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US embassy in Russia warned Americans about imminent attack by ‘extremists’ weeks ago

The US embassy had warned Americans that “extremists” had imminent plans for an attack in Moscow weeks ahead of the deadly strike on concertgoers by Islamic State militants on Friday that resulted in the deaths of 93 people.

In the deadliest attack in Russia since the 2004 Beslan school siege, gunmen sprayed civilians with bullets just before Soviet-era rock group “Picnic” was to perform to a full house at the 6,200-seat the Crocus City Hall just west of the capital.

The US embassy on 7 March repeatedly urged all American citizens to leave Russia immediately, giving no further details about the nature of the threat, but said people should avoid concerts and crowds and be aware of their surroundings.

“The Embassy is monitoring reports that extremists have imminent plans to target large gatherings in Moscow, to include concerts, and US citizens should be advised to avoid large gatherings over the next 48 hours,” the embassy said on its website at that time.

A Russian Rosguardia (National Guard) servicemen secures an area as a massive blaze seen over the Crocus City Hall on the western edge of Moscow, Russia, Friday, 22 March 2024 (AP)
A Russian Rosguardia (National Guard) servicemen secures an area as a massive blaze seen over the Crocus City Hall on the western edge of Moscow, Russia, Friday, 22 March 2024 (AP)

It issued its warning several hours after Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB), the main successor to the Soviet-era KGB, said it had foiled an attack on a synagogue in Moscow by a cell of the militant Sunni Muslim group Islamic State.

Camouflage-clad gunmen on Friday opened fire with automatic weapons at concertgoers, killing 93 people and injuring 145.

Verified videos showed people taking their seats in the hall, then rushing for the exits as repeated gunfire echoed above screams. Other videos showed men shooting at groups of people. Some victims lay motionless in pools of blood.

"Suddenly there were bangs behind us – shots. A burst of firing – I do not know what," one witness, who asked not to be identified by name, told Reuters.

"A stampede began. Everyone ran to the escalator," the witness said. "Everyone was screaming; everyone was running."

A view shows the burning Crocus City Hall concert hall following the shooting incident in Krasnogorsk, outside Moscow, on 22 March 2024. (AFP via Getty Images)
A view shows the burning Crocus City Hall concert hall following the shooting incident in Krasnogorsk, outside Moscow, on 22 March 2024. (AFP via Getty Images)

Russia arrested 11 people including four suspected gunmen in connection with the shooting rampage, the Kremlin said on Saturday.

It said FSB security service chief Alexander Bortnikov had reported to president Vladimir Putin that those detained included “four terrorists” and that the service was working to identify their accomplices.

In the 2004 Beslan school siege, Islamist militants took more than 1,000 people, including hundreds of children, hostage.

Russian president Vladimir Putin was being updated by security chiefs about the situation, including from Alexander Bortnikov, the head of FSB, the Kremlin said.

Russian investigators published pictures of a Kalashnikov automatic weapon, vests with multiple spare magazines, and bags of spent bullet casings.

A Russian law enforcement officer walks at a parking area near the burning Crocus City Hall concert venue following a shooting incident, outside Moscow, Russia, 22 March 2024 (REUTERS)
A Russian law enforcement officer walks at a parking area near the burning Crocus City Hall concert venue following a shooting incident, outside Moscow, Russia, 22 March 2024 (REUTERS)

The US has the highest level of warning for Russia – red “4 – Do not travel” – the same level as Afghanistan, Syria, Yemen and South Sudan and Iran.

The US embassy on Friday said in a statement following the attack: “The US Embassy in Moscow is horrified by reports coming from the terrorist attack at the Crocus City Hall in Moscow. We offer our sincere condolences to the Russian people for the lives lost and to those injured in tonight’s attack.

“As events continue to unfold, we urge US citizens in Moscow to avoid the area, follow instructions of local security personnel, and monitor local media for updates.”