After the Islamic State (IS) claimed responsibility for the shooting at Moscow’s Crocus City concert hall, significant uncertainties loom over Russia’s forthcoming response. This attack stands as the deadliest assault attributed to IS on European soil, resulting in the tragic loss of 137 lives. The harrowing incident unfolded on a Friday evening when armed assailants wielding assault rifles breached the concert hall located on the outskirts of Moscow. For nearly an hour, they unleashed chaos as concert attendees desperately sought refuge amidst the gunfire. The assailants further exacerbated the terror by igniting fires within the venue.

The toll of casualties surpasses even the devastating Paris attacks of 2015, a grim testament to the severity of the assault. Subsequent developments unfolded swiftly, with four suspects – reportedly citizens of Tajikistan according to a Russian news agency – brought before the court on Sunday. Shockingly, they pleaded guilty to their involvement in the attack, shedding light on the gravity of the situation. As the nation grapples with this tragedy, attention shifts to how Russian authorities will navigate this crisis and what measures President Putin may undertake in response to this heinous act of terrorism

Why would IS attack Russia?

IS’ motivations for targeting Russia are multifaceted, encompassing practical, historical, and ideological factors. From a strategic standpoint, IS leaders view attacks on distant targets as integral to their extremist agenda. Successful operations not only terrorize adversaries but also galvanize existing supporters and draw in new recruits.

Resource availability often dictates the IS’ choice of targets. For instance, the influx of French and Belgian recruits in Syria nearly a decade ago sparked a wave of attacks in both countries. More recently, IS has actively recruited central Asian militants, facilitated by its Afghan branch, the Islamic State of Khorasan Province (ISKP). These recruits, many of whom are Russian-speaking or even Russian nationals, present a convenient conduit for attacks on Moscow.

IS statements claiming responsibility for attacks frequently emphasize ideological motivations, such as targeting “Christians.” Additionally, leaders of ISKP perceive Russia as supportive of the Taliban’s rule, which has historically suppressed them. Memories of Soviet military interventions in Afghanistan during the 1980s, alongside the legacy of resistance (“Jihad”) against Moscow’s forces by their predecessors, further fuel animosity. Russia’s brutal conflict in Chechnya in 1999 also contributed to the complex web of historical grievances motivating IS’ targeting of Russia.

The anticipated response from Russia to the Moscow attack is expected to be robust and potentially marked by a repressive crackdown, as is often the case with terrorist incidents aiming to provoke authorities into harsh actions, thereby escalating violence. If this was indeed part of the Islamic State’s plan for Moscow, they are likely to witness their desired outcome.

Reports indicate that Russian authorities’ interrogation of the suspects has been characterized by brutality. During court proceedings, all suspects appeared visibly injured, with bruised and swollen faces. One individual even arrived at court directly from the hospital, necessitating the use of a wheelchair and bearing visible signs of multiple cuts.

President Putin has unequivocally pledged to punish those responsible for the “barbaric terrorist attack.” Unfortunately, such responses often translate into heightened scrutiny and repression targeted at Muslim minorities within Russia.

Notably, Putin’s public remarks following the massacre made no mention of IS’s claims of responsibility. Despite IS asserting its role in the attack and providing corroborative footage, Russia has attempted to shift some blame onto Ukraine. Putin alleged, without substantiating evidence, that the four apprehended gunmen had intentions to flee to Ukraine. In response, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy accused Putin and his associates of attempting to deflect responsibility away from Russian intelligence failures. This exchange underscores the geopolitical complexities at play and hints at potential diplomatic tensions in the aftermath of the tragic event.

By ASAD

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