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Reports are still circulating that a deadly apartment collapse in Magnitogorsk was really a terrorist attack, but there are some problems with this story

Meduza
Investigators at the site of the apartment building collapse in Magnitogorsk, December 31, 2018
Valery Sherdyukov / TASS / Scanpix / LETA

ISIS has belatedly claimed responsibility for an explosion that shredded an apartment building in Magnitogorsk on December 31 and killed 39 people. The terrorist group says it was also involved in a deadly minibus fire the following night. Immediately after this announcement, Russia’s Federal Investigative Committee reiterated that a gas leak is the leading explanation for what caused the apartment collapse. Since the tragedy, several news outlets have reported unverified rumors that the supposed gas leak was actually the work of terrorists. On January 18, even more details about a potential terrorism link emerged. Meduza summarizes what various sources have claimed about the Magnitogorsk apartment collapse.

164 Karl Marx Prospect

The official story: A gas line in one section of the 10-story apartment building exploded early in the morning on December 31. Officials found no traces of explosives in the debris. The incident is being investigated as negligent homicide. The authorities have not said in which apartment the explosion originated or whether there are any suspects in the case.

The unofficial story: The explosion was a terrorist attack. Someone planted a bomb in one of the apartments. Sources told the website Znak.com that investigators may have discovered bomb traces. According to Komsomolskaya Pravda and Baza, the bomb was apparently detonated in Apartment 315 on the second floor, which the owner reportedly rented often to out-of-towners through a real estate listings website. According to Federal Emergency Management Agency records, there were two Tajikistani men occupying the apartment at the time of the explosion. Baza says a friend of the apartment’s owner — a woman named Antonina — gave the keys to “some Tajiks,” who supposedly brought an RDX explosive device into the apartment. The men reportedly planned to wait until New Year’s Day, but the bomb went off early by accident. Baza suspects that one of these Tajikistani men was present in the apartment at the time of the blast, accusing investigators of scrubbing his name from the list of victims.

The rub: Sources told Moskovsky Komsomolets that there were no Tajikistani men in Apartment 315. Neighbors told the newspaper that a woman living on the ninth floor planned to rent the apartment for her son on New Year’s Eve. Moskovsky Komsomolets says the explosion actually happened in Apartment 317 on the third floor (Znak.com has also attributed the blast to this floor), where a “jealous husband” may have deliberately caused a gas leak.

The minibus explosion on Karl Marx Prospect

The official story: On January 1, a minibus experienced a “gas equipment malfunction” that exploded the car and killed all three passengers. Asked under what statute the incident is being investigated, Chelyabinsk officials redirected Meduza to the Federal Investigative Committee’s central office in Moscow. We never heard back.

The unofficial story: The minibus was full of terrorists trying to evade the police, and the chase ended in a shootout that killed all three men and set their vehicle ablaze. The first news outlets to report this story were Znak.com and 74.ru, which pointed to eyewitness footage shared online that shows the minibus on fire and features a series of loud pops similar to gunshots (some viewers also claim to be able to see armed men in the video). Baza says the whole district where the minibus exploded had been sealed off by police in order to capture the suspected terrorists, and the men were trying to break through.

According to 74.ru and Baza, the vehicle’s license plate (В919ТЕ174) belonged to a certain Makhmud Dzhumaev. Baza says his body was discovered in the snow near the burned-out minibus. Sources say the remains of Alisher Kaimov and Almir Abitov were found inside the vehicle. One of these men was supposedly the one who got the keys to Apartment 315. Federal agents then raided the homes of Dzhumaev’s wife and Abitov’s mother.

A minibus explodes in central Magnitogorsk
Max Fisher

The rub: Meduza’s correspondent in Magnitogorsk visited the site of the exploded minibus just two hours after the fire was first reported. The vehicle was parked near 96 Karl Marx Prospect, facing the building where Baza says Dzhumaev lived. Based on these observations, the minibus exploded while driving toward the supposed police line, not away from it.

The bomb at the “Continent” shopping center

The official story: The authorities have not commented on these reports or any other rumors concerning alleged bomb plots at malls in Magnitogorsk.

The unofficial story: On January 3, Znak.com wrote that a homeless man sifting through the trash outside the “Continent” shopping center (a little more than a mile from the collapsed apartment building) found and unintentionally defused a bomb attached to a cell phone. Baza says it was actually two men who discovered the explosive device — one of whom was named Salavat, who alerted the police and said that it appeared sometime between 10:00 p.m. on December 31 and 9:00 a.m. on January 1. Searching the phone’s call records, officials identified Dzhumaev and the minibus plate number registered in his name.

The evacuation of 91 Lenin Prospect before dawn on January 2

The official story: The authorities have not commented on the reported evacuation. Residents told Meduza that they were forced to leave their apartments without explanation. They were moved into buses, where they waited until dawn, before returning to their homes.

The unofficial story: The evacuation was part of a special operation to find and capture the terrorists responsible for blowing up 164 Karl Marx Prospect. 74.ru says neighbors living at 93 Lenin Prospect heard gunshots, and police allegedly chased a suspect inside 91/1 Lenin Prospect. According to Baza, Alisher Kaimov rented Apartment 37 at 93 Lenin Prospect, where he supposedly lived with Dzhumaev, Abitov, and “several others.” A neighbor claims the men brought home a gas cylinder, and in the evenings she could hear “sawing sounds” from the apartment.

After searching the apartment, Federal Security Service agents reportedly removed packages containing a white mixture (Baza suspects this was RDX). In the apartment, officials also supposedly found explosive devices that the terrorists planned to hide “throughout the city” on December 31. The plot fell through, however, when the accidental detonation at 164 Karl Marx Prospect put Magnitogorsk on high alert.

The rub: At the time of the evacuations, Meduza’s correspondent was directly outside 91 and 93 Lenin Prospect. Building 91 was cordoned off and residents had been moved outside, but 93 Lenin Prospect was still open. Just a few hours before federal agents supposedly discovered an apartment full of explosives, there wasn’t even a police line.

Mikhail Zelensky

Translation by Kevin Rothrock