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40 are dead, hundreds injured after attack at a concert venue outside Moscow

SACHA PFEIFFER, HOST:

Russian authorities say at least 40 people are dead and more than 100 injured after a group of gunmen carried out an attack on a crowded concert venue on the outskirts of Moscow. Dramatic video from social media shows panicked concertgoers trying to take cover as gunfire and screaming ring out. A fire has also broken out on the premises, and that's endangering more lives. The flames are visible from miles away. The ISIS terror group claimed responsibility. Joining us with the latest details is NPR's Charles Maynes in Moscow. Hi, Charles.

CHARLES MAYNES, BYLINE: Hi there.

PFEIFFER: Would you fill us in on what you know so far?

MAYNES: Yeah. You know, concertgoers had gathered at Moscow's Crocus City Hall - this is a large music venue that can accommodate about 6,000 people - to see this veteran Russian rock band called Picnic when several armed gunmen in military fatigues entered the premises. We can verify there were at least three shooters with automatic weapons. A witness video shows them firing on bystanders as they entered the foyer. Images also show people panicked and trying to flee as gunmen proceed into the main hall of the concert venue, firing their weapons.

Subsequently, as you noted, a fire broke out. It appears the attackers set off some kind of detonation. Flames quickly engulfed the building, trapping untold numbers inside. Rescuers were able to ferry out some 100 people from the basement. We know that. Many, however, were left to find their own way out, and there were some reports of exits blocked. Also, there are reports some were rescued off the venue's roof, although how many is unclear. And more alarmingly, that roof is now completely engulfed in flames.

PFEIFFER: The gunmen - do we know who they are and what their motives are?

MAYNES: You know, we really don't, just as we don't know their whereabouts. Russian security services are carrying out a sweep inside the building. As you noted in your intro, a social media account supposedly belonging to ISIS, the Islamic State, claimed responsibility. And here it's worth noting that the U.S. Embassy here in Moscow, just two weeks ago, publicly issued a warning that it had credible reports of a possible attack by extremists at a public event in Moscow, including possibly a concert, in the next 48 hours. Now, that was two weeks ago. No attacks followed. And that prompted Russian President Vladimir Putin to dismiss what he said were provocative statements from Western embassies while speaking to his security services this week. But now, after this horrific attack, they're asking the U.S. to share any intelligence they might have.

PFEIFFER: Has Putin said anything about what happened today?

MAYNES: You know, the Kremlin says that President Putin has been informed of these events. It's unclear as yet or whether or when he'll issue a statement. But, of course, more widely, there's shock and anger over what's clearly a terrorist attack - one that where the dead include not only adults, but children. Moscow authorities have already canceled all sporting, cultural and other public events. Rosaviatsiya, the Russian aviation authority, has also increased security at all of Moscow's main airports. Similar moves are being taken at other airports across the country. But, of course, right now, the real focus is on the rescue effort to save lives and find out who did this.

PFEIFFER: Charles, you've already said that Russian authorities have - are not saying who these gunmen are or if they know. Have they made any suggestions as to who they may be?

MAYNES: Well, you know, given the war between Russia and Ukraine, some Russian officials are suggesting there must be some kind of Ukrainian link. Let's not forget, they routinely accuse Kyiv of terrorist attacks whenever there's any kind of apparent Ukrainian response to Russia's own invasion of Ukraine. But Ukrainian authorities say they have nothing to do with this. And the U.S. also says, you know, it's seen no evidence that Kyiv was involved, which some Russian officials say is not the U.S.' distinction to make.

PFEIFFER: As I was reading about this a bit before the show, I was reminded, I think this has happened around the Russian capital before. Is that right?

MAYNES: Yeah, unfortunately. Well, of course, circumstances are different. This attack certainly has echoes of the Nord-Ost theater siege of 2002. This was when Chechen terrorists took a packed theater of some 800 people hostage. That siege ended only after Russia's then relatively new president, Vladimir Putin, ordered security forces to pump gas into the theater. It knocked out the terrorists, but it also killed 170 of the hostages as well.

PFEIFFER: NPR's Charles Maynes in Moscow. Thank you.

MAYNES: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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