The Savage Return of ISIS? The Deadliest Attack on Russia in Decades

Russia has experienced its worst terror attack in decades after radical Islamic militants dressed in camouflage uniforms brazenly opened fire at a music venue and reportedly threw explosive devices inside the concert hall, which was left in flames and its roof collapsing after the terror attack. 

The attack, which occurred on March 22nd, became the deadliest mass shooting in Russia and Europe. It also became the deadliest terror attack in Russia since the Beslan school siege in 2004, where Islamic militants took more than 1,000 people hostage and killed 334 people.

Four suspects from the former Soviet Republic of Tajikistan were arrested after their assault on Crocus City Hall in Moscow, killing over 140 people and injuring more than 360 victims. The gunmen carried out the attack shortly before Picnic, a Soviet-era Russian band, was set to play a sold-out show at the venue. 

Russian authorities named the suspects as Dalerdzhon Mirzoyev, Saidakrami Murodali Rachabalizoda, Shamsidin Fariduni and Muhammadsobir Fayzov. Videos and images shared on Russian social media showed the men being violently interrogated, with some reports saying at least one of them had been subjected to electrocution.

The four militants appeared at a court in Moscow on March 24th with their faces badly beaten and bruised. The suspects were charged with committing a terrorist act and could face life imprisonment. However, they were remanded into pre-trial detention on May 22 and will be held in preventive custody until that point.

Russian state news agency TASS reported that three of the four suspects pled guilty to all charges. Aside from the four suspects directly involved in the attack, seven others were also arrested and imprisoned. The assailants also said they were arrested 14 hours after the attack in the Bryansk region, located 400km (250 miles) southwest of Moscow.

The Islamic State took responsibility for the attack, releasing graphic footage purporting to show the incident. The IS-affiliated Amaq News Agency also published a video by one of the attackers, where they were shown shooting victims and slitting the throat of one victim. The filming attacker was heard reciting the Takbir. 

American officials have tied the terror attack to one regional affiliate of the Islamic State called the Islamic State in Khorasan Province, ISKP (ISIS-K). The group is working as the Islamic State’s branch in Afghanistan, where it is also embroiled in a conflict with the ruling Taliban. American intelligence officials also told American media that there’s “no reason to doubt” that Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, who just won the 2024 Russian presidential elections last March 15 to 17, condemned the terror attack and said “radical Islamists” perpetrated the attack. 

We know that the crime was committed by radical Islamists, whose ideology the Islamic world itself has been fighting for centuries,” Putin said.

However, despite this statement, as well as IS taking responsibility for the attack, Putin still claimed without evidence that Ukraine was involved in the attack, arguing that Kyiv prepared a “window” for the attackers to escape to Ukraine. 

The Ukrainian government vehemently denied Putin’s allegations and called it “absurd,” with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy saying that Putin and other Russian officials are seeking to divert the blame for the terror attack in Moscow to Ukraine. 

ISIS-K has been largely active in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iran and has been responsible for some terror incidents in these countries, including a deadly Kabul airport bombing that killed 170 Afghans and 13 US service members. The group has also launched multiple attacks on Iran, a close Russian ally, and has a longstanding animosity towards Russia and President Putin.

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