The revived jihadists find an easy target in Moscow

Russia blames Ukraine to deflect from its security failures. Unworried about a U.S. attack on its hideouts, ISIS leaders can focus on planning attacks against foreigners, as they have in Iran and now Moscow.

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Editorials

March 25, 2024 - 2:52 PM

Emergency services vehicles are seen outside a burning concert hall in Moscow following a terrorist attack Friday, March 22. Gunmen opened fire, killing 137, including three children, and wounding hundreds more. ISIS has claimed responsibility. (Stringer/AFP via Getty Images/TNS)

To all the other security risks in the world, you can add the return of Islamic State as a killing machine. Russians were the victims on Friday as gunmen attacked civilians at a Moscow concert venue, killing at least 137. ISIS suicide bombers killed more than 80 in Iran in January, and no one should doubt that the jihadists are looking to target Americans sooner or later.

Vladimir Putin predictably tried to pin the murderous assault on Ukraine, and his coterie blamed the U.S. But the evidence so far points to ISIS, including that the jihadists took credit for the assault and posted a video of it taking place, apparently from one of the killers. The U.S. says it warned Russia about a potential ISIS attack, but Mr. Putin publicly dismissed the U.S. warning as disinformation.

Blaming Ukraine now helps Mr. Putin distract attention from his earlier dismissal of what has now cost so many innocent lives. And it deflects from the fact that Russian security was so inept that the killers could rampage for an hour in the Russian capital and somehow escape in a car.

Mr. Putin will now use the attack to deceive Russians and mobilize more young men to be cannon fodder for his ambition to annex Ukraine. He has a history of using these events to his own political advantage, and the evidence points to an apartment bombing in 1999 as an inside job that helped to elevate him to the Presidency. Ukraine will have to brace itself for missile attacks as part of this latest Putin misdirection.


Mr. Putin will now use the attack to deceive Russians and mobilize more young men to be cannon fodder for his ambition to annex Ukraine. He has a history of using these events to his own political advantage …

That’s not to take away the focus of this attack from ISIS, which has revived with a sanctuary in Afghanistan since President Biden’s 2021 withdrawal. The ISIS-Khorasan branch competes with the Taliban and al Qaeda for jihadist supremacy, but the Taliban lacks the ability, and perhaps the desire, to eliminate ISIS in Afghanistan.

Mr. Biden promised that the U.S. would have over-the-horizon capability to prevent Afghanistan from again becoming a terrorist sanctuary, but if that’s true you can’t tell from the ISIS-Khorasan comeback. Unworried about a U.S. attack on its hideouts, ISIS leaders can focus on planning attacks against foreigners, as they have in Iran and now Moscow.

That Americans haven’t been hit recently, at home or abroad, is a blessing but not a guarantee of future safety. The ISIS revival argues for keeping the limited U.S. military presence in Syria and Iraq as a check on the return of the 2014 caliphate. The posts are vital to intelligence collection, and perhaps they played a part in gathering the intel that the U.S. had about an attack in Moscow.

The ISIS comeback also argues for the House to overcome its disagreements and reauthorize Section 702 authority to surveil foreign communications even if it accidentally catches some Americans in the sweep. The House Intelligence bill contains enough safeguards without adding bureaucratic and political obstacles to rapid surveillance of real threats. Americans don’t want another attack on U.S. soil like last week’s horror show in Moscow.

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