Russia-Ukraine War Left Putin’s FSB Too Hard-pressed To Stop ISIS Attack

Russia-Ukraine War Left Putin's FSB Too Hard-pressed To Stop ISIS Attack

President Vladimir Putin did not reference the Islamist group ISIS in his address to the nation following Friday’s violent attack on a Moscow concert hall, despite the group’s swift claim of responsibility.

Instead, Russian propagandists have endeavored to attribute blame to Ukraine, a tactic analysts suggest is designed to stoke domestic resentment toward the neighboring country and divert attention from deficiencies in Moscow’s security apparatus, which have become more apparent since Putin’s directive for a full-scale invasion of Ukraine two years ago.

Responsibility for the attack, where four gunmen killed at least 133 people and set the building on fire, was specifically attributed by the US and other western countries to an Afghan-based affiliate known as ISIS-Khorasan, or ISIS-K.

The US warned several weeks beforehand that an attack was likely. Reports in Russia suggested that the four main assailants detained by the FSB on Saturday were all from Tajikistan, a central Asian country whose citizens make up a large proportion of the members of Isis-K, according to analysts who monitor the group. But Russian officials and state media have made little reference to Isis’s claim.

Instead Putin, Russian officials and the FSB security service repeatedly claimed the assailants were intercepted while travelling to Ukraine. “It was not Isis. It was the Ukrainians,” Margarita Simonyan, the propagandist editor of state media channel Russia Today, wrote on her popular Telegram channel. “The perpetrators were chosen in such a way that they would convince the dumb global public that it was Isis.” Ukrainian officials have vehemently denied any involvement and said that Putin was trying to blame Kyiv in order to create a pretext to escalate his 10-year war.

“Miserable Putin, instead of attending to his own citizens of Russia, addressing them, remained silent for a day thinking about how to link this with Ukraine,” President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in his Saturday night address from Kyiv. He also suggested that Russia could have stopped the attack had its security forces not been waging war against Ukraine. “Those hundreds of thousands of Russians who are now killing on Ukrainian land would surely be enough to stop any terrorists,” he said. A spokesperson for the US National Security Council said Isis bore “sole responsibility for this attack”. “There was no Ukrainian involvement whatsoever,” Adrienne Watson said.

The footage depicts a gunman firing in the auditorium hallway at individuals lying on the floor, while another assailant brandishes a knife to attack people. Meanwhile, the person recording the video can be heard shouting “Allahu akbar” into the camera.

Individuals dressed similarly to those in the attack video were subsequently detained by Russia’s security services, as reported in footage circulated online and by the Russian investigative outlet iStories.

Vera Mironova, an associate fellow at the Davis Center at Harvard University, remarked on the significance of the assailants’ ability to carry out the attack amidst Russia’s state of war, during which its military and security services were mobilized.

Mironova, who studies Islamist terrorist movements in the former Soviet Union, said Isis-K hit Moscow because it was relatively easy: “It’s about the convenience of the target.”

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