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Russia mourns Moscow concert hall attack victims as death toll rises to 137

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Russia has lowered flags to half-mast for a day of mourning after scores of people were gunned down with automatic weapons at a rock concert outside Moscow in the deadliest attack inside Russia for two decades.

President Vladimir Putin declared a national day of mourning for Sunday after pledging to track down and punish all those behind the attack, in which at least 137 people were killed, including three children, and more than 150 injured.

“I express my deep, sincere condolences to all those who lost their loved ones,” Putin said in an address to the nation on Saturday, his first public comments on the attack. “The whole country and our entire people are grieving with you.”

The ISIL (ISIS) armed group claimed responsibility for Friday’s attack, but Putin has not publicly mentioned the group in connection with the attackers, whom he said had been trying to escape to Ukraine. He asserted that some on “the Ukrainian side” had prepared to spirit them across the border.

Ukraine has repeatedly denied any role in the attack, which Putin also blamed on “international terrorism”.

People on Sunday laid flowers at Crocus City Hall, the 6,200-seat concert hall outside Moscow where four armed men burst in on Friday 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.

People lay flowers at a makeshift memorial to the victims of a shooting attack set up outside the Crocus City Hall concert venue in the Moscow Region, Russia, March 24, 2024. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov
People lay flowers at a makeshift memorial outside the Crocus City Hall concert venue near Moscow [Maxim Shemetov/Reuters]

It was the deadliest attack on Russian territory since the 2004 Beslan school siege, when attackers linked to a Muslim group took more than 1,000 people, including hundreds of children, hostage.

Governor of the Moscow region Andrei Vorobyov said on Sunday that the rescue operation was completed and the search operation is still ongoing.

“Identification by relatives is ahead. In hospitals, doctors are fighting for the lives of 107 people,” he said.

Al Jazeera’s Yulia Shapovalova, reporting from outside the concert hall, said people have been bringing flowers, candles, stuffed animals and posters for a makeshift memorial outside the hall.

“We can see flags raised to half-staff on the Russian house of parliament and other buildings. People are shocked, they’re grieving … there are numerous memorials throughout Russia,” she said.

“The clearance of the rubble continues with rescue dogs looking for people under the rubble … the death toll could rise.”

Long lines formed in Moscow to donate blood. Blood banks said on Sunday that they now had enough blood supplies for four to six months.

Countries worldwide have expressed horror at the attack and sent their condolences to the Russian people.

Following a Palm Sunday mass at St Peter’s Square in Vatican City, Pope Francis sent prayers to victims of the attack.

“I assure my prayers for the victims of the cowardly terrorist attack carried out the other evening in Moscow,” the 87-year-old pope said.

Headed for Ukraine

Putin said 11 people had been detained, including the four gunmen, who fled the concert hall and made their way to the Bryansk region, about 340km (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.

Meduza, a Russian publication based in Latvia, confirmed the claims by Russian state officials that the suspects were headed for Ukraine, by geolocating the filming location of the reported arrest of one of the suspects.

According to footage provided by the FSB, officials arrested a 30-year-old near the town of Khatsun in Russia’s Bryansk region, located 14km (8.6 miles) from the Ukrainian border, Meduza reported on Saturday.

The suspects have been brought to Moscow and may appear in court later in the day, according to local news agencies.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said it was typical of Putin and “other thugs” to seek to divert blame.

ISIL, which once sought control over swaths of Iraq and Syria, claimed responsibility for the attack, the group’s Amaq News Agency said on Telegram.

On Saturday night, ISIL released on its Telegram channels what it said was footage of the attack.

In footage published by Russian media and Telegram channels with close ties to the Kremlin, one of the suspects said he was offered money to carry out the attack.

“I shot people,” the suspect, his hands tied and his hair held by an interrogator, a black boot beneath his chin, said in poor and highly accented Russian.

When asked why, he said: “For money.” The man said he had been promised half a million roubles ($5,400).

One was shown answering questions through a Tajik translator.

ISIL behind attack?

The White House said the United States government shared information with Russia early this month about a planned attack in Moscow and issued a public advisory to Americans in Russia on March 7. It said ISIL bore sole responsibility for the attack.

“There was no Ukrainian involvement whatsoever,” US National Security Council spokeswoman Adrienne Watson said.

Russia’s Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said on Sunday that any statement made by US authorities to vindicate Kyiv until the end of the probe into the attack should be considered as evidence.

