The Evidence on the Crocus Gang Attack in Moscow

Yves here. John Helmer provides a detailed and informative review of information about the Crocus massacre, focusing on accounts from the Russian side. One aspect that features prominently here, and as far as I can tell, has been neglected in Western reports, is the role of the fire and building collapse in the deaths and casualties. Helmer notes that the four shooters left before they’d gotten halfway through their ammo, suggesting they left to escape the blaze. There are also accusations in Russia that the theater was out of compliance with multiple fire-risk-reducing requirements, compounded by the use of cheap and particularly flammable Chinese materials.

By John Helmer, the longest continuously serving foreign correspondent in Russia, and the only western journalist to direct his own bureau independent of single national or commercial ties. Helmer has also been a professor of political science, and an advisor to government heads in Greece, the United States, and Asia. He is the first and only member of a US presidential administration (Jimmy Carter) to establish himself in Russia. Originally published at Dances with Bears

In just thirteen minutes, four Kalashnikov rifles, knives, and plastic bottles of gasoline,   discharged by four men,  were not enough to kill and injure so many people as have been accounted for to date in the Crocus City Hall attack in Moscow.

More than half those examined so far in post-mortems “died as a result of the fire from exposure to high temperature and combustion products”, according to Alexander Bastrykin, the chief investigator in his public report to President Vladimir Putin on Monday night.  Post-mortems have yet to be reported for one-third of the 139 dead counted by Bastrykin; no analysis of the cause of injuries to 182 of the surviving casualties has been reported yet; 93 of them remain in hospital.

Bastrykin also reported “two AK-74 assault rifles, over 500 rounds of ammunition, 28 magazines with ammunition, and bottles with remaining gasoline were found and seized at the scene.” A NATO military expert explains: “They didn’t strike me as well-trained, so they lost time changing magazines and their fire wasn’t all that accurate. These data tell me the majority of victims died from some other cause than gunshot.”

Yevgeny Krutikov, a writer with military intelligence sources, reported in Vzglyad: “It can be assumed that the weapons were stored in the terrorists’ cache for a long time and not too carefully – the machine guns sparkled during the shooting. This indicates damage to the barrel or breech (dirt got inside the barrel).”

Recruitment of the shooters; pre-placement of weapons and ammunition; accommodation and advance payment to the gunmen;  purchase of the car they used; communications and coordination; exit undetected in the crowds escaping the building;  and the escape route to the Ukraine border through Bryansk region – the evidence of these details prepared over weeks and months indicate a much larger organization than the four shooters formed with seven others  already arrested and under interrogation.

What they know and will tell is likely to reveal a sophisticated command-and-control system which knew how vulnerable the target was, how to maximize the killing in the shortest possible duration, and at the same time allow escape for the attackers – which is almost unprecedented in the recent history of mass terrorist attacks in Russia. .

That’s to say, the command knew — the shooters and their accomplices didn’t. There was advance reconnoiter of the Crocus City Hall so that the shooters knew the route they followed inside the building and then out under cover of fire and smoke, which erupted faster than they were able to shoot almost half of their ammunition which they left behind.

Did the command also know that Crocus City Hall and the surrounding mall were operating without adequate fire alarms, smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, sprinklers, and emergency ventilation, none of which has been reported by eyewitnesses?  Was the building targeted because the command knew it was constructed without fire-resistant structural supports, allowing ceilings and roof to cave in, choking or crushing those beneath to death?

“Most of the victims in Crocus died not at the hands of terrorists, but from the criminal negligence of the owners and regulatory authorities,” reported Mikhail Delyagin, chairman of the State Duma Committee on Economic Policy, on Sunday evening.  “It is known that many people suffocated with carbon monoxide inside the building. There are already more victims of this kind than those killed by terrorist shooting. Nothing like this could happen in a certified building built according to modern standards for such objects. Why? Because all such buildings are equipped with an automatic ventilation system. These are windows or hatches that fire off automatically if the detector detects an increased level of carbon monoxide inside. Holes open in the roof – and the life-threatening gas goes into the sky. This system works, by the way, without electricity, on compressed air.”

“The way the Crocus burned down shows that cheap Chinese materials (glass wool, plastics, cable braid, etc.) were used in its decoration, which are prohibited for use in public buildings. The reason for the ban? Combustibility. In Europe, non-burning glass wool, plastics, etc. have been used for a long time. They are, of course, twice or three times more expensive than the Chinese equivalent. But they have one advantage: they do not burn in case of fire. And they don’t kill those who are inside.”

Delyagin has publicly accused Aras Agalarov, the wealthy founder of the Crocus shopping and development group, and his son Emin of failing “to formally commission this particular concert hall. As it became known, it is not listed as a properly designed capital construction object on the cadastral map of the Federal Register. Apparently, the amount of bribes needed to receive such a dangerous object exceeded all reasonable limits, and for Agalarov, taking into account the above-mentioned monstrous violations of standards, it was cheaper to extend the status of a building under construction than to put it into operation.”

Bastrykin has announced “the investigation is checking the possibility of violation of safety requirements and the fire extinguishing system in the Crocus City Hall concert hall.  For this purpose, remote controls, electronic components and control devices for the fire protection system of the concert hall were seized. They are aimed at researching and extracting information about the operating mode of fire safety systems at the time of the terrorist attack. The contents of the fire protection system server are being studied with the participation of experts. To establish the operability and timely operation of all fire safety systems, a fire technical examination has been appointed.”

Emin Agalarov has issued a press statement claiming he arrived before the gunmen had left. He said he “entered the building 40 minutes after the first shots were fired. He noted that the fire safety system was working and the doors were unlocked…The sprinkler fire extinguishing system was also operating normally. The building collapsed only six hours after the start of the terrible fire. Some rooms remained intact and did not burn down.”

“If we focus too hard on the minute details which are being patched together, this might clear up some details of assault,” comments a retired senior intelligence source in a position to know, “we might learn something more but not the fundamentals.  These [the four shooters] are no ISIS-K. . The harder New York Times, BBC and The Guardian try to prove they are, the less we have to believe it. They are no jihadists. Just murderers. Mercenaries brought in a month ago.

