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Putin says radical Islamists attacked Moscow, still seeks Ukraine link

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Vladimir Putin blamed Islamist militants for the deadly attack on a Moscow concert hall for the first time, even as he persisted in seeking to tie Ukraine and the West to the worst atrocity in the Russian capital for two decades.
The Russian president said radical Islamists carried out the assault that killed 139 people at the Crocus City Hall in Moscow on Friday night, but that investigators were digging deeper to establish who was behind it.
“We know whose hands committed this atrocity against Russia and its people,” Putin told a meeting of top officials late Monday. “We are interested in who ordered it.”
Putin had avoided mentioning Islamists on Saturday in his first public comments on the violence late Friday, even as Islamic State claimed responsibility. Ukraine has flatly rejected any involvement, while US officials say Islamic State is solely responsible for the attack.
“We also see that the United States, through various channels, is trying to convince its satellites and other countries of the world that according to their intelligence data, there is supposedly no Kyiv trace in the Moscow terrorist attack, that the bloody terrorist attack was carried out by followers of Islam, members of the ISIS organization banned in Russia,” Putin said.
The Kremlin’s “only goal is to motivate more Russians to die in their senseless and criminal war against Ukraine,” Ukrainian foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba said in a post on X, formerly Twitter. Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has called the attack a false-flag operation by Russia.
Earlier this month, the US shared information with Russia about a possible terrorist attack in Moscow, which Putin publicly dismissed as an attempt “to intimidate and destabilize our society” three days before Crocus City Hall was hit.
The violence was the biggest single loss of life from a militant assault in Moscow since Chechen separatists took hostages in 2002 at the Nord-Ost theater. At least 170 people, including dozens of attackers, died during a botched rescue mission.
Earlier on Monday Russian authorities showed footage of four men charged in court with carrying out the concert hall attack after interrogations that traced their origins to Tajikistan.
Two of the men pleaded guilty to involvement, the Moscow courts service said on its Telegram channel. All four are detained through May 22. It gave no information on pleas by the other two.
A Moscow court also ordered three more people be held under arrest in connection with the assault, the service said on Telegram.
The scale of the tragedy has shocked Russians and shattered an illusion of stability in a city largely untouched by violence in recent years, including following Russia’s February 2022 invasion of Ukraine. Putin’s reaction is stirring fears in Russia that he could even call another mass mobilization to push forward with the war that’s now in its third year.
Putin said in a televised address Saturday that security services had captured the four suspects as they were trying to flee to Ukraine. While he didn’t directly accuse Ukrainian authorities of involvement in the attack, Putin said a “window” had been prepared for the men to cross the border.
The assault took place less than a week after Putin cemented his grip on Russia by claiming a fifth term with 87% of the vote in a presidential election whose outcome was predetermined. The election result has allowed the Kremlin to claim he has overwhelming public support to pursue his war in Ukraine and confrontation with the West.

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