6 Questions and Considerations Arising from the Terrorist Attack in Moscow

Terrorist attack Crocus City Hall
Crocus City Hall sign after the terrorist attack (Credits: Mosreg.ru, CC BY 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

Geopolitical Report ISSN 2785-2598 Volume 40 Issue 10
SpecialEurasia OSINT Team

The devastating terrorist attack that occurred in Moscow on March 22nd, 2024, resulting in 147 casualties and hundreds injured, has starkly emphasised the urgent need to combat terrorism, particularly in the face of the escalating influence of the Islamic State within the spectrum of jihadist groups.

This report seeks to address several key questions pertaining to the attack and its implications for Russia.

1. What does this terrorist attack mean for Russia?

The recent events in Moscow serve as a stark reminder that the Russian Federation is not impervious to terrorism and violent attacks, despite the Kremlin’s efforts to fortify security around key strategic sites.

Just weeks prior to the attack, Nikolai Patrushev, the Secretary of the Security Council of the Russian Federation, conveyed confidence in the nation’s security situation during a visit to Magas, the capital of the Republic of Ingushetia, highlighting Russia’s proactive strategy in combating terrorism and violence, particularly in the volatile North Caucasus region.

However, the terrorist attack last week has raised doubts about Moscow’s ability to secure the country effectively and counter threats from terrorist organisations. It underscores the challenges inherent in preventing violent attacks in a nation susceptible to jihadist propaganda, which resonates within the Muslim community and among migrants.

2. How probable is it that Putin himself organised the attack?

The theory suggesting involvement of the re-elected Vladimir Putin in the recent violent attack lacks substantiated evidence and contradicts the fundamental importance of security in Russian society. The theory suggesting involvement of the re-elected Vladimir Putin in the recent violent attack lacks substantiated evidence and contradicts the fundamental importance of security in Russian society, given his political positioning and the prevailing geopolitical climate.

The warning issued by the US embassy in Moscow regarding an impending terrorist attack on March 8th, 2024, further complicates this narrative, as it suggests a breakdown in intelligence and communication within Russia’s security apparatus. The tragic events at Crocus City Hall not only might erode public trust in the government but also highlight Russia’s vulnerabilities in combating terrorism, which is a matter of concern for President Putin.

The Russian leadership bears the responsibility for improving counterterrorism measures, as the substantial loss of life and injuries from the attack highlight the urgent need.

Read also | Terrorist Attack at Crocus City Hall in Moscow: A Preliminary Intelligence Report

3. How might Ukraine have a connection with the terrorist attack?

On Saturday, March 23rd, 2024, during his five-minute televised address, Russian president Vladimir Putin stressed that the four terrorists were “moving toward Ukraine” when the Russian security forces arrested them. According to Putin, “a window was prepared for them from the Ukrainian side to cross the state border.”

While the Russian president refrained from directly implicating Ukraine in the terrorist attack at Crocus City Hall, his remarks have raised suspicions regarding a potential connection between the perpetrators and Ukrainian territory, despite Kyiv’s denial of involvement.

However, beyond the Kremlin’s narrative in the attack’s aftermath, there remains a lack of concrete evidence or credible sources to substantiate such claims. Conversely, since February 2022, Ukraine has indeed attracted the attention of various terrorist groups and jihadist propaganda, highlighting the conflict as a potential opportunity for militants to gain training, expertise, and weapons through affiliations such as Kyiv’s International Legion.

It is noteworthy that in recent years, Germany has apprehended Central Asian citizens with ties to the Islamic State who entered from Ukraine and were allegedly plotting terrorist attacks within German borders, as evidenced by arrests made in July 2023 and January 2024. These developments underscore the complexity of the security landscape surrounding the conflict in Ukraine and the potential ramifications for international security.

4. Is the Islamic State the only threat or Russia?

Last week’s terrorist attack in Moscow stressed how serious is the terrorist threat coming from the Islamic State. Before the attack against the Crocus City Hall, Russian security forces arrested an Islamic State cell which was planning a violent attack against a synagogue in Moscow. During the same days, a counterterrorism operation in Ingushetia resulted in the killing of six militants related always to the Islamic State.

By the way, the Islamic State is not the only threat to the Russian Federation. In the past, as SpecialEurasia reported, Russian authorities arrested people linked also to the terrorist group Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) which mainly operates in Syria but has supporters in different parts of the world. The Russian authorities charged people linked with HTS of subsidising this terrorist group and sharing their jihadist propaganda online.

In the context of the terrorist threat, we also must mention Imarat Kavkaz (Caucasus Emirate). This terrorist group established in 2007 by the self-proclaimed emir Doku Umarov represented a significant threat for the Russian security, especially in the North Caucasus. Since 2013, Russian and local authorities hugely contrasted the Caucasus Emirate, managing to eliminate the most prominent figures and reducing the numbers of its militants.

Currently, although hugely debunked, Imarat Kavkaz still threatens the Russian Federation thanks to its propaganda online disseminated. For instance, since the beginning of the Ukraine conflict Abu Hamza, Amir of the Mujahideen-Muhajirs of the Vilayat Nokhchichoy of Imarat Kavkaz, released several videos and audios to support the fight against the Russian armed forces and call North Caucasian people, especially the Chechens, to unite and fight for the independence of the region from the Kremlin’s authority.