They are not suicide killers. There are no reports of this ISIS outfit operating away from Afghanistan and Pakistan. Certainly not in Tajikistan. However there are mercenaries at a dime a dozen there who have fought all over. Including in ISIS.”

“At Ukraine entry, they would certainly have been killed, removing all the evidence. The investigation will show they were hired, paid for. A Tajikistan blogger news service reported raids in [Tajik] villages, but then removed it. I am sure their families and friends will be picked up and all connections to jihadists or contractors will be established. They are not migrants, do not speak Russian, and thus cannot claim any ethnic discrimination vendetta [against Russians].”

President Putin claimed in his meeting with the security services on Monday:  “We know that the crime was perpetrated by radical Islamists. The Islamic world itself has been fighting this ideology for centuries. But we are also seeing how the United States is using different channels to try and convince its satellites and other countries of the world that, according to its intelligence, there is supposedly no sign of Kiev’s involvement in the Moscow terrorist attack, that the deadly terrorist attack was perpetrated by followers of Islam, members of ISIS, an organisation banned in Russia. We know whose hands were used to commit this atrocity against Russia and its people. We want to know who ordered it.”

What Putin meant by “radical Islamists” is unclear; the public evidence of the four individuals who have been charged has yet to confirm a record of their religiosity or any ideological conviction.

The officials at the Kremlin meeting on Monday: Prosecutor-General Igor Krasnov, Chief of Staff of the Presidential Executive Office Anton Vaino, First Deputy Chief of the Presidential Executive Office Sergei Kiriyenko, Deputy Prime Minister Tatyana Golikova, Presidential aide Maxim Oreshkin, Interior Minister Vladimir Kolokoltsev, Emergencies Minister Alexander Kurenkov, Minister of Labour and Social Protection Anton Kotyakov, Healthcare Minister Mikhail Murashko, Finance Minister Anton Siluanov, Director of the Federal Security Service Alexander Bortnikov, Commander of the National Guard Troops Viktor Zolotov, Chairman of the Investigative Committee Alexander Bastrykin, Moscow Region Governor Andrei Vorobiev, and Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin. Source:

For the time being, the only evidence connecting the four shooters to the Ukraine is the direction they were taking when their vehicle was stopped by the security forces. In a shootout the car overturned, and three of the gunmen fled into the forest beside the road, leaving one man injured in the car.

The head of the State Duma Committee on Information Policy, Alexander Khinshtein, is the source for press reporting on the site of the interception. That was on Highway E101 about seven kilometres south of the P-120 intersection east of Bryansk city.    From Bastrykin’s report, and from an award ceremony in Bryansk on Monday for the forces who made the capture – Federal Security Service (FSB), Interior Ministry, National Guard, and border forces of the Defense Ministry   — the getaway was being tracked for some time before it reached the P-120 intersection. At that point, if the four men planned to head for Belarus, they would have turned right, followed the south circular road around Bryansk, and then turned left on to the A-240 towards the Belarus border, about 100 kms to the southwest.

Instead, the men drove due south and on the highway near Khatsun, they were about 100 kms from the Ukraine border. There have been reports they were expecting to make a rendezvous with accomplices they believed would guide them to safety over the Ukraine border, and to payday.  Or, as Moscow sources speculate, to their execution by the Ukrainians.

Above: Google map of the roads and villages, including Khatsun, east of Bryansk city.  Below: the view in daylight of the point on Highway E-101 where the gunmen were intercepted about five minutes after they passed the Belarus turnoff, confirming to the security forces tracking the car that they were heading to the Ukraine.   

Speculation, however, including analysis of the cui bono, who gains type, the sequence of statements from Washington, and the history of association between the US, British and Ukrainian secret services and  Tajik mercenaries, creates a balance of probabilities, but not an explanation beyond reasonable doubt.

“Of course, we must also answer the question of why the terrorists, after committing their crime, attempted to flee specifically to Ukraine,” the president said at his meeting with security officials on Monday. “Who was waiting for them there? It is clear that those supporting the Kiev regime do not wish to be implicated in acts of terrorism and be seen as sponsors of terrorism. But there are indeed numerous questions.”

Public comments to reporters on Tuesday by the FSB chief Alexander Bortnikov  and Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev  have answered with emphasis on the Ukrainians, backed by the US and UK.

Source:  March 26 – 15:34.

Boris Rozhin (Colonel Cassad) has followed their remarks with a detailed statement of the history of the intelligence service operations before the Crocus attack, and a circumstantial detail of Ukrainian border drone operations in the area and on the night the getaway car was headed through Bryansk region. Click to read   – March 26, Min 22: 23.

What is evident so far, including from the line of Tajik accomplices now making formal appearances in a Moscow court, is the absence of ideology or religiosity of the radical Islamic type; and ignorance of  where their orders and money were coming from, and why. This non-evidence points to the Ukraine as strongly as the road the four shooters were taking when they were caught.

Their subsequent demeanour in brief videoclips after capture, in hospital, and in court confirms what the military blogger Boris Rozhin calls “dumb hysteria…behaviour [that is]  typical in a situation where the actions of terrorists do not have a deep ideological basis. This is the case of the Crocus gunmen, where the sole motivation is only money. Already in the moment of flight, the criminals realized what they had committed and, since the terrorist attack was not supported by ideology, the militants were seized with animal fear for their own lives. Therefore, during the interrogation, they are ready to tell everything, cry and so on, just to stay alive.”

The Russian intelligence agency investigations now under way, according to Krutikov, are tracing the “Telegram accounts through which the terrorists received instructions, including during their departure from the crime scene. Most likely, it is this branch which directly links the investigation with the Ukrainian direction due to the indication of a specific square at the border crossing.”

