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Inside the “barbaric” ISIS-K splinter terrorist group behind the Moscow concert massacre

The terror group that claimed responsibility for last night’s deadly terror attack in Moscow is a vicious ISIS splinter cell known for killing children and beheading prisoners.

It is believed to be led by the resurgent faction ISIS-K – a distorted army of barbaric fanatics that has even terrified the Taliban The massacre at a Russian rock concert in which at least 133 people were killed.

On Friday evening local time, masked men wearing camouflage and carrying automatic weapons stormed Crocus City Hall, opening fire and hurling explosives into a crowd.

It is believed around 6,000 people were in the venue watching Russian rock band Picnic when the bloodshed began.

The gunmen began firing at civilians at close range – through glass doors, turnstiles and then the concert hall itself, traumatized witnesses said.

At least 133 have been killed – including three children – and over 121 injured – but the death toll continues to rise as bodies are recovered from the smoldering rubble.

The US says it has intelligence confirming that the Islamic State claims responsibility for the bloody massacre – and argues that it was led by an Afghanistan-based splinter cell, ISIS-K.

Who is ISIS-K?

Originally founded in 2015, the group has consistently posed a threat to security in Afghanistan, carrying out brutal suicide bombings and heinous ceremonial executions.

The “K” refers to the historical region of Greater Khorasan, which included parts of Iran, Turkmenistan and Afghanistan.

Despite efforts by the West, the former Afghan government and the Taliban to push back against them, they took advantage of the chaos caused by the country’s collapse and quickly gained a reputation for extreme brutality.

As one of the most active regional affiliates of the Islamic State militant group, ISIS-K’s membership peaked in 2018 before declining.

It suffered heavy losses from American airstrikes and Taliban forces and is said to have halved its troop strength.

However, after the US troop withdrawal from Afghanistan and the country’s fall to the Taliban, it experienced a dramatic second upswing.

Earlier this month, the top U.S. general in the Middle East said ISIS-K could attack U.S. and Western interests outside Afghanistan “in as little as six months and with little or no warning.”

Past attacks

The group was responsible for an attack on Kabul International Airport in 2021 that killed 13 US soldiers and scores of civilians during the chaotic US evacuation from the country.

The attack boosted the group’s international profile and helped portray it as a major threat to Taliban rule.

Since then, the Taliban have fought sporadically against the terrorist group – to prevent them from conquering territory or to recruit restless Taliban fighters bored with peace.

On May 8, 2021, ISIS-K was blamed for the bombing of the Sayed al-Shuhada girls’ school, in which two improvised explosive devices and a car bomb exploded outside the school.

Around 90 people were killed in the explosion, mostly schoolgirls between the ages of 11 and 15, and 240 were injured.

Other gruesome attacks include the storming of Kabul University by a gunman that left 22 people dead and 22 injured in November 2020, and a suicide bomber who blew himself up at a wedding, killing 92 people in August 2019.

In September 2022, ISIS-K fighters claimed responsibility for a deadly suicide attack on the Russian embassy in Kabul.

And earlier this year, the United States intercepted communications confirming that the group had carried out two bombings in Iran that killed nearly 100 people.

Why attack Russia?

While ISIS-K’s attack in Russia on Friday marked a dramatic escalation, experts said the group has openly opposed Russian President Vladimir Putin in recent years.

Colin Clarke of the Soufan Center, a Washington-based research group, said: “ISIS-K has been fixated on Russia for two years and frequently criticizes Putin in its propaganda.”

Michael Kugelman of the US think tank Wilson Center said that ISIS-K “views Russia as complicit in activities that regularly oppress Muslims”.

He added that the group also counts among its members a number of Central Asian militants with their own grievances against Moscow.

Three weeks ago, US and British officials warned Mr Putin’s government of the risk of an “imminent” attack on the Russian capital and urged their own citizens to avoid mass gatherings.

However, the 71-year-old Russian leader dismissed such intelligence warnings just three days before the Moscow massacre.

Counterterrorism officials in Europe warned that they had thwarted ISIS-K plans to attack Western targets in recent months.

face of evil

The distorted group is believed to still be led by terrorist warlord Shahab al-Muhajir, a former al-Qaeda fighter.

He took power in April 2020 after previous chief Abdullah Orokzai was captured by Afghan forces.

Al-Muhajir is considered “the urban lion” due to his skills in guerrilla warfare and planning suicide attacks in cities.

He is believed to have helped the IS affiliate gain a foothold thanks to his background, which attracted local jihadists and disaffected members of the Pakistani Taliban.

Propaganda spread by the group shows fighters posing with ISIS’s traditional black and white flag, which became synonymous with the most abhorrent violence when the group was in power in Syria and Iraq.

And in keeping with its comrades, ISIS-K has also produced some similarly gruesome and sophisticated execution videos.

Footage that has emerged shows them beheading victims, and one video even claims they used two children to kill prisoners wearing orange jumpsuits.

Other images show them training in the familiar clothing of ISIS fighters while wielding AK-47s.

This article originally appeared on The sun and is reproduced with permission

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