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Terror suspects appear in court in Russia showing signs of torture and abuse

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Russian authorities arrested three more suspects in the terrorist attack on the Crocus City Hall concert venue that killed at least 137 people, and court documents said investigators believe they aided the four men who carried out the attack on Friday by providing transportation.

The four suspects arrested over the weekend appeared in court late Sunday showing signs of torture and severe abuse — confirming videos and photographs that had surfaced after their arrest suggesting brutal treatment at the hands of Russian authorities.

A barrage of videos had emerged of Russian security agents torturing the suspects — including forcing one to chew on a piece of his own ear that had been cut off, while another was stripped half-naked and subjected to electric shocks with wires attached to his genitals.

The videos, which appeared on pro-Kremlin Telegram channels, were geolocated by Russian media to the time and place of the arrests in the western Bryansk region.

Russian authorities identified the four suspects as migrant workers from Tajikistan, which borders Afghanistan where ISIS-K, the branch of the Islamic State that claimed responsibility for the attack on the Crocus City concert hall, is known to be active.

President Vladimir Putin conferred over the weekend with the leaders of Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Turkey, Syria, Azerbaijan and Tajikistan — an apparent nod to the Islamic State’s claim of responsibility even as Putin and Kremlin-controlled media have pointed fingers at Ukraine.

Putin said Saturday that the suspects were apprehended while trying to escape to Ukraine, and Russia state media have suggested that the West is fabricating the claim of Islamic State culpability to protect Kyiv. Russian authorities have provided no evidence linking Ukraine to the attack, and President Volodymyr Zelensky has denied any role in it and accused Putin of trying to “shift the blame” for his own security failures.

The video and photo evidence of torture were only part of the clear thirst for revenge. In the days since the attack, several senior Russian officials have called for reinstating the death penalty, fueling fears among opposition figures that the Kremlin and security services will use the attack to toughen repression even further.

“They were caught. Well done to everyone who helped catch them. Should they be killed?” asked former president Dmitry Medvedev, who is now deputy head of Russia’s Security Council. “They should and they will be,” Medvedev wrote on his Telegram blog Monday.

“But it is much more important to kill everyone involved. Everyone,” Medvedev added. “Who paid them, who sympathized with them, who helped them. Kill them all.”

Calls to restore capital punishment, which has been banned since 1996 after Russia signed a variety of human rights treaties and adopted a new constitution, have been made several times since the war in Ukraine began, as pro-invasion figures grew more radical and aggressive. Yet there were no signs of legislative action.

That has now changed. Vladimir Vasilyev, the leader of the governing United Russia party’s faction in the State Duma, the lower house of parliament, said the proposal to restore capital punishment would be considered.

“There are a lot of questions circulating about the issue of the death penalty now. This topic will certainly be deeply, professionally and meaningfully studied,” Vasilyev said in televised remarks. “And a decision will be made that will meet the moods and expectations of our society.”

Some Kremlin propagandists suggested that the death penalty was not sufficient.

“I look at these faces and again think that the death penalty is too easy,” wrote Margarita Simonyan, the head of propagandist RT network. She suggested “lifelong hard labor somewhere underground, without the opportunity to ever see the light, on bread and water, with a ban on conversations and with not very humane guards.”

Typically, Russian security services deny reports of torture, and leaks of photo or video evidence, which occur rarely, lead to public scandals and internal investigations. But on Sunday evening, the four gunmen accused in the Crocus City Hall attack were photographed in court, severely beaten.

One, Saidakrami Rachabalizoda, had a large bandage over his ear. Another, Muhammadsobir Fayzov, was wheeled into the courtroom on a stretcher in a nearly unconscious state.

Dmitry Peskov, the Kremlin spokesman, declined to comment on the photos in a press briefing Monday. In a separate remark, he said the Kremlin is “not currently participating in the discussion” on the death penalty.

Tajikistan President Emomali Rahmon telephoned Putin on Sunday and distanced himself and his nation from the suspects.

“Terrorists have no nationality, no homeland and no religion,” Rahmon told Putin, according to a statement issued by his office.

The Kremlin, in its own readout, said: “During the conversation, Vladimir Putin and Emomali Rahmon noted that special services and relevant departments of Russia and Tajikistan are working closely in the field of countering terrorism, and this work will be intensified.”

Throughout Russia’s military intervention in Syria, between 2015 and 2017, Putin often portrayed ISIS as one of Russia’s main enemies, and in 2017 he proclaimed victory over the group during a visit to the Middle East.

Earlier this month, Russia’s Federal Security Service, or FSB, said it had foiled an attack that ISIS-K had been planning on a synagogue in Moscow and that it had “neutralized” militants in a raid in the Kaluga region, southwest of the capital. Kazakhstan later confirmed that two of its citizens were killed in the raid.

A year earlier, in February 2023, the FSB said it had thwarted a planned ISIS attack on a chemical plant in Kaluga.

Yet, despite the long enmity with ISIS and the group’s claim of responsibility, Putin and others have suggested that Ukraine had a role in Friday’s assault.

Putin on Saturday said the suspects were arrested while trying to flee to Ukraine and that “a window was prepared for them from the Ukrainian side to cross the state border.”

Boris Vishnevsky, a prominent opposition lawmaker from St. Petersburg, said Russia could not restore the death penalty without rewriting its constitution.

“If we lived in a state with the rule of law, then it would be meaningless to even treat these proposals seriously because from a constitutional point of view, it is impossible to return the death penalty without adopting a new constitution,” Vishnevsky said in an interview. “But because our state is not ruled by the law, and they first formulate their political will and then the law is tweaked to reflect that, I can’t exclude this possibility. If the president decides to do this, I think they will find legal justification for this, as it happened before.”

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