Islamic State Attacks Moscow Concert Venue

Putin ignored warnings from US intelligence.

WaPo (“Death toll from Moscow concert attack rises to 115 as more bodies found“):

At least 115 people were killed after gunmen armed with automatic weapons opened fire at a popular concert venue on the outskirts of Moscow and set the concert hall alight, Russia’s Investigative Committee reported Saturday, following U.S. government warnings this month about a “planned terrorist attack” in the Russian capital.

The committee said more bodies were found in the concert hall early on Saturday, adding that the death toll was expected to rise, with 16 of the 107 hospitalized victims in a grave condition and 44 in a serious condition.

Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) reported to President Vladimir Putin that all four of the gunmen who attacked the Crocus City Hall concert venue had been arrested early on Saturday, and another seven arrests had been made, according to the Kremlin press service.

The Islamic State claimed responsibility for the Friday night attack, already one of the most deadly in modern Russian history, which left about 140,000 square feet of the venue in Krasnogorsk in flames according to Russia’s emergency services. A U.S. official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive information, told The Washington Post that the United States had “no reason to doubt” the claim from the Islamic State.

CNN (“US had warned Russia ISIS was determined to attack“):

The US warned Moscow that ISIS militants were determined to target Russia in the days before assailants stormed the Crocus City Hall in an attack that killed scores of people, but President Vladimir Putin rejected the advice as “provocative.”


Experts said the scale of the carnage – some of which was captured in video footage obtained by CNN showing crowds of people cowering behind cushioned seats as gunshots echoed in the vast hall – would be deeply embarrassing for the Russian leader, who had championed a message of national security just a week earlier when winning the country’s stage-managed election.

Not only had Russian intelligence services failed to prevent the attack, they said, but Putin had failed to heed warnings from the United States that extremists were plotting to target Moscow.

Earlier this month, the US embassy in Russia had said it was “monitoring reports that extremists have imminent plans to target large gatherings in Moscow,” including concerts, and it warned US citizens to avoid such places.

US National Security Council spokesperson Adrienne Watson said the US government had “shared this information with Russian authorities in accordance with its longstanding ‘duty to warn’ policy.”

But in a speech Tuesday, Putin had blasted the American warnings as “provocative,” saying “these actions resemble outright blackmail and the intention to intimidate and destabilize our society.”

That stance came despite Russian authorities having reported several ISIS-related incidents within the past month.

The state-run RIA Novosti reported on March 3 that six ISIS members were killed in a counter-terrorist operation in the Ingush Karabulak; on March 7, it said security services had uncovered and “neutralized” a cell of the banned organization Vilayat Khorasan in the Kaluga region, whose members were planning an attack on a synagogue in Moscow; and on March 20, it said the commander of an ISIS combat group had been detained.

Two sources familiar with the American information said that since November there had been a steady stream of intelligence that ISIS-K – an affiliate of ISIS that is active in Afghanistan and the surrounding region – was determined to attack Russia.

Moscow has intervened tellingly in Syria’s civil war, to the support of President Bashar al-Assad and against ISIS.

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

NYT (“Russia has been hit by several major attacks in recent decades.”):

For many Russians, the massacre at a concert hall on the outskirts of Moscow on Friday night brought to mind shootings and bombings across the country in recent decades, events that the authorities often described as terrorism.

The authorities linked many of those attacks to Russia’s wars against Chechen separatists in the 1990s and 2000s. Those conflicts helped enable the rise of Vladimir V. Putin, who over his two decades in power has sought to project an image of being tough on terrorism.

In the early 2000s, Chechen militants staged several major terrorist attacks, as Russia waged a second war to defeat a separatist movement in Chechnya. In October 2002, dozens of Chechen gunmen seized a crowded Moscow theater, taking more than 750 people hostage.

