Event in Review: The Crocus City Hall terrorist attack in Moscow (Mar 24)

This review article rounds up all the key information on the 22 March 2024 terrorist attack on Moscow’s Crocus City Hall and its aftermath.

Photo of Crocus City Hall

On 22 March 2024, armed gunmen perpetrated Russia’s largest terrorist attack since the 2004 school siege in Beslan when they attacked concertgoers in Moscow. The Islamic State (IS) claimed responsibility for the attack, but the Russian authorities sought to exploit the event and blame Ukraine. This roundup covers the details of the event, the investigation into it, and its repercussions.

What happened at Crocus City Hall?

On Friday 22 March 2024, armed gunmen entered the Crocus City Hall concert hall in northwestern Moscow and opened fire on people attending a gig by the rock group PikNik.

The attack began around 2000 Moscow time, before the start of the gig, and the hall was reportedly half full at the time. After shooting large numbers of people, the attackers apparently started a fire at the venue, which led to the collapse of part of the roof and created cover for them to escape. The security services stormed the building around 2130, by which point the attackers had already fled (1).

The hunt for the perpetrators focused on a suspicious Renault Symbol that was seen near the venue (9). The car was tracked to Bryansk Oblast, where the FSB claimed on 23 March they managed to detain the four perpetrators and seven accomplices (10). Further accomplices were detained in subsequent special operations (11, 52, 53).

The Investigate Committee opened a criminal case into the attack under Article 205 (Terrorist attack) (2).

Crocus City Hall (Крокус Сити Холл) is part of the Crocus City shopping and exhibition centre. The centre is owned by Crocus Group, a major construction firm that, in turn, is owned by Aras Agalarov, a Russian-Azeri businessman with reported links to the Kremlin. Agalarov denies any such links (3).

How many people were hurt in the attack?

The FSB initially reported that at least 40 people were killed in the Crocus City Hall attack and a further 100 injured (4).

Over time, that figure significantly increased: By 27 March 2024, the Investigative Committee was reporting that it had received 143 missing person reports and identified 84 bodies (5); on 30 March, the number of people it had identified had increased to 134 (45).

The Emergencies Ministry published its own list, identifying 143 victims by name (6). On 30 March, it also reported that 551 people were wounded, having provided a figure of 382 only the day before (46).

In later official statistics, the number of people killed had increased to 145, of whom nearly 80 died as a result of fire or smoke inhalation (70). In total, 1,700 people were questioned as victims and 800 people classified as witnesses in the case (71).

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Analysis

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Who carried out the Crocus City Hall attack?

Video footage from the scene indicated between three and five people carried out the Crocus City Hall attack (8).

The FSB reported that it had detained four attackers and seven accomplices in Bryansk Oblast (10).

Another individual was subsequently arrested for providing financial support to the attackers (11).

Four more men were detained during a Counterterrorism Operation (KTO) in Makhachkala and Kaspiysk in Dagestan; the FSB accused them of also providing financial support, as well as of planning a further attack in Kaspiysk (52, 53).

On 4 April, the FSB reported that a further three people had been detained in Moscow, Yekaterinburg, and Omsk in connection with the attack. Two of the detainees were accused of providing money to the attackers; the third was accused of recruiting accomplices and providing financial support. All three were reportedly of Central Asian origin (59).

Vazhnyye istorii noted that this brought the total number currently under investigation to 18, with one more (who appears to have been one of the original seven detainees) having died in custody (60). By 5 April 2024, 11 people had been arrested by courts (66); Mediazona reported on 4 April that a court in Dagestan had arrested a further five men — four citizens of Tajikistan and one native of the country — in connection with the case (61). As of 5 April, the cases against the three people detained on 4 April had not yet reached the courts.

On 26 April, RBK cited an Interior Ministry source as claiming that another Tajik citizen had been detained in connection with the attack and charged under Article 205 (3) (68). Moscow’s Basmannyy Court arrested the man on 27 April, making him the twelth such person to be arrested by the courts (69).

