ISIS Claims Responsibility For Attack At Moscow Concert Hall

(Berlin, D.E. / New York, N.Y.) – On the evening of March 22, a large-scale terror attack occurred in Moscow, reportedly killing 40 individuals and injuring at least 100. ISIS via its propaganda outlet Amaq News Agency claimed responsibility for the attack.

With this attack, ISIS has demonstrated again that it remains a dangerous global terrorist network. Since the October 7 attack by Hamas against Israel, ISIS has been under significant pressure to conduct attacks against targets outside immediate conflict zones to demonstrate its continued relevance as a global terrorist network to its sympathizers. Especially as the attention of the world media has been justifiably focused on Hamas, Hezbollah, and more recently the Houthis.

Given the fact that the current ISIS claim of responsibility is specific in identifying the location of the attack and asserting that some of its fighters were able to flee the scene, which seems to have been the case, this claim of responsibility appears credible.

IS-Khorasan Province (ISKP) is the most likely ISIS affiliate behind this attack, given its operational structure. In its propaganda statements ISKP has continuously highlighted the close relationship of Russia to the Taliban regime and called for attacks against both. Furthermore, since 2020, ISKP has made sustained attempts to conduct complex terrorist attacks in Europe. In summer 2020, German authorities arrested an ISKP-linked terrorist cell in Germany that, according to the federal prosecutor of Germany, was planning to attack U.S. military installations in Germany. Additional ISKP linked cells were arrested in summer 2023 in Germany and in the Netherlands. In December 2023, German and Austrian authorities arrested ISKP members who planned to conduct attacks against events in Europe during the Christmas holiday. Finally, this week, German authorities arrested two Afghan members of ISKP who reportedly planned attacks in Sweden.

During these arrests, it became clear that ISKP is returning to the “classic” terrorist methodology, made infamous by al-Qaeda in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Operatives are recruited and trained outside the target countries, operate as multi-person cells, and aim to conduct spectacular, more complex terror attacks than those carried out by lone actors. The attack Friday night in Moscow seems to have been an example of this methodology.

Dr. Hans-Jakob Schindler, Managing Director of CEP Germany, stated:

“Friday night’s horrible events in Moscow are an important reminder that we should not underestimate the continued terrorist threat that ISIS poses. Furthermore, Afghanistan remains a very active terrorism zone. ISKP maintains its main center of gravity in the country and the Taliban are neither capable nor ultimately willing to get ISKP fully under control. A significant number of the current ISKP members in Afghanistan are former Taliban, hence any sustained pressure by the Taliban against ISKP risks Taliban defections to ISKP. Given this situation, the Taliban can never be a reliable counterterrorism partner. Furthermore, should the responsibility of ISKP for this attack be established, the Taliban should also be held responsible.”

Ambassador Mark Wallace, CEO of the Counter Extremism Project, stated:

“The terrorist attack at a concert hall in Moscow tragically illustrates that ISIS remains an active global terrorism threat. If the ISIS affiliate in Afghanistan, ISKP, indeed carried out this attack, the Taliban is sure to blame for its inability to rein in groups operating from within its borders. The Taliban regime is in control of Afghanistan and any terrorism emanating from the country ultimately remains their responsibility, even if conducted by a group that is their adversary.”

To read CEP’s ISIS report, click here.
To read CEP’s Afghanistan Content Report, click here.

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