Why Russia may be in the crosshairs of Daesh extremists

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Ambulances and vehicles of Russian emergency services are parked at the burning Crocus City Hall concert venue following a shooting incident, outside Moscow ON March 22, 2024. (REUTERS)
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A view of the burnt Crocus City Hall after an attack on March 23, 2024. (AP)
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An electronic screen installed near the Russian Foreign Ministry headquarters displays a message in memory of the victims of the March 23, 2024 shooting attack at the Crocus City Hall concert venue in Moscow. (REUTERS)
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People lay flowers and light candles standing next to the Crocus City Hall in Moscow on March 23, 2024. (AP)
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Gunmen opened fire at the Crocus City Hall concert venue in the Moscow suburb of Krasnogorsk on March 22, 2024, killing more than 100 people and wounding scores more before a major fire spread through the building. (AFP)
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Bodybags containing dead victims are inspected by investigators looking into the March 22, 2024, Moscow concert attack. (Investigative Committee of Russia via AP)
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A view shows the Crocus City Hall concert venue following Friday's deadly attack outside Moscow on March 23, 2024. (Moscow News Agency/Handout via REUTERS)
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A still image taken from a handout video shows a gun found at the scene of the deadly shooting attack in Crocus City Hall concert venue, on March 23, 2024. (Reuters)
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Updated 24 March 2024
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Why Russia may be in the crosshairs of Daesh extremists

  • Daesh affiliate claims responsibility for Moscow concert venue shooting, which killed at least 115
  • Afghanistan-based IS-K extremists have a ‘track record of attacking Russian targets,’ expert says

LONDON: Just hours after gunmen stormed a popular concert venue on the outskirts of the Russian capital Moscow on Friday night, killing 115, wounding scores and setting the building ablaze, the extremist group Daesh took to Telegram to claim responsibility.




Russian firefighters clear rubble at the Crocus City Hall concert venue after a deadly attack outside Moscow on March 23, 2024. (Russian Emergency Services Handout via REUTERS)

The group said that the attack was executed by its Afghan branch, IS-K, or Islamic State in Khorasan Province — the same group that was behind the twin bombings in Iran in January that killed 94 people at the shrine of former Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani.

“IS-K has a track record of attacking Russian targets,” Luke Coffey, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, told Arab News. “For example, IS-K was behind the attack against the Russian embassy in Kabul in September 2022. Also, IS-K is probably not happy with the deepening relations between Moscow and the Taliban.” 




The bodies of victims killed in Daesh-claimed twin explosions that struck a crowd marking the anniversary of the 2020 killing of Guards general Qasem Soleimani, lie at a hospital in the southern Iranian city of Kerman on January 3, 2024. (ISNA/AFP)

Founded in 2015 by frustrated former members of the Pakistani Taliban who sought more violent methods to spread their extreme interpretation of Islam, IS-K has primarily operated in the ungoverned spaces of rural Afghanistan.

From this initial obscurity, IS-K shot to global attention in August 2021 amid the chaos of the Taliban’s return to power when its members bombed Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, killing more than 170 people, among them 13 US military personnel.




Smoke rises from a deadly explosion outside the airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Aug. 26, 2021. (AP/File)

US operations had reduced IS-K’s numbers significantly, but after the Western withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2021 the group renewed and grew. The Taliban is now regularly engaged in combat against IS-K, as it threatens its ability to govern.




Taliban fighters stand guard at an entrance gate of the Sardar Mohammad Dawood Khan military hospital in Kabul on November 3, 2021, a day after an attack claimed by the Taliban's hardline rivals the Islamic State-Khorasan (IS-K), in which at least 19 people were killed. (AFP/File)

Daesh and its affiliates have previously claimed responsibility for random attacks that they had no direct hand in, leading to some initial skepticism about their role in the Moscow attack. However, US intelligence has since confirmed the authenticity of the claim.

In fact, the US issued a warning to its citizens in Russia as early as March 7, highlighting “reports that extremists have imminent plans to target large gatherings in Moscow, to include concerts.”




A screenshot taken from a handout video released March 23, 2024, shows Russian crime investigators working at the scene of the Crocus City Hall attack in Krasnogorsk, Moscow region. (Handout via REUTERS)

On the same day that the US embassy in Moscow issued this warning, Commander of the US Central Command in the Middle East — CENTCOM — Gen. Michael Kurilla, told a briefing that the risk of attacks emanating from Afghanistan was increasing.