The public recriminations against the Agalarov family are not supported by Alexander Kurenkov, the Emergencies Minister, who told the Kremlin meeting on Monday in a brief, ambiguous report: “The building was equipped with an automatic fire alarm system. This system responded to the fire as expected. There was also a set of four robotized fire-fighting hoses and a software control system, which worked in conjunction with other fire protection systems. They were activated during the terrorist attack, but the arson involved the use of flammable substances. According to experts, the system failed to extinguish the fire due to its wide spread.  This is what I wanted to say. We managed to totally extinguish the fire on wall panels, given the materials they were made of, only at 6.40 pm today [March 25]. The search and rescue operations continue. They are expected to be completed by 5 pm tomorrow [March 26]. This concludes my report.”

An Emergencies Ministry (MChS) expert has released data indicating the fire covered 12,900 square metres and more than 900 cubic metres of collapsed structures were removed.  In the videoclip the roofless exterior wall can be seen, and the destruction of the  inner auditorium.


A local fire brigade source comments: “this was a Category-5 fire — Class 5 is an extreme fire hazard —  and the services did an extraordinarily professional job to contain and extinguish a fire of such intensity.” He said the roof “may have collapsed between 2:30 am and 3:30 am.” This corroborates Emin Agalarov’s report of the timing.

The fire expert explained: “If lots of fuel was spilled in the auditorium among the chairs with synthetic fabric and plastic elements, then even low-inflammable things could start burning. They are resistant to high temperatures, but not to extremely high ones. In this case the sprinkler system can be useless.”

The Moscow region governor, Andrei Vorobiev (Vorobyov), was at the site half an hour after the gang had left. “An operational headquarters has been established. All the details will come later.” At 10:39 on Saturday evening [March 23] he reported by video that the roof was still ablaze and that firefighters were pouring water on it from extension ladders.

Governor Vorobiev is at lower left. Source: 

Six hours later, at 04:43, Vorobiev posted a new video clip from inside the building in which he confirmed with firemen that the roof had fallen in. “The collapse of structures continues now,” Vorobiev reported. “There are still some pockets of fire, but most of the fire has been eliminated. Rescuers were able to enter the auditorium, where the temperature had been high for a long time and where, apparently, the epicentre of the fire was. The roof over the auditorium has collapsed, and the debris is still being dismantled.”


Delyagin was asked to say if he wished to correct his initial report and modify his allegations against the Agalarovs; he has not answered.

The political repercussions of the attack have been amplified in the Moscow media. But at a meeting of the Prosecutor-General’s Office Board on Tuesday, Putin played down his claim about “radical Islamists” of the day before. “As you know,” he said, “the perpetrators responsible for this mass murder have been arrested, and our law enforcement agencies are diligently investigating the circumstances surrounding this barbaric crime. They are piecing together the details of the attack, determining the roles and culpability of each individual involved, and analyzing the findings provided by criminalists and experts. The Federal Security Service [FSB], alongside other intelligence services, is actively addressing pertinent issues in coordination with the National Anti-Terrorism Committee.”

The president added: “I trust that the prosecutors, within the scope of their authority, will ensure that justice is served when charging the accused and during the legal proceedings.” This appears to be a response to western media reports that the four gunmen were beaten up and tortured after their capture.

Prosecutor-General Igor Krasnov said to Putin:  “These atrocities have a common goal – to intimidate people, to destroy the unity of our people. Their performers, customers and curators will inevitably be punished. That is why the most important task for Russia remains to achieve the goals of a special military operation.”  Putin had said the same thing the day before: “Their goal, as I mentioned, is to sow panic in our society while demonstrating to their own people that not all hope is lost for the Kiev regime. All they need to do is follow the orders of their Western patrons, fight until the last Ukrainian, obey Washington’s commands, endorse the new mobilization law, and form something resembling a new version of the Hitler Youth. To comply with all of this, they will seek new weapons and additional funds, much of which will likely be embezzled and, as is customary in Ukraine today, put into their own pockets.”

As more time has elapsed and the interrogations of the attack group have produced no new official evidence, the Russian media have been publishing angry calls to restrict migration into Russia, both legal and illegal;  attacks on ethnic communities like the Tajiks; and on the corruption of Russian officials providing them with entry, residence,  and work permits. The Kremlin has responded with a brief communiqué of a telephone call between Putin and the Tajikistan President Emomali Rahmon: “During the conversation, Vladimir Putin and Emomali Rahmon noted that the security services of Russia and Tajikistan were working closely together to counter terrorism and that they would build up their cooperation.”

Konstantin Malofeev (Malofeyev), owner of the Tsargrad media group in Moscow, has published several policy calls under the slogan, “the internal threat has turned out to be no less serious than the external one”. “There should be no xenophobia towards Ukrainians, Jews, and Muslims,” according to Malofeev. “We are a multinational country. That’s the only reason she became an Empire. Because she is not only strong, but also kind. And xenophobia is the lot of the weak. The strong are not afraid. But a competent migration policy, of course, must be carried out. There should be no migration enclaves. There should be no diasporas which try to replace the government, whom the government consults and fears. Members of these diasporas should not be above the law. If they come to Russia, then the main thing for them should be the law.”

“Imagine what three million ‘hardworking’ migrants would do in Moscow, for example, if they all came out at once… It’s not a bell anymore – it’s a bell ringing, a rumble. It’s time to take up migration legislation. Only in this case will we be able to protect ourselves. Fortunately, I have evidence that the people in power who are responsible for migration have heard this ringing. I hope this will affect our streets and our safety. I hope that we will no longer have to catch Tajiks a hundred kilometres from the Ukrainian border who cannot speak Russian, but at the same time live freely in Russia.”

Home page of Tsargrad illustrated with a collage of armed Tajik fighters appearing to pose in front of the Kremlin; Konstantin Malofeev is pictured at upper right.  For more on how Malofeev made his first fortune,  click to read this  and the archive.  

Putin responded swiftly in his speech to prosecutors on Tuesday; the State Duma followed. “[Prosecutors should] consider implementing a system of additional preventive and anti-crime measures,” the president said, “including supervision of compliance with migration legislation. The situation in this area, which is very important and of great concern to millions of people, must be closely monitored.”  The same day, Vyacheslav Volodin, the Duma Speaker, told a parliamentary session that he is appointing a multi-party working group “that will analyze the entire range of legislation that is relevant to the challenges of today, and legislation in the field of migration.”

