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Dangerous Terror Organization Aims to Take Leading Role, Question Arises: Is Europe Ready?

According to Péter Tálas, Senior Research Fellow at the John Lukacs Institute of the National University of Public Service, opinions are divided on the extent of responsibility the FSB (Federal Security Service) or the Kremlin should bear for the severity of the terrorist attack in Moscow, while both the United States and the United Kingdom have signaled the threat.
"It is extremely awkward that Vladimir Putin, just three days before the terrorist attack, dismissed the warnings from the West in front of FSB leaders as provocative, likening them to blackmail and seeing them as an intention to destabilize society. There is no doubt that Russian leadership and the FSB made a mistake," stated Péter Tálas. Despite this, the Kremlin took steps against the Khorasan fighters of the Islamic State, liquidating several in Ingushetia and dismantling a group in Kaluga.

The expert emphasized that while there was increased armed police readiness at the funeral of Alexei Navalny, the Russian Interior Ministry did not significantly respond to the warnings or ominous signs, nor did it impose increased protection for major events.

Ukraine Remains the Biggest Adversary

According to Tálas, the Russian leadership aims to associate the terrorist attack with Ukraine in some form, but this has become increasingly difficult for them in light of emerging information. The more facts that become public, the more likely it is that the Islamic State is behind the attack.

"France did not incidentally announce the highest level of terror readiness, and Germany emphasizes the threat of Islamist terrorism for a reason. The Ukrainian connection might only serve as a communication tool in Russian media and for the Russian political leadership to the domestic audience. Putin himself acknowledged that the Islamic State carried out the terror attack, but he also mentioned wanting to identify the perpetrators. This sounds as if they are still searching for Ukraine behind the case," the security policy expert explained, adding that terrorists could have only fled westward for faster country exit. He believes the Kremlin's insistence on Ukraine's involvement attempts to distract from another significant threat that both the Russian leadership and the FSB have underestimated recently.

"In essence, this was a major so-called strategic terrorist attack, hence the Kremlin needs to downplay the danger of extreme Islamist terrorism and continue to identify Ukraine as the most important adversary. It certainly causes confusion for them that Islamist terrorism has reemerged as a serious threat because it means dividing attention and resources. The Russian leadership wants to avoid the public thinking terrorism is much more dangerous than Ukraine," Tálas stated. He further commented that the Kremlin aims to prove to the Western public that Ukraine employs "brutal methods," while also attempting to hinder Western support using this narrative.

The Strengthening Affiliate

The Senior Research Fellow at the John Lukacs Institute also pointed out that the Moscow attack was the fourth "most successful" terrorist action in the history of the Islamic State Khorasan. This organization had primarily focused on Pakistan and Afghanistan and its vicinity, making the Moscow attack their first significant action in Europe.

"This is a young organization, established in 2014. As the traditional Islamic State was pushed back in Syria and Iraq, the Islamic State leadership essentially relocated its center to Afghanistan, making the Islamic State Khorasan Province its Afghan affiliate. It's important to note that this is a highly international terror group, with a relatively large number of foreign members from Azerbaijan, Iran, Pakistan, Russia, Turkey, Central Asia, and Arab countries, enabling it to establish extensive connections and create a network," he added. With training camps in the northern part of Afghanistan and its own media promoting extremist views in various languages, the Islamic State Khorasan aims to take a leading role in the global jihadist movement, only possible through successful terrorist attacks worldwide.

The attack against Crocus City Hall marks a significant and successful step in the terror organization's expansion.

"Of course, this has provoked reactions, primarily from France and Germany, where Islamist terrorism, or the Islamic State Khorasan itself, might pose a significant threat and where events that could be targets take place," Tálas added.

Is Europe Prepared?

The expert reminded that Germany and France are understandably concerned about the threat of Islamist terrorism, with Paris raising the level of terror alert following the Moscow attack. Both countries are preparing for major sports events, with Germany facing a bigger challenge in hosting the European Football Championship matches across several locations.

"The Germans and the French believe that members of the Islamic State Khorasan group could radicalize Russian-speaking Muslim extremists who have settled in European countries, primarily in Germany, France, Belgium, and the Netherlands. Experts have warned about this following the Gaza war, as similar events generally increase the terror threat in Europe, especially when there's a large Islamist terror organization with an extensive network," he said, adding that the United States and Russia can cooperate in combating terrorism even amidst major conflicts, but the quality of such cooperation remains a question. "All parties know that they have a common enemy."

Tálas also noted that while securing two major summer sports events and temporarily tightening entry into countries is feasible, it requires significant financial resources. Although terrorists and their supporters may also enjoy these sports events, an attack attempt cannot be ruled out, which, hopefully, authorities can prevent in time.

Fortunately, European counter-terrorism agencies have significantly improved over the years, becoming increasingly effective in their tasks.

"It is also important to say that indiscriminate attacks and killings of innocent civilians are not a popular solution even among those who otherwise support the terrorists' goals. Attacks on police, the state, or representatives of the system, the symbols of the regime, are accepted, but the massacre of civilians, children, and women is not acceptable even to them," he stated, adding that terror groups live off donors, supporters, and followers; if they execute unpopular attacks, they lose support.
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