Moscow rediscovers ISIS terrorism

“Let's be clear, Ukraine has absolutely nothing to do with these events,” the advisor to the President of Ukraine, Mykhailo Podolyak, was quick to point out. Having said that, the terrorist attack which took place on Friday evening at the famous Crocus City Hall concert hall in Moscow left at least 40 dead and more than 100 injured, after some armed attackers dressed in camouflage – three men, according to the most accredited – broke into the popular performance venue and opened fire indiscriminately against those present, estimated at at least five thousand people. The place then caught fire (or was set on fire, the difference is subtle, given that numerous witnesses spoke of Molotov cocktails being thrown into the place) while the terrorists fled and, at the time of writing, are still wanted on the loose.

Moscow thus rediscovers terrorism ex abrupto, after a period of relative calm that only the war with Ukraine had interrupted – with sporadic attacks on Russian territory via drone and targeting refineries and military logistics centers – and which brings fear back to inside the heart of the capital. A terrible omen after President Putin's triumphal electoral victory.

Today's attack in a temple of Russian culture inevitably brings to mind the crisis in the Dubrovka theater in Moscow in October 2002, when around 850 civilians were kidnapped and held hostage by a group of 40 armed Chechen militants, who claimed loyalty to the Chechen separatist movement and demanded the immediate withdrawal of Russian forces from Chechnya and the end of the second Chechen war. An attack to which the Kremlin responded with extreme harshness, pumping asphyxiating gas inside the room and killing both the terrorists and the hostages themselves (130 hostages and over 40 terrorists died).

And how can we fail to remember the massacre of the children of Beslan, in South Ossetia, which occurred in September 2004 at the hands of Islamic terrorists (also in this case Chechens), who took a thousand children hostage and left around 300 dead, half of which are minors.

For the moment, the General Prosecutor's Office of Russia has only declared that “unidentified people in camouflage broke into the Crocus town hall and started shooting before the start of the concert”, as reported by the Russian Tass agency. In the channels Telegram linked to the Islamic State, however, a claim by ISIS is currently being examined by investigators. While it is still too early to give a precise identity to those responsible for this attack, it is worth noting that the news does not come entirely unexpectedly.

Just two weeks ago, none other than the United States issued an unusual warning to its citizens in Russia. The Americans were in fact “monitoring reports that extremists were planning to target large gatherings in Moscow, including concerts.” The message, which provided no further details, advised US citizens to avoid large gatherings.

The report was not detailed, but neither was it far-fetched. That something was moving in the Russian capital was indirectly confirmed last March 7 by the Russian security services (FSB), when they announced that they had foiled an armed attack by ISIS militants in a synagogue in the capital. The fact had also led the Farnesina, our Ministry of Foreign Affairs, to advise Italians present in Russia “to continue to avoid any form of gathering in the capital in the coming weeks, including participation in cultural events with large turnout of the public” .

These undefined “extremists”, according to cross-referenced sources, could in any case be traced back to Islamic religious extremism, whose current epicenter is Ingushetia, an area nestled between Georgia and North Ossetia: here a few days ago, in silence general, the Russian security forces and self-styled ISIS militants native to the region close to Chechnya, started a shootout that left six victims among the insurgents after they had barricaded themselves in an apartment in Karabulak, a town of around 30 thousand inhabitants, before capitulating.

Kremlin security forces are now examining possible links between this event and the Crocus City Hall attack. For decades, Ingushetia has been the scene of an Islamist insurrection against Moscow, aggravated today by compulsory conscription for the war in Ukraine, which has become particularly pressing here. The attack could therefore be a response from a fringe of Islamic extremists to Moscow's policies.

Although there is still no confirmation regarding the Caucasian matrix, there is however the certainty that Russia is no longer that safe and totally under control place as Vladimir Putin and the Kremlin would like us to believe.