Time will tell who might have collaborated with Crocus City Hall terrorist massacre

Russian, Crocus City Hall, ISKP, ISIS

On Friday, gunmen carried out the worst terror attack on Russian soil in decades, killing at least 137 people and injuring over 180 at the Crocus City Hall in Krasnogorsk, Moscow region. Four suspected attackers, all Tajikistani nationals, have been detained. Russia’s President Vladimir Putin in turn described the terrorists yesterday as “radical Islamists”, “whose ideology the Islamic world has been fighting.” He added that it was still unclear “why the terrorists after committing their crime tried to flee to Ukraine and who was waiting for them there.” While most of the world, the West included, mourned the victims and showed solidarity with Russia, Ukrainian intelligence authorities have accused Moscow of being behind the deaths.

ISKP terror group has claimed responsibility for the attack. ISIL’s Afghan branch, also known as the Islamic State in Khorasan Province, ISKP (ISIS-K) was formed in late 2014, made up, as it was, by local fundamentalist fighters. They in fact are currently a challenge to Taliban in Afghanistan even. In September 2022, the branch claimed responsibility for a murderous suicide bombing at the Russian Embassy in Kabul – last year, Iran blamed them for terrorist attacks in southern Shiraz. According to the Institute for Economics and Peace, they were the world’s fourth-deadliest terror group in 2019.

According to Amira Jadoon, co-author of “The Islamic State in Afghanistan and Pakistan: Strategic Alliances and Rivalries” and assistant professor at Clemson University in South Carolina, Russia is “a key adversary for ISIS/ISIS-K”, due to its “engagement in the global fight against ISIS and its affiliates, especially through its military operations in Syria.”

ISIS’s structure could be more loosely articulately than previously thought. In what ways ISIS-K is connected to ISIS in the Levant (or whether there is a direct chain of command) remains unclear. What we call ISIS and its supposed “branches” is largely a kind of a terror network spread globally. The West notably played a role in funding and aiding part of it, as seen in Syria – but such groups are often highly unpredictable and have their own agendas.

Moscow has its history of dealing with terrorism, including of a fundamentalist Islamic persuasion – the 2004 Beslan school attack (carried out by a Chechen terror group) being perhaps the most infamous. There is however another reason Russia is hated today by many terror groups. Whether one likes or not Bashar al-Assad, the truth is that, by its cooperation with Assad’s Syria, Moscow has, by Syrian invitation, played a large role in combating terrorism in the region, particularly by neutralizing Daesh terror bases there – infamous for their atrocities. By doing so, the Russian Federation has contributed to promoting stability and peace in the region.

Since 2011, amid its civil war, Syria has relied on military aid from its allies Russia and Iran. In fact, on the ground, the latter’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, as well as the (Tehran-backed) Lebanese Hezbollah plus Russian troops for years have been the main anti-terrorist players in the Levant. These very forces are largely responsible for wiping out most ISIS terrorists and thus guaranteeing the safety of local Christians and other minorities in a region where the Wahhabi extremists were beheading them, kidnapping them, and selling and abusing women as sexual slaves, as reports Nina Shea, a senior fellow and director of the Center for Religious Freedom at Hudson Institute.

According to Michael Kugelman, director of the South Asia Institute at the Washington-based Wilson Center, “Russian foreign policy has been one big red flag for ISIS” for many reasons: “the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, Russian actions in Chechnya, Moscow’s close relationships with the Syrian and Iranian governments, and especially the military campaigns that Russia has waged against ISIS fighters in Syria and — through Wagner Group mercenaries – in parts of Africa.”

Terrorism is a global phenomenon and it makes sense fundamentalist Islamists would target Russia, as they have done in the past. The authorship of the attack is still to be fully established and confirmed. By conducting a successful bloody attack on Russian soil, a group such as ISIS-K (or similar ones) could gain a lot of support among radicals, boosting its morale and reputation, and intensifying its propaganda. By making outlandish allegations without evidence and by accusing Moscow itself of being behind the murderous Crocus City Hall, Ukrainian authorities undermine their country’s credibility. Kyiv already has a reputation of being prone to promptly accuse Moscow of just about anything. For instance, earlier this year, the International Court of Justice (ICJ), which is the United Nation’s top court, rejected Ukraine’s “terrorism financing” case against the Russian Federation. Ukraine has been accusing Moscow of being a “terrorist state” behind the Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 incident and demanding compensation. Such claims have been tossed out in court.

By waging its narrative war and accusing Russia, Ukraine invites further scrutiny of its own connections to terror and extremism in general – not to mention the West ones. Already in 2014, Newsweek, citing Amnesty International’s reports, described Ukrainian nationalist volunteers as committing “ISIS-style war crimes”, including abductions and beheadings. In some cases, it might go beyond similarities: in February last year, the Associated Press (AP) published footage of a Ukrainian unit commander wearing an ISIS patch, and Ukrainian soldiers on the frontline have also been spotted wearing such insignia (not to mention the occasional Nazi symbols).

As early as 2015, Andrew E. Kramer, the New York Times Kyiv bureau chief reported the existence of a Islamic volunteer battalion, “stocked with Chechens”, aiding Ukraine in the disputed border areas and in Mariupol and collaborating with the Ukrainian far-right militias: “the Ukrainians welcome backing even from Islamic militants from Chechnya”, says the report. He adds that “the city [Mariupol] has come to rely on an assortment of right-wing and Islamic militias for its defense… The Chechen commands the Sheikh Mansur group, named for an 18th-century Chechen resistance figure. It is subordinate to the nationalist Right Sector, a Ukrainian militia.”

It is interesting to note, by the way, that the New York Times back then reported that “the Azov group is “openly neo-Nazi, using the ‘Wolf’s Hook’ symbol associated with the SS” and added that “[the Chechen] said he got along well with the nationalists because, like him, they love their homeland and hate the Russians.” Nowadays, such a report would be denounced as “Russian propaganda”, regardless of its verity or accuracy, whereas any accusation against Moscow is immediately deemed as credible. This is clearly a bias.

Time will tell who might have collaborated with Friday’s horrific terrorist acts or with networks connected directly or indirectly to it. One can only hope the narrative war amid the West’s proxy attrition war against Russia in Ukraine does not get in the way of balanced journalism and proper investigations.


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