World

US intelligence warning to Moscow named specific attack target

The U.S. warning to Russia about a terrorist attack near Moscow was very specific: Crocus City Hall was a potential Islamic State target, U.S. officials said.

The warning had the right location but an inaccurate timing, suggesting the attack could come within days. In fact, in its March 7 public warning, the US Embassy warned of possible terrorist attacks in the next two days.

Gunmen stormed the hall on March 22, killing 144 people, the deadliest attack in Russia in nearly 20 years. The Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack, and Russia indicted four men from Tajikistan, accusing them of carrying out the massacre.

But President Vladimir V. Putin and other senior officials continued to claim without evidence that Ukraine may have been involved in the attack – a statement that American officials repeatedly called baseless.

The news that the US warning specified the exact target of the attack The Washington Post reported earlier Tuesday.

The United States is working hard to gather information about possible conspiracies by the Islamic State and its Afghanistan-based affiliate ISIS-Khorasan.

With this information, the United States was able to warn both Russia and Iran, former adversaries, about specific targets the Islamic State wanted to attack. But in both cases the warnings were not heeded, at least not enough to stop the violence.

Some Western officials said Russia paid some attention to the warning from the CIA station in Moscow and took steps to investigate the threat. However, the new information raises questions about why Russian intelligence failed to maintain a higher level of security. There were no additional security measures in place at the venue at the time of the attack.

The Western officials said that when the attack did not materialize immediately, Russia appeared to have let down its guard and may have believed the American warning to be false.

On Tuesday, the Russian state news agency Interfax reported that Sergei Naryshkin, the head of Russia’s foreign intelligence service, said the American warning was “too general” and therefore did not allow authorities to identify the potential attackers.

The White House, CIA and other intelligence officials declined to comment on the new details of the alert. However, White House officials have previously noted the broad warning to Russia.

Days before the attack, Mr. Putin denounced the American warnings, saying they were “complete blackmail” and attempts to “intimidate and destabilize our society.”

While Russian security services focused on terrorism decades ago, they are now focused on Putin’s domestic opponents.

Experts said the crackdown diluted the security services’ focus on terrorism and may have contributed to the failure of the American warning to be used to prevent the attack.

While it may seem strange at first glance that the United States would inform an adversary country like Russia of an attack, American intelligence agencies have a “duty to warn” under the law. When intelligence agencies learn of a possible attack, they must communicate this to the target so that they can take measures to protect themselves.

But the war in Ukraine and U.S. military support for Kiev have created tensions and mistrust between Moscow and Washington not seen since the Cold War. This appears to have led to Mr Putin and his top aides dismissing the American warning.

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