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The French president and EU officials have called on Vladimir Putin not to use a terror attack on a Moscow concert hall, which has been claimed by the Isis militant group, as a pretext to expand the war in Ukraine.

Emmanuel Macron said on Monday that it would be “cynical and counterproductive for Russia itself and the security of its residents” to use this context [of the attack] to turn against Ukraine”.

The Russian president has claimed that unidentified people on “the Ukrainian side” were preparing to help the fleeing gunmen escape across the two countries’ border after they killed at least 137 people on Friday.

Jihadi group Isis has claimed responsibility and shared photographs of the attackers, who appeared in court on Sunday and were placed into pre-trial custody.

Macron said that “the information available to us, to our [intelligence] services, as well as to our main partners, indicates indeed that it was an entity of the Islamic State that executed this attack”.

Ukrainian officials have called Putin’s insinuations absurd and vehemently denied any involvement in the attacks. Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, said this was a ruse by the Russian leader to create a pretext for escalating his war.

In Brussels, too, officials said they were concerned by Putin’s attempts to establish a link between Kyiv and Friday’s events.

“There is no proof whatsoever that Ukraine was in any way linked to this attack,” said Peter Stano, European Commission foreign policy spokesperson.

“We call on the Russian government not to use this terrorist attack in Moscow as a pretext or as motivation to increase the illegal aggression against Ukraine, nor to use it as a pretext for the increase of internal repressions,” Stano added.

Three of the suspects were identified as citizens of Tajikistan, the former Soviet republic that borders Afghanistan. Tajiks make up a large share of Isis-Khorasan or Isis-K, according to experts who monitor the group.

The attack has raised concerns of a potential resurgence of Islamist terrorism in Russia, which prior to the launch of Putin’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, had been the most critical domestic security threat for the country’s intelligence services.

“Let me recall one thing: This is not the first terrorist attack on Russian soil. So far, none of the major terrorist attacks in Russia have been clarified, investigated properly,” Stano told reporters. “So this leaves a lot of questions open, also about the attitudes of the authorities.”

Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said that the US had “driven itself into a trap” with what she described as “stories” that the attack was perpetrated by Isis.

Writing in an op-ed for the Komsomolskaya Pravda newspaper on Monday, Zakharova said Washington sought to “shield itself and the Zelenskyy regime” behind the “scarecrow” of Isis.

International terror groups were created by the US, she claimed, to sow chaos and shape the “world order”. On the Moscow terror attack, Zakharova concluded with a “question to the White House”. “Was it definitely Isis, you won’t change your mind?”

Russia meanwhile continued its air offensive on Ukraine, with Kyiv rocked by explosions from air defence missiles intercepting Russian ballistic missiles. A Financial Times reporter witnessed Kyiv’s air defences shoot down one of the missiles over the city on Monday. A second blast rang out moments afterward and plumes of smoke were visible over the city. 

The attack, which came without warning, sent residents running for cover in bomb shelters and underground metro stations.

Several people were wounded and two buildings were badly damaged by exploding missile debris, said Kyiv city military chief Serhiy Popko.

The attack was the fourth in the capital in the past five days in which Russia has launched hundreds of missiles and drones, targeting energy infrastructure, security installations and residential areas. 

Kyiv has also stepped up its long-range drone attacks deep inside Russian territory, mainly aimed at striking oil refineries in an attempt to stifle Moscow’s war effort. But over the weekend, Ukrainian missiles also struck two more Russian warships as well as a communications centre and other facilities used by Moscow’s Black Sea fleet in occupied Crimea.

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