Pro-US reporters in Moscow reverse the direction of the crackdown Malofeev and his supporters advocate. “Russians will likely face the security crackdown that, ironically [sic], they have largely avoided over two years of war in Ukraine. That would mean a further tightening of the screws on speech and make it much harder to use public transportation or gather in large groups. Communities of migrant workers will likely face a real crackdown… the tactics once adopted to deal with terrorists became quickly accepted as a new norm to treat political dissent. Thus the torture the Russian security services used against four suspects might be used against all sort of people in the country. This is the most direct consequence of the attack.”

Malofeev and the Tsargrad group are not alone in saying the Crocus City Hall attack should lead to intensification of the military operations in the Ukraine. “They struck at us, at our civilians, moreover, in the very center of our Homeland. This is an act of war. It needs to be answered as we have said many times. It must finally be answered with the massive real use of weapons that will allow us to win this war. We must give the civilian population [in the Ukraine] 48 hours to leave the cities and then strike with all our might. Then the war will end quickly, which means that the sponsorship of terrorist attacks will stop. No Americans and British, without the Armed Forces of Ukraine, without Kiev, without the current war, will sponsor terrorist attacks on the territory of Russia.”

For the time being, there has been no impact of the Crocus attack and the Moscow media debate on the operational or strategic plans under way in the Ukraine. The intensification of the General Staff’s offensive along the line of contact in the Donbass; in the electric war against Kharkov and other cities east of the Dnieper River; and in the missile attacks on targets from Kiev to Lvov – reported here   — commenced before the Moscow events; they are continuing as planned.

“Those in political command who have been favouring an outcome to the war that falls short of regime change in Kiev and extension of demilitarization to the Polish border,” observes a Moscow political source, “have lost their voice since Saturday night.”

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  1. Héctor

    So, the terrorists were trying to reach Ukraine through the Russian border, then Russian occupied territory and then crossing the front of a trench and heavy artillery war, sprinkled by swarms of assasin drones. It makes total sense, yes.

    1. The Rev Kev

      Read the article again. Those four guys may have been told to rendezvous on the Ukrainian border where they would be snuck across but the only thing that would have awaited them would have been four empty holes. There were loose ends tying this attack to the Ukrainians so had to go.

      1. vao

        I just wonder whether those fleeing towards Ukraine had not only been bribed to perpetrate the attack, but also blackmailed in some way.

        After all, the Ukrainian mafia is notorious for its ruthlessness, it most certainly established relations with those in Central Asian countries at the pre-Taleban time when opium/morphin/heroin had to find its way towards Europe, and the SBU probably has its own contacts with the Ukrainian mafia as well.

        From then on, making offers that a few downtrodden Tajiks cannot refuse is not an implausible scenario.

        1. The Rev Kev

          Still, when you looked at those guys, you could never accuse them of looking like the sharpest knives in the drawer.

          1. i just dont like the gravy

            My thoughts too. If you watch the video of the guy getting picked up in the forest, he looks worse than a deer in the headlights.

            No sympathies for these murdering scum but they also didn’t strike me as evil criminal masterminds… or ISIS fanatics either for that matter.

            1. juno mas

              Well, maybe not masterminds, but surely evil in murdering defenseless civilians point blank.

              It is these types of events that lead to intensified combat and potential nuclear consequences. All for a $5000 ‘reward’ that was never going to be spent.

              It is absolutely astonishing to think the US has been involved in this sort of thing for decades and Americans can’t make it to the streets.

        2. vidimi

          I’ve been wondering about the blackmail angle myself. Some of them had very young children.

    2. Ignacio

      The border they were heading to is original border and except for some recent Ukrainian pinprick attacks has seen very little of the war compared with the Donbass. No “Russian occupied territory” there. Not to say it would be easy to cross or porous but with plenty of forests to hide and try.

      1. LawnDart

        Yes, and it’s unlikely that four holes awaited these guys– that sort of thing puts a damper on recruitment.

        1. vidimi

          not necessarily. Nobody would ever find out about the four holes, at least not for time long enough for different players to take part. and new suckers are born every day.

    3. Alan Roxdale

      I’d hesitate to conclude that Moscow has indeed uncovered the whole plan, or that the men being paraded are indeed the ones who attacked the crowds. In this moment, it is more important for the Russian Government to appear in control rather than to be accurate.

      1. JohnA

        Certainly one of the four apprehended in the car was photographed at the Crocus venue a few weeks before. That certainly offers a clue that he was part of the group rather some random guy picked up to make Putin ‘appear in control’ as you claim.

        1. lyman alpha blob

          That, plus the fact that after their capture they aren’t denying being the perpetrators.

  2. The Rev Kev

    Can’t verify it myself but I believe that ISIS frowns on attacks during the holy month of Ramadan as well as attacks on Friday – the Jumu’ah – as it is a holy day. Just two more possible data points.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      Scott Ritter, who actually knows a bit about ISIS and ISIS-K from his days in the Middle East, adds some key factoids (see

      1. ISIS-K tried taking credit for the killings at Iran’s General Solemani’s 20 year memorial. Iran came out immediately and said it had eradicated ISIS-K and the only “ISIS-K” left was mercenaries working for the West (see at 40:35).

      2. He explains starting at 32:30 the procedure for taking credit for an action in the name of the Islamic State even if no one in the Islamic State apparatus worked with you. All it takes is videoing yourself in front of the Islamic State flag and pledging allegiance, um, featly, um, the Islamic Creed, using their special hand gesture.

      There’s lot more in the way of good tidbits, like how security warnings are normally passed to other countries.

      1. JonnyJames

        Yes thanks for mentioning that. Maybe I’m missing something, but I can’t find even one instance where IS attacked Israeli interests. It seems odd that a so-called Islamic radical group would work to further Israel’s (and US/UK) interests. If I make a speculation, IS is an asset of Israeli and US/UK intelligence services. If not, they’re doing a cracking job for them.

        1. Turtle

          Someone posted a comment here a few days ago mentioning that IS was indeed allied with Israel at least when they were both fighting Assad. Specifically, they mentioned that apparently IS accidentally hit Israel at some point and apologized for it.

