Conflict Alerts

Conflict Alerts # 619, 28 March 2024

Russia: ISIS terror attack in Moscow
Padmashree Anandhan

In the news
On 22 March, Russia’s Investigative Committee reported on an attack on the Crocus City Hall, a concert venue in Moscow, leading to the death of 133 and injuring 150 people. Russian President Vladimir Putin called it an “organised mass murder” and announced the introduction of anti-terrorist and anti-sabotage measures. According to Russia’s Federal Security Service report (FSB), 11 people were arrested in Bryansk, including the four gunmen, under suspicion of direct involvement. 

On 23 March, Radio Free Europe reported on the involvement of Tajik citizens in the attack. Interrogation of the detained men disclosed that they were hired by anonymous individuals to “shoot at people” and were offered RUB one million in return.

On 25 March, White House National Security Communications Advisor, John Kirby, said: “…we have been monitoring ISIS that we were able to give the Russians a warning that, in fact, they were heading for a potential terrorist attack in the very near future.”

On 25 March, in a video conference with heads of the government, Putin acknowledged the attackers as “radical Islamists.” 

On 24 March, according to France 24, a fresh set of aerial attacks was launched by Russia towards Kyiv concentrated in western Ukraine. The attack was launched a day after Russia claimed to have captured Ivanivske, a Ukrainian village near Bakhmut. The city of Lviv near the Polish border was also attacked, leading to an airspace breach in Polish airspace by Russian missiles.

Issues at large
First, the IS-Khorasan (IS-K) and its recent attacks. The IS, formed in 2014, attracted ousted members of the Pakistani Taliban, non-believers and followers of Shia Islam. Its composition of militants from Central Asia and the formation of networks in Central Asia, Russia and Chechnya have become the spark points of the spread of terrorism in Iran, Turkey and Russia. Between 2019 and 2021, its activity peaked in Afghanistan and on withdrawal of the US, it staged one of the most devastating attacks on the Kabul airport. Since the Taliban takeover, its rate of launching successful attacks has reduced significantly.

Second, the Islamic State (IS) and Russia. Islamic militancy has been an issue for Russia since it invaded Afghanistan, followed by militancy in Chechnya. In recent years, after the formation of ISIS, the Kremlin’s intervention in Syria has been a primary factor in the former’s approach towards Russia. 

Third, the US intelligence warning about the attack and the Russian response. On 07 March, the US warned about an imminent threat for Moscow from extremists and recommended avoiding large gatherings during the next 48 hours. Russia perceived it as a “obvious blackmail,” by the US to trigger fear among Russians.

In perspective
First, contextualising the attack in the war in Ukraine. The Kremlin sees the IS attack as a trigger for Russia to react, thereby diverting its attention from the war in Ukraine. Putin hinted at Ukraine's involvement in the attack and accused Kyiv of providing a window for the perpetrators to escape. Increased aerial attacks in Western Ukraine on 23 and 25 March would underline Russia’s response to the militant attack in Moscow.

Second, the expansion of IS-K. After 2019, ISIS staged attacks in eastern Syria has managed to escape from the international restrictions and expand through regular recruits and operate in Central Asia, Sahel, east, central Africa and Asia. 

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