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Lukashenko hints at Moscow attackers’ plans to flee to Belarus

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Belarusian ruler Alexander Lukashenko said on Tuesday that the gunmen who attacked a concert hall near Moscow last week may have wanted to flee to his country, according to state news agency Belta.

Lukashenko said that security measures were put in place along Belarus’ border with Russia when it became apparent, after the attack on the Crocus City Hall last Friday, that the perpetrators had driven a car into the Russian region of Bryansk, which borders Belarus and Ukraine.

The authoritarian long-term ruler of the ex-Soviet republic, which is allied with Russia, said that the attackers “were therefore unable to enter Belarus. They saw that. That’s why they turned around and drove towards the Ukrainian-Russian border.”

At least 139 people were killed and around 200 others injured when four gunmen opened fire on concert-goers at the Crocus City Hall venue in the city of Krasnogorsk near Moscow on Friday evening shortly before a rock concert was set to start. They also set fire to the building, causing its roof to collapse.

The alleged shooters were arrested in Bryansk shortly afterwards, according to the authorities. They have been presented to a Moscow court and given pre-trial detention.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has been claiming for days that the suspects had wanted to flee to Ukraine and were expected there. The Ukrainian leadership has rejected this allegation.

Although the Islamic State terrorist militia has claimed several times that it carried out the attack, and Western experts consider that claim to be credible, Russian representatives continue to insist that Ukraine is involved. They have not provided any evidence to support the allegation.

Western security authorities and experts suspect the offshoot Islamic State Khorasan Province (ISKP) to be behind the attack.

The secretary of Russia’s National Security Council, Nikolai Patrushev, continued to blame Ukraine for the attack on Tuesday.

When asked by journalists whether the Islamic State terrorist militia or Ukraine was behind the attack on the Crocus City Hall concert hall, Patrushev replied: “Ukraine, of course,” according to state news agency TASS.

The 72-year-old, who repeatedly appears as an ardent supporter of the Russian war against Ukraine, did not explain how he arrived at this assessment.

Meanwhile, Russian President Vladimir Putin has been somewhat more circumspect. He said he was counting on the Russian General Prosecutor’s Office to do everything possible “to ensure that the criminals receive a just punishment, as prescribed by Russian law.”

On Monday, Putin confirmed that the attack was carried out by Islamist terrorists. At the same time, he made it clear, as he had done at the weekend, that he sees a Ukrainian link.

Russia wants to know “who ordered the attack,” he said. Putin therefore assumes that Islamists carried out the order for the mass murder, but that the masterminds are located elsewhere. He sees the motive in Ukraine, not in Islamic State.

Earlier Tuesday, a Russian court ordered the detention of an eighth suspect following the deadly attack. In total, 11 suspects have been arrested.

The man is a 31-year-old Russian citizen born in the Central Asian republic of Kyrgyzstan, the Russian news agency Interfax reported on Tuesday, citing Moscow’s Basmanny District Court.

He is accused of having provided the attackers with a flat before the offence. Interfax reported that the man had denied in court that he knew about the plans, and believed the people who rented the flat were normal tenants.

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