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What to know about the Moscow concert attack and what's next in the case

People lay flowers at a makeshift memorial in front of the Crocus City Hall outside Moscow, on Monday. There were calls Monday for harsh punishment for those behind the attack on the Russian concert hall that killed more than 130 people, as authorities combed the burnt-out ruins of the shopping and entertainment complex in search of more bodies.
Alexander Zemlianichenko
/
AP
People lay flowers at a makeshift memorial in front of the Crocus City Hall outside Moscow, on Monday. There were calls Monday for harsh punishment for those behind the attack on the Russian concert hall that killed more than 130 people, as authorities combed the burnt-out ruins of the shopping and entertainment complex in search of more bodies.

MOSCOW — Russia is still reeling from Friday's attack by gunmen who killed and stabbed scores of people before setting fire to the Crocus City concert hall outside Moscow — the worst terrorist attack in the country in over a decade.

The assault came less than a week after President Vladimir Putin claimed a landslide victory in a pro-forma election the Kremlin presented as an endorsement of Putin's war in Ukraine and promised defense of the Russian homeland from a hostile West.

Throughout the weekend, authorities marked a grim rise in the death count— as recovery teams discovered additional bodies and other victims succumbed to injuries.

As of Monday, authorities said at least 137 people, including three children, had died, with more than 180 still in hospital.

Here are other key developments.

Suspects have been charged and some show signs of torture

Four suspects — all reportedly from Tajikistan, a former Soviet republic — were charged with committing acts of terror in a closed Moscow court hearing late Sunday night. A court statement said the men — identified as Dalerdzhon Mirzoyev, 32; Saidakrami Rachabalizoda, 30; Shamsidin Fariduni, 25; and Mukhammadsobir Faizov, 19 — all pled guilty to participating in the attack and shooting innocent civilians.

Dalerdzhon Mirzoyev, a suspect in the shooting attack at the Crocus City Hall concert venue, sits behind a glass wall of an enclosure for defendants at the Basmanny district court in Moscow, March 24.
Shamil Zhumatov / REUTERS
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REUTERS
Dalerdzhon Mirzoyev, a suspect in the shooting attack at the Crocus City Hall concert venue, sits behind a glass wall of an enclosure for defendants at the Basmanny district court in Moscow, March 24.

Yet in a brief appearance before the media, the suspects all showed outward signs of torture and duress.

One was brought into court with a bandage over his ear — the result, according to a video released by Russia's security services, of an interrogator severing it with a knife. Another was brought in a wheelchair, only partially conscious and with apparent trauma to his eye. A third had bruises on his face and a ripped plastic bag around his neck. A video leaked by security forces to social media appeared to show an agent electrocuting another suspect's genitalia.

On Monday, Russian authorities announced three additional arrests in the case.

Russia designated Sunday as a day of national mourning

Sunday marked a day of national mourning — with tributes to the victims held in cities across the country. A national billboard campaign ran ads that showed a candle with the words "We Mourn." Long lines were seen at blood donation centers in Moscow and other major cities.

People stand next to an advertising screen displaying an image of a lit candle and the slogan "(We) Mourn 22.03.2024" in Novosibirsk on March 23, a day after a gun attack on the Crocus City Hall.
Vladimir Nikolayev / AFP via Getty Images
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AFP via Getty Images
People stand next to an advertising screen displaying an image of a lit candle and the slogan "(We) Mourn 22.03.2024" in Novosibirsk on March 23, a day after a gun attack on the Crocus City Hall.

Russian Orthodox priests, including Patriarch Kirill of Moscow, a key Kremlin ally, held vigils and prayers for the victims. At the site of the massacre, an impromptu memorial had mushroomed into a mountain of flowers, candles, and other tributes by Sunday evening. An audiovisual presentation beamed images of flying cranes on the walls of the concert hall accompanied by stirring music — a tribute to the victims that was broadcast on state media and shared online.

