What we know about the Moscow concert hall attack — and why ISIS-K is claiming

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  • Armed attackers stormed a concert hall near Moscow on Friday, Russian state media reported.
  • At least 130 people were killed and more than 100 were injured, according to the news agency.
  • ISIS-K, a branch of the Islamic State, claimed responsibility for the attack.

At least 133 people were killed and more than 145 were injured on Friday in an attack after a group of armed individuals opened fire at the Crocus City Hall music venue near Moscow, Russian state media agency TASS reported, citing the Russian Investigative Committee.

The number of reported casualties would make this one of the deadliest attacks near Russia’s capital in recent years.

Here’s what we know so far:

What happened?

A group of unidentified individuals opened fire at the Crocus City Hall, a music venue located on the western edge of Moscow, on Friday evening.

Four people suspected to be directly tied to the attack have been arrested, The Associated Press reported. In his first remarks addressing the massacre, Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Saturday afternoon that Kremlin authorities detained a total of 11 people suspected to be tied to the attacks.

TASS reported that Picnic, a Russian rock band, was scheduled to perform at the venue. The concert hall can accommodate about 6,200 people, according to the venue’s website.

More than 133 people were killed, and about 145 were injured, The Associated Press reported. Some of the injured included children, Russian Health Minister Mikhail Murashko told a local news channel, according to TASS.

An explosion soon rocked the building, TASS reported, starting a fire. The Ministry of Emergency Situations told the Russian news agency that a third of Crocus City Hall was engulfed.

Who is claiming responsibility?

Shortly after the assault, the Islamic State Khorasan Province, or ISIS-K, a branch of the terrorist group in Afghanistan, claimed responsibility for the attack in a statement shared with the ISIS-affiliated news agency Amaq on Telegram, CNN reported.

According to The New York Times, US officials confirmed the group was responsible.

Despite the confirmation from US officials, Putin made no mention of ISIS-K and instead pointed to Ukraine. He claimed in his Saturday address that Kyiv authorities were trying to help the four assailants escape.

“They tried to hide and moved towards Ukraine, where according to preliminary data, a window was prepared for them on the Ukrainian side to cross the state border,” Putin said, according to NPR.

Ukrainian and US officials later denied any suggestion of Ukrainian involvement.

“ISIS bears sole responsibility for this attack. There was no Ukrainian involvement whatsoever,” Adrienne Watson, a spokesperson for the National Security Council, said in a statement on Saturday, according to NBC News.

Mykhailo Podolyak, an advisor to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, also denied the Kremlin’s accusations and said on X that “Ukraine certainly has nothing to do with the shooting/explosions in the Crocus City Hall.”

“It makes no sense whatsoever,” he wrote, adding that the Moscow attacks will “contribute to a sharp increase in military propaganda, accelerated militarization, expanded mobilization, and, ultimately, the scaling up of the war.”

What is ISIS-K?

ISIS-K, an affiliate of the Islamic State, was formed in 2015 and was mostly made up of estranged Pakistani militants, according to the Center for Strategic & International Studies (CSIS), a Washington, DC-based think tank.

The branch is considered to be one of the Taliban’s sworn enemies, mainly due to sectarian differences, BI previously reported.

By 2018, the branch was responsible for nearly 100 attacks against civilians in Afghanistan and Pakistan, according to CSIS. But the group was thrust into the international spotlight in August 2021 after it carried out a suicide bombing at the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul that killed 13 US military soldiers and 169 civilians.

ISIS-K is considered “one of the more successful branches” of the Islamic State, Daniel Byman, a counterterrorism and Middle East expert at CSIS, told Business Insider.

Why would ISIS-K target Russia?

ISIS-K’s adversarial relationship with Russia could stem from several major historical conflicts that reflected the country’s brutal treatment of Muslims.

“If you want, you can go back to the Russian conquest of the Caucasus,” Byman said. “And then you could go to the Soviet deportations of Muslim populations” in the 1940s.

Byman told BI he often points to the intermittent wars in Chechnya, a small Muslim republic, in the 1990s and 2000s, during which Chechnya struggled for independence.

Michael Kugelman, a director at the Washington-based Wilson Center think tank told Reuters that ISIS-K “sees Russia as being complicit in activities that regularly oppress Muslims.”

Why did the attack happen now?

Byman said the rationale behind the timing of Friday’s attack is not yet clear, but it often has to do with “operational” reasons rather than symbolic or political purposes.

If ISIS-K is confirmed to have carried out the attack, the group may have done so on Friday simply because they were ready, Byman said.

On March 7, the US embassy in Russia warned Moscow that there were reports of “extremists” with plans to “target large gatherings” near Russia’s capital.

The warning was partly based on intelligence that indicated an ISIS-K presence in Russia, two US officials told The Washington Post.

Three days before the attack, Putin dismissed the warnings, calling them “provocative.”

Colin P. Clarke, an expert on domestic and transnational terrorism for The Soufan Group, a global security consulting firm, told The New York Times that “ISIS-K has been fixated on Russia for the past two years,” adding that the group “accuses the Kremlin of having Muslim blood in its hands.”

Spokespersons for the Kremlin and the US embassy in Russia did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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