“I assess Daesh-Khorasan retains the capability and will to attack US and Western interests abroad in as little as six months and with little to no warning,” he said, according to a statement issued by the US Department of Defense.

He added: “Daesh is now strong not only in Afghanistan but outside of it as well. It now possesses the capabilities to carry out attacks in Europe and Asia, with its fighters positioned along the border with Tajikistan.”




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With Russia’s security apparatus and defense infrastructure focused primarily on its war with Ukraine, extremist groups such as Daesh appear to have sensed an opportunity to stage a comeback and plot audacious attacks while governments were distracted.

“There is no doubt that Daesh is taking advantage of Russia’s distractions in Ukraine,” Coffey said. “More than two years into Russia’s invasion, the war in Ukraine probably now consumes most of the attention and resources of Russia’s intelligence agencies, armed forces, security services and even law enforcement.




Ukrainian servicemen walk next to destroyed Russian tanks and armored personnel carriers in Dmytrivka village, west of Kyiv, on April 2, 2022. Daesh militants seem to have taken advantage as Russia gets distracted with its disastrous war on Ukraine. (AFP/File)

“Daesh probably saw an opportunity to strike while Russia is weakened. In the past, Daesh publications such as Al-Naba have contained articles about the ‘crusader against crusader war’ taking place between Russia and Ukraine, even suggesting that such a war presents opportunities for them.”

MAJOR TERROR STRIKES IN RUSSIA

• October 2002 40 Chechen militants took 912 hostages in Moscow’s Dubrovka Theater.

July 2003 Two Chechen separatists committed suicide attacks at a rock concert in Moscow, killing 15 people.

February 2004 A suicide bomber killed 41 people in a Moscow subway during rush hour.

September 2004 30 Chechen militants seized a school in Beslan, North Ossetia, killing 330 people, half of whom were children.

March 2010 Two suicide bombers from the Caucasus Emirate group killed 40 people in a Moscow subway.

January 2011 A suicide bomber killed 37 people in the arrivals hall of Moscow Domodedovo airport.

October 2015 Daesh claimed responsibility for blowing up a Russian Metrojet flight over Egypt, killing all 224 passengers.

April 2017 A bomb attack on a subway train in St. Petersburg killed 16 people.

March 2024 ISIS-K, the Afghan branch of Daesh, attacked a Moscow concert hall, killing at least 115 people.

Hani Nasira, a political analyst and expert in terrorism and extremist organizations, echoed Coffey’s view that the conflict between Russia and Ukraine has created fertile ground for surprise attacks on a distracted region.

“Since the conflict in Ukraine started, IS-K has increased the flow of its fighters who have joined the war by going from their initial center of operations in Syria toward their countries of origin to relaunch operations in Northern Caucasus and Central Asian countries, such as Uzbekistan and Tajikistan,” Nasira told Arab News.




Russian President Vladimir Putin on Saturday vowed to punish those behind the Moscow concert hall that killed more than 130, saying four gunmen trying to flee to Ukraine had been arrested. (Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

“The war in Ukraine constituted the starting point for the recurrence of what happened in Afghanistan, with foreign fighters from around the world joining the war alongside Ukraine against Russia, especially since the war, for the Western camp, has turned into a war of attrition with which it aims to inflict maximum losses on Russia or repeat the phenomenon of ‘returnees’ after the war is over,” he said.

“Some of the extremists of Chechen descent are fighting Russia in Ukraine to remove the humiliating stain left by the men of Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov, who support Russia and were described by Daesh’s members as ‘traitors and a disgrace to the Chechen nation’ because no true Chechen would fight in the ranks of Russian President Vladimir Putin.”




In this photo taken on January 09, 1995, Chechen fighters rest beside a fire during a break in the fighting in central Grozny, capital of Chechnya. After years of war, Russian government forces eventually overcame resistance. (AFP/File)

Russia also seems to be of particular interest to IS-K because, as it claims, the Russian military has a record of killing Muslims in Chechnya, Syria and Afghanistan. 

Russia has been targeted by extremist groups numerous times over the past two decades — the Nord Ost theater siege in 2002 and the Beslan massacre in 2004 being the most notorious attacks.

For as long as the focus of its defense apparatus is dominated by the war in Ukraine, Russia may struggle to fend off further attacks by increasingly audacious extremist groups emerging from its restive south.

 


More than 1,200 UK cyclists ride to raise awareness, funds for Gaza

Updated 20 July 2024
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More than 1,200 UK cyclists ride to raise awareness, funds for Gaza

  • Rides will run across London, Belfast, Liverpool, Sheffield, Manchester, Birmingham, Bristol, and South Wales

LONDON: For three weeks, more than 1,200 people will be cycling in cities across the UK, calling on the newly-elected Labour government to demand an immediate ceasefire in Gaza and to end arms sales to Israel.
The Big Ride was founded in 2015 by activists seeking to combine a passion for cycling with solidarity for Palestine.
This year’s events start on Saturday and run until Aug. 10 in London, Belfast, Liverpool, Sheffield, Manchester, Birmingham, Bristol, and South Wales.
The grassroots organization will also be raising funds for Palestinian charities, including the Middle East Children’s Alliance, The Amos Trust, and the Gaza Sunbirds para cycling team, which continue their work in Gaza amidst the ongoing conflict.
Ellen Logan, one of the organizers of The Big Ride, said: “For years we’ve witnessed the daily oppression of the Palestinian people — discrimination, subjugation, and inhumanity. And now we’ve spent the last 10 months watching a live-streamed genocide. Everyone should be outraged and campaigning for an end to this violence.”
Logan added: “We use our bikes and freedoms to raise awareness and provide crucial aid for children and disabled cyclists on the ground in Gaza.”
A recent letter published in British medical journal, The Lancet, estimated the actual death toll in Gaza could be as high as 186,000.
British actress Maxine Peake, who is participating in the cycling event, said: “The Big Ride for Palestine has been raising awareness of this for nearly 10 years now. This year, more riders than ever have signed up, so please join a Big Ride near you.”
 


Bangladeshi military enforces ‘unprecedented’ curfew as protest deaths mount

Updated 20 July 2024
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Bangladeshi military enforces ‘unprecedented’ curfew as protest deaths mount

  • Supreme Court hearing on contentious job quotas expected on Sunday
  • At least 103 people dead, including 44 killed in Dhaka on Friday alone

DHAKA: The Bangladeshi military was deployed to the streets to impose a nationwide curfew on Saturday, after more than 100 people were killed in clashes between police and students protesting government job quotas.

The curfew follows a communications blackout that has left the country of 170 million cut off from the world. Television channels were off air and most local news websites were down as the government shut internet services a day earlier.

“Army members will operate in aid to the civil administration under the guidance of district administrators and city commissioners,” Home Minister Asaduzzaman Kamal told Arab News.

In the capital, the military joined riot police and thousands of Border Guard personnel after the Dhaka Metropolitan Police banned all gatherings amid increasing numbers of casualties.

Students have been demonstrating since the beginning of July against a rule that reserves a bulk of government jobs for the descendants of those who fought in the country’s 1971 liberation war.

At least 103 people have been killed in the past five days and thousands injured, according to a count based on reports in the local media. On Friday alone, at least 44 people were killed in Dhaka, which saw intense clashes between protesters, government supporters and security forces.

Air Commodore (Rtd) Ishfaq Ilahi Choudhury, a security analyst, told Arab News that the nationwide military-backed curfew and the amount of violence across the country were “something unprecedented.”

He was referring to reports that numerous administration offices were set on fire and government vehicles vandalized on Friday. On Thursday, the headquarters of a state-owned television station was set ablaze.

“We have not seen such vandalism earlier in the country where many significant government establishments were vandalized and set on fire,” Choudhury said.

The government abolished the controversial quota system after student protests in 2018, but the High Court reinstated it in June, triggering protests.

An appeal hearing is expected at the Supreme Court on Sunday morning.

Under the quota system, 56 percent of public service jobs are reserved for specific groups, including women, marginalized communities and children and grandchildren of freedom fighters — for whom the government earmarks 30 percent of the posts.

These quotas, which reserve hundreds of thousands of government jobs, hit young people directly.

The country’s unemployment rate is the highest among people aged between 15 and 29 — more than a fourth of Bangladesh’s population — who constitute 83 percent of the total unemployed.


Trump to hold first campaign rally after assassination attempt

Updated 20 July 2024
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Trump to hold first campaign rally after assassination attempt

  • Trump and Vance will take the stage in Grand Rapids with the Republican Party unified behind them after this week’s nominating convention

GRAND RAPIDS:Donald Trump will hold his first campaign rally on Saturday since he narrowly escaped an assassination attempt one week ago and fresh from his nominating convention where his takeover of the Republican Party was cemented.
Trump will appear in Grand Rapids, in the battleground state of Michigan, along with his new vice presidential pick, Ohio US Senator J.D. Vance. It will be their first campaign event together as the now official Republican presidential ticket.
Republican Party officials said during Trump’s nominating convention in Milwaukee this week that his brush with death last Saturday had changed him, and that when he made his acceptance speech on Thursday night he would call for national unity.
While Trump began the address with a call for unity and national healing, much of his speech was his well-known list of grievances and attacks on opponents.
It is unclear what type of a speech Trump will deliver on Saturday, but his diehard supporters typically flock to such events to hear Trump’s more traditional inflammatory rhetoric.
Trump and Vance will take the stage in Grand Rapids with the Republican Party unified behind them after this week’s nominating convention. In contrast, the Democrats are in turmoil and it is no longer certain that President Joe Biden will be the Democratic nominee facing Trump in the Nov. 5 election.
Biden is facing mounting calls from many elected officials in his own party to step aside as the party’s White House candidate and to end his re-election bid, after his poor debate performance against Trump last month.
Biden is trailing in opinion polls and is behind in every swing state against Trump. Many Democrats fear he may have virtually no path to victory and that the party needs a new presidential candidate to take on Trump.
The rally in Grand Rapids will be in an indoor arena, unlike the event in Butler, Pennsylvania last weekend, which was outdoors. At that event, the gunman was able to scale the roof of a building outside the Secret Service perimeter before opening fire on Trump, clipping his ear, killing a rally-goer and wounding several others.
The US Secret Service, which is responsible for protecting Trump, declined to comment on security for the Grand Rapids event. An investigation is under way into the security failures at the Butler rally.
“The Secret Service does not discuss the means and methods used for our protective operations,” the agency said in a statement.
Trump gave a detailed account of his narrow brush with death in his convention speech on Thursday, telling the audience that he was only talking to them “by the grace of Almighty God.”


Senegal detains boat carrying 200 migrants

Updated 20 July 2024
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Senegal detains boat carrying 200 migrants

DAKAR: Senegal’s army said Saturday that it had intercepted a boat carrying over 200 migrants trying to reach Europe, after nearly 90 died when attempting the dangerous Atlantic crossing earlier this month.
The boat intercepted by the patrol boat in fishing waters near Lompoul in northwest Senegal on Friday was carrying 202 people, including five women and a minor, the army posted on X.
In early July, a boat carrying around 170 people who set off from Senegal capsized off the coast of Mauritania, killing nearly 90 people.
The disaster prompted Senegal’s President Ousmane Sonko to urge people not to risk the Atlantic Ocean’s currents in overcrowded vessels that often are not seaworthy.
But the route is increasingly used as authorities step up surveillance in the Mediterranean.
“I once again make a plea to the young: your solution is not to be found in boats,” Sonko told a crowd of youths in Saint-Louis.
“The future of the world is in Africa... the only continent that still has the significant scope for progress and growth.”
According to the Spanish NGO Caminando Fronteras, more than 5,000 people died trying to reach Spain by sea in the first five months of this year, representing the highest daily average toll since it began keeping records in 2007.


Two killed in overnight strikes on Ukraine

Updated 20 July 2024
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Two killed in overnight strikes on Ukraine

KYIV: At least two people were killed and four wounded in a Russian airstrike overnight on Ukraine’s northeastern Kharkiv region, the regional prosecutor said Saturday.
“Around 3:15 in the morning the enemy launched a missile attack on the town of Barvinkove, in Izium district,” the prosecutor said in a statement.
It listed the dead as two men aged 48 and 69 and said around 50 buildings were damaged in the strike, apparently by three Russian Iskander missiles.
Another strike hit an agricultural business in the village of Oleksiivka, it said, though there were no reported casualties.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has been urging his nation’s allies to step up air defense support to be able to intercept Russian missiles and drones raining down daily on the country over nearly 30 months of conflict.
The death toll in a Russian strike Friday on a playground in the southern city of Mykolaiv rose to four, including one child, with 24 injured, its mayor Oleksander Senkevitch posted on Telegram.