The siege lasted for days, until Russian special forces filled the theater with a debilitating gas to incapacitate the gunmen. More than a hundred hostages died as a result of the raid, with most of the deaths attributed to the gas. The Russian government later acknowledged that it had pumped in an aerosol version of fentanyl in its attempt to end the standoff.

In September 2004, Chechen militants swept into a school in Beslan, a city in the North Caucasus, taking more than 1,000 people hostage, including 770 children, and rigging the building with explosives.

Three days after the siege began, Russian security forces armed with tanks, rockets, grenade launchers and other weapons stormed the school, which caught fire as they engaged in gun battles with the Chechen fighters.

More than 330 hostages — including 186 children — died in the battle, leading the European Court of Human Rights to decide over a decade later that the Russian authorities had violated European human rights law in their handling of the siege. The Kremlin rejected the conclusion.

Bombers detonated two explosives at landmark subway stations in Moscow in March 2010, killing at least 38 people. The attack, resembling a subway bombing that killed about 40 people in 2004, revived fears that the Chechen insurgency had not been quelled, and a Chechen militant leader claimed to have ordered the attack.

In 2011, a bomber attacked Moscow’s busiest airport, Domodedovo, killing 37 people. The Russian authorities later said that the bomber was a man from the North Caucasus.

A homemade device filled with shrapnel exploded during rush hour, killing at least 14 people. Officials named the bomber as a member of the Uzbek minority in southern Kyrgyzstan, and said they were investigating whether he had any links to Islamist extremists.

About 600 miles east of Moscow, a gunman attacked a school in the city of Izhevsk, killing 15 people, in what the Kremlin called a terrorist attack.

The authorities said the attacker, who had been armed with two pistols, “was wearing a black top with Nazi symbols and a balaclava” and was not carrying any ID.

There’s not really much to say about the horrific nature of these attacks on civilians.

That the United States is sharing intelligence with the Putin regime, which is labeled an “acute threat” in our national strategy documents, highlights the complexity of international politics. Our relationship with Moscow is decidedly more adversarial than it was with Beijing, even though that regime is our “pacing challenge.” But even adversaries need to communicate and we have both a humanitarian interest in preventing attacks on Russian civilians and a shared security interest in thwarting Islamic extremism.

UPDATE: BBC reports Putin gave a televised speech claiming the four terrorists “tried to hide and moved towards Ukraine, where, according to preliminary data, a window was prepared for them from the Ukrainian side to cross the state border.” Ukrainian officials called the claim “absurd” and “Andriy Yusov, a representative of Ukrainian defence intelligence, told the BBC the area is full of Russian military and security services. Any terrorist fleeing the scene of an attack would have to be ‘stupid or suicidal’ – or want to get caught – to head there, says Yusov.”

This is laughably pathetic but raises concerns that Putin will escalate violence in Ukraine to distract attention from his own failures here.

FILED UNDER: Terrorism, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. SC_Birdflyte says:

    Alas, such revelations will make no difference. I recall that British intelligence tried in early 1941 to warn Stalin that Nazi Germany was about to attack the Soviet Union. He didn’t listen then, Putin doesn’t listen now.

  2. Grumpy realist says:

    My sympathy for the victims and their loved ones.

    Speaking purely from a Russian domestic political view, this can’t be good for Putin. If you want to run a country on the basis of being a strongman, the very least you need to do is protect your people.

    And after the U.S. warned him? Oops. He’ll probably blame the U.S. anyway.

  3. Mister Bluster says:

    NPR 9am CDT news reported 133 dead.

  4. Chip Daniels says:

    @Grumpy realist:
    I remember that GWB ran for election in 2004 on the premise that “He kept us safe!*”

    *With one very notable exception.

  5. Tony W says:

    @Grumpy realist: Another example of Biden’s brilliance on the international stage though.

    The U.S. didn’t have to release the information that Putin was warned.

  6. DK says:

    @Grumpy realist:

    Speaking purely from a Russian domestic political view, this can’t be good for Putin.

    Good thing for him that Russians are mostly docile, controlled, apathetic people.

