 14 on a staircase. "Many mothers were found embracing their children," it said.

The Kremlin said FSB chief Alexander Bortnikov had reported to President Vladimir Putin that those detained included "four terrorists" and that the service was working to identify their accomplices.

Russian lawmaker Alexander Khinshtein said the attackers had fled in a Renault vehicle that was spotted by police in Bryansk region, about 340km southwest of Moscow on Friday night, and disobeyed instructions to stop.

He said two were arrested after a car chase and two others fled into a forest. From the Kremlin account, it appeared they too were later detained.

Khinshtein said a pistol, a magazine for an assault rifle and passports from Tajikistan were found in the car.

Islamic State-Khorasan

The Islamic State, the group that once sought control over swathes of Iraq and Syria, claimed responsibility for the attack, the group's Amaq agency said on Telegram.

IS said its fighters attacked on the outskirts of Moscow, "killing and wounding hundreds and causing great destruction to the place before they withdrew to their bases safely". The statement gave no further detail.

Islamic State: Why leader's death is not a fatal blow
Read More »

A US official told Reuters that Washington had intelligence confirming IS's claim of responsibility. The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Washington had warned Moscow "appropriately" in recent weeks of the possibility of an attack. The official gave no additional details.

Both western and Russian security services have long been monitoring IS-K, or Islamic State-Khorasan, which seeks a caliphate across Afghanistan, Pakistan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Iran.

Friday's attack, about 20km from the Kremlin, happened two weeks after the US embassy in Russia warned that "extremists" had imminent plans for an attack in Moscow.

Hours before the embassy warning, the FSB said it had foiled an attack on a Moscow synagogue by IS-K.

In 2022, a suicide bombing targeted Russia's embassy in Afghanistan, killing six people, including two embassy staff.

Middle East Eye delivers independent and unrivalled coverage and analysis of the Middle East, North Africa and beyond. To learn more about republishing this content and the associated fees, please fill out this form. More about MEE can be found here.