March 25, 2024

Who is Behind Moscow Attack? ISKP, IS Central or Ukraine

I have carefully analysed content of Islamic State published by different chapters of the group about an attack in Russian capital Moscow on a concert  hall March 23, 2024 in which more than 100 people were killed any hundreds others injured.

Western media widely reported that the attack is claimed by Islamic State Khorasan chapter while the Russian government and Russian media vehemently rejected these claims and held Ukraine responsible for the attack. Four suspected attackers and 11 others have been arrested by Russian secret service FBS and it claimed that a window was opened for the attackers to flee to Ukraine.

There is mystery surrounding who actually perpetrated this attack.

IS Releases Photos of the Four Attackers of Crocus City Hall

The western media mostly shared a screen shot of Islamic State’s official news agency Aamaq’s claim in Arabic language in which it said that “Christians” were targeted in the attack. Russian media claimed that the template used for the attack was long been abandoned by IS.

Next day on March 22, another statement of IS surfaced in which it gave details of the attack.

In my content analysis nowhere, I could find the word ‘Khorasan’ in any of the two statements attributed to Islamic State. The claim was initially made in Arabic by IS Central and then gradually it was translated into English, Pasho, Urdu and other languages. It speaks

First News Published by Amaq Agency in Arabic

مصدر أمني لوكالة أعماق: مقاتلو الدولة الإسلامية هاجموا تجمعا كبيرا للنصارى في مدينة “كراسنو جورسك” في ضواحي العاصمة الروسية موسكو وقتلوا وأصابوا المئات وألحقوا دمارا كبيرا
بالمكان قبل أن ينسحبوا إلى قواعدهم بسلام

Official English statement attributed to IS translated it as

English Translation by Halummu: Translation Wing of IS

“Breaking Amaq Agency:
A security source to Amaq Agency: Islamic State fighters attacked a large gathering of Christians in the city of Krasnogorsk on the outskirts of the Russian capital, Moscow, killing and wounding hundreds and causing great destruction to the place before they withdrew to their positions safely.”

Neither in the first statement nor in the second statement IS Khorasan was mentioned then why the western media is adamant that it was ISKP behind the attack?

Some very interesting statements came from the United States. The western media quoted anonymous American officials and said that these officials confirmed that the claim was made by Islamic State Khorasan chapter.

I don’t know why the Western media, and governments led by the United States specifically want to attribute the attack to the Wilayah Khorasan of the so-called Islamic State. There are all indications that it was claimed by IS Central. Amaq news agency has a set pattern of attributing attacks to its chapter. The news starts from the name of the chapter. It usually goes like this; “Islamic State – West Africa Wilayah” or “Islamic State – Khorasan Wilayah”. However, the statement issued on March 23, 2024 doesn’t mention any of the chapters. Rather it only mentioned “Islamic State” and then the statement.

Second News Published by Amaq Agency in Arabic

ISKP’s leadership is hiding for its life. The group has no territory under its control in Afghanistan or Pakistan. Most of its senior commanders have been killed by Taliban. Sanaullah Ghaffari alia Dr Shahab Al Muhajir the current head of the group is reportedly fled from Afghanistan. Going through such a chaotic state of affairs it is next to impossible that the group could carry out such kind of an attack at its own.

I have been following ISKP and ISPP activities for years. To me ISKP’s operational capabilities are dwindling due to a very effective crackdown by Taliban regime in Afghanistan. Although the group carried out some very lethal suicide attacks in Pakistan, Iran and Afghanistan, the attack in Moscow is a different ball game together as it involved not just transportation of a suicide bomber to the location of the attack but it also involved meticulous recce, including marking entry exit gates, getting knowledge of the maximum gathering of people at the target site, transportation of fire arms and incendiary bombs. This must have involved dry practice or rehearsal too as the attackers did whatever they planned without any resistance from anywhere.

Arrested Crocus City Hall Attacker; Tajik by Ethnicty
Pattern of official claims show mentioning of name of Wilayah/chapter at the start of claim. This is missing from statement related to Moscow attack

While the Western media is adamant to link it with ISKP at the same time Russia is in total denial mode to accept that the attack was perpetrated by IS. It consistently and insistently points towards Ukraine. However, there are reasons to give credence to the claims made by IS Central. In its second statement, the group claimed that the attackers were also equipped with knives and they beheaded many victims. On 24th March, IS affiliated social media accounts published a video clip where one of the attackers holding a knife is guiding other attackers to open fire in a corridor. The attackers are chanting some slogan but I couldn’t recognise the language. Also, the voice is deliberately distorted to avoid recognition. After few seconds, same knife holding attacker beheads a victim who was laying on the ground. The video was shot by the attackers themselves and it is exclusively available only with Islamic State.

Pattern of official claims show mentioning of name of Wilayah/chapter at the start of claim. This is missing from statement related to Moscow attack

Russia had officially accused the United States in early 2023 that it transported Islamic fighters from Syria to Ukraine to fight against Russia. It is also worth noting that a faction of Chechen militants fighting against Russia had pledged allegiance to Islamic State and most of its fighters had also migrated to Syria just like thousands others from Central Asian States. IS Central has thousands of Central Asian and Russian fighters while the number of fighters from other nations inside Afghanistan are in few hundreds. Videos also emerged on social media where anti Russian fighters from Caucasian region were seen fighting against Russian troops in Ukraine. Pro Russian Chechens under the command of Ramazan Qadirov fight alongside Russian troops against Ukrainian troops and pro Ukraine militants. 

In conclusion one cannot rule out involvement of Islamic State in the attack but at the same time Ukrainian connection cannot be ruled out too. However,  there is no evidence obtained so far that it was an attack by ISKP. 

The writer is a renowned Counter Terrorism expert and Managing Director at Pakistan Institute for Conflict and Security Studies

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