In China, Russia, Terrorist attacks

Smoke from fire rises above the burning Crocus City Hall concert venue following a shooting incident in the northwest of Moscow, Russia, on March 22, 2024.(Photo: Xinhua)

Global Times
By GT staff reporters, Published: Mar 23, 2024

At least 133 people have been killed in a terrorist attack at the Crocus City Hall music venue in the city of Krasnogorsk in the Moscow Region as of press time on Saturday. This is the first large-scale terrorist attack targeting civilians within Russia since the start of the Russia-Ukraine conflict and came within a week after Vladimir Putin won a reelection victory.

Chinese President Xi Jinping on Saturday sent a condolence message to Russian President Putin over the deadly terrorist attack. Xi emphasized that China opposes all forms of terrorism, strongly condemns terrorist attacks, and firmly supports Russian government efforts in maintaining national security and stability.

Putin announced a day of mourning for March 24 in an address to the nation after the terrorist attack in Moscow. Putin called the attack a “barbaric terrorist act” and noted “Our enemies will not divide us.” The Russian president also said that all those responsible will be punished, and that four attackers have been found and arrested.

On Saturday, the Chinese Embassy in Russia told media that no reports of injuries or casualties among Chinese citizens have been received and the embassy will continue to monitor the situation.

Investigation ongoing

Russian state-run RIA Novosti reported that armed individuals “opened fire with automatic weapons” and “threw a grenade or an incendiary bomb, which started a fire.” They then “allegedly fled in a white Renault car,” the news agency said.

Investigators and specialists from the Russian Investigative Committee together with operating units of the Internal Affairs Ministry and the Federal Security Service continue investigative activities at the spot, TASS reported, citing a source in Russia’s Investigative Committee.

RT’s editor-in-chief Margarita Simonyan has posted a video clip of the interrogation of one of the suspected terrorists. The footage shows a bearded man lying on the ground and describing in broken Russian how he’d been paid to commit the terrorist attack, RT reported.

The suspect said that he had committed the crime “for money,” detailing that he had been promised 500,000 rubles ($5,418), according to RT.

In the wake of the incident, Islamic State (IS) has claimed responsibility for the terror attack in a short statement published by IS-affiliated news agency Amaq on Telegram on Friday. But the group did not provide evidence to support the claim.

The incident of armed terrorists shooting civilians in a music hall in the outskirts of Moscow clearly targeted civilians. Unlike bombings targeting certain buildings with airplanes and rockets during wartime, this indicates that a terrorist force has infiltrated Russia, and the situation is quite serious, Yang Jin, an associate research fellow from the Institute of Russian, Eastern European and Central Asian Studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times on Saturday.

Current information shows that the terrorists have escaped and may still be in Russia, said Yang, noting that although IS claims responsibility for the incident, its authenticity remains to be verified, and the possibility of attracting attention cannot be ruled out.

Since the start of the conflict between Russia and Ukraine, this is the first large-scale terrorist attack targeting ordinary people within Russia, which will greatly shock the Russian people psychologically and greatly reduce their sense of security. This terrorist attack targeting civilians will indeed have a certain impact on Russia, the expert said.

Yang also noted that in the mid-to-late 1990s and early 21st Century, Russia experienced a wave of terrorist attacks, mainly related to conflicts between the government and anti-government armed groups such as those in Chechnya. However, the current situation is more complex, and this event will also have a certain impact on Russia’s social stability.

Given the timing and target of this attack, the terrorists may have been preparing for the attack for at least a month. The Russian presidential election had just ended, and some security measures put in place to ensure the smooth running of the election had been lifted, which may have led to a relaxation in the vigilance and the terrorists took advantage of this period to launch their attack, said Li Wei, an expert from the China Institute of Contemporary International Relations.

Terrorists chose a music hall in the suburbs of Moscow to carry out the attack for some reason. There have been several terror attacks in Moscow throughout history and the terrorists hoped to create a greater impact and panic by attacking the Russian capital, said Li.

Moreover, as the city is a key focus of Russia’s counter-terrorism efforts, terrorists chose the suburbs to avoid the stricter security measures in the city center and to have a greater chance of escape, Li added.

The expert also noted that given the casualties in terrorist attack, it can be initially concluded that the terrorists fired at least 300 rounds of bullets and prepared grenades or incendiary bombs – all indicated that it was carefully planned.

In response to IS’ claiming of responsibility to the attack, Li said that the IS does have a motive to carry out terrorist attacks. According to publicly available information, the IS does not have a branch in Russia, and its usual method is launching suicide bombings.

Considering the history of IS falsely claiming terrorist attacks in the past, the current IS claim may not be true, said Cui Heng, a scholar from the Shanghai-based China National Institute for SCO International Exchange and Judicial Cooperation.

The expert noted that the possibility of Russian anti-government armed groups such as the Russian Volunteer Corps committing the crime cannot be ruled out.

Cui said that if the terrorist attack has been found related to the Russia-Ukraine conflict, the Russian military will inevitably launch a severe retaliatory action, which means that the situation on the Russia-Ukraine battlefield will further escalate and deteriorate.

On Friday, Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak said in a video message posted on Telegram that Kyiv had nothing to do with Friday’s attack by gunmen at a Moscow concert hall.

The White House also said on Friday it had no initial indication that Ukraine was involved in the attack in Moscow. National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said the US was still gathering information and he told reporters that “I would disabuse you at this early hour of any connection to Ukraine.”

Early on March 7, the US Embassy in Russia said it was “monitoring reports that extremists have imminent plans to target large gatherings in Moscow,” including concerts. The embassy warned the US citizens to avoid large gatherings. But Kirby said on Friday Washington had no prior knowledge of the attack in Moscow.

Extending condolence

On Saturday, after the deadly terror attack, many Chinese took to the Embassy’s official Sina Weibo account to express their sympathy and solidarity during this difficult time.

The Russian Embassy in China said in a post on its official Sina Weibo account that “We received condolences from the Chinese people, thank you for your support.”

World leaders also sent condolence message toward the tragedy.

After the terror attack, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres strongly condemned the terrorist attack that occurred on Friday, as stated by his deputy spokesperson, Farhan Haq. The UN Security Council also denounced the attack as “heinous and cowardly.”

French President Emmanuel Macron also expressed solidarity with the victims, their families, and the Russian people, as reported by AFP and Reuters.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi wrote in a social media post on X on Saturday that “We strongly condemn the heinous terrorist attack in Moscow. Our thoughts and prayers are with the families of the victims. India stands in solidarity with the government and the people of the Russian Federation in this hour of grief.”

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