          1. Arkady Bogdanov

            Israel provided artillery support for ISIS along their border, and effectively created a safe passage corridor for ISIS from Jordan that fed them to the region just southwest of Damascus. Every time the Syrian military tried to move into the area of this corridor to interdict the flow militants, they were hit with artillery, air strikes, and rocket fire.
            Oddly (or not), most of the reports on these events have become very difficult to find.
            It was also reported that Israel gave militants medical treatment and logistical support.

            1. The Rev Kev

              There were articles at the time showing militants being treated in Israeli hospitals which featured in Israeli and western publications. There was one article about a unit of Israeli soldiers that would go into Syria to retrieve wounded militants so that they could be take for treatment in Israel itself.

              1. rowlf

                There was a Lebanese video team that made a comedy skit of the Israelis welcoming ISIS fighters across the border. Well done for the time and place.

  3. Gregory Etchason

    It’s no coincidence that ISSIS currently is based only in areas controlled by the US.

      1. JonnyJames

        Zbig liked to take credit for that and bringing down the USSR. Supporting terrorism has a long tradition in US foreign policy.

          1. hk

            Until our freedom fighters start blowing us up at which time we change their label…until they are persuaded to blow the other guy’s stuff up, at least.

    1. Cat Burglar

      If a Taliban linked source is to be believed, IS-K is currently based in the Balochistan province of Pakistan and under the protection of the post-Imram Khan Pakistan intelligence.

      That was cited by Mark Ames in the recent (paywalled) Radio War Nerd Newsletter #140. He finds it awful strange that IS-K in only hitting US adversaries, and that the US has advance warning every time.

      The article contains a list of IS-K attacks and arrests in Russia over the last couple years.There is a good capsule history of IS-K’s acting as a terrorist NGO acting against Russia for its sponsors in the past. He provides links to a WSJ report connecting IS-K with Afghan intelligence and the CIA. IS-K’s founder appears to have CIA connections as well.

      As an account from a journalist with a proven credible record, and no friend of Putin, the Blob and Spook power, or the Ukrainian right, this is the best report I have found on the likelihood of cooperation between IS-K, Ukraine, and US spooks.

  4. ciroc

    Strangely enough, Islamic fundamentalists in Tajikistan were convinced that the enemies of Islam were in Moscow, not in Gaza. Perhaps they had not seen the news.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      Ritter and his interviewer cited above say the Tajiks are not terribly religious. Historically, they are nomads. And of those who are, many are Sufis, who don’t do violence.

  5. mineshaft

    Oh the usual blame on “cheap Chinese crap.” Everyone who has experience importing from China knows that they make products at all price levels, and it is all up to the customers to decide what to get. To me, this sounds like a great opportunity to drive a wedge between Russia and China. If there is no good way to divide the two at government level, then fomenting hate in the people might be a good strategy.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      These comments about construction were made by RUSSIAN sources, so please shelve your theory.

      And the US is full of black-mold-generating drywall, and as someone who did a fair bit of house renovation, I did not come across any recognized as superior-grade materials:

      Chinese drywall is drywall manufactured in China. During the 2001 and 2009 periods, the USA experienced a great demand for drywall due to booming housing construction.

      USA-manufactured drywall became scarce and there was a push to bring drywall from other countries in order to meet the housing construction demand. Therefore China started exporting drywall to the USA.

      The Chinese drywall exported from 2001-2009 was found to be defective, containing high levels of the sulfurous gases – carbon disulfide, carbonyl sulfide, and hydrogen sulfide.

      These emissions, which have the odor of rotten eggs, worsen as temperature and humidity rise. They cause copper surfaces to turn black and powdery, a chemical process indicative of reaction with hydrogen sulfide.

      Those problems persist:

      Building materials from China are found to have problems on a regular basis, and the news media covers these stories in a big way. This makes every architect, builder, contractor, dealer, or homeowner not want to use any building products from China. (You can read some examples of this at the end of this post.)

      Homeowners are primarily concerned about health issues while architects, builders, and contractors are concerned about being taken to court because they used a product from China that has lead to subsequent problems.

      Making Shit Up is a violation of our written site Policies. Please refrain from this behavior if you want to retain your commenting privileges.

      1. Alex Cox

        Donning my volunteer firefighter helmet, I think Dlyugin may be right. Could four individuals hand-carry enough gasoline (plus guns and ammo) to burn this vast auditorium to the ground? Not likely – unless it was a fire trap, or incendiary devices had been pre-positioned there

  6. Jack

    Interesting piece by Gilbert Doctorow; Latest post he discusses the statement by the head of the Russia FSB specifically stating that the US, Great Britain, and Ukraine were behind the the actions of the Crocus terrorists. Of particular note are his remarks on how the mood of the Russians has changed.

    1. Gregory Etchason

      The US will soon realize how patient Putin has been to our aggression. Once the investigation is complete I expect the bloody partition along the Dnieper will be quickly established. No military will be allowed 200 km west of the Dnieper. Putin has no interest in Western Ukraine. Very little there except people that hate Russia. No honest observer can refuse to see Putin’s position based on 3 invasions of Russia by Europe in the last 200 years. The entire Cold War was a great hoax by the US. The US and Europe have been and always will be the aggressors.

    2. LawnDart

      Thanks for that link.

      Yeah, the “decision-makers” have grown far too comfortable in their sense of impunity: it’s due time to let them know, with certainty, that they are not “untouchable” or immune from the consequences of their actions.

      These “elites” will not be missed.

    3. David in Friday Harbor

      I also read Gilbert Doctorow, who I find to be more measured than Helmer. Doctorow currently writes that we appear to be on the verge of World War III, which I find disconcerting in the extreme.

      The timeline of Toria Nuland’s bizarre January 31 late-night Kiev statement that “Mr Putin is going to get some nice surprises on the battlefield,” her sudden resignation on March 5, and the reported the calling-off of a planned Women’s Day terrorist attack by this mercenary gang on March 8, makes my blood run cold.

