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Death toll in Moscow concert hall attack reaches 133

MOSCOW (AP) — The death toll in the attack on a Moscow concert hall has risen to 133, Russia’s top state investigative agency said Saturday.

The investigative committee’s update comes as authorities search the charred rubble of Crocus City Hall on Moscow’s western edge for more victims. Officials had previously estimated the death toll from Friday’s raid at 115.

The attack also left many injured.

The Afghanistan affiliate of the Islamic State terror group claimed responsibility for the attack in a statement posted on affiliated social media channels. A U.S. intelligence official told the Associated Press that U.S. authorities had confirmed the group was responsible for the attack.

In an address to the nation on Saturday, the Russian president said authorities had arrested 11 people, including four who were involved in the attack. He also suggested they tried to cross the border into Ukraine, which he said was an attempt to create a “window” to help them escape.

Ukraine has strongly denied any involvement and accused Moscow of using the attack to stoke the fervor of its war effort.

In an address to the nation, Putin called it “a bloody, barbaric terrorist attack” and said all four directly involved had been taken into custody. He suggested they tried to cross the border into Ukraine, which he said was an attempt to create a “window” to help them escape.

Putin said on Saturday that additional security measures had been imposed across the country and declared March 24 a day of national mourning.

The Afghanistan affiliate of the Islamic State terror group claimed responsibility for Friday’s attack in a statement posted on affiliated social media channels. A U.S. intelligence official told the Associated Press that U.S. authorities had confirmed the group was responsible for the attack.

The attack, which was the deadliest in Russia in years, came just days after Putin tightened his grip in power in a highly orchestrated electoral landslide and as that of the country War in Ukraine moved to a third year.

Some Russian lawmakers pointed the finger at Ukraine in the immediate aftermath of the attack. But Mykhailo Podolyak, an adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, denied any involvement.

“Ukraine has never resorted to terrorist methods,” he posted on X, formerly Twitter. “Everything in this war is decided only on the battlefield.”

The Ukrainian Foreign Ministry also denied any involvement by the country and accused Moscow of using the attack to stoke fervor for its war effort.

“We consider such accusations to be a planned provocation by the Kremlin to further inflame anti-Ukrainian hysteria in Russian society, create conditions for increased mobilization of Russian citizens to participate in criminal aggression against our country and Ukraine in the eyes of the international public “To discredit the community,” a ministry said in a statement.

Images shared by Russian state media on Saturday showed a fleet of emergency vehicles still gathered outside the ruins of Crocus town hall, which had a maximum capacity of more than 6,000 people.

Videos posted online showed gunmen shooting civilians at close range at the venue. Russian news reports quoted authorities and witnesses as saying the attackers threw explosive devices that started the fire. The roof of the theater where crowds had gathered for a performance by Russian rock band Picnic collapsed early Saturday as firefighters battled the blaze for hours.

In a statement published by the Aamaq news agency, ISIS’s Afghanistan branch said it had attacked a large gathering of “Christians” in Krasnogorsk. It was not immediately possible to verify the authenticity of the claim.

A U.S. intelligence official told the AP that American intelligence agencies had been gathering information in recent weeks that the IS affiliate was planning an attack in Moscow, and that U.S. officials had privately shared the information with Russian officials earlier this month.

The official was briefed on the matter but was not authorized to discuss the intelligence publicly and spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity.

Messages of outrage, shock and support for the victims and their families poured in from around the world.

On Friday, the UN Security Council condemned “the despicable and cowardly terrorist attack” and stressed the need to hold the perpetrators accountable. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres also condemned the terrorist attack “in the strongest possible terms,” his spokesman said.

Meanwhile, hundreds of people lined up to donate blood and plasma in Moscow on Saturday, the Russian Health Ministry said.

Putin, who extended his influence over Russia for another six years in this week’s presidential election after a sweeping crackdown on dissent, had publicly denounced Western warnings of a possible terrorist attack as an attempt to intimidate Russians. “This all resembles outright blackmail and an attempt to intimidate and destabilize our society,” he said earlier this week.

A bomb in October 2015 planted by IS A Russian passenger plane crashed over Sinai, killing all 224 people on board, most of them Russian vacationers returning from Egypt. The group, which operates primarily in Syria and Iraq but also in Afghanistan and Africa, has also claimed several attacks in the volatile Russian Caucasus and other regions in recent years. It recruited fighters from Russia and other parts of the former Soviet Union.

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Associated Press writer Michael Balsamo in Washington contributed to this report.

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