Lukashenko cast doubt on Putin’s claim that Ukraine was involved in Moscow attack

(CNN) — Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko appears to have cast doubt on Russia’s claims that Ukraine was involved in last week’s brutal attack on a Moscow concert hall.

ISIS claimed responsibility for the massacre, which killed at least 139 people, and released explicit photographs of the incident, but Russian President Vladimir Putin repeatedly suggested without evidence that Ukraine had helped carry it out.

Putin claimed on Saturday that a “window” had been created for the attackers to escape to Ukraine, which Kiev denied.

But Lukashenko, one of Putin’s most loyal allies, on Tuesday refuted the Kremlin’s claims, saying the attackers initially intended to enter Belarus rather than Ukraine.

“They could not enter Belarus. “Those responsible… knew that trying to enter Belarus would be a very bad idea, as Belarus immediately strengthened security measures,” Lukashenko said, according to Belarusian news agency Belta.

Lukashenko said he received reports from Russian authorities just minutes after the attack began and that he placed Belarusian units on combat alert, setting up checkpoints on roads to prevent the attackers from entering the country.

“So there was no possibility that they could enter Belarus. they realized. “So they turned around and headed toward the Ukrainian-Russian border,” he said.

The attackers stormed the Crocus City Hall in a Moscow suburb on Friday, shooting civilians at close range before setting the building on fire, causing the roof to collapse while concertgoers were still inside.

The four suspects, who are from the Central Asian republic of Tajikistan but worked in Russia on temporary or expired visas, were detained Friday night in the Russian region of Bryansk, near the border with Ukraine and Belarus.

In his first national address since the attack, Putin alleged on Saturday that the people “tried to hide and move towards Ukraine, where, according to preliminary data, a window is open for them on the Ukrainian side to cross the border.” Was done.”

Putin acknowledged on Monday that the attack was carried out by “radical Islamists”, but still attempted to put ultimate responsibility on Ukraine.

In this Kremlin photo, Russian President Vladimir Putin lights a candle in memory of the victims of the Crocus City Hall attack at his Novo-Ogaryovo residence in the Moscow region on March 24. (Credit: Kremlin)

Other Kremlin officials expanded on his claims. The head of Russia’s Federal Security Services (FSB) Alexander Bortnikov on Tuesday alleged that Ukraine was involved in “training terrorists in the Middle East”.

Ukraine vehemently denied any involvement in the attack and described the Kremlin’s claims as “absurd”. Others have speculated as to why the attackers would attempt to escape across a heavily militarized part of the border with a large presence of Russian troops.

And Lukashenko, by seeking to promote Belarus’s status as a reliable ally of Russia, may have inadvertently undermined Putin’s charges even further.

Belta reported that Lukashenko “agreed to seal off his section of the road, which could be used by criminals” after he received information from Russian officials, including Bortnikov, that attackers were “advancing in the direction of Bryansk.”

Lukashenko indicated that he and Putin exchanged phone calls and said that he had accepted Putin’s request to help seal Belarus’ roads. Lukashenko responded, “Absolutely. We will do everything possible.”

He said he shared the information because he knew Putin had been criticized for his response to the tragedy. Putin was criticized for not addressing the nation until more than 19 hours after the attack began.

Instead, according to Lukashenko, he and Putin “did not sleep for 24 hours” as they worked to deal with the threat.

Dalerdzhan Mirzoyev, a suspect in the attack, appeared in Moscow’s Basmanny District Court on Sunday. Shamil Zumatov/Reuters

Russian officials said a total of 11 people had been arrested in connection with the concert hall attack. Four appeared in a Moscow court on Sunday and three on Monday. It is unknown whether the remaining four remain in custody or have appeared before a judge.

When the Tajik suspects were taken to a Moscow court on Sunday, three of them were hunched over, while a fourth was in a wheelchair and appeared unconscious. He was charged with terrorism and faces a maximum sentence of life in prison.

When they were brought into the courtroom, they appeared battered and injured. Videos widely circulated on Russian social media showed some of them being violently interrogated, including the use of electric shock. In another video, a part of a suspect’s ear was cut off and stuffed into his mouth.

(tag to translate)Alexander Lukashenko

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