      It’s too much of a coincidence that U.S. officials were able to distance themselves so quickly and with such certainty about the allegiance of the Crocus Hall gunmen. A recurring failure of the necon psychopaths of the Cheney/Rumsfeld cabal from which Nuland hatched is their pathological inability to acknowledge the agency of others and the potential negative consequences of their aggressions.

      1. LawnDart

        “…their pathological inability to acknowledge the agency of others and the potential negative consequences of their aggressions.”

        That describes our ruling-caste in a nutshell, and is in no way exclusive to the neocons.

      2. JonnyJames

        Doctorow is not alone in believing the threat of large-scale nuclear war is more likely than ever in our lifetimes.

        The late John Pilger thought so, as well as other observers.

        The provocations appear to be increasing: Nordstream blown up, terror attacks, NATO and western military in Ukraine, Russians assassinated, China provoked with naval and military exercises, bellicose and provocative rhetoric toward China by both the DT and JB regimes, “pivot to Asia/containment of China”, Economic warfare (so-called sanctions) increased etc.

        I guess we do live in “interesting times”

  7. New_Okie

    A minor point beside the international intrigue perhaps, but my reading is that the recriminations against the Agalarov family’s building practices may still be supported, even if the fire suppression system worked as designed. Structurally important elements should not be made with materials that will quickly fail or catch on fire, particularly for public venues like concert halls which have more stringent requirements than, say, single family housing. Modern building codes reflect this, and if the Agalarovs avoided the review process designed to catch and correct these failings, they probably knew it too.

    1. ISL

      Hopefully leading to an anti-corruption purge – there were officials who certified the building, and it fits in with the Kremlin’s antagonism to oligarchs.

      On the other hand, the Grenfell tower horror shows that murderous corruption can flourish in the west (many other examples) as I expect snooty articles about inadequate Russian regulations and corruption will begin appearing soon in the western media (to draw attention away from the low quality cover story, which was hawked before the attack’s were finished).

      1. britzklieg

        Indeed. One need not deny that shoddy construction played a big role in the tragedy in order to place the blame squarely on those who lit the fire. In no way are the guys with the gas and the guns exonerated.

  8. Myer Briggs

    Rozguard barracks are less than 9 km west of Crocus City Hall, which itself is 19 km from the Kremlin. Wherever the perpetrators’ allegiances lie, Putin has to be embarrassed that nobody engaged the terrorists. Security services are more skilled in repression than quick reaction security. Note suggestive torture pics spread far and wide but the total absence of images of tactical units at the scene.

    If the itinerant Tajiks who appeared in court are even the actual gunmen, how are they supposed to be on the US’s radar for recruitment when they were not on the FSB’s? One of the only corroborated pieces of evidence was the white van with Belarusian plates. Now we have two border-crossings, Belarus and Tajikistan, from where the West has zero freedom to maneuver, stuffing massive political risk into a needlessly difficult gambit were NATO involved.

    At least one of the weapons ID’d as generic Kalashnikovs / AKMs was a more obscure smooth-bore model, Vepr .366 smooth-bore carbine (not available for export) from which one sees excess gas combusting after exiting the barrel. In Russia, a shotgun/smooth-bore gun license is much easier to obtain than rifled barrel license needed for a Kalashnikov. The Vepr and its ammo is an impractical and conspicuous choice to smuggle back into Russia.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      Oh, puhleez. Readers are required to read a post in full before commenting. You make clear you didn’t.

      And you must watch too many action movies. The FSB rolled up the entire cell, 11 perps and at least 33 others in Turkiye (the total there was 40, not sure if that included the 7 others out of the core 11) and you try to depict that as deficient? Tell me when the US or UK or anyone in Europe has gotten to the bottom of a large-scale terrorist event that quickly.

      Helmer says the perps were in action on site for all of 13 minutes.They used barely half their rounds and fled because the building burned so quickly. Russian authorities do not have psychic powers. It would take them a few minutes to hear of the attack. Do you also posit they could fly to the theater building?

      And Scott Ritter and others have pointed out that the FSB were following the four and monitoring their calls until they decided to apprehend them, well away from a busy area so as not to cause more casualties. That is how they determined they were fleeing to Ukraine. Putin’s comment that the perps were having a door opened for them into Ukraine is believe to be based on the in-transit calls.

      As for “being on the radar” again puhleeze. These clowns were recruited over Telegram. The skill in the operation was the levels above, that trained them, selected the target site, and did things like procure and plant the guns.

      Military/ex CIA types who looked at the vids said they weren’t very skilled, witness how they handled their weapons as they went through the theater. They were dumb enough to drive away, all together, in the same, apparently distinctive, car they used to get there.

    2. Arkady Bogdanov

      Sit at home, receive an activation call, drive to muster, receive or pull out your battle gear, get geared up, receive your weapon, check functionality and load mags, double check your battle buddy’s equipment, let him check yours, receive your situational briefing, develop an assault/clearing plan, establish comms protocols, mobilize to the site, assess the situation, gain entry. It’s been two decades since I’ve been involved in assault drills, so I am probably forgetting a few things.
      Tell me how long it would take you to do that. I’m an infantry veteran that still trains with a local community defense group, & I can tell you that it takes time to affect such actions. I am quite certain the people involved were pros. This wasn’t a kid performing a school shooting, where you could/should enter immediately. This was a prepared fire team providing mutual support with explosives, even if they were crudely equipped and trained, a blind rush would only waste the assault team. I’m sure I’m not the only NC reader with some military experience, so I hope some others chime in. The movies depict military personnel as robots or brutes, but I promise you that a great deal of preparation is involved even in snap counter terror operations- getting a team mustered and prepped in 60 minutes or so is a hell of an achievement in my book. I’m stunned they were able to do what looks like a nearly complete round up of these guys and their entire support group in a few hours from a standing start, when taken by surprise.

