It is just after 6pm on Thursday, twelve days before the end of the year. The city is all strung up with holiday lights and Muscovites are leaving work to shop for food and gifts for the upcoming New Year and Christmas holidays. The Central Children’s Store on Lubyanka Square, a few minutes’ walk from the Kremlin, is bustling. Nearby streets, cafes and restaurants are filled with people. Then shots ring out.
“I saw people running across the street,” a woman who gave her name as Larisa told Ruptly. “It was scary.” She works inside a nearby building, and was trapped there for more than an hour.
“We were at the bar and we heard someone shooting a Kalashnikov assault rifle,” said Andrey, another witness. He was positive about the rifle. “I know what a Kalashnikov sounds like,“ he told Ruptly.
“First people were running one way, then special forces with rifles started running the other way, and there was gunfire and explosions. What exactly happened, I don’t know.”
Police and security forces from the nearby Federal Security Service (FSB) HQ responded quickly. Eyewitnesses trapped in nearby buildings filmed officers wearing full body armor, helmets and rifles, crouching behind planters and exchanging fire with the suspect.
Sergey was working on his computer at a cafe across the street. “The atmosphere was calm, Christmas music was playing,” he told Ruptly. Then he heard the shots. “It was not just a few shots. There was rapid fire, volleys of automatic gunfire.”
Exact details of the incident are still being pieced together. Initial reports of three attackers breaking into the FSB lobby were wrong, the service said, insisting that its perimeter was never breached.
According to the authorities, the lone gunman opened fire on FSB security guards, killing one of them. Another FSB employee was critically injured. Four more people were harmed, including one civilian. Though there was speculation that the attack could be terrorist in nature, the FSB has not confirmed it.
“We saw a dead police officer lying in the street,” Konstantin, who works in a nearby office building, told Ruptly after the incident, referring to the FSB guard. He and his coworkers were trapped at their workplace for almost two hours, until the attacker was neutralized. They were then told to evacuate, as explosive disposal robots were called to the scene.
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Three hours after the shooting, the Lubyanka area was mostly reopened to traffic. Parts of the street outside the FSB HQ remained cordoned off by police, as crime scene investigators did their grim work. Mere meters away, however, Muscovites were walking around, doing their holiday shopping as Christmas music played again.
Witnesses and experts agree that a quick response by the traffic police and FSB guards, who corralled the area and ushered civilians away, may well have prevented a bloodbath.