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Attack in Russia. Who is behind this?

In the Friday terrorist attack at the Crocus City Hall concert hall in Krasnogorsk, near Moscow, 135 people were killed and over 145 were injured. The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the attack. The American intelligence warned Russians that an attack might occur, but Russians downplayed the threat.

The attack on the concert hall involved a group of at least four armed men who opened fire on around 6000 people shortly before the start of the Picnic rock band concert. Footage of the attack was widely shared on social media, allowing for a detailed examination of the attack and drawing some conclusions.

Photo: Press service of the governor of the Moscow region

Firstly, the manner in which the attackers moved and handled their weapons suggests that they were trained individuals for whom entering the building and moving inside were not unfamiliar tasks.

The perpetrators appeared well-prepared. It was simply a well-prepared attack on a soft target in a manner that captured the attention of the global public opinion, says Dr. Michał Piekarski, a specialist in contemporary terrorism and counterterrorism policy.

The expert adds that prolonging the attack allows for greater publicity, especially from the witnesses themselves. It can be observed that the attackers did not interfere with the recording of the entire action.

Initially, one of the hypotheses revolved around the possibility of conducting a false flag operation. The manner in which the operation was carried out and the media attention it garnered through recordings on social media. It was noted that Rosgvardia soldiers arrived at the scene after more than an hour, and there were no customary police patrols around the concert hall, which are always present during mass events.

However, Dr. Piekarski points out that if it were a false flag operation, the Russians would have reacted differently.

If it were a false flag, the Spetsnaz would have been on the scene to spectacularly eliminate the terrorists and thoroughly document it, the expert believes.

As for the reaction of the services, if it wasn’t deliberately negligent, then it shows Russian chaos. I dare say that if a carburetor backfired near Putin’s dacha, the Spetsnaz would be there in a fraction of a second, but here? Just a regular concert, for ordinary people, whose lives in Russia are worth very little.

I would add that a significant portion of FSB and Rosgvardia special forces are likely fighting in Ukraine, so the reaction could have been delayed due to a simple lack of personnel, notes Dr. Piekarski.

Two alleged perpetrators of the attack captured by city surveillance cameras while escaping / Photo: public domain

Islamic trope

The radical group ISIS-Khorasan, the Afghan branch of the Islamist terrorist organization Islamic State (ISIS), claimed responsibility for the attack. A longer video soon emerged from the terrorist-linked Amaq agency calling the terrorist attack near Moscow the most brutal attack in recent years and that, Allah willing, they had launched a coordinated attack on a large crowd of Christians.

Amaq sources added that the attack took place in the normal context of the ongoing war between the Islamic State and countries fighting against Islam. The Islamic State also published a group photo of alleged terrorists with retouched faces on social media.

ISIS-Khorasan is an Afghan branch of the Islamist terrorist organization Islamic State (ISIS). The word “Khorasan” refers to a historical region encompassing Afghanistan and parts of Iran, Pakistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan. It is considered by the intelligence agencies of the USA, the UK, and the Russian Federation to be the most radical and brutal of all jihadist groups operating in Afghanistan.

ISIS-Khorasan considers all those who fall under the concept of unbelievers as enemies. This includes not only the West but also, among others, Shia Muslims. ISIS-Khorasan is also hostile towards the Taliban, whom they consider unbelievers and not radical enough. The Taliban themselves condemned attacks by ISIS-Chorasan. The terrorists of this faction are notorious for their attacks on girls’ schools, where they murdered female students, as well as on hospitals supported by Western countries.

Why would Islamist attack Russia? ISIS accuses the Kremlin of killing Muslims, citing Moscow’s intervention in Afghanistan, Chechnya, and Syria.

ISIS is fighting Russia as a state that imposes its rule in the Caucasus, remembering the case of Chechnya, and is pursuing its policy in Syria and Africa. From the terrorists’ point of view, striking in Russia also makes sense because a significant part of the services’ efforts are focused on Ukraine, explains Dr. Piekarski.

Crocus City Hall the day after the attack / Photo: Press service of the governor of the Moscow region

Warnings

Russians knew that Islamists could attack. In the autumn, FSB director Aleksander Bortnikov said that the group is increasing its potential, which will eventually enable it to carry out terrorist attacks beyond Afghanistan. On March 7, the American intelligence warned Russians that a terrorist attack was possible. Finns were also warned by Russians.

Western countries in recent days have been warning their citizens to avoid crowded places in Moscow. Further warnings have emerged that an attack may occur in the coming days. On Tuesday, Putin condemned the warnings as provocative statements and blackmail aimed at destabilizing the country. Although earlier, the FSB had been dismantling cells of ISIS in Russia and warning about the possibility of attacks.

In February, the FSB announced that it had defeated a cell of ISIS in Kaluga and killed two members of ISIS from Central Asia. At the beginning of March, it reported that it had eliminated another cell of ISIS in the Kaluga region, consisting of Islamist fighters from Afghanistan.

Russians might have known, but there are three possibilities, says Dr. Piekarski. They either failed to prevent it at all even though they wanted to, disregarded the warnings because they were being warned by the USA, or they decided not to prevent it on purpose to capitalize on it for propaganda purposes. Which they are already doing.

Kremlin Propaganda

Following the attack, Russian media outlets aired accusations against NATO and Ukraine, suggesting that the attack coincided with NATO’s considerations regarding troop deployments in Ukraine in the face of a serious crisis in the Ukrainian army, supported by NATO forces. Additionally, they claimed that the West was counting on destabilizing Russia when during the Russian elections, neo-Nazi groups, supported by Ukraine and NATO, began an invasion of Russian territory.

Regardless of who is directly responsible for Friday’s attack, it is clear that the attack occurred in the context of an expanding and escalating war against Russia led by imperialist powers, notes Klara Weiss, affiliated with the Communist Party of the Russian Federation. Kremlin-linked media outlets have adopted a similar narrative.

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