Russian Ambassador to the US Anatoly Antonov told the TASS news agency on Saturday that the US did not pass any specific information through the Russian embassy in Washington about preparations for the attack.

“Nothing was passed,” the ambassador said. “No concrete information, nothing was transferred to us.”

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NPR editor resigns after accusing US outlet of liberal bias

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Uri Berliner quits broadcaster days after being suspended over essay accusing network of lacking viewpoint diversity.

A senior editor at a public broadcaster in the United States who accused his employer of liberal bias, igniting heated debate about standards in journalism, has resigned.

Uri Berliner, an editor with National Public Radio (NPR), announced his resignation on Wednesday just over a week after he published an essay accusing the outlet of being fixated on race and identity and lacking “viewpoint diversity”.

“I am resigning from NPR, a great American institution where I have worked for 25 years. I don’t support calls to defund NPR. I respect the integrity of my colleagues and wish for NPR to thrive and do important journalism,” Berliner said in a resignation letter posted on X.

“But I cannot work in a newsroom where I am disparaged by a new CEO whose divisive views confirm the very problems at NPR I cite in my Free Press essay.”

My resignation letter to NPR CEO @krmaher pic.twitter.com/0hafVbcZAK

— Uri Berliner (@uberliner) April 17, 2024

NPR did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Berliner’s resignation came after NPR on Friday slapped the editor with a five-day suspension without pay in response to his essay calling out the network.

In the essay published in The Free Press, Berliner argued that the outlet had lost the public’s trust by putting a progressive slant on coverage of major news stories, including the COVID-19 pandemic and claims that Donald Trump colluded with Russia.

“There’s an unspoken consensus about the stories we should pursue and how they should be framed,” Berliner wrote.

“It’s frictionless – one story after another about instances of supposed racism, transphobia, signs of the climate apocalypse, Israel doing something bad and the dire threat of Republican policies. It’s almost like an assembly line.”

Berlinera also cited voter registration data that he said showed there were 87 Democrats and no Republicans on staff at the outlet’s Washington, DC, headquarters.

Berliner’s essay promoted public pushback from NPR employees, including recently-appointed CEO Katherine Maher, whose own views came under scrutiny after conservatives surfaced old tweets expressing progressive views.

“Asking a question about whether we’re living up to our mission should always be fair game: after all, journalism is nothing if not hard questions,” Maher said in a memo to staff that was also published online.

“Questioning whether our people are serving our mission with integrity, based on little more than the recognition of their identity, is profoundly disrespectful, hurtful, and demeaning.”

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Al Jazeera and news agencies

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More than 11,000 evacuated in northern Indonesia as Ruang volcano erupts

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Authorities further extend exclusion zone after volcano sends ash and smoke more than two kilometres into the sky.

More than 11,000 people have been told to evacuate from around the Ruang volcano in northern Indonesia amid fears it could collapse causing a tsunami, after erupting multiple times.

Mount Ruang, located in in North Sulawesi Province, first erupted at 9:45pm (13:45 GMT) on Tuesday sending billowing clouds of smoke and ash high into the sky.

After four more eruptions on Wednesday, Indonesia’s volcanology agency raised the alert level for the 725-metre (2,379-foot) high mountain to four, the highest on the scale.

They also widened the exclusion zone around the crater from four kilometres (2.5 miles) to six kilometres (3.7 miles).

More than 800 people were evacuated initially from Ruang to nearby Tagulandang Island, which is located more than 100 kilometres (62 miles) north of the provincial capital, Manado.

But officials said on Thursday morning that more people would need to be evacuated as a result of the widening exclusion zone, and would be taken to Manado.

“At least 11,615 residents who are in the risk area must evacuate to a safe place,” Abdul Muhari, the head of the disaster agency’s disaster data, communications and information centre was quoted as saying by the Kompas newspaper.

Officials also worry that part of the volcano could collapse into the sea and cause a tsunami as it did during a previous eruption in 1871.

Video footage showed flows of red lava streaming down the mountain, reflected in the waters below, and billowing clouds of grey ash above Ruang’s crater.

Muhammad Wafid, the head of Indonesia’s geological agency, earlier said Ruang’s initial eruption sent an ash column two kilometres (1.2 miles) into the sky, with the second eruption pushing it to 2.5 kilometres (1.6 miles).

The volcanology agency said volcanic activity had increased at Ruang after two earthquakes in recent weeks.