On 1 June, Mediazona reported that 20 people were facing criminal charges over the case: of these 18 were implicated in the attack itself and were being held in detention facilities, and two more were accused of negligence relating to fire safety regulations (71).

The perpetrators

The direct perpetrators of the Crocus City Hall attack were identified as:

  • Shamsidin Fariduni, born 17 September 1998, citizen of Tajikistan, alleged leader of group;
  • Murodali Rachabalizoda, born 4 February 1994, citizen of Tajikistan;
  • Dalerdzhon Mirzoyev, born 23 November 1991, citizen of Tajikistan; and
  • Mukhammadsobir Fayzov, born 20 May 2004, citizen of Tajikistan.

The accomplices

The accomplices included:

  • Dilovar Islomov, the former owner of the Renault, a native of Tajikistan with Russian citizenship;
  • Aminchon Islomov, Dilovar’s brother and reportedly Fariduni’s brother-in-law, a native of Tajikistan with Russian citizenship;
  • Isroil Islomov, Dilovar’s father, a native of Tajikistan with a Russian residency permit;
  • Alisher Kasimov, who rented an apartment to Fariduni, a native of Kyrgyzstan with Russian citizenship;
  • Nazrimad Lutfulloy;
  • Yakubdzhoni Yusufzoda, a citizen of Tajikistan;
  • Mukhammad Sharipzoda, a native of Tajikistan;
  • Dzhumokhon Kurbonov, a citizen of Tajikistan born in 2003 (11, 12 , 13, 14, 48, 49, 50, 51, 66, 68).

Additional details on events leading up to the Crocus City Hall attack

Investigative newspaper Novaya Gazeta reported that the Renault had been sold by its owner to his brother-in-law a week before attack (9)

Vazhnyye istorii claimed — based on a Telegram channel reportedly linked to the security services — that Fariduni and Fayzov had visited the site of the attack at least five times in the two weeks prior to the attack, but had been dissuaded from carrying it out earlier by security at the venue (15).

Turkish media outlet Yetkin Report, citing Turkish security services, said that Fariduni had flown to Moscow on 2 March 2024, having arrived in Istanbul on 20 February to renew his Russian via; Rachabalizoda flew with Fariduni to Moscow, having himself arrived in Istanbul on 5 January 2024 (16). Pro-Kremlin propaganda channels on Telegram had earlier posted a video showing Fariduni in detention and saying he had arrived from Turkey on 4 March and carried out the attack for RUB 500,000 (17).

Additional details on the subsequent investigation

Pro-Kremlin Telegram channels leaked footage from the perpetrators’ interrogation that showed them being tortured. Signs of physical violence were evident when the men appeared in court (18). The lawyers for the suspects also reported that they had received anonymous threats (19).

Reporting was contradictory on the identities of the men detained in Dagestan: Meduza referred to all four as foreigners, while Caucasian Knot reported that two were from Central Asia and one from Dagestan and did not acknowledge the contradiction between initial statements (which mentioned three detainees) and subsequent ones (which spoke of four) (52, 53).

On 7 April, First Channel published an edited video released by the FSB showing the interrogation of the four alleged perpetrators. In the video, they confessed to receiving instructions from someone called “Sayfullo” and said they planned to flee to Ukraine after the attack, where they were supposed to receive one million rubles (64).

Also on 7 April, the Investigative Committee brought charges for negligence (Article 293 of the Russian Criminal Code) against two Crocus City Hall employees responsible for fire safety at the venue (65). Investigators blamed them for fire escapes at the venue being blocked, resulting in a higher casualty count; the employees denied the charges, claiming it was the gunmen who blocked access to the fire escapes (70).

Who claimed (and denied) responsibility for the Crocus City Hall attack?

On 22 March 2024, Islamic State (IS) media outlet Amaq reported that IS fighters had carried out the Crocus City Hall attack (20). The following day, Amaq issued a longer claim of responsibility, which included video footage from the attack (21). Attention quickly focused on IS Khorasan Province (IS-KP) as the branch that US officials believed was directly responsible (22). IS-KP issued a lengthy statement on 25 March that did not directly claim responsibility, but nevertheless praised the attack (23).

Vazhnyye istorii identified Abdullo Buriyev as a potential organiser of the attack. According to the media outlet, Buriyev, a citizen of Tajikistan, is wanted by the Turkish authorities for his involvement in an earlier IS-KP attack in the country (24).

Ukrainian presidential advisor Mikhail Podolyak denied Ukraine had anything to do with the attack (8). Unnamed representatives of the Russian Volunteer Corps, which fights with Ukraine and seeks the overthrow of Putin’s government, told Novaya Gazeta Europe “it’s definitely not us.” (25) A representative for the Free Russia Legion also denied responsibility, insisting the group “is not at war with peaceful Russians” and blaming the Russian security services (26).

How did the Russian authorities respond?

The initial response

The immediate official response to events at Crocus City Hall focused on physical security measures. For example, the authorities in Moscow cancelled all major public events over the weekend, as did those in numerous other federal subjects (27).The Telegram channel Baza reported that shopping centres in Moscow and St Petersburg were being evacuated. The Ministry of Education and Science also recommended that higher education institutes cancel any large gatherings and switch to online tuition (28).

Russian officials blame Ukraine

However, political attention quickly shifted to identifying the perpetrators, and this largely involved pointing the finger at Ukraine. The FSB claimed that the attackers planned to cross the Russian-Ukrainian border after the attack and “had contacts with the Ukrainian side” (29, 30). Meduza cited two anonymous employees of state media outlets as claiming those outlets had received instructions from the Kremlin about how to cover the event, and these told them to play up any potential Ukrainian links (31).

On 23 March, President Putin made his first public address about the attack. Describing the attack as “a horrific and savage act of terrorism,” he declared 24 March a national day of mourning and noted heightened counterterrorism measures had been imposed on Moscow and the rest of the country. He claimed the security services were “working diligently to identify and expose the accomplice base behind these terrorists: those who provided them with transport, planned escape routes from the crime scene, and prepared caches with weapons and ammunition.” He threatened that “we will identify and bring to justice each and every individual who stands behind these terrorists, those who orchestrated this atrocity, this assault against Russia and our people” (32).

In separate comments made during a video conference with various officials, Putin acknowledged the attack was carried out by radical Islamists but asked “who stands to benefit from it? This act of violence is likely just one in a series of attempts by those who have been fighting against our country since 2014, using the neo-Nazi Kiev regime as a pawn” (33).On 2 April, Putin addressed an expanded conference of the Interior Ministry, at which he accused the attackers of seeking to “provoke ethnic strife, xenophobia, Islamophobia, and so forth,” claiming their main goal was to “divide Russia from within” (56). On 4 April, Putin addressed trade union delegates and claimed that Russia “cannot be an object of terrorist attacks by Islamic fundamentalists. Our country has demonstrated a unique example of interfaith affinity and unity, interreligious and interethnic unity. And we are acting on the international stage in a manner that can hardly make us an object of attacks by Islamic fundamentalists either.” Instead, he reasserted his claim that the goal of the attack was to divide Russia and “undermine the unity of Russian society.” His comments on this occasion did not explain who was to blame, if not “Islamic fundamentalists” (62).

FSB Director Aleksandr Bortnikov continued the theme of blaming Ukraine, accusing Ukrainian and Western security services of assisting the radical Islamists who carried out the attack: “We believe that the action was prepared both by the radical Islamists themselves and, naturally, by Western intelligence agencies, and that the Ukrainian intelligence services themselves are directly related to this” (34). He also said that Russia should declare Ukraine’s Security Service (SBU) a terrorist organisation (35).

The Investigative Committee then claimed it had discovered evidence that the attackers were linked to Ukrainian nationalists and had received cash and cryptocurrency from Ukraine (36). It subsequently claimed that the attackers had confessed to receiving voice messages from an anonymous man on Telegram, who had instructed them to head to Kyiv after the attack to receive their “reward” (47).

Dmitriy Medvedev, the former president and current deputy head of Russia’s Security Council, said that the political leaders of Ukraine should be eliminated if their involvement in the attack were proven (57). Nikolay Patrushev, head of the Security Council, said that the search for the organisers and sponsors “leads to the Ukrainian security services,” which are “fully under the control” of the United States; he accused the US of creating IS and Al-Qaeda (58).

Calls to bring back the death penalty

More broadly, members of the Russian elite renewed debates over bringing back the death penalty — a move supported by three of five factions in the State Duma. Changes to the Russian Constitution would likely be necessary for this to happen (37, 38).

What was the reaction to the Crocus City Hall attack elsewhere?

Western countries reject Ukraine links to Crocus City Hall attack

Shortly after the attack, US national security spokesperson John Kirby stated that the US had no information to suggest Ukraine was involved in the attack. Fear that Russia would use the attack to blame Ukraine swiftly emerged as a theme among Ukraine and its Western allies. The Economist, for example, cited an anonymous “high-level intelligence source” in Ukraine who voiced fears Russia would exploit the attack to blame Ukraine and drive a wedge between it and its Western supporters (8).

French President Emmanuel Macron urged Putin not to use the attack to blame Ukraine, describing any such effort as “cynical and counterproductive” and claiming French intelligence supported the claim that it was linked to IS. European Commission foreign policy spokesman Peter Stano similarly called on Moscow not to use it as a “pretext” for action against Ukraine or further repression at home (39).

Debates over effectiveness of counterterrorism response

Kirby later reported that the US had repeatedly warned Russia in recent weeks about a forthcoming attack by radical Islamists, and again dismissed any connection to Ukraine as “nonsense and propaganda” (40).

Putin had publicly dismissed warnings as “outright blackmail” and an attempt to “intimidate and destabilise our society.” US intelligence officials fed information to the New York Times that its warnings had included information about a plot by IS-K. The New York Times likewise reported on an internal Russian intelligence report obtained by Dossier Center (funded by exiled former oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovskiy) that warned of the increased domestic threat posed by IS-K — raising questions about the competence of the Russian security services (41). Foreign Intelligence Service Director Sergey Naryshkin acknowledged that Russia had received information about a terrorist threat, but claimed that it was “too general” to take preventative action on (63).

The implications for minorities

Tajikistan’s Interior Ministry denied the involvement of three other citizens whose details had circulated on social media, insisting that two of them were in Tajikistan at the time of the attack and providing photographs of the men with their passports (42). On 12 April, Tajikistan’s Foreign Minister Sirojiddin Muhriddin called on Russian law enforcement to observe international norms of the presumption of innocence and the prohibition on the use of torture (67).

BBC reported that Central Asian migrants were experiencing an increase in racially motivated violence and discrimination as a result of the attackers’ links to the region (43).

Chechen Head Ramzan Kadyrov accused Russian nationalists of attempting to exploit the situation by inciting ethnic tension (44).

Members of Akhmat-Rossiya, one of the Chechen units in the Russian Ministry of Defence, received awards for their involvement in the response to the attack. The Chechen authorities claim the unit participated in the operation in Bryansk Oblast (55).

Sources

Show sources
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  2. Meduza. 23 March 2024. СК: больше 60 человек погибли в результате теракта в «Крокус Сити Холле». Accessed at https://meduza.io/news/2024/03/23/sk-bolshe-60-chelovek-pogibli-v-rezultate-terakta-v-krokus-siti-holle on 23 March 2024.
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  41. Paul Sonne, Eric Schmitt and Michael Schwirtz. The New York Times. 28 March 2024. Why Russia’s Vast Security Services Fell Short on Deadly Attack. Accessed at https://www.nytimes.com/2024/03/28/world/europe/russia-concert-attack-security-failures.html on 29 March 2024.
  42. Meduza. 23 March 2024. МВД Таджикистана: трое граждан, ориентировки на которых после теракта в «Крокусе» распространили СМИ, не причастны к случившемуся. Accessed at https://meduza.io/news/2024/03/23/mvd-tadzhikistana-troe-grazhdan-orientirovki-na-kotoryh-posle-terakta-v-krokuse-rasprostranili-smi-ne-prichastny-k-sluchivshemusya on 26 March 2024.
  43. Laura Gozzi. BBC News. 28 March 2024. Moscow attack: Central Asian migrants hit by backlash in Russia. Accessed at https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-68665896 on 29 March 2024.
  44. Kavkaz Realii. 25 March 2024. Глава Чечни угрожает российским националистам в связи с терактом в “Крокусе”. Accessed at https://www.kavkazr.com/a/glava-chechni-ugrozhaet-rossiyskim-natsionalistam-v-svyazi-s-teraktom-v-krokuse-/32876346.html on 27 March 2024.
  45. Meduza. 30 March 2024. СК: установлены личности 134 погибших в результате теракта в «Крокус Сити Холле». Accessed at https://meduza.io/news/2024/03/30/sk-ustanovleny-lichnosti-134-pogibshih-v-rezultate-terakta-v-krokus-siti-holle on 2 April 2024.
  46. Meduza. 30 March 2024. МЧС: число пострадавших при теракте в «Крокусе» выросло до 551 человека. Accessed at https://meduza.io/news/2024/03/30/mchs-chislo-postradavshih-pri-terakte-v-krokuse-vyroslo-do-551-cheloveka on 2 April 2024.
  47. Sledcom_press. Telegram. 29 March 2024. СК России продолжает расследование уголовного дела о теракте в Красногорске. Accessed at https://t.me/sledcom_press/12406 on 2 April 2024.
  48. Meduza. 30 March 2024. Один из исполнителей теракта в «Крокусе» Фаридун Шамсиддин — родственник Аминчона Исломова, который вместе с братом продал ему автомобиль. Accessed at https://istories.media/news/2024/03/30/odin-iz-ispolnitelei-terakta-v-krokuse-faridun-shamsiddin-rodstvennik-amindzhona-islomova-kotorii-vmeste-s-bratom-prodal-yemu-avtomobil/ on 2 April 2024.
  49. Mediazona. 29 March 2024. Суд назвал имя девятого фигуранта дела о теракте в «Крокусе». Accessed at https://zona.media/news/2024/03/29/nine on 2 April 2024.
  50. BBC Russian Service. 1 April 2024. Арестован десятый фигурант дела о нападении на «Крокус». Accessed at https://www.bbc.com/russian/live/news-68642081 on 2 April 2024.
  51. Nikolay Sergeyev and Yuliya Rybina. Kommersant. 01 April 2024. Террористов собирают по стройкам. Accessed at https://www.kommersant.ru/doc/6609512 on 2 April 2024.
  52. Caucasian Knot. 31 March 2024. Три человека задержаны в ходе спецоперации в Дагестане. Accessed at https://www.kavkaz-uzel.eu/articles/398595 on 2 April 2024.
  53. Meduza. 1 April 2024. ФСБ заявила, что задержала боевиков, финансировавших предполагаемых исполнителей теракта в «Крокус Сити Холле». Accessed at https://meduza.io/news/2024/04/01/fsb-zayavila-chto-zaderzhala-boevikov-finansirovavshih-predpolagaemyh-ispolniteley-terakta-v-krokus-siti-holle on 2 April 2024.
  54. Caucasian Knot. 1 April 2024. Задержанные в Дагестане признались в подготовке теракта на набережной в Каспийске. Accessed at https://www.kavkaz-uzel.eu/articles/398631 on 2 April 2024.
