What We Know About ISIS-K, Group Behind Moscow Attack

Group considers Taliban rule of Afghanistan too soft
By Bob Cronin,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 24, 2024 3:52 PM CDT
ISIS-K Tries to Outdo 'Rival Jihadis'
In this photo taken from video released by Russian Emergency Ministry Press Service on Sunday, a rescue worker examines the burned concert hall after a terrorist attack in Moscow.   (Russian Emergency Ministry Press Service via AP)

The Islamic State affiliate that said it carried out the killings in Moscow's Crocus City concert hall has been escalating its attacks in other countries as part of its campaign against the Taliban in Afghanistan, analysts say. The idea is to weaken the Taliban's relations with allies and to show that Afghanistan's government can't guarantee security, the New York Times reports. In the eyes of ISIS-K, the Taliban are ruling Afghanistan in an insufficiently hardline way—falling short of enforcing true Shariah law. ISIS-K "seeks to outperform rival jihadis by carrying out more audacious attacks to distinguish its jihadi brand and assert leadership of the global jihadi vanguard," said an expert at the United States Institute of Peace.

After its leaders split from al-Qaeda and the Taliban, ISIS-K surfaced in 2014 and 2015 in Afghanistan and adjoining Pakistan, per NPR. "ISIS Khorasan was one of the first branches [in Central Asia] to pledge allegiance to ISIS," said Asfandyar Mir of the institute. Espousing more militant views than its rivals, including al-Qaeda and the Taliban, is a strategy, Mir said. Analysts at the Center for Strategic and International Studies said ISIS-K, which remains based mostly in eastern Afghanistan and Pakistan, has been trying to expand across what historically was known as the "Khorasan" region, which includes parts of Central Asia, Afghanistan, Iran, and Pakistan.

Since taking power, the Taliban have waged a brutal counterterrorism campaign against ISIS-K that has drawn condemnation from human rights groups. But ISIS-K has continued its attacks, per the Times, including a suicide bombing in Kandahar, Afghanistan—site of the Taliban's origin—the day before the concert hall attack. The first of the four arrested suspects in Moscow appeared in a district court on Sunday, a day of mourning in Russia, for pretrial motions, per the AP. (More Russia Crocus shooting stories.)

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