  9. HH

    The U.S. public expects its government to lie about its covert actions. There is no outrage about border incursions, sabotage raids, or assassinations because the public approves of gangster tactics in the service of “patriotism.” Like the “good Germans” in WWII, the public pretends to believe what the propaganda apparatus tells them, and will pretend to be shocked and surprised by any negative developments. The USA is a deeply immoral nation controlled by sociopaths, and this is becoming more evident to the rest of the world as access to the truth becomes increasingly available.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      I beg to differ. The effect of the propaganda is to convince Americans that we do no wrong, so our bad acts are either not reported or barely reported and quickly memory-holed. How many Americans have the foggiest idea how many regime change operations we’ve engaged in? There is a recent Tucker Carlson clip where he said that his left wing friends (clearly old-school lefties) told him the US was interfering with elections overseas, he thought they were crazy (and America-hating). He said he now realizes they were correct.

      1. JonnyJames

        I agree, but we shouldn’t have to rely on celebrity TV personalities for credible information. But I do understand that celebrities have a wide appeal and reach into public opinion. I can take the good with the bad, but I strongly disagree with Carlson on other topics. Then again, I am probably just grumpy, bitter and biased against talking heads on TV, no matter who they are.

        1. JBird4049

          American oligarchs and government propaganda about the evil russki commie and moslem terrorists has been ongoing since before the Russian Revolution.

          To be honest, if I had not raised by cynical old school American hippie leftists during the Cold War when even the mainstream media still had some slight independence, and there was regular news, books, and documentaries on the various American atrocities, I think I would be far more credulous about American goodness.

          But public broadcasting has been neutered, the mainstream media has been lobotomized, the educational system has been dumbed down, and the number of Americans who experienced the Cold War are decreasing. Then there is the massive amount of corruption, which has made so many people who should be leading efforts to reform to not do so. Is it a surprise that Americans are poorly informed about what their government has done especially when merely surviving takes more attention and energy every year? Just look at Covid or the economy. I can be and am angry about how little Americans react to what our government does, but it is lessened by all this.

      2. Rubicon

        If you listened carefully to the Carlson interview with President Putin, it became very obvious that Putin knew all about Carlson’s past. After all, Putin worked in the super secret service for years. They’re as highly trained as the US’ CIA.
        President Putin noted that Carlson wanted to join the CIA. After all, his father operated “Voice of America” a US psyop.

        Ben Norton pointed out the many episodes wherein Carlson’s racist remarks about black, brown, and people like the Chinese was a hallmark of his racist mentalities.

        That knowledge made us realize that behind Carlson’s persona, there lurks a visceral hatred of both China and anyone who is not an Anglo.

        1. Yves Smith Post author

          A small quibble: Carlson having wanted to join the CIA and having been turned down is nat a secret. Please use a search engine with at time range before the Putin interview.

  10. Aurelien

    I think there’s some confusion about IS tactics, coming in turn from a popular confusion between them and the Taliban. The Taliban made extensive use of suicide troops in attacks on high value military and government targets in major cities. They would assault a building and blow themselves up once wounded or in danger of capture. They also used suicide attacks against mass targets, inflicting casualties in large crowds or confined spaces, which is what explosive vests are good for.

    IS is quite different. Their strategic objective is the establishment of the Caliphate in all Muslim or part-Muslim lands, which means capturing and holding terrain, which in turn means live soldiers, not dead martyrs. They used suicide tactics from time to time in Syria and Iraq, such as explosive-filled bulldozers to smash through fortifications, but most of the time they fought as light infantry in pickups and Land Cruisers looted from Iraqi Army stocks. Because they want to establish the Caliphate, they start with Muslim areas first. Their targets are Shia, secular Muslims, secular Muslim regimes and non-Muslims in Muslim states. They aim to control and dominate, not necessarily to kill. They have no special concern with Israel, which is a very long way down the list, and they would regard the Palestinians as heretics and enemies because they live in a secular state. They don’t necessarily attack western interests (this was a point they split from AQ on) because they want the Caliphate now, so they only strike countries that have directly fought them, as “punishment”, or where there are targets of opportunity.

    They do not generally use suicide tactics abroad, because the idea is precisely to mount as many attacks as possible. The exceptions are mass casualty explosive attacks like that on Brussels airport in 2016, but there the tactical situation (lots of people, massive crowds confined space) was very different.The gunmen who attacked the Bataclan in Paris in 2015 (in a very similar attack) had a list of other targets to attack in the following days (If you ever get to see it, the film “November” with Jean Dujardin is about how they were hunted down.)

    A final thought: this isn’t the first time I’ve read about the amateurishness of the attack, which fits with the increasing disorganisation of IS since the fall of Mosul: most recent attacks have been with knives. If there really was Somebody Else involved (and we’ll see) you’d have thought they could have found more professional attackers than this bunch, in a region crawling with people trained to use firearms.

    1. JonnyJames

      Not sure I agree with all of that. I find it very fishy that IS appeared on the scene in Iraq with hundreds of brand new Toyota pickups in a flat desert, it seems they could have been liquidated quite easily since they were “sitting ducks” for aerial attack. IS is also a very convenient tool for blame, smokescreens for western operations. There are just far too many convenient coincidences.

      No concern with Israel? They have no problem with infidels and Crusader States? That is contradictory to their stated objectives. Why do they appear to serve Israeli interests? Too many contradictions and inconsistencies…
      Like many covert activities, we will likely never have enough hard evidence to say if IS is an asset, but as they say: “cui bono” ?
      Who benefits from IS? Israel, and the US.

      1. Aurelien

        The origins of IS have been studied in great depth for a long time: the best popular introduction, if you’re interested, is Jason Burke, “The New Threat from Islamic Militancy.” It’s slightly out of date (the revised edition was published in 2017) but is very good on the origins of IS and the split from AQ. The Toyotas were looted from Iraqi Army stocks, although many people I’ve spoken to in the region can’t accept an explanation that simple: it’s a culture where only complicated, conspiratorial, incredibly devious and completely irrational explanations ever get any credence.

        1. JonnyJames

          I guess it could be just a series of lucky coincidence and conveniences for Israeli and US interests then.

        2. JBird4049

          >>> The Toyotas were looted from Iraqi Army stocks, although many people I’ve spoken to in the region can’t accept an explanation that simple: it’s a culture where only complicated, conspiratorial, incredibly devious and completely irrational explanations ever get any credence.

