Crocus City Hall attack in Russia: parameters from a security point of view – by Maria Chr. Alvanou

The terrorist attack that has taken place in Moscow at the Crocus City Hall has proved once more that Daesh’s branches and islamist extremism remain a significant threat for international security.  

Although Daesh is giving to the public footage of the attack, still the main information we have about the attack as well as the suspects depend largely on what Russian authorities allow or want their domestic audience and the international community to know. Russian authorities can quite control what they want the media to transmit, especially when the issue is one of national security. Moreover, Russia is at war with Ukraine, and it is in an edgy relationship (to put it mildly) with many countries and international organisations over the globe. This means that any analysis must be made cautiously and with patience, until we can have all the facts corroborated. At this stage the following comments address some parameters of the terrorist attack from a security point of view:

  1. Russia insists on a specific narrative regarding the attack (insisting also in Ukraine’s involvement), and it is important to know if it is indeed backed up by real and objective evidence. It presents information from what the arrested suspects have allegedly testified already regarding their involvement in the attack. However, we need to be cautious again, as the conditions under which their interrogation took place, are not allowing us to rely on those testimonies. Under torture anyone could confess to anything. Images of the suspects in the courtroom show evident and alarming signs of abuse[1] and the media already talk about the brutal torture they have underwent[2].This is not just an issue of human rights that need to be respected in all cases, including terrorism; it is an issue of reliability of the suspects’ testimonies, that we need so that we can know what really happened and not just what happened according to Russian authorities.
  2. If the content of the testimonies of the suspects can be verified, then they have revealed they were given money to carry out the attack. Their religious devotion to the islamist cause seems weak. They appear to have been recruited via a messaging app [3] and there is still no evidence of any systematic religious brainwashing and radicalisation process. The perpetrators do not fit the profile of a pious Muslim, let alone a “martyr”. The Khorasan regional branch of Daesh has used gunmen operational methodology in previous attacks[4], and it has carried out suicide attacks too[5]. The operational choice here could be connected to the perpetrators’ radicalisation profile, which is not suitable for the level of fanaticism martyrdom operations require. It is one thing to persuade someone to carry out an attack with weapons, another thing to convince someone to die as a way to attack and kill.
  3. Close to a decade after the attack at the Bataclan theatre in France, a leg of Daesh, has carried out a commando style, gunmen attack choosing a public event as a target. Such an attack creates large fear to the public and already we can see the aftermath in other countries too. From Catholic Easter celebrations to athletic events and other cultural and generally public events, all the above make countries other than Russian to start toughening security measures in order to prevent a new attack. We already witness such a terror alert in Europe[6]. Daesh has managed once more to become synonym with the threat to terrorism, and this is a success beyond the one related to a specific operation carried out successfully. This is the unfortunately the most significant victory of Daesh, that it has managed to terrorise countries and be considered as a threat whenever authorities must design security measures.
  4.  While some scholars and experts still argue if Daesh and the islamist terror network in general are an extremist religious phenomenon or a political one, it is always a good idea to pay attention to terrorists explaining their deeds. The terrorist organization boasts of its “bloody attack” on “large crowd of Christians”. Although of course room remains for political, international relations and geostrategic analysis, the religious narrative is there and should not be overlooked. Simply put, religious fanaticism plays a significant role in the rhetoric and the narratives Daesh uses. Different operational methodologies and different perpetrators may be showing different levels of the influence religion has every time in the decision to kill others in the name of a distorted, aggressive version of Islam. Along with religion, at times the added bonus of money may play quite a role, yet, the rhetoric of hate and the dehumanisation of victims because of their religion is an inherent part of islamist  terrorism.
  5. Terrorism should be condemned without footnotes and objections. Recognising the terroristic nature of violence is important for the security of all and the public should not differentiate its reactions according to the country whose civilians are victimised. Russia and its current political leadership have been heavily criticised for attacks against free press, for persecuting political rivals, for breaches of human rights and of course for the invasion to Ukraine. Although criticism on these points is legitimate, none should constitute reason not to denounce the terror attack and not show solidarity to innocent people who died while attending a concert. To be selective when it comes to condemning terrorism is just making more dangerous the security landscape. While leaders all over the world officially condemn the attack, in social media members of the public show reservations to do the same. They equate the victims of the terror attack with Ukrainian war casualties. But this is not “Russia v. Ukraine” in the battlefield and the victimisation of innocent Ukrainian civilians cannot be grounds for not acknowledging the victimisation of innocent Russians, especially when they are targeted by a terror network that poses an international security threat. We have already experienced such a biased response to terrorism after the October 2023 attack by Hamas against Israeli civilians. Pro-Palestinian members of the public refuse to acknowledge and condemn the attack as terrorism, although it was a textbook case. Support to the Palestinian cause, means for them no sympathy for Israeli victims. The situation seems the same with the attack now in Russia. Support to Ukraine, means no sympathy for Russian victims. Yet the logic that civilians are a legitimate target of violence, because of their country’s policies, is a very dangerous one. Based on that logic, everyone everywhere can be a legitimate target, and this is par excellence the logic of terrorists.

In this terror attack the more we can learn from relevant intelligence, as well as from Daesh’s published material, the more we will be able to understand what exactly happened in Russia and the lessons we can learn to strengthen international security. There are many questions asked, that are connected to the way Russia functions as a country and its political authorities govern the country. One of the big questions to start with is how come Russian authorities missed the US early warning for a possible terrorist attack in Russia.  Especially when Russia is a country that has experienced in the past serious Islamist attacks in public places and has a strong intelligence agency.

[1][1] For example, see the photos of the suspects in