ISIS strikes in Russia

The Islamic State through its Amaqha news agency claimed responsibility for the attack on the Crocus City Hall concert hall in Moscow last night: «Islamic State fighters attacked a large gathering of Christians in the city of Krasnogorsk, on the outskirts of the Russian capital, Moscow , killing and wounding hundreds of people and causing great destruction at the location before they retreated safely to their positions.” The attackers, armed with Kalashnikov assault rifles and dressed in camouflage uniforms, broke into the concert hall located north-west of the city center, shooting mercilessly at the audience present. The still partial toll speaks of at least 94 deaths (three children) and hundreds of injured but on some Telegram channels there is talk of 140 deaths. As analyst Ayemenn Jawad al-Tamimi writes, it should be noted the way the attack is presented: it is portrayed as a direct attack against Christians. This way of presenting the event is in keeping with the Islamic State's vision of all Christians in the world in terms of a triple choice: convert to Islam, accept dhimmi status by paying a tax and live as second-class citizens under the authority of the Islamic State, or face death. As with the attacks in Turkey earlier this year, there is no complex geopolitical strategy behind this operation that caused death and destruction in Russia. These are simply Islamic State agents and cells striking wherever possible as part of a global campaign to “fight against infidels and apostates everywhere”, as underlined by Islamic State spokesman Abu Hudhayfa al-Ansari in a speech released shortly after the attacks in Iran last January. On some Russian Telegram channels that are usually well informed about what is happening in the Russian Federation, some names have been circulating that could be linked to what happened last night in Moscow. These are four men all from Tajikistan: NasridinovMakhmadrasul, 37 years old, IsmonovRivozhidin, 51 years old, SafolzodaShokhinjonn, 21 years old, and Nazarov Rustam, 29 years old.

According to Russian intelligence, the car, a Renault, in which the four suspects of the attack in the auditorium in the Moscow region were travelling, was found in the Karachi district, in the Bryansk region. The circumstance was confirmed by Russian MP Alexander Khinshtein, who specified that the car did not respect the halt of the members of the police and tried to escape. During the chase attempt, there was an armed clash and the car apparently overturned. An alleged terrorist was arrested on site, while the others fled into the surrounding woods. A second suspect was almost immediately located and arrested. Inside the car, a PM pistol, a magazine for an AKM assault rifle and passports of citizens of Tajikistan were found. What happened represents a very hard blow for Vladimir Putin who only a few days ago had rejected the alerts coming from the United States regarding possible terrorist attacks in Moscow. At the time of writing, the director of the Russian security services FSB reported to President Vladimir Putin the arrest of eleven people, including four terrorists involved in the attack on the Crocus City Hall in Moscow. This was reported by the Kremlin press service, quoted by the Tass news agency.

The ignored warnings and the FSB debacle

The US Embassy in Russia issued a warning on its website on March 7, advising American citizens to avoid large gatherings in the Russian capital, including concerts, for the next 48 hours due to terrorist threats. This warning was also shared by the British Foreign Office on its website. However, on Tuesday 19 March, Tass reported the words of Putin who defined the Western warnings about possible terrorist attacks in the country as “real blackmail”. The same goes for the Federal'najaSlužbaBezopasnosti, the Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation (FSB), the secret service that deals with internal security which was unable to prevent the threat while Russian special forces arrived on site over an hour late. A complete debacle.

It was understood that something big was in preparation last March 7 when FSB men in a blitz killed two men of Kazakh nationality belonging to Isis Khorasan, the Afghan branch of the Islamic State also known as ISKP, in a village in the Kaluga region, south of Moscow shortly before carrying out an attack on a synagogue. Subsequently, the latest issue of the official ISIS-K newspaper, Voice of Khurasan, was entirely dedicated to calls for attacks against Turkey, Russia, America and against the leaders of the Taliban in Afghanistan. While chaos reigns in Moscow, the country finds itself immersed in the nightmare of its darkest years, remembering the horrors of the terrorist massacres of the past. It's like reliving the terror of 1999, marked by the obscure attacks on condominiums. Then, the 2000s brought with them attacks by Chechen commandos and “black widows”, with suicide bombings on trains, subways, planes and buses, as well as the dramatic hostage-taking at the Dubrovka theater in Moscow in 2002 and at the Beslan, North Ossetia, in 2004.

What will Putin do now?

Many are now betting on Vladimir Putin's revenge on the Muslim Caucasus region, however, the Russian president will have to think for a long time whether to embark on a new war after the ongoing one with Ukraine. In Russia, around 25 million Muslims live, the highest percentage in the West (around 12% and 15% of the population), making them the second largest religious denomination in the country. This figure does not take into account the three to four million immigrants from the former Soviet Republics, nor the Russians who embrace Islam through conversion. But why this attack by the jihadists who have never stopped believing in the birth of the Caucasus Emirate right now? Vladimir Putin has always been a sworn enemy of jihadists and in particular of those who refer to the Islamic State who swore revenge after the Russian intervention in Syria in 2015, in favor of the army of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. The jihadists' revenge comes with perfect timing just before the obvious re-election of Vladimir Putin who, with his support for Hamas and Islamic Jihad, would like to become the defender of Muslims on a global scale, a bit like Turkish President Recep has been doing for months Tayyip Erdoğan in turn hated by jihadists. With yesterday's spectacular operation which closely resembles what happened in Paris on 13 November 2015 (137 dead and 500 injured), or the attacks in Mumbai on 26 November 2008 where a series of 10 Islamic terrorist attacks which occurred simultaneously in the city caused 195 victims and around 300 wounded, most of them Indians, ISIS reminds the world that it is once again capable of organizing complex and lethal operations. Everywhere.