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What is ISIS-K, the group that attacked a Moscow concert hall?

Published 23/03/2024, 01:17
© Reuters. Rescuers work to extinguish fire at the burning Crocus City Hall concert venue following a shooting incident, outside Moscow, Russia, March 22, 2024. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. has intelligence confirming Islamic State's claim of responsibility for a deadly shooting attack at a concert near Moscow on Friday, a U.S. official told Reuters.

Here is information about the Islamic State's Afghan branch known as ISIS-K and their motives for attacking Russia:

WHAT IS ISIS-K?

Islamic State Khorasan (ISIS-K), named after an old term for the region that included parts of Iran, Turkmenistan and Afghanistan, emerged in eastern Afghanistan in late 2014 and quickly established a reputation for extreme brutality.

One of the most active regional affiliates of the Islamic State militant group, ISIS-K has seen its membership decline since peaking around 2018. The Taliban and U.S. forces inflicted heavy losses.

But the United States sees the group as an ongoing threat. General Michael Kurilla, the commander of U.S. Central Command, told Congress last March that ISIS-K was quickly developing the ability to conduct "external operations" in Europe and Asia. He predicted it would be able to attack U.S. and Western interests outside Afghanistan "in as little as six months and with little to no warning."

Attacks within the U.S. itself were less likely, he said.

The United States has said its ability to develop intelligence against extremist groups in Afghanistan such as ISIS-K has been reduced since the withdrawal of U.S. troops from the country in 2021. The U.S. military has said it can see the "broad contours" of an impending attack, but does not have the specific detail it did previously.

WHAT ATTACKS HAS THE GROUP CARRIED OUT?

ISIS-K has a history of attacks, including against mosques, inside and outside Afghanistan.

Earlier this year, the U.S. intercepted communications confirming the group carried out twin bombings in Iran that killed nearly 100 people.

In September 2022, ISIS-K militants claimed responsibility for a deadly suicide bombing at the Russian embassy in Kabul.

The group was also responsible for an attack on Kabul's international airport in 2021 that killed 13 U.S. troops and scores of civilians during the chaotic U.S. evacuation from the country.

According to a January U.N. report, the Taliban's efforts to defeat the group have led to a fall in the number of attacks within Afghanistan. Bombings have not stopped, however.

On Thursday, Islamic State claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing in front of a bank in Afghanistan's Kandahar city that killed at least three people and injured 12, local police said.

WHY WOULD THEY ATTACK RUSSIA?

While the attack by ISIS-K in Russia on Friday was a dramatic escalation, experts said the group has opposed Russian President Vladimir Putin in recent years.

"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.

Michael Kugelman of the Washington-based Wilson Center said ISIS-K "sees Russia as being complicit in activities that regularly oppress Muslims."

© Reuters. Rescuers work to extinguish fire at the burning Crocus City Hall concert venue following a shooting incident, outside Moscow, Russia, March 22, 2024. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov

He added that the group also counts as members a number of Central Asian militants with their own grievances against Moscow.

(This story has been refiled to fix the spelling of contours in paragraph 8)

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