          This is a good reminder to not always let the exciting or emotionally satisfying answers dictate one’s conclusions. Often the simplest answers, random chances, and just ordinary stupidity are right, but who does want to understand that our lives (and deaths) are occasionally decided by the semi-random actions of morons? It is less disconcerting to believe sinister cabals full of competent people instead of semi organized groups of incompetent individuals are doing their evil deeds.

          Dying because SMERSH’s evil goals is better than because of some random group of baddies looking for money or because of somebody’s incompetence. It makes the world less chaotic, more understandable. SMERSH vs KAOS although the modern Western kleptocractic regime does remind me of KAOS, but with nukes.

        3. The Rev Kev

          ‘The Toyotas were looted from Iraqi Army stocks’

          Anybody remember the story of the Texas plumber who was shocked to see the work truck that he sold being driven by ISIS drivers and turned into a technical? He got a lot of abusive phone calls as his name and telephone number were still on the side of that truck. The implication was that there was a pipeline in the US to buy up those trucks and send them to ISIS in the Middle East. And as somebody so astutely pointed out, ISIS only exists right now in areas controlled by the US. It’s like people saying that the situation is Gaza is complicated. It’s not and neither is the place of ISIS in the Middle East.

  11. Turtle

    “It is known that many people suffocated with carbon monoxide inside the building. There are already more victims of this kind than those killed by terrorist shooting. Nothing like this could happen in a certified building built according to modern standards for such objects. Why? Because all such buildings are equipped with an automatic ventilation system. These are windows or hatches that fire off automatically if the detector detects an increased level of carbon monoxide inside. Holes open in the roof – and the life-threatening gas goes into the sky. This system works, by the way, without electricity, on compressed air.”

    This may not be a very relevant point from the article, but it stuck out a bit to me. Can anyone confirm this quote about CO emergency systems? I thought it sounded strange and I had never heard of such systems, but I have nothing but layman knowledge of construction and building codes. I thought I had heard that CO pools down near the ground instead of rising, but apparently neither is the case. According to this study, CO evenly distributes within a confined space:

    If nothing else, this could be useful information in thinking about mitigating risk from CO suffocation.

    1. BradN

      Completely tangential to the main topic here but if people are concerned about CO in their own homes then they ought to get a Spider Plant or two as it is one of only two plants capable of breathing in CO and exhaling O. (I cannot remember the other one.) They are remarkably effective at the task and easy to maintain. I apologise if this sounds like some quack home remedy.

  12. Telee

    Interestingly, the Taliban in Afghanistan has condemned the terrorist attack by ISIS in Moscow and called it a clear violation of all human values. Their ministry said ISIS targets civilian in Afghanistan and around the world and says it is in the hands of intelligence agencies (CIA and MI6) whose aim is to discredit Islam and threaten the entire region. They say they have been fighting ISIS for years. This jives with a report from Mark Sleboda has said that ISISK is a CIA created organization. They have a sorbid history of working for US interests in Afghanistan.
    While I can’t verify these views as of yet it does suggest that there is more to this saga.

    1. CA

      “Taliban in Afghanistan has condemned the terrorist attack by ISIS in Moscow and called it a clear violation of all human values…”

      This has been the case from the beginning. The present government of Afghanistan has had working relations with Russia from the beginning.

  13. ChrisPacific

    Good, detailed article with lots of sourcing overlooked by Western media. Reminds me why I still read Helmer even though he can be confusing and speculative at times. There’s speculation in this one too, but it’s clearly labelled as such.

    I think the idea that Western buildings are built to higher fire safety standards is a bit of grass-is-greener syndrome on the part of the Russians. Look at Grenfell Tower, for example. If there had been a fire in a civic building in the US or UK and the same criticism had been leveled, I would not have had even a little difficulty believing it. Probably there are EU countries that do better, though.

  14. gwb

    Seymour Hersh posted a piece titled “Duty to Warn” on his Substack today – saying that U.S. intelligence is obligated to provide information about imminent terrorist attacks even to adversary nations, e.g. Russia, and that Putin ignored the warnings. Seems both sides are still far apart on who ordered the attack, but it’s still too early to know.

    1. SocalJimObjects

      “US Intelligence is obligated to provide information about imminent terrorist attacks even to adversary nations”. Seymour Hersh must be living hard nowadays to be saying a thing like that. Just a year ago he wrote the article “How America took out the Nord Stream pipeline”, and yet here he is writing an article espousing the nobleness of the American Intelligence Service.

      1. britzklieg

        Someone got to Hersh and after the nordstream expose he’s been a complete horse’s ass. He currently sides with Israel’s genocide.

        Then again he’s always been a horse’s ass regarding JFK.

      2. gwb

        I hear you – the propaganda war is going full tilt. It’s getting harder and harder to determine what’s really going on.

  15. Dave

    It looks like Operation Gladikov

    Uncle Sam and his MI6 buddy boys funded a terror campaign in Western Europe

    With friends like Reinhard Gehlen of the BND, Yves Guérin-Sérac, Stefano Delle Chiaie.

    According to the fount of all wisdom


    Operation Gladio was the codename for clandestine “stay-behind” operations of armed resistance that were organized by the Western Union (WU) (founded in 1948), and subsequently by NATO (formed in 1949) and by the CIA (established in 1947),
    in collaboration with several European intelligence agencies during the Cold War.

    Gladio specifically refers to the Italian branch of the NATO stay-behind organizations, Operation Gladio is used as an informal name for all of them. Stay-behind operations were prepared in many NATO member countries, and in some neutral countries.

    They conducted several terror operations, e.g. in Bologna in 1980:

    The Bologna Massacre, the ‘Strategy of Tension’ and Operation Gladio

    There is a book in the public domain that covers some of the terror operations in Western Europe

    NATO’s Secret Armies: Operation GLADIO and Terrorism in Western Europe, Daniele Ganser (2004)

    Uncle Sam and MI6 were busy in Eastern Europe too with amongst other things

    Project Aerodynamic

    The tragic events in Russia are probably connected to the latest iteration of the NATO goon show with contributions from shallow state clowns like Victoria Nuland.

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