Moscow attack: Handiwork of ‘shoot and scoot’ terrorists?

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Moscow: Russia witnessed its most horrific terror attack in 20 years when four terrorists gunned down 139 revellers at the Crocus City Hall in Moscow on March 22.

Indians who saw the horrific visuals coming out of the attack were instantly reminded of the November 26, 2008 attacks on Mumbai.

There are several parallels between Mumbai and Moscow. The cold-blooded killing of hundreds of innocent civilians, using guns, knives, and arson, to create a bigger spectacle, for one.

Mumbai 26/11 was the work of the Pakistani deep state. But who was behind the Moscow 26/11-style attacks? More importantly, is this new pattern of terrorism – where it’s an outsourced hit, and terrorists are promised money – a threat that Russia should be aware of?

New tactics

In the Mumbai attacks, the terrorists had come to fight to their deaths and were promised paradise in their afterlife. This, however, doesn’t seem to be the case in the Moscow attacks. Tajikistan nationals were hired to kill. Could there be terror cells among the workers from the ‘-stans’ in Russia?

“There is no pattern in this attack. This is opposite to the modus operandi of the Islamic State (ISIS). The ISIS terrorists usually come to die, not to escape. But here, based on what the Russian media is saying, the attackers got payment (between 500-1 million rubles) and they tried to escape towards Ukraine. That’s quite unusual.” says Dr Grigorij Serscikov, an anti-terror expert while talking to News9 Plus Editor Sandeep Unnithan on the News9 Plus Show.

“If you look at recent massive terrorist attacks by ISIS in Iran at the beginning of this year, the two terrorists had blown themselves up in a crowd, commemorating the death of Qasem Soleimani. They died while killing hundreds of people,” he adds.

“This is a clear ISIS modus operandi. But in Russia, the entire attack took only 13 minutes. After attacking, the terrorists escaped the Crocus Centre. Again, this is unusual – short time, killing as much as possible, and escaping. I can’t say with certainty that in the future these type of attacks will take place but it’s indeed an outlier in the modus operandi,” Dr Serscikov notes.

Today, the ‘shoot and scoot’ terrorists are doing it for money, rather than the ‘afterlife’. Will this be the new tactic terrorists will now adopt? “It’s terrorism nevertheless. We must focus on that,” says Ambassador Anil Trigunayat.

Worrying trend?

ISIL’s Afghanistan arm — also known as the Islamic State in Khorasan Province, ISKP (ISIS-K) – has claimed responsibility for the Moscow attack. The United States has said that its intelligence suggests the claim is accurate.

“President Vladimir Putin said that the attack was perpetrated by Islamic terrorists but who was really behind this attack? Who paid for it? This still needs to be investigated. So far, all we know is that the attackers were Tajikistan nationals,” Dr Serscikov says.

A massive terror attack is quickly templatised and adopted by other terror groups. Mumbai 26/11 was templated and used in other attacks like the West Shopping Mall attack in Kenya in 2013 and the Paris attack in 2015.

Unlike the religiously brainwashed jihadi terrorists, attackers in Moscow were driven by promises of wealth. Is this a new template for terror attacks? “We should worry about terrorism per se. Unfortunately, what we see is that there is no serious effort to fight this global menace. Just when we thought that the ISIS is confined to history, we see the group live and kicking,” says Amb. Anil Trigunayat, former Deputy Chief of Mission in Moscow, Russia, and former Diplomat.

There is one thing in common between Mumbai 26/11 and the Moscow attack though. “There was prior and credible intelligence. Trust deficit, however, led to both countries paying a hefty price. We had prior intelligence about the Mumbai attacks. Similarly, the Americans had shared prior intel on these attacks with Russia. But because of the trust deficit, it became difficult for the security agencies to take the intel to logical conclusions,” Amb Trigunayat adds.

“Now, the world needs to gear up. We cannot just sit in silos and think ‘my terrorists vs your terrorists,” he warns.

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