Terror in Moscow: On concerns over the Islamic State

The Islamic State poses security challenges for the Eurasian region 

Updated - March 26, 2024 08:39 am IST

Published - March 26, 2024 12:15 am IST

The terror attack at the Crocus City Hall on the outskirts of Moscow on March 22, that killed at least 137 people, underscores the concerns that the Islamic State (IS), whose physical caliphate in Syria and Iraq was destroyed six years ago, is on a path to revival. In January, the Islamic State-Khorasan (IS-K), the Afghanistan-based arm of the Sunni jihadist group, had carried out twin bombings in Kerman, Iran, targeting a memorial event of General Qassem Soleimani, the Quds Force commander assassinated by the U.S. in January 2020. These bombings killed at least 80 people. Since then, the IS has targeted Turkey, Syria and Afghanistan, and the Moscow shooting points to its growing terror capabilities. The Russian authorities have charged four Tajik nationals. The IS-K, which was established in Afghanistan’s Nangarhar province in 2015, is largely made up of Central Asian militants. This branch rose to prominence after the Taliban’s return to power in Afghanistan in August 2021. Since then, the IS-K has attacked Afghanistan’s Shia minority, and sought to build a network of cells with radicalised youths from Central Asia and Afghanistan’s Tajik and Uzbek minorities, who were angry with the Taliban’s Pashtun regime. These networks are now gaining strength.

In recent months, the IS-K has run propaganda videos against Russia and President Vladimir Putin. The IS claims that the Russians spilled “the blood of Muslims” in Afghanistan, Chechnya and Syria. In Syria, Russia’s intervention in 2015 turned the civil war around in favour of the regime of President Bashar al-Assad, who the IS wanted to topple. If in 2013-14, al Qaeda in Iraq and the IS used anti-western propaganda to build networks across West Asia, today, the IS-K is using anti-Russian and anti-Iranian propaganda to find recruits among Central Asians, Afghans and Pakistanis. The group, which once controlled territories across Syria and Iraq, has now transformed itself into a traditional terrorist outfit that hides in chaos and strikes on the public. The back-to-back attacks pose a serious security challenge to the Eurasian region, especially for Russia, which hosts thousands of Central Asian migrant labourers. Mr. Putin, who rose to power in the late 1990s promising security to Russians battered by terror attacks, will have to plug the security loopholes. But that will not be enough. To tackle the IS, countries need to address the geopolitical conditions that help the IS regroup. As long as the Taliban continues its Pashtun-only rule over a diverse, radicalised Afghanistan, and instability, wars and lawlessness prevail in parts of West Asia, groups such as the IS would continue to find avenues to grow and strike.

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