Moscow attack: refuting the unfounded allegations

Despite Ukraine’s denials and the Islamic State (IS) group’s claims of culpability, Russia has consistently held Ukraine accountable for the deadly concert hall attack in Moscow last week. BBC Verify looks at how the effort to blame Kyiv developed using statements from Russian officials, news articles, and social media posts. As soon as the first information about the attack on Crocus City Hall appeared on social media at 17:15 GMT on Friday, accusations were made. Within a little over an hour, a number of pro-Kremlin bloggers blamed Ukraine in posts made on the messaging app Telegram. For instance, pro-Russian commentator Sergey Markov stated at 18:25 GMT that the attackers appeared to be “Islamist radicals,” but he continued without providing any supporting information, stating that the incident was “probably organized from Kyiv.” About forty minutes later (1903 GMT), military expert Roman Shkurlatov was mentioned by the national newspaper Moskovsky Komsomolets as speculating that the strike might have been planned with assistance from military intelligence and Ukraine’s Security Service.

Furthermore, Dmitry Medvedev, the former president of Russia, warned retaliation if Ukraine was implicated at 1927 GMT. A few hours later, at 2213 GMT, a video clip purportedly showed a senior Ukrainian official confirming his nation’s involvement on NTV, one of Russia’s major TV networks. Oleksiy Danilov can be heard saying in the video: “I think it’s a lot of fun, but it’s fun in Moscow today.” I hope we can plan something enjoyable for them on a regular basis.” However, BBC Verify has determined that the video is, in fact, an edited version of two interviews that were shown on Ukrainian TV last week. You may find both on YouTube. The first is a 19 March interview with Danilov. Kyrylo Budanov, the head of military intelligence for Ukraine, is featured in the other one, which was released three days earlier. The original interview does not contain the quote from Danilov that is shown in the NTV broadcast.

The Advanced Forensic Technology Research Group at Liverpool John Moores University conducted audio analysis for BBC Verify, which indicates the NTV video’s audio was edited. An edit has been made to the sound when there is a gap in the audio frequency data. The researchers are unable to confirm that the voice was produced by AI, though.
Additionally, material that suggests the audio file has been edited has been discovered by BBC Verify embedded within it. In his speech on Saturday, Vladimir Putin issued an official charge. The attackers were apprehended while attempting to escape to Ukraine, where “a window for crossing the border was prepared for them,” according to the president of Russia. But Russia hasn’t shown that there was a “window” that allowed the attackers to enter. We have independently confirmed many videos and images showing the suspects being taken into custody, even though BBC Verify is unable to independently establish where they were going.

Furthermore, the arrests happened well away from the Ukrainian border, in contradiction of Putin’s assertion. We can determine that two of the detained individuals were filmed approximately 90 miles (145 km) from the Ukrainian border by comparing backdrop characteristics in their surroundings. The Islamic State (IS) organization has claimed credit through its fictitious Amaq news agency, despite Ukraine’s denial of any involvement. Visual evidence that has been distributed by IS consists of an extremely gory video shot from one of the attacker’s points of view and a picture of four attackers with their faces obscured. Numerous elements, such as the music hall’s features and the assailants’ usage of guns, line up with films that went viral at the time of the incident. But Russia still accuses Ukraine in spite of the proof. The assailants were not from IS, according to Margarita Simonyan, editor in chief of the Russian TV network RT (formerly known as Russia Today), who stated on X that they “had no intention to die” and were not wearing suicide vests. However, despite IS’s constant warnings to attackers not to get captured alive, the gang has managed to flee before.

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