Russians lower flags to honour concert hall victims

MOSCOW – Russia lowered flags to half-mast on Sunday for a day of mourning after gunmen killed scores of people at a concert outside Moscow in the deadliest attack inside Russia for two decades and a top security official vowed vengeance.

President Vladimir Putin declared a national day of mourning after pledging to punish all those behind the attack on Friday evening, in which 137 people were killed, including three children, and 182 were injured.

Over 100 people remained in hospital, some of them in serious condition. Video footage showed a sombre-looking Putin lighting a candle at a church at his residence outside Moscow on Sunday evening to honour those who died.

Large crowds attended a memorial event in the darkness outside the concert hall on Sunday evening and watched as projected images of white cranes – each one representing a victim of the attack – flew into the night sky as melancholy music played. Some of those present were in tears.

Islamic State has claimed responsibility for the attack, but Putin, who has yet to name those he thinks are responsible, has not publicly mentioned the Islamist militant group in connection with the attackers, who he said had been trying to escape to Ukraine. He said that some on “the Ukrainian side” had been prepared to spirit the gunmen across the border.

Margarita Simonyan, one of Russia’s top state media executives, is among those to have publicly accused Ukraine, pointing to the attackers’ lack of suicide belts and the fact that they did not plan to martyr themselves as signs that they were not genuine Islamic State militants.

Ukraine has denied any role in the attack.

Earlier on Sunday, people laid flowers at Crocus City Hall, the 6 200-seat concert hall outside Moscow where four armed men burst in just before Soviet-era rock group Picnic was to perform its hit “Afraid of Nothing”.

The men fired their automatic weapons in short bursts at terrified civilians who fell screaming in a hail of bullets.

It was the deadliest attack on Russian territory since the 2004 Beslan school siege, when Islamist militants took more than 1 000 people, including hundreds of children, hostage.

Long lines formed in Moscow to donate blood as the process of identifying the dead gathered pace.

Dmitry Medvedev, deputy chairman of Russia’s Security Council, said Russia would target those behind the deadly shooting wherever they were from and whoever they were.

He had previously spoken of the need to meet “death with death” and some lawmakers have begun to discuss whether the death penalty should be re-introduced for such crimes.

Across Moscow, billboards carried a picture of a single candle, the date of the attack and the words “We mourn”. In other cities, people laid flowers.

Countries around the world have expressed horror at the attack and sent their condolences to the Russian people. (Reuters)

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