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

The United States has intelligence confirming Islamic State’s claim of responsibility for a deadly shooting attack at a concert near Moscow, a US official told Reuters.

Here is what we know 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 US forces inflicted heavy losses.

But the United States sees the group as an ongoing threat. General Michael Kurilla, the commander of US 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 US and Western interests outside Afghanistan “in as little as six months and with little to no warning”.

People mourn at a makeshift memorial in front of the Crocus City Hall, a day after a gun attack in Krasnogorsk, outside Moscow, on March 23, 2024. Camouflaged assailants opened fire at the packed Crocus City Hall in Moscow's northern suburb of Krasnogorsk on March 22, 2024, evening ahead of a concert by Soviet-era rock band Piknik in the deadliest attack in Russia for at least a decade. Russia on March 23, 2024, said it had arrested 11 people - including four gunmen - over the attack on a Moscow concert hall claimed by Islamic State, as the death toll rose to over 100 people. (Photo by Olga MALTSEVA / AFP)

Attacks within the US 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 US troops from the country in 2021. The US 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 US 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 US troops and scores of civilians during the chaotic US evacuation from the country.

EDITORS NOTE: Graphic content / Volunteers and medical staff bring an injured man on a stretcher to a hospital for treatment after two powerful explosions, which killed at least six people, outside the airport in Kabul on August 26, 2021.

According to a January UN 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 criticising Putin in its propaganda,” said Colin Clarke of Soufan Centre, a New York-based research group.

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

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

This story was originally published by Reuters.

According to the news on Radio New Zealand

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