    Putin’s latest failure will change nothing of note. As always, he’ll scapegoat the gays, the West, NATO, the US, Ukraine etc etc. As always, brainwashed Russians will fall for it rather than blame the real culprit for all Russias problems: Putin’s failures.

  7. CSK says:

    Gee, didn’t Trump claim to have wiped ISIS off the face of the earth?

  8. gVOR10 says:

    @DK: In July 2014 the Russian military in Ukraine shot down Malaysian Airlines flight 17 with a BUK missile. The facts emerged quickly and were later confirmed by a Dutch official inquiry. Last night I was reading Tim Snyder relating how Russian media explained it as Ukrainians on a training mission with fighter planes or missiles intended\\ing to create a fake atrocity and kill Putin in a different plane, accidentally shot down a Malaysian plane full of corpses provided as crisis actors by the CIA. By September 86% of Russians believed Ukraine shot down the plane. And Putin has more thorough control of Russian media than he did in 2014. Most Russians will believe whatever confused, contradictory load of BS they’re finally told about this concert incident. And if they don’t believe, there’s nothing they can do about it.

    The upside is that in whatever negotiations finally emerge over Ukraine, we don’t have to worry much about providing Putin an exit lane. He can lie his way out of it. Except it’s really oligarch/elite opinion that matters, and they probably know what happened to MH17. Except they only care if he’s sold it to the masses.

  9. James Joyner says:

    @CSK: We pretty much wiped out the founding group, which controlled significant territory in Syria, but by then other groups had adopted the IS brand. This is an Afghanistan offshoot.

  10. gVOR10 says:

    @James Joyner: Yes. That’s why some of us are saying Israel cannot wipe out Hamas. They can kill a lot of members, destroy whatever physical properties and assets they may have, ruin whatever organizational structure and communications links they have, and even, maybe, succeed in no longer having anything called Hamas. Certainly they can ensure nothing called Hamas governs whatever is left of Palestinian Gaza. But the ideology will live on and Israel is creating a lot more potential recruits.

  11. DK says:


    Most Russians will believe whatever confused, contradictory load of BS they’re finally told about this concert incident.

    To be expected.

    What I can’t fathom are Putin’s puppets in the West who also fall hook, line, and sinker for his “Blame NATO/America/Ukraine” scapegoating distraction tactics.

    When Russia was losing the First Chechan War — yet another non-NATO neighbor targeted by Russia’s centuries-long history of imperalistic warmongering — Chechnya was pressured into a 1996 ceasefire agreement.

    Three years after that, Russia decided it wasn’t interested in a permanent negotiated peace, went right back into Chechnya, and eventually flattened it.

    And here we go again.

  12. CSK says:

    @James Joyner:

    Trump: “As you know, we captured 100% of the ISIS caliphate. When I took office, we had almost nothing.”


  13. Grumpy realist says:

    @DK: it’s probably because those Russians with any vim and vigor end up leaving the country. All of my Russian friends are now “abroad”.

  14. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @DK: I’m not as convinced that they are falling for Putin’s line as much as stuck in Cleek’s Law nightmare of their own construction. It’s all just politics and because Biden supports Ukraine, they must oppose.

  15. dazedandconfused says:

    The Russians may have believed the warnings, but might have believed they had already handled it.

    The article in the OP from CNN lists a couple Russian pre-emptive takedowns of ISIS cells in early March.

  16. gVOR10 says:

    @DK: @Just nutha ignint cracker: I happen to have just run across a mention of Kevin McCarthy back around 2015 naming Dana Rohrabacher and Donald Trump as the most likely GOPs to be receiving Russian money and under Russian influence. Nothing has changed except a) that Trump might appoint Paul Manafort campaign manager again seems conformation of Trump’s cooption, and b) there’s no way it was only two.

