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ISIS terrorist group claims responsibility for deadly attack at Russian concert hall

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Russian authorities say they've arrested the gunmen who opened fire in a crowded concert hall just outside Moscow last night, killing over 100 people in the gunfire and the blaze set off by their explosive devices. An offshoot of ISIS has claimed responsibility for the attack. Russian authorities claim the men were arrested on their way to the Ukrainian border. The attack has been condemned by leaders around the world. NPR's Charles Maynes went to the scene of the attack and joins us now. Charles, thanks so much for being with us.

CHARLES MAYNES, BYLINE: Good morning.

SIMON: What did you see and hear?

MAYNES: Well, this morning I was at at Crocus City Hall. This is the concert venue where this terrible attack took place.

(SOUNDBITE OF HELICOPTERS FLYING)

MAYNES: And amid a heavy police presence - you can hear the helicopters hovering overhead - Russians were bringing flowers to an impromptu memorial set off to the side of this massive entertainment complex. Among them a gentleman I met named Anatoly (ph), who declined to provide his last name, given we were surrounded by security agents. But it turns out he used to work at the Crocus venue.

ANATOLY: (Speaking Russian).

MAYNES: So here, Anatoly says he knew a lot of the people working at the event last night and felt obligated to pay his respects. Some, he said, might be injured, others dead. And he called this all a big tragedy, which, of course, it is.

SIMON: What happened last night? What do we know?

MAYNES: Well, the attackers, who Russian authorities say were four in number - although some videos suggest perhaps another fifth attacker - they entered the venue armed with Kalashnikovs and explosives, shortly before a sold-out concert by a veteran Soviet-era rock band called Picnic. Witness video shows the gunmen, firing point blank on civilians, on security guards, near the foyer, before heading to the main concert hall. A fire then broke out after the attackers detonated explosives, engulfing the venue in smoke and flames that quickly spread, sending the public scurrying.

People were hiding in bathrooms and basements. Others were rescued from the roof or broke through glass to make their way out. And, of course, many never did. The whole complex caught fire. And today, you could see the facade of the building just completely gutted. Moreover, amid the chaos, the attackers got away, at least initially.

SIMON: Russian authorities say now they've caught the attackers. What do we know about them?

MAYNES: Well, Russia's investigative committee said it arrested 11 individuals in connection with the attack, four apparently for direct involvement, a claim later confirmed by President Vladimir Putin in his first public comments. Let's listen.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT VLADIMIR PUTIN: (Speaking Russian).

MAYNES: So here Putin says that those who shot and killed people have been identified and detained. They were caught on their way towards the Ukrainian border, where Putin said initial information indicated the Ukrainians had prepared a, "quote," window - in other words, a way to sneak them back across the border. And now Russian security services went further, releasing information that claimed the attackers were from Central Asia, in fact, from the former Soviet republic of Tajikistan and were on their way to meet contacts in Ukraine. Meanwhile, Putin made clear harsh punishment awaited those involved in what he called a barbaric terrorist act.

SIMON: U.S. government seems to give credence to the claims that the Islamic State was responsible. Are there signs that the Russians take that position seriously?

MAYNES: Not so much. It seems the investigators and politicians are focused mostly entirely on the Ukrainian connection, despite vehement denials from the authorities in Kyiv. Meanwhile, let's not forget that two weeks ago, the U.S. Embassy publicly warned it had credible reports that extremists were preparing an attack at a public event, like a concert, within 48 hours. After that time had passed, Putin dismissed the warning as irresponsible fearmongering. Yet it seems the only thing the U.S. got wrong was the timing.

SIMON: NPR's Charles Maynes in Moscow, thanks so much.

MAYNES: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.
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