Who Attacked The Moscow Concert?

Foreign Policy Brief #134 | By: Arvind Salem | April 01, 2024
Featured Photo: www.apnews.com


Less than a week after President Putin’s landslide re-election, gunmen attacked the Crocus City concert hall outside Moscow, shooting and killing people before burning the whole building. This marked the deadliest terrorist attack in Russia in over a decade: killing over 139 people and injuring 180 more.

The group that has claimed responsibility, and has been determined as responsible by U.S. intelligence, is Islamic State Khorasan (ISIS-K), with Khorasan referring to a historical region that included parts of Iran, Turkmenistan and Afghanistan. ISIS-K emerged in late-2014 and has a reputation for being extremely brutal. They have already carried out extremely high profile and damaging attacks: including the attack on Kabul Airport in 2021, killing 13 U.S. troops during the evacuation of Afghanistan. However, the group has recently been on the wane as the Taliban, a group that ISIS-K deems too moderate, have attempted to defeat the group, leading to a fall in their attacks in Afghanistan, yet their bombings still continue.

Further, ISIS-K has a historical vendetta against Russia that motivated their attack. Most notably, they despise Russia for their support of the Syrian government and against ISIS in the Syrian Civil War. Aspects of their hatred stretch even farther: ISIS disapproved of Russia for its brutal tactics in the various Chechen wars stretching back to the 1990s. In 2022, ISIS-K claimed responsibility for an attack near Russia’s embassy in Kabul, killing 6 people.

Policy Analysis:

Despite their historic feud, the Kremlin is not pinning this attack on ISIS-K, but rather has pinned this attack on Ukraine. Of course, this would be extremely politically expedient for Putin: furthering support for his war on Ukraine. Putin has been active in pushing this narrative: he has not mentioned ISIS in connection with the attacks. Russia’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova accused the United States of pinning this attack on ISIS to take away focus from Ukraine’s involvement.

On the other side, Ukraine levied an accusation that this was a false flag operation commissioned by Putin to rally support for the war against Ukraine and mobilize Russian forces. This wouldn’t be the first time Putin is suspected of a false flag operation. In 1999, a series of apartment bombings by “Chechen terrorists” killed  more than 300 Russians and injured 1,700 more. The bombings served as a pretext for Vladimir Putin to launch the second Chechen war. However, the “Chechen terrorists” turned out to be employees of the Federal Security Service, or F.S.B. Putin, of course, disputed that these people were involved in the bombing, and when numerous journalists attempted to investigate this claim they all wound up poisoned or shot dead. Despite these historical circumstances it is clear that ISIS is truly behind these attacks.

Yet, the divisive response to this attack underscores the flaws in the way that most observers tend to view foreign policy: everyone is either allied with Russia or allied with the United States. In the Cold-War and post Cold-War era, this framework could neatly capture most developments in foreign policy. However, with ISIS, they are only out for themselves, and defy any broader foreign policy framework or alliance that they are placed in. Therefore, instead of working together to fight ISIS,  the United States and Russia are too focused on fighting each other to join forcs and attack ISIS.

Engagement Resources:
  • UNHCR : The UNHCR is a UN Refugee Agency that helps displaced families in conflict zones, including Ukraine. Readers who are concerned about the mobilization of the Russian military to attack Ukraine may wish to support them by donating through this organization.
  • Save the Children: Save the Children is an organization that organizes humanitarian aid for children. Those worried about Ukrainian children in light of the Russia-Ukraine War may wish to donate through this organization.

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