Belarus' leader undermined the Kremlin's dubious claims that Ukraine backed ISIS attackers

Russian Rosguardia national guard servicemen secure an area near the Crocus City Hall on the western edge of Moscow on March 22, 2024.
Russian servicemen secure an area near Crocus City Hall on the western edge of Moscow on Friday.AP Photo/Vitaly Smolnikov
  • Belarus' leader claims his and Russia's security stopped shooting suspects from entering Belarus.

  • Lukashenko said the suspects "took a turn" from attempting to enter Belarus.

  • Despite ISIS-K claiming responsibility, Putin says the suspects may be linked to Ukraine.

Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenko said his country's security, with the help of Russia's Federal Security Service, tried to prevent Crocus City Hall shooting suspects from entering Belarus.

"There was no chance they could enter Belarus," Lukashenko said, according to the state-run Belarusian Telegraph Agency. "So they took a turn and headed to the Ukraine-Russia border."

Lukashenko said his officials were in touch with the FSB director and closed a road into Belarus that the fleeing suspects could try to use. Lukashenko's statements on the concert-hall terror suspects fleeing toward Belarus undermine the Kremlin's claims that the suspects tried to escape to Ukraine first, in an attempt to link Ukraine to the attack.

"Of course, it is necessary to answer the question, why, after committing the crime, the terrorists tried to go to Ukraine? Who was waiting for them there?" Putin said Monday.

While ISIS-K, an affiliate of the Islamic State group, has since claimed responsibility for the attack Friday on the Moscow concert hall, Russia's president did not acknowledge the terrorist group's involvement in the shooting until Monday.

Putin still suggests that members of ISIS-K are linked to Ukraine and that Ukraine provided entry for them; however, the suspects were apprehended in Russia — dozens of miles away from the Russia-Ukraine border.

No credible evidence has emerged to suggest that Ukraine was involved in the attack that killed at least 139 people.

Lukashenko said that over the course of the attack, he had been in contact with Russia's FSB, adding that he and Putin "kept in touch all the time." Lukashenko is often considered an autocrat and violently crushed pro-democracy protests in 2020 with the Kremlin's backing.

Russian military bloggers have also made baseless claims surrounding the Crocus City Hall attack, saying that ISIS-K could not execute such a deadly shooting and that the group was covering up Ukrainian and Western involvement, according to the Washington-based Institute for the Study of War.

When the US said ISIS-K was responsible for the shooting, Maria Zakharova, a Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson, accused the US of providing excuses for Ukraine.

"The Kremlin has likely decided that the informational value of blaming Ukraine for the Crocus attack is worth whatever internal security risks and civilian casualties Russia may suffer for failing to adequately address a radical Salafi-Jihadi threat within its borders," ISW experts said.

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