Putin has yet to visit the site of the attack and the Kremlin indicated on Monday he had no plans to. Instead, the government released a video over the weekend that showed Putin lighting a candle to honor victims at a private Orthodox church at his residenceoutside Moscow.

Security failures occurred despite U.S. warnings, which Putin dismissed as fearmongering

The brazen attack appears to have if not damaged, then at least punctured, Putin's reputation as a leader known for maintaining order and security.

Moreover, he had warnings.

Two weeks ago, the U.S. Embassy shared reports — both through private government channels to Russia and to the public on its website — that it had intelligence suggesting an attack on a public space in Moscow was imminent.

In this grab taken from video released by the Investigative Committee of Russia on Saturday, March 23, investigators from the Investigative Committee of Russia examine the burned concert hall after an attack on the Crocus City Hall outside Moscow, Russia.
/ Investigative Committee of Russia via AP
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Investigative Committee of Russia via AP
In this grab taken from video released by the Investigative Committee of Russia on Saturday, March 23, investigators from the Investigative Committee of Russia examine the burned concert hall after an attack on the Crocus City Hall outside Moscow, Russia.

Yet three days before the assault on Crocus City Hall, Putin dismissed the American claims as fearmongering. Speaking to the chiefs of Russia's Federal Security Service, the Russian leader said the warnings were "provocative" and "resemble outright blackmail and the intention to intimidate and destabilize our society."

Russian critics of the governmentargue the security failure signaled the Kremlin's obsession with cracking down on what it perceives as domestic challengers — such as Russians opposed to the invasion of Ukraine, followers of the late opposition leader Alexey Navalny and Russia's LGBT community — rather than legitimate threats.

Accounts of heroism have emerged from the attack

While social media accounts quickly captured the full horror of the carnage, accounts of heroism have also emerged. In particular, Russian media have zeroed in on the actions of Islam Khalilov, 15, a high school student originally from Kyrgyzstan who worked as a coat check attendant during the concert.

Video from the night of the attack shows Khalilovleading a large group of people — said to number around 100 — through the winding hallways of the concert venue and out to safety.

"I understood if I don't react [and help], then I'll lose my life and those of many people," said Khalilov, in an interview with Russian media. "But honestly, it was terrifying."

A Russian rapper has since offered to send Khalikov a 1 million ruble reward — $10,000 — for his heroism.

Putin is blaming Ukraine, despite ISIS-K claims of responsibility

The Islamic State Khorasan Province or ISIS-K — an ISIS-linked group that emerged in 2014 and 2015 in Afghanistan and Pakistan — has claimed responsibility for the attack. ISIS-linked social media channels have since published graphic footage of the assault filmed by the attackers. The U.S. says its own assessments confirm the ISIS claim.

Yet Russian officials, and state media, have largely ignored any Islamic State link — focusing almost exclusively on a possible Ukrainian connection. Speaking to the nation in a video address Saturday, Putin said, without evidence, that the attackers were detained while fleeing to the Ukrainian border — where "preliminary information" showed someone on "the Ukrainian side" was preparing to ferry them to safety.

People lay flowers and light candles next to the Crocus City Hall, on the western edge of Moscow, Saturday, March 23.
Alexander Zemlianichenko / AP
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AP
People lay flowers and light candles next to the Crocus City Hall, on the western edge of Moscow, Saturday, March 23.

Other Russian officials — such as the Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova — have suggestedthat any U.S. statements were intended to steer attention away from Ukraine.

Ukrainian officials have vehemently denied involvement — calling the accusations a Kremlin attempt to marshal Russian public support for an increasingly unpopular war.

With the suspects now charged, a trial could get underway as soon as late May. If convicted, the men face possible life in prison. Russia currently has a moratorium on the death penalty — although the carnage at Crocus City has raised calls by leading political figuresto change course.

Meanwhile, attention will now shift back to the Kremlin's messaging on the attack itself. Putin has vowed to retaliate against any and all involved. The concern — both at home and abroad — is that opens a new expansion of the war in Ukraine, whatever the truth.

Copyright 2024 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Charles Maynes