  17. gVOR10 says:

    @gVOR10: By coincidence, right after mentioning Manafort above, Digby led me to a good piece on Manafort at TPM. Is he being directly paid by Russia? Probably not. Is he someone an American presidential candidate should associate with? Absolutely not.

    Closely examining Manafort’s career unveils a byzantine story, a hall of mirrors which bears the hallmark of any good spy tale: its characters all master the interstitial space between one side and the other, where they can maintain the kind of fundamental ambiguity that allows them to project plausible allegiance to any actor.

  18. DK says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker:

    It’s all just politics and because Biden supports Ukraine, they must oppose.

    Yes, absolutely. Definitely true for the empty-headed Marjorie Taylor-Greenes, JD Vances, Rand Pauls, Elon Musks, and Joe Rogans of our world. They’re just alternately selfish, stupid, own-the-libs ignoramuses, yes.

    But what of Michael Tracey, Glenn “I do not support Putin/Trump/Carlson but…” Greenwald, Matt Taibbi and their ilk? Performative contrarions like this are likely to vote for Biden, albeit through gritted teeth. Yet they are frequently addled on Russian propaganda and on the childishly ahistorical notions that 1) sans NATO, Putin would keep his army within Russia’s borders, and that 2) negotiated agreements with Russia have any more utility than used toilet paper.

    Astonishingly naïve.

    The one saving grace is they might tack back towards Kyiv the longer Washington blocks Ukraine aid, as a contrarion’s self-worth requires setting himself against so-called elite consensus. A friend observed recently how Matt Yglesias has been fiercely promoting Biden lately. I replied that this was inevitable once conventional mainstream opinion turned against Biden.

  19. Gustopher says:

    @DK: Taibbi has always been a bit of a Russophile. Part of his shift down the Musky pipeline was the stories of his behavior in Russia beginning to circulate.

    Russia is a far more free society than the US if you want to hang out with prostitutes in mixed company, hit them, and sexually harass the women at your job (if the stories are to believed).

    And by “beginning to circulate” I mean that he published it in a book, and then began claiming it was satire when people acted as expected. And then other people confirmed that the stories were mostly true.

    So, just another misogynistic shithead that finds it easier and better to change his politics than his behavior.

    Some of his earlier books, before he went to Russia, were quite good. I think he started losing his hair and having delusions of being the next Hunter S. Thompson, along with delusions about who Hunter S. Thompson was.

    I assume Greenwald has some equally sordid tale.

  20. Lounsbury says:


    on the childishly ahistorical notions that 1) sans NATO, Putin would keep his army within Russia’s borders

    Ha, yes….the shy flower of ex-KGB and USSA-as-magna-Russia Putin entirely provked…

    On the Left there remains those of certain generations for whom only the Western countries can be at fault, as the hard Left fractions frequently spun during Soviet era. (The Right this seems purely to be strong-man worship aligned with ‘traditional’ culture as in anti-change reactionary reaction)

    @Gustopher:This comment reminded me the Exile itself, although I never read the book , the wiki synopsis on the mentioned book is useful. Noteworthy two of the women in the episodes as per Wiki actually denied that the on-the-job events occured, indicating Tiabbi invented. Rather seems in keeping with his evident habit of getting at ‘real’ truth through story-telling. Hard call, which is less flattering, the exaggeration-to-invention of story or if reality, reality – neither being particularly favourable. (What a WP journo describes as their attacks on her for even peeking at potential connexions to oligarchs rather also is suggestive)

    The worship moment he had amongst the Lefties over the financial crisis tale-spinning was rather unmerited.

    It was somewhat surprising to me the DAESH with Afghani orientation would target Moscow but to the extent it retains enough international and DAESH proper elements, the Russian support to the bloody-handed Assad regime does clarify.
    In closer to my own world the boosted Russian involvement in the Sahel states and their new militiary regimes seems rather likely to bring Russia some rotten harvest as well – were it not for the destabilisation potential to the coastal countries the NATO allies might well sit back and say ‘have fun.”