Gunmen in combat fatigues fire on Moscow concert hall crowds, killing and wounding several people

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MOSCOW (AP) — Several gunmen burst into a big concert hall on the edge of Moscow on Friday and sprayed visitors with automatic gunfire, injuring an unspecified number of people and starting a massive blaze in an apparent terror attack days after President Vladimir Putin cemented his grip on the country in a highly orchestrated electoral landslide.

There were no immediate claims of responsibility for the raid, the worst terror attack in Russia in two decades that came as the fighting in Ukraine dragged into a third year. Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin described the attack as a “huge tragedy.”

Russia’s top domestic security agency, the Federal Security Service, said there are dead and wounded but didn’t give any numbers.

Russian news reports said that the assailants threw explosives, triggering a massive blaze at the Crocus City Hall on the western edge of Moscow. Video posted on social media showed huge plumes of black smoke rising over the building.

The attack took place as crowds gathered for a concert of Picnic, a famed Russian rock band, at the hall that can accommodate over 6,000 people. Russian news reports said that visitors were being evacuated, but some said that an unspecified number of people could have been trapped by the blaze.

The prosecutor’s office said several men in combat fatigues entered the concert hall and fired at visitors.

Extended rounds of gunfire could be heard on multiple videos posted by Russian media and Telegram channels. One showed two men with rifles moving through the mall. Another one showed a man inside the auditorium, saying the assailants set it on fire, as gunshots rang out incessantly in the background.

More videos showed up to four attackers, armed with assault rifles and wearing caps, who were shooting screaming people at point-blank range.

Andrei Vorobyov, the governor of the Moscow region, said he was heading to the area and set up a task force to deal with the damage. He didn’t immediately offer any further details.

Russian media reports said that riot police units were being sent to the area as people were being evacuated.

Russian authorities said security was tightened at Moscow’s airports and railway stations, while the Moscow mayor cancelled all mass gatherings scheduled for the weekend.

White House National Security Advisor John Kirby said Friday that he couldn’t yet speak about all the details but that “the images are just horrible. And just hard to watch.”

“Our thoughts are going to be with the victims of this terrible, terrible shooting attack,” Kirby said. “There are some moms and dads and brothers and sisters and sons and daughters who haven’t gotten the news yet. This is going to be a tough day.”

The attack followed a statement issued earlier this month by the U.S. Embassy in Moscow that urged the Americans to avoid crowded places in the Russian capital in view of an imminent attack, a warning that was repeated by several other Western embassies.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, who extended his grip on Russia for another six years in the March 15-17 presidential vote after a sweeping crackdown on dissent, earlier this week denounced the Western warnings as an attempt to intimidate Russians.

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