Moscow attack: How gunfire, panic and a huge blaze turned packed concert into massacre

As crowds gathered at Moscow’s Crocus City Hall to watch rock band Picnic, gunmen calmly entered and began shooting – starting an attack with a death toll that left at least 133 dead

Joe Middleton
Sunday 24 March 2024 08:49 GMT
Police respond to reports of mass shooting at Moscow concert hall

On a Friday night in a northwestern suburb of Moscow, hundreds of music lovers were waiting in anticipation for a performance from progressive rock band Picnic.

As the clamour and noise grew louder for the artists to take to the stage at Crocus City Hall, a sprawling shopping mall and music venue, a devastating act of violence was carried out that left more than 130 people dead and dozens more injured. It is the deadliest attack in Russia since the 2004 Beslan school siege, when terrorists killed 334 people.

At around 7.40pm a white Renault car pulled up outside the 6,200-capacity concert hall. Men dressed in military fatigues exited the vehicle, burst into the foyer and started shooting. Harrowing videos posted on Russian social media showed the attackers calmly walking through the venue and shooting concert-goers at point-blank range as they attempted to flee or tried to find a place to hide.

Men dressed in military fatigues calmly walked through the Crocus City Hall venue, opening fire (via REUTERS)
Gunmen moving towards the doors of the hall in Krasnogorsk, just 12 miles west of the Kremlin (UGC/AFP via Getty Images)

Bodies could been seen motionless on the floor after apparently being shot by the roaming terrorists. A security guard working at the venue described the moment they entered the building.

“There were three other security guards and they hid behind an advertising board,” he told Russian Telegram channel Baza. “And those attackers passed 10 metres [30ft] away from us – they started shooting randomly at people on the ground floor.”

After hearing the crackle of gunfire, concert-goers sprinted towards the exits and pandemonium broke out as people tried to escape the terrorists. Some people smashed through reinforced windows and locked exits with their hands as shots echoed around the 14-year-old hall just 12 miles west of the Kremlin.

After shooting people at the entrance, the men made their way into the hall itself just as hundreds of people were taking their seats for the concert which had been sold out.

“Some thought it was a kind of special effect of some sort,” one witness, Anastasia Rodionova, said. “Then I saw with my own eyes how people were dropping and the automatic gunfire began.”

The huge blaze after an explosion on Friday night (AP)
Firefighters spent hours tackling the flames (AP)

“Your instinct for self-preservation kicks in, your eyes widen, [and you think] ‘Where can I run?’ Then someone shouted to us: ‘Get up – don’t lie down or they will shoot us all right now’.”

Ms Rodionova said some men were able to smash down a door to the street and escape. An announcement through loudspeakers began to tell them the concert was being cancelled for “technical reasons” and that people were requested to leave the hall.

“The shots came from behind us,” another witness, called Natalya, who was just about to enter the stalls area, told Reuters. “It was loud, like a firecracker blast, fireworks, but like an automatic burst,” she said. “I could hear it right behind me, not far away.”

Natalya, who then ran for her life, added: “Everyone was screaming; everyone was running.” She ran to the nearby metro station through the cold Moscow night without her coat and escaped. “I experienced terrible emotions,” she said. “It is simply a nightmare.”

The fire destroyed the inside of the venue (RUSSIAN EMERGENCY MINISTRY/AFP v)
Dozens of bodies have been found by emergency workers (Russian Emergency Ministry/AFP)

At some point, one of the armed gunmen set off an incendiary device and explosions could be heard in video footage as the roof of the venue collapsed. Flames engulfed the building as thick black smoke billowed into the sky.

Hundreds of firefighters battled for hours to contain the blaze which gutted the entire hall. All that was left were the charred iron support beams and the steel frames of hundreds of seats.

The Baza Telegram channel, which is known for its close contacts with Russian special services, said 14 bodies were found on evacuation staircases, and 28 bodies had been found in one of the toilets. The bodies of whole families were found, with dead mothers embracing their dead children. Russian authorities said they managed to evacuate 100 people who were hiding in the basement.

A Russian Rosguardia (national guard) serviceman secures an area as a massive blaze seen over Crocus City Hall (AP)
A Kalashnikov assault rifle lies on the ground as Investigators from the Investigative Committee of Russia work the scene (AP)

At least 143 people, including three children, have now died following the attack, with more than a hundred injured, as Russians mourn the terrorist attack in their nation’s capital.

Militant Islamist group Islamic State claimed responsibility for Friday’s attack, but the FSB, Russia’s security services, appears to be trying to pursue a Ukrainian link. The FSB said “all four terrorists” had been arrested while heading to the Ukrainian border, and that they had contacts in Ukraine. It said they were being transferred to Moscow.

Russian lawmaker Alexander Khinshtein said the attackers had fled in a Renault vehicle that was spotted by police in the Bryansk region, about 200 miles southwest of Moscow, on Friday night. He said they disobeyed instructions to stop.

A woman mourns at a makeshift memorial in front of Crocus City Hall (AFP via Getty Images)

He said two were arrested after a car chase and two others fled into a forest. From the Kremlin account, it appeared they too were later detained.

Mr Khinshtein said a pistol, a magazine for an assault rifle, and passports from Tajikistan were found in the car. Tajikistan is a mainly Muslim central Asian state that used to be part of the Soviet Union.

The attack came just days after Vladimir Putin cemented his grip on power in a highly orchestrated electoral landslide. In a statement issued on Saturday, the Russian president said whoever ordered the attack would be punished and that additional security measures were being imposed across Russia.

Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak has denied Kyiv had any role in the attack. He said: “Let’s be straight about this: Ukraine had absolutely nothing to do with these events.

“We have a full-scale, all-out war with the Russian regular army and with the Russian Federation as a country. And regardless of everything, everything will be decided on the battlefield.”

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