Indonesia, which sits along the ‘Ring of Fire’, a horseshoe-shaped series of tectonic fault lines around the Pacific Ocean, has 120 active volcanoes.

In 2018, the eruption of Indonesia’s Anak Krakatoa volcano triggered a tsunami along the coasts of Sumatra and Java after parts of the mountain fell into the ocean. Hundreds of people were killed.

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Al Jazeera and news agencies

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Russia-Ukraine war: List of key events, day 784

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As the war enters its 784th day, these are the main developments.

Rescue workers at the site of a collapsed building in Chernihiv. There is an excavator at the front on top of the rubble. The buildings, which are several stories high. are behind.

Rescue workers at the site of Wednesday’s missile attack on Chernihiv [Genya Savilov/AFP]

Here is the situation on Thursday, April 18, 2024.

Fighting

  • At least 17 people were killed in the Ukrainian city of Chernihiv after it was struck by three Russian missiles. Emergency services said 60 people, including three children, were injured. About 250,000 people live in Chernihiv, which is about 150km (90 miles) north of the capital, Kyiv.
  • One woman was injured by falling debris after Russian forces brought down a done over the Voronezh region. Governor Vyacheslav Gladkov said air defence also destroyed 14 airborne targets over the southern Belgorod region. No injuries were reported.
  • The BBC reported the number of Russian soldiers killed in the war in Ukraine had topped 50,000. The data was compiled by BBC Russian, independent media group Mediazona and volunteers.
  • Colonel Serhii Pakhomov, acting head of the Ukrainian military’s atomic, biological and chemical defence forces, told the Reuters news agency that Kyiv had recorded about 900 uses of riot control agents on the front line by Russia in the past six months. The gases, banned for use on the battlefield by the international Chemical Weapons Convention, are being used to try and clear trenches, Pakhomov said. Some 500 troops had required medical help after exposure to toxic substances on the battlefield and at least one soldier died after suffocating on tear gas, he added.
  • Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said the Ukrainian military attacked a large Russian airfield at Dzhankoi in the north of occupied Crimea. A series of explosions were reported at the base. There were no reports of damage.

Politics and diplomacy

  • US House Speaker Mike Johnson said the House would hold a long-delayed vote on a $60bn aid package for Ukraine on Saturday. The bill, passed by the Senate in February, has been held up amid objections from far-right members of Johnson’s Republican party.
  • Writing in the Wall Street Journal, US President Joe Biden urged Congress to approve the package saying the conflict was at a “pivotal moment”.
  • China said that “a lot of work” would need to be done before a planned peace conference on the Ukraine war could take place in Switzerland. It did not say whether it would attend the meeting, which is expected to take place in June.
  • Russia’s FSB security service arrested four people, accusing them of sending money to Ukrainian armed forces and planning to join the country’s military.
  • France appointed investigating magistrates to run a war crimes investigation into the death of Fox News cameraman Pierre Zakrzewski, a dual French-Irish national, who was killed covering the war in Ukraine in March 2022. Producer Oleksandra Kuvshynova was also killed when the news team’s vehicle came under fire in Horenka near Kyiv. Correspondent Benjamin Hall was badly injured.
  • Cybersecurity firm Mandiant warned a cyber group known as Sandworm, with links to Russian military intelligence, is emerging as a significant global threat after playing an increasingly critical role in the ongoing conflict in Ukraine. Sandworm “is actively engaged in the full spectrum of espionage, attack, and influence operations”, Mandiant said.

Weapons

  • President Zelenskyy, addressing the European Council by videolink hours after the Chernihiv attack, pleaded for more defence systems. Zelenskyy said Ukraine should enjoy the same cover from aerial attacks as Israel, which was able to intercept a barrage of drones and missiles fired by Iran last weekend. “Our Ukrainian sky, the sky of our neighbours deserves the same level of defence,” he said. “All lives are equally valuable.”
  • German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and other senior German officials pressed fellow European Union members to take action as soon as possible to boost Ukraine’s air defences. On Saturday, Germany announced it was sending an additional Patriot air defence system to Ukraine.
  • NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg said the NATO-Ukraine Council will meet on Friday to discuss ways on how to provide more air defence systems for Kyiv.
  • A crowdfunding initiative launched by a Slovak group on Monday has so far raised 750,000 euros ($798,000) from members of the public. The group, Peace for Ukraine, hopes to raise one million euros ($1.07 million) for the Czech Republic’s initiative to buy ammunition for Ukraine. Slovakia’s government has refused to send military aid to Kyiv.


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