At least 137 people are dead after gunmen stormed the Crocus City Hall concert venue in Moscow Friday. Gunmen shot at concert goers and then set the building on fire, before fleeing. Now ISIS-K, a terror group that mostly is active in Afghanistan, is claiming responsibility for the attack in the heart of Russia.

Since Friday’s attack, Russian security forces said they captured four suspected gunmen and detained several other suspects. In addition to those confirmed dead in the attack, more than 150 others were injured. Given the extensive damage to the building in the attack, search and rescue operations are still ongoing. It is the deadliest terror attack in Russia in two decades.

Russian President Vladimir Putin declared Sunday a day of morning and promised to go after those responsible. Putin has not directly blamed ISIS-K for the attack; he did claim that the perpetrators attempted to flee to Ukraine, which has not been verified. 

While Putin is not naming any responsible group, the United States is backing up ISIS-K’s claims. American intelligence points to ISIS-K’s involvement and despite heightened tensions between the American and Russian governments, American officials even warned Moscow about the risk of a potential attack. Earlier this month the American embassy put out a warning on March 7, saying that it was looking into reports “that extremists have imminent plans to target large gatherings in Moscow, to include concerts, and U.S. citizens should be advised to avoid large gatherings over the next 48 hours.”

So why is a group based in Central Asia and busy fighting the Taliban targeting the Russian capital?

Who is ISIS-K

ISIS-K, or more accurately ISIS Khorasan Province, is an affiliate of ISIS, based in Afghanistan. The group formed in late 2014, operating along the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan, and targeting American and allied forces in the former. 

ISIS-K was the group responsible for the Abbey Gate bombing at Hamid Karzai International Airport during the 2021 evacuation. The attack killed 13 American service members as well as 170 civilians.

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The group is enemies with both the United States and the Taliban. Both forces fought the terror group, even after the Taliban seized control of Afghanistan in 2022. Since the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, ISIS-K has been waging a low-level insurgency against the new government, which in turn has promised to stamp out the group. Last year the Taliban killed the ISIS-K leader behind the Abbey Gate bombing. ISIS-K hasn’t been limited to Afghanistan though, launching attacks in neighboring countries. At the start of the year it bombed a memorial in Iran, killing dozens in the city of Kerman. 

Why attack Russia?

ISIS-K has mostly been involved in attacking what it sees as enemies in the region. However its affiliates in ISIS have been engaging Russian and Russian-aligned forces in the Middle East and Africa. That stems in large part to the two Russian wars in Chechnya, as well as the Kremlin’s support of the regime of Bashar al-Assad during the Syrian Civil War. 

Although Russia’s involvement in Syria primarily focused on helping the Assad regime fight pro-democracy and anti-government rebel groups, its forces also fought ISIS. Experts told al-Jazeera English that due to both Russia’s involvement in Syria and internal crackdowns on Muslims in the Russian Federation, Putin and the Kremlin are often denounced in ISIS propaganda. Additionally, religious extremists have declared opposition to the Kremlin following the two bloody wars in Chechnya in the 1990s and early 2000s. Several fighters in those wars have ended up aligned with terror groups including ISIS. 

Friday’s terror attack was one of the deadliest in Russia. In 2002, . Chechen rebels seized a school in Beslan in 2004. The siege ended with more than 300 people killed, including 186 children, through a combination of the terrorists’ own explosives and attacks by security forces. 

The Crocus City Hall attack came after several ISIS-related incidents inside the Russian Federation this month. On March 3, six ISIS members were killed by security forces, while on March 7 a cell planning to attack a synagogue was “neutralized,” according to state media. Another ISIS commander was allegedly captured on March 20.

The U.S. Embassy in Moscow has warned Americans not to travel to Russia following the terror attack. 

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