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Security experts say Islamic State claim for Russian concert attack is credible


LONDON: A claim of responsibility by Islamic State for a massacre of Russian concertgoers near Moscow appears to be plausible and fits with a pattern of previous marauding attacks by Islamist militants, security analysts said on Saturday.
One leading expert said, however, it was unusual and striking that the assailants had formed and executed an escape plan instead of pursuing their rampage to the point of being gunned down.
Islamic State, also known as IS or ISIS, issued statements claiming responsibility for Friday evening’s attack in which Russian investigators said 133 people were killed, and published a photograph of the alleged gunmen.
Russia has not said who it believes was behind the mass shooting, but has stated – without providing evidence – that the perpetrators had contacts in Ukraine. It said the gunmen fled by car and were captured hours later near the Ukrainian border. Ukraine, defending against Russia’s invasion since 2022, has emphatically denied any involvement.
Adam Dolnik, a Czech security expert who has studied past Islamist attacks in India, Kenya, Russia and elsewhere, said the Islamic State claim appeared credible, although “that will not stop the Russians from leveraging this for their foreign policy agenda vis-a-vis Ukraine and the West”.
Dolnik said in a telephone interview that attacks by marauding gunmen were a typical modus operandi in recent years for IS and al Qaeda.
He noted Islamic State has a record of previous attacks against Russia, including the bombing of a 2015 flight from the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh to St Petersburg and a 2022 attack on the Russian embassy in Kabul. Earlier this month, Russia’s FSB said it foiled an attack on a Moscow synagogue by ISIS-K, an affiliate of the group.
“If you line up all these things together, then I think it’s completely conceivable that this would be an IS attack,” he said.
The one element that was unusual was that the perpetrators had made their escape, he said – unlike typical Islamist militant attacks where the perpetrators go in prepared to die and expecting to be shot in the end by security forces.
Tunnel Vision
Their execution of the attack and escape showed a high degree of planning and coordination, given gunmen in such situations can get caught up in “tunnel vision” and end up scattered and isolated from their accomplices, Dolnik said.
“If they were coordinated enough to actually make an escape all together, all at once, that to me tells a story of a really well planned attack and strong coordination between the individual attackers.”
Yassin Musharbash, a German journalist and security specialist, said the language, content and channels of communication that were used for the claim of responsibility showed that the claim definitely came from Islamic State.
In a post on X, he said that did not mean it was factually true that the group carried out the attack, but that this was plausible.
In the past, militant groups have been known to claim attacks carried out by others, if they fit with their preferred targets and propaganda goals.
IS has strong motivation to strike Russia, which intervened against it in Syria’s civil war in 2015 on the side of President Bashar al-Assad.
“ISIS-K has been fixated on Russia for the past two years, frequently criticizing Putin in its propaganda,” said Colin Clarke of Soufan Center, a New York-based research group. The ISIS-K branch of Islamic State sprang up in 2014 in Afghanistan.
Michael Kugelman of the Washington-based Wilson Center said ISIS-K “sees Russia as being complicit in activities that regularly oppress Muslims”.
Peter Neumann, another German security specialist, said the claim of responsibility, the modus operandi, the alleged involvement of Muslim gunmen from former Soviet Central Asia and the fact that the United States had warned of an impending “extremist” attack in Russia all pointed towards IS.
“*Conclusion* It wasn’t Putin, it wasn’t Ukraine. It was ISIS!” he posted on X.

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