Criminal investigation opened into Crocus City Hall fire safety chiefs

Russia’s Investigate Committee has opened a criminal case for suspected negligence against Crocus City Hall’s head of fire safety as well as the venue’s chief firefighter, state-owned news agency TASS said on Sunday.

More people are now believed to have died from fire and smoke inhalation during the Crocus City Hall terror attack last month than from being shot. Neither individual being investigated has been named, but both have been banned from leaving the country, according to sources within Russian law enforcement.

Specifically, the investigation will look into whether the alleged failure to follow Russia’s fire safety regulations further exacerbated the situation in the venue after masked gunmen shot into the crowd and started fires that ultimately gutted the building.

Flames engulfing Crocus City Hall on 22 March. Photo: Ivan Vodopyanov / Kommersant / Sipa USA

Flames engulfing Crocus City Hall on 22 March. Photo: Ivan Vodopyanov / Kommersant / Sipa USA

Investigators questioned Crocus City Hall’s head of fire safety in late March, according to TASS, specifically asking about “measures taken to ensure fire safety and fire protection systems”.

Survivors of the attack later said that the fire, which was deliberately set by the gunmen, had not triggered the venue’s automated smoke-removal and firefighting systems, and that the building’s emergency lighting system had also failed to activate.

Araz Agalarov, the Azerbaijani-Russian billionaire real estate developer who owns the venue in the town of Krasnogorsk just outside Moscow, has stressed that all firefighting systems in the venue had been in good working order and had ensured that “for several hours there was no collapse, so that people had a chance to get out”.

“Absolutely everything worked. The sprinkler system, the robotic hoses and the PA system. … All systems worked very well, in the usual way," Agalarov, a vocal supporter of Russian President Vladimir Putin, added.

The terror attack on Crocus City Hall took place on March 22. Responsibility for the attack was claimed by a branch of Islamic State called Vilayat Khorasan. As a result of the shooting and fires, 144 people were killed and more than 550 injured.

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