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The recent terrorist attack on a Moscow concert hall has been attributed to ISIS-K, a group that operates out of Afghanistan. The Islamic State is leveraging its network of jihadists throughout Central Asia to carry out attacks, such as the one in Moscow. ISIS-K appeals to jihadists who are not aligned with Al Qaeda’s more strategic long-term plan. Founded in 2015 by disaffected members of the Pakistani Taliban, ISIS-K takes a hardline interpretation of Islam, leading to conflict with other groups like the Taliban and Al-Qaeda. The group has gained notoriety after carrying out attacks in Kabul and more recently in Moscow. The Biden administration has warned of the threat posed by ISIS-K, with intelligence suggesting the group could potentially carry out external attacks against U.S. or Western interests.

The U.S. government had intelligence about a planned terrorist attack in Moscow targeting large gatherings, including concerts, which led to a public advisory for U.S. citizens in Russia. The State Department shared this information with Russian authorities as part of its ‘duty to warn’ policy. U.S. intelligence had evidence that ISIS-K was planning an attack in Moscow and had been active in Russia. ISIS-K has a particular obsession with Russia, blaming the Kremlin for Muslim deaths in Afghanistan, Chechnya, and Syria over the past few decades. Despite efforts to limit the group’s recruitment and prevent them from gaining territory, ISIS-K remains a threat in Central Asia.

ISIS-K gained a foothold in Afghanistan after the Taliban took control and the U.S. military departed, despite efforts by the Taliban to fight back. The group carried out significant operations and attacks on targets throughout Central Asia. ISIS-K has been actively plotting attacks on various targets, including embassies, churches, business centers, and even the FIFA World soccer tournament in Qatar. The group has been developing a cost-effective model for external operations, using resources from outside Afghanistan and extensive facilitation networks. Counterterