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Battered Terror Suspects Appear Before Russian Court; Motives For Concert Hall Attack Remain Unclear

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In graphic video that is being circulated on Russian messaging channels, suspects are shown being dealt extreme retribution at the hands of their captors. 

by Susan Katz Keating

In the days following the worst terrorist violence inside Russia in nearly 20 years, competing claims leave unanswered the question of who is to blame, even as alleged perpetrators have been severely battered and are in custody.

Russia’s state Investigative Committee on Sunday released video of men who were detained in connection with the attack on the Crocus City Hall venue near Moscow. Their faces are not visible, and it is not clear whether they are the same men who are shown being brutally dealt with in other imagery.

In graphic video that is being circulated on Russian messaging channels, suspects are shown being dealt extreme retribution at the hands of their captors. One recording shows a man with his pants pulled down to expose his genitals, which are attached to a high voltage electric-shock device. Another depicts a man being forced to eat his own severed ear. Soldier of Fortune has viewed the videos, and will not publish them.

Another suspect is shown being wheeled into a packed court room while semi-comatose, as shown below.

The Basmanny district court named the suspects as Murodali Rajabalizoda, Dalerjon Mirzoev, Muhammadsobir Faizov, and Faridun Shamsiddin, and said they are Tajik citizens. The court said three of the four men — Mirzoev, Rajabalizoda, and Shamsidin — admitted guilt after being charged.

The suspects arrived in the courtroom with bruises and smears of blood on their swollen faces. Rajabalizoda, whose ear was reportedly cut off during his arrest, had a bandage on the right side of his head. But there was no official confirmation that his ear had been severed, and forensic photographs do not show the side of his head with the injury.

The suspects were given translators during the proceedings. Investigators cited the need to maintain secrecy, but portions of the hearing were held in open session.

During the open portion, some details emerged about the suspects. Mirzoev is registered in Novosibirsk, Russia, and is 32 years old. He is married and has four children, including 18-month-old twins.

Rajabalizoda said that he is 30 years old, married, and has a child.

The four men are among 11 people that Russian authorities said they arrested in connection with the attack on the Crocus City Hall in the city of Krasnogorsk.

Several men were brought into custody over the weekend while wearing identical track suits. The video, below, shows them being frog-marched into a holding facility.

But while these men are being held as terrorists, conflicting claims have been made about who directed the assault, and why.

Accusations so far have been leveled at the Islamic State-Khorasan, which takes credit for the attack; Ukraine, which emphatically denies being involved; Tajik militants; and, to a lesser degree, anti-Azeri militants.

Some of the accusations are opportunistic, as would be expected in the aftermath of a major crisis that can be used to further various aims, one western intelligence official told Soldier of Fortune.

“Anyone who can use this incident to push a narrative will do so,” the official said. “But some explanations are likelier than others.”

READ MORE: Courage, a Rising Death Toll, and Blood Money: Attack on the Moscow Concert Hall

The incident unfolded on March 22, when camouflage-clad gunmen opened fire at a crowded concert hall on the outskirts of Moscow. The gunfire was accompanied by multiple explosions that left the upper floors engulfed in flames that eventually caused the roof to collapse. More than 130 people so far are confirmed dead, with scores more injured.

The Islamic State (IS) claimed responsibility for the assault. Hours after the incident began, Telegram channels affiliated with IS ran a statement saying the group’s fighters “attacked a large gathering…on the outskirts of the Russian capital, Moscow.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin vowed to track down and punish all those behind the strike, while strongly casting blame on Ukraine.

In a speech to the nation on Saturday, Putin said 11 people had been detained, including the four gunmen, who made their way to the Bryansk region, about 210 miles southwest of Moscow.

“They tried to hide and moved towards Ukraine, where, according to preliminary data, a window was prepared for them on the Ukrainian side to cross the state border,” Putin said.

Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) said the gunmen had contacts in Ukraine, and were captured near the border.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy dismissed any notion that Ukraine was involved.

“Putin and the other scum are just trying to blame it on someone else,” he said in a Saturday address.

The attacks could have been the work of anti-Azeri terrorists, theorized one writer who publishes extensive commentary on events in Russia.

According to the writer, who publishes as “Rurik Skywalker” on The Slavland Chronicles blog, analysts should consider an anti-Azeri angle. “Because there has been a HUGE upsurge in terrorist attacks within Russia and sabotage attacks and strange assassinations all over the place,” he wrote.

The strongest of all the blame-claims is that the Islamic State launched the attack, the western intelligence official said. The terror group’s Afghan affiliate, Islamic State-Khorasan (IS-K), is likely to be responsible, the official said.

Based in Afghanistan, IS-K previously has targeted the Russian Embassy in Kabul and threatened to carry out attacks inside Russia. The group has named both Russia and the United States as enemies.

Isis-K could be motivated by a number of grievances. These include Russia’s military intervention in Syria, to support Bashar al-Assad in the country’s civil war; Moscow’s actions in Africa targeting IS fighters; or its dealings with the Taliban in Afghanistan.

The blame-question may not be resolved truthfully, the intelligence analyst warned.

“Even when agencies in the U.S. or the U.K. come up with an absolute smoking gun, those findings can be ignored,” the analyst said. “The incident itself is over. Now it’s a matter of who will use it to further their own interests, and how.”

The court proceedings should be watched with caution, the analyst noted.

“These men are being put on display as the guilty ones, but that’s been decided without a trial,” the analyst said. “This is a very quick rush to judgment.”

Russia on Sunday observed a national day of mourning for victims of the concert hall attack. Flags were lowered to half-staff across the country as Russians placed flowers at makeshift memorials

Susan Katz Keating is the publisher and editor in chief at Soldier of Fortune.

About Susan Katz Keating

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