South Asia and Beyond

Moscow Attackers Could Be From Islamic State Or Ukrainians, Even Chechens

 Moscow Attackers Could Be From Islamic State Or Ukrainians, Even Chechens

As Russia mourned its dead in perhaps the worst act of terrorism in many years, speculation about the identities of the attackers mounted as Moscow questioned the US giving a clean chit to the Ukrainians.

“The White House said it sees no indication that Ukraine or Ukrainians were involved … on what basis do officials in Washington draw any conclusions … about anyone’s involvement, asked Maria Zakharova, foreign ministry spokeswoman in Moscow.

“If the US had or has reliable information on this matter, it must be immediately handed over to the Russian side. And if there is no such data, then the White House has no right to issue indulgences to anyone,” she said.

Fair point. For the record, the Ukrainians have said they had nothing to do with the attack on the Crocus Concert Hall near Moscow.

On the other hand, the Islamic State has reportedly claimed responsibility, with its Amaq news agency saying it had attacked a large group of “Christians” in Krasnogorsk on Moscow’s outskirts.
While the Russians can be expected to verify the claim, the Islamic State has little reason to like the Russians who blocked and defeated its advance in Syria. The Assad regime in Damascus survives today because of Russian (and Iranian) help.

On the other hand, there have long been reports and rumours of collusion between the US forces based in northeast Syria (Al Shaddadi and Al Omar oil field and Al Tanf on the border with Iraq and Jordan) and the Islamic State.

“This is a deep intelligence game,” said a former Indian diplomat who had served in Moscow, “there are layers and layers and it would be difficult to pinpoint leave alone prove any collusion.”
He also pointed to reports about a US role in moving the Islamic State from the battlefields of Syria and Iraq to Nangarhar in Afghanistan, to ensure the Taliban don’t have a free run.

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The US insists on the purity of its motives, saying It had privately shared with Russia earlier this month, “Information about a planned terrorist attack in Moscow potentially targeting large gatherings, to include concerts.”

Adrienne Watson spokesperson for the White House National Security Council, said “The US Government also shared this information with Russian authorities in accordance with its long standing ‘duty to warn’ policy”.

While the Russians can be expected to come up with a response and an explanation to address the anger of their own people, the former diplomat wondered if the attack could provoke the Russians to retaliate in the manner the US did in the wake of 9/11. Recall, the 9/11 attack using passenger aircraft was done by Saudis but the Americans hit Afghanistan because the conspiracy was hatched there.

Where could the Russians respond? If the answer is Ukraine, the sense on the ground is the Russians have the advantage with a war of attrition that appears to be wearing down the Ukrainians. They are running short of virtually everything to keep the war effort going and casualties are rising.

But hitting at the Islamic State and their collaborators in Russia may not be easy. It’s not that the former is out there in the public eye waiting to be hit. As for collaborators, they could be Chechens with a long history of grievance against the Russian state (two wars in Chechnya). They could be Central Asians with their own list of grudges.

For now, the Russian state will be preoccupied with handling the domestic fallout of the attack. Some heads will roll in the domestic security and intelligence establishment. The perpetrators of the attack will be hunted down before long. In time the Russian response will come.

Surya Gangadharan

Thirty eight years in journalism, widely travelled, history buff with a preference for Old Monk Rum. Current interest/focus spans China, Technology and Trade. Recent reads: Steven Colls Directorate S and Alexander Frater's Chasing the Monsoon. Netflix/Prime video junkie. Loves animal videos on Facebook. Reluctant tweeter.