Putin’s terrible mistake

(CNN) — If ISIS was indeed responsible for Friday’s attack on a Moscow-area concert hall that killed at least 133 people, it would suggest that the terrorist group is, unfortunately, making a comeback.

Vladimir Putin, President of Russia. Credit: Natalia Kolesnikova/Pool/AFP via Getty Images

ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack; A US official told CNN that the US has no reason to doubt this.

At its peak in 2014 and 2015, ISIS controlled areas in Iraq and Syria roughly the size of the United Kingdom and a population of millions. During that period, the group also carried out a series of terrorist plots in Europe, including an attack in Paris that killed 130 people in 2015. ISIS has also inspired terrorists in the United States, including the gunman who killed 49 people at the Pulse nightclub. In 2016, the deadliest terrorist attack in the United States since 9/11 occurred in Orlando, Florida.

But between 2017 and 2018, ISIS lost its so-called geographic “caliphate” in Iraq and Syria, and it has since become a group of few ISIS affiliates in Africa and Asia who have the leverage to carry out large-scale attacks elsewhere. has clearly less potential.

One of the most dangerous allies is ISIS-K in Afghanistan, which killed 13 US service members and about 170 Afghan civilians at Kabul airport after the Biden administration withdrew all US troops from Afghanistan in August 2021.

However, it was understood at the time that ISIS affiliates in Afghanistan and some African countries such as the Democratic Republic of Congo or Somalia were not capable of carrying out major international attacks. But then in January there was a massive terrorist attack in Iran, which killed 84 people at a memorial service for General Qassem Soleimani, one of Iran’s most powerful military leaders, who was killed in a drone strike. Americans in 2020. Through that attack, ISIS-K demonstrated that the group, which is deeply anti-Shia, could attack a hostile state like predominantly Shia Iran.

In March alone, a Russian state news agency said the country had foiled several ISIS-related incidents, including a plot to attack a synagogue in Moscow.

The US Embassy in Russia also said on March 7 that it was “following up on reports that extremists have imminent plans to attack large gatherings in Moscow, including concerts.” According to a spokesperson for the US National Security Council, “The US government also shared this information with Russian officials in accordance with its long-standing ‘duty to warn’ policy.” But Russian President Vladimir Putin dismissed the US warning as “provocative” and said: “These actions completely resemble blackmail and the intention to intimidate and destabilize our society.”

Overall, the fact that Russian authorities detected a series of ISIS-related plots earlier this month and that US officials were warning of an attack at the same time indicates that there was an active terrorist threat from ISIS in Moscow. . Not only for the United States but also for the Russians.

But Russian President Vladimir Putin linked the suspects in Friday’s attack to Ukraine during a five-minute speech on Saturday. State news agencies said authorities arrested four people suspected of attacking a Moscow-area concert hall while trying to cross the border into Ukraine, and according to the FSB, they “had relevant contacts on the Ukrainian side”.

Ukraine has vehemently denied any involvement in the attack, and both Ukrainian and US officials have expressed concern that Putin’s comments could be used to justify an escalation in the ongoing war.

ISIS-K certainly has the capability and motive to attack Russia. When it comes to motives, Russian support for Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad certainly comes to mind, which helped him remain in power during the Syrian civil war. For ISIS, Assad is a mortal enemy, both because he is a member of the Shia sect and because he has systematically killed Sunnis in Syria. Furthermore, Russia has historically brutally repressed Muslim minorities such as the Chechens. As far as capability is concerned, the ISIS-K attack in Iran earlier this year demonstrated that the group can carry out large-scale attacks outside its base in Afghanistan.

What we do know is that Putin made a huge mistake by ignoring the US warning. And if ISIS-K attacks the concert hall, the Biden administration will have to ask some serious questions about whether the decision to withdraw all U.S. troops from Afghanistan has left ISIS with the capacity to regroup and carry out large-scale attacks elsewhere. is allowed to happen. countries. If this were to happen, it would be a serious blow to the Biden administration.

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