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Why are Islamist groups attacking Russia?

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A man walks near Red Square in Moscow, closed due to security measures that were tightened after the attack on the Krasnogorsk municipal concert hall.

  • Érika Bisaillon (View profile)Érika Bisaillon

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The attack on the Crocus municipal concert hall is the deadliest in Russia in twenty years and the bloodiest in Europe to have been claimed by the armed group Islamic State (IS) since the attacks of 13 November 2015 in Paris. However, this attack, far from being the first claimed by this armed group in this country, does not surprise the experts interviewed by Radio-Canada.

Two weeks ago, the US embassy in Russia warned its citizens that it was closely investigating reports that extremists were imminently planning to target large gatherings in Moscow, including concerts, without however specifying where the threat came from.

On Tuesday, Vladimir Putin rejected these statements. All this looks like pure and simple blackmail and a desire to intimidate and destabilize our society, he said.

Vladimir Putin and the Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation (FSB) likely viewed the warning as an attempt by the United States to sow panic in Russia, said Ferry De Kerckhove, a former Canadian ambassador and professor at the University of Russia. Graduate School of Public and International Affairs at the University of Ottawa.

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I believe it is in the very spirit of Putin's character to ignore these kinds of announcements, he said, although Russia is openly among the targets of ISIS for several years.

In Putin's eyes, heeding these warnings would have been a sign of weakness, believes Mr. De Kerckhove. However, this sign of weakness will cost him quite dearly.

Ignoring what the Americans gave him as information is deplorable, because he will find himself guilty of having ignored what could have avoided this massacre.

A quote from Ferry De Kerckhove, former Canadian ambassador and professor at the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs at the University of Ottawa

Earlier this month, Russian intelligence even dismantled a cell in the South Caucasus that it identified as belonging to ISIS and which was planning to attack two synagogues in Moscow.

< p class="StyledBodyHtmlParagraph-sc-48221190-4 hnvfyV">In a televised address presented on Saturday, Putin echoed the version of events presented by his security services by asserting that the attackers had contacts in Ukraine. At no time did he mention the IS claim.

The suspects were finally arrested in the Bryansk region, bordering Ukraine and Belarus, according to the Russian Investigative Committee.

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Members of the Investigative Committee of Russia examine ammunition found at the scene of the deadly attack on Friday.

It's unfortunate to say, but it doesn't matter who carried out the attack: it remains to be seen how Putin will use it. […] This is a reason which will serve to justify his eternal presence at the head of the country in the name of security and the survival of Russian autonomy, noted Tamara Altéresco, former correspondent in Russia for Radio -Canada, in an interview on Friday on the show 24-60.

It is still too early to say if This attack will strengthen Putin's power, but it is very rare that attacks destabilize him. He uses it above all to continue to convince his population that they need him, adds Tamara Altéresco.

In the same vein, Aurélie Campana, professor in the Department of Political Science at Laval University, believes that “the Russian population will tend – not in its all, but in its majority – to line up more behind Vladimir Putin.”

Every time there is an episode of violence, there is a tightening of the regime. […] This is a turnaround in the situation which will be controlled as it has always been in Russia, that is to say by the use of repression and violence.

A quote from Aurélie Campana, professor of political science at Laval University

“IS-K is a claim that emanates from the Afghan branch of IS [also called Islamic State – Khorasan province]. This armed group, considered by many states as a terrorist organization, owes its name to an Afghan province located on the border between Pakistan and Tajikistan,” explains Aurélie Campana.

It is a group created by a coalition of people who have disassociated themselves from the Islamist groups to which they belonged, such as Al- Qaeda or the Afghan or Pakistani Taliban.

A quote from Aurélie Campana, professor of political science at Laval University

It's a group, which, for more than two years, continues to convey anti-Russian speeches on her social media accounts, continues the professor.

Since the outbreak of the war in Ukraine, IS – and particularly its Afghan branch – has increased its actions to directly mobilize radicalized Muslims in Russia against the Russian state. There is a converging beam which therefore means that this attack is not a total surprise, notes Aurélie Campana.

This propaganda worked until x27;to a certain point, which prompted Russian Muslims to rise up against Vladimir Putin's regime, she adds.

The Russians who were recruited into the ranks of the jihadist organization in Syria and Iraq have inherited significant command responsibilities, notes Wassim Nasr, specialist in jihadism and associate researcher at the Soufran Center.

We must not forget that this is not the first time that ISIS has attack on Russia. There were two claimed attacks in 2016, three in 2017, two in 2018 and one in 2019, all outside the Caucasus region.

A quote from Wassim Nasr, specialist in jihadism and associate researcher at the Soufran Center

Islamist extremist groups are currently located mainly in the North Caucasus and central Russia. There are a certain number of Muslim-majority republics which in the 2010s constituted micro-hotbeds of radicalization with a surge in Salafism very close to that which IS now defends, the professor dissects, adding that Russian prisons are currently full of jihadists .

“There have been pockets of radicalization in Russia that have been known for years. In recent months, all eyes were on Ukraine, and there was very little interest in the liveliness of these outbreaks which continued to be fueled by Russian fighters returning from Syria. The latter were able to contribute to forming clandestine cells, like the one which claims responsibility for Friday's deadly attack,” adds Aurélie Campana.

We thought most of these cells had been dismantled, but that doesn't mean they're gone. They were recomposed thanks to the comings and goings of certain Russian fighters in Syria.

A quote from Aurélie Campana, professor of political science at Laval University

“It is clear that EI-K blames Russia for wars it waged in Chechnya and Syria. He also criticizes him for his intervention in West Africa alongside the Malian and Burkinabe regimes, particularly in the Sahel, as well as his attempts to reconcile with the Afghan Taliban,” concludes Aurélie Campana.

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