Read also | Counter-Terrorism Operation in Ingushetia: A Risk Assessment

5. Since the terrorist were Tajik citizens, which implication can Moscow and Dushanbe face?

On March 23rd, 2024, the FSB announced the arrest of four suspects in the terrorist. According to the intelligence service, they tried to escape by “moving by car towards the Russian-Ukrainian border.” As part of the investigation, the FSB reported they detained 11 people – it is unclear who the other seven were and what happened to them now.

Russian security forces arrested Dalerjon Mirzoev, Saidakrami Rachabalizoda, Muhammadsobir Fayzov and Shamsiddin Fariduni for two months, until May 22. They fully admitted their guilt.

The recent terrorist attack perpetrated by Tajik citizens within the Russian Federation highlights the multifaceted challenges surrounding Central Asian migrants in the country. Despite the pivotal role remittances play in the economies of nations such as Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan, with percentages of GDP as high as 51% in the case of Tajikistan, ongoing economic adversities within Russia, including a devaluing Ruble and constrained job opportunities, have not deterred the influx of labour migrants from Central Asia.

However, in the attack’s wake, Tajik migrants in Russia now grapple with heightened concerns of xenophobia. Moreover, against the backdrop of escalating geopolitical tensions stemming from the Ukraine conflict, Central Asian citizens are increasingly diversifying their migration destinations away from Russia. Consequently, the Russian Federation may face a notable decline in Central Asian migrants due to intensified security measures and growing apprehension among Russian citizens.

Migrants’ remittances serve as a crucial component of Moscow’s strategy to maintain closer ties with the Central Asian republics, which the Kremlin views as part of its blizhnee zarubezhe (near abroad) and lebensraum (vital space).

This approach underscores Russia’s geopolitical imperative to exert influence in the region, particularly against the backdrop of increasing competition from other global powers such as China, Turkey, the United States, and the European Union. This strategy is significant in Tajikistan, where Moscow has established a military base near Dushanbe to bolster the country’s counterterrorism efforts.

Given these dynamics, Russia’s retention of control over Central Asia, and Tajikistan in particular, is imperative for safeguarding its strategic interests amid intensifying geopolitical rivalries.

In light of the prevailing circumstances, it is plausible that the Kremlin will endeavour to bolster defence cooperation with Dushanbe to consolidate its presence in the Central Asian republic and mitigate the risk of future terrorist incidents involving Tajik citizens or migrants.

Moscow’s exertion of pressure on Dushanbe could compel Tajik authorities to intensify control and security measures in a country that has grappled with numerous human rights abuses, particularly concerning religious freedom and the management of ethnic minorities. However, such measures may inadvertently fuel discontent among the populace, potentially creating fertile ground for terrorist groups like the Islamic State Khorasan Province (ISKP) and Tehrik-e-Taliban Tajikistan to disseminate propaganda and recruit local citizens for orchestrating attacks within Tajikistan or even targeting Russian interests.

Thus, while Moscow may seek to fortify its strategic position through enhanced defence collaboration, the ramifications could exacerbate existing vulnerabilities and contribute to a heightened threat environment in both Tajikistan and Russia.

6. What Europe can learn from this event?

As the Eastern holidays approach, it is imperative for Europe to bolster its security measures to pre-empt potential threats. Previous terrorist attacks in France, Germany, Belgium, and the United Kingdom have highlighted the danger posed by jihadist cells capable of operating covertly. These cells often orchestrate violent attacks to maximise casualties and instilling fear among European citizens.

Heightened security checks, particularly for individuals originating from conflict zones, crisis areas (MENA Region, AfPak region, and the post-Soviet Space), and enhanced cooperation among intelligence agencies, represent crucial strategies for mitigating risks. The recent events in Russia serve as a sobering reminder that terrorist groups such as the Islamic State keep the capability to inflict significant harm on European countries.

Therefore, it is necessary to take proactive measures to safeguard against potential threats during the upcoming holidays.

Read also | The Terrorist Threat in Germany and Its Link with the post-Soviet Space


What happened in Moscow underscores the pressing need for robust counterterrorism measures within Russia. The attack, which resulted in a significant loss of life and many injuries, serves as a poignant reminder that the Russian Federation is not immune to terrorism, despite efforts to fortify security.

While speculation regarding potential involvement of Ukrainian territory in the attack persists, concrete evidence linking the perpetrators to Ukraine remains elusive. However, the broader context of jihadist propaganda and the evolving landscape of terrorist threats necessitate a comprehensive approach to security, both domestically and in collaboration with neighbouring nations.

The implications of the attack extend beyond immediate security concerns, touching upon issues of migration, geopolitical rivalries, and regional stability. Addressing the multifaceted challenges posed by terrorism requires a concerted effort from Russian authorities, international partners, and affected communities to mitigate risks and safeguard against future attacks.

For those with an interest in acquiring comprehensive insights into the terrorist threat in the Russian Federation, we encourage you to reach out to SpecialEurasia by emailing info@specialeurasia.com. We are ready to assist you in evaluating the possibility of acquiring a carefully crafted and customised report to meet your intelligence requirements.

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