  55. Kavkaz Realii. 29 March 2024. За что наградили кадыровский полк “Ахмат-Россия”. Accessed at https://www.kavkazr.com/a/za-chto-nagradili-kadyrovskiy-polk-ahmat-rossiya-/32882749.html on 2 April 2024.
  56. President of Russia. 2 April 2024. Расширенное заседание коллегии МВД. Accessed at http://kremlin.ru/events/president/news/73770 on 4 April 2024.
  57. Yevgeniy Belousov. Kommersant. 2 April 2024. Медведев призвал ликвидировать лидеров Украины, причастных к теракту в «Крокусе». Accessed at https://www.kommersant.ru/doc/6612494 on 4 April 2024.
  58. Kommersant. 3 April 2024. Патрушев: следы теракта в «Крокусе» ведут к украинским спецслужбам. Accessed at https://www.kommersant.ru/doc/6615257 on 4 April 2024.
  59. Meduza. 4 April 2024. ФСБ объявила, что задержала троих пособников теракта в «Крокус Сити Холле». Accessed at https://meduza.io/news/2024/04/04/fsb-ob-yavila-chto-zaderzhala-troih-posobnikov-terakta-v-krokus-siti-holle on 5 April 2024.
  60. Vazhnyye istorii. 4 April 2024. Количество фигурантов дела о теракте в «Крокусе» увеличилось до 18. Accessed at https://istories.media/news/2024/04/04/kolichestvo-figurantov-dela-o-terakte-v-krokuse-uvelichilos-do-17/ on 5 April 2024.
  61. Mediazona. 4 April 2024. В Дагестане арестовали пятерых человек, которых ФСБ связала с терактом в «Крокусе». Accessed at https://zona.media/news/2024/04/04/mahachkala on 5 April 2024.
  62. President of Russia. 4 April 2024. Съезд Федерации независимых профсоюзов России. Accessed at http://kremlin.ru/events/president/news/73791 on 5 April 2024.
  63. TASS. 2 April 2024. Нарышкин заявил, что ФСБ получила определенную информацию от США о теракте. Accessed at https://tass.ru/politika/20418831 on 11 April 2024.
  64. Meduza. 8 April 2024. ФСБ показала новое видео допроса обвиняемых в теракте в «Крокусе». Они рассказали, что задания им якобы давал некий Сайфулло. Accessed at https://meduza.io/news/2024/04/08/fsb-pokazala-novoe-video-doprosa-obvinyaemyh-v-terakte-v-krokuse-oni-rasskazali-chto-zadaniya-im-yakoby-daval-nekiy-sayfullo on 11 April 2024.
  65. Meduza. 7 April 2024. ТАСС: СК возбудил дело о халатности после теракта в «Крокусе». Его фигурантами стали ответственный за пожарную безопасность и начальник пожарной команды. Accessed at https://meduza.io/news/2024/04/07/tass-sk-vozbudil-delo-o-halatnosti-posle-terakta-v-krokuse-ego-figurantami-stali-otvetstvennyy-za-pozharnuyu-bezopasnost-i-nachalnik-pozharnoy-komandy on 11 April 2024.
  66. RAPSI. 5 April 2024. Суд арестовал одиннадцатого фигуранта дела о теракте в “Крокус Сити Холл”. Accessed at https://www.rapsinews.ru/judicial_news/20240405/309792720.html on 11 April 2024.
  67. Meduza. 12 April 2024. «Цена признаниям, добытым таким образом, всем хорошо известна». Глава МИД Таджикистана осудил применение пыток в отношении обвиняемых по делу о теракте в «Крокусе». Accessed at https://meduza.io/news/2024/04/12/tsena-priznaniyam-dobytym-takim-obrazom-vsem-horosho-izvestna-glava-mid-tadzhikistana-osudil-primenenie-pytok-v-otnoshenii-podozrevaemyh-v-terakte-v-krokuse on 12 April 2024.
  68. RBK. 26 April 2024. Силовики задержали еще одного фигуранта дела о теракте в «Крокусе». Accessed at https://www.rbc.ru/society/26/04/2024/662b8a549a7947095f8b5364 on 29 April 2024.
  69. Meduza. 27 April 2024. В Москве арестовали 12-го фигуранта дела о теракте в «Крокусе». Accessed at https://meduza.io/news/2024/04/27/v-moskve-arestovali-12-go-figuranta-dela-o-terakte-v-krokuse on 29 April 2024.
  70. Mariya Lokotetskaya. Kommersant. 1 June 2024. За «Крокус» обвинили не только террористов. Accessed at https://www.kommersant.ru/doc/6743498 on 4 June 2024.
  71. Mediazona. 1 June 2024. Более 1700 человек признали потерпевшими по делу о теракте в «Крокусе». Accessed at https://zona.media/news/2024/06/01/crocus-1700 on 4 June 2024.

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