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Moscow concert hall attack: At least 143 killed, over 100 wounded, ISIS took responsibility

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As Moscow saw one of its deadliest terror attacks in decades, with over 143 people killed as gunmen opened fire at a concert hall, questions have swirled on social media why the Islamic State targeted Russia. The attack, which comes days after Russian President Vladimir Putin won his fifth term in office, was carried out by the Islamic State Khorasan (ISIS-K), an affiliate of the Islamic State in Afghanistan.

Attackers dressed in camouflage uniforms entered the building, opened fire and threw grenades or incendiary bombs. Videos showed images of flames and black smoke pouring from the hall. Three helicopters were involved in efforts to put out the fire, dumping water on the giant concert hall that can hold several thousand people and has hosted top international artists.

Scores of people hid behind seats in the hall or rushed towards entrances to the basement or roof to escape the bullets. Shortly after midnight, the emergencies ministry said the fire had been contained. Police have arrested 11 suspects – including all four gunmen directly involved in carrying out the deadly attack – following a “car chase” in Russia’s Bryansk region.

ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack

The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the attack, saying its fighters attacked “a large gathering” on Moscow’s outskirts and “retreated to their bases safely”.

The attack comes amid a long-standing and persistent conflict between Russia and the Islamic State that started with President Putin’s intervention in the Syrian Civil War in 2015. Putin had backed President Bashar al-Assad against the Islamic State.

This is, however, not the first time that ISIS-K has targeted Russia. In 2022, the ISIS-K carried out a suicide attack on the Russian Embassy in Afghanistan’s Kabul, which killed eight people, including two embassy employees.

The development comes as ISIS-K got a second wind following the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan, and is seeking new targets outside the Taliban-controlled country.

Initially, the media doubted this claim, but CBS, CNN and The New York Times, citing US intelligence, emphasised that the country does not doubt ISIS’s involvement in the attack.

The NYT, in particular, reports that it involves an ISIS unit based in Afghanistan, which is purportedly seeking revenge against Russia for its actions in Afghanistan, Chechnya, and Syria.

USA warned Russia of a potential Terrorist Attack

The sources said that the United States had informed Moscow in advance that it had intelligence about the alleged preparation of the attack.

CBS News noted that it had also received confirmation of this from National Security Council spokeswoman Adrienne Watson, without specifying whether it was both of the above statements or one of them.

Later, the Russian news agency TASS reported that a “source in the Russian secret services” had also confirmed that the United States had warned Moscow about the terrorist threat.

Earlier, the White House said that there was no evidence of any involvement by Ukraine in the attack.

All Major powers slammed the Terror Attack

Russian President Vladimir Putin wished a speedy recovery to the inured. “The president wished everyone a speedy recovery and conveyed his gratitude to the doctors,” deputy prime minister Tatyana Golikova was quoted as saying by Russian news agencies.

The European Union, France, Spain and Italy joined several countries in condemning the attack. The US called the attack “terrible” and said there was no immediate sign of any link to the conflict in Ukraine.

The US embassy had said two weeks before the attack that there was a risk of “extremists” targeting mass gatherings in Moscow, including concerts.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi condemned the terror attack in Moscow. “We strongly condemn the heinous terrorist attack in Moscow. Our thoughts and prayers are with the families of the victims. India stands in solidarity with the government and the people of the Russian Federation in this hour of grief,” Pm Modi posted on X – earlier known as Twitter.

Is anti-Muslim sentiment in Russia is a reason for this attack?

The Muslim population in Russia is estimated to be around 20 million. Most of the Muslim population resides in the North Caucasus region, which includes Chechnya. The region, which has experienced two wars since the collapse of the Soviet Union, has seen the emergence of extremist groups, including those affiliated with the Islamic State.

Human rights groups have flagged abuses against Muslims, including torture, restrictions on religious practices, surveillance, arbitrary arrests, and targeted violence in the region.

Moreover, the Russian government has enforced several policies targeting religious groups under the guise of combating extremism in Crimea, which it annexed in 2014.

An Amnesty International report said Russia has brought a law according to which praying, preaching or disseminating religious materials outside specifically designated places was a punishable offence. The report also mentions instances of Russian security personnel disrupting Friday prayers in Crimean mosques.

Moreover, remarks by Putin that the hijab was not a part of “traditional Islam” and was borrowed from an alien tradition has also given to resentment. In 2012, wearing hijabs at schools was first banned in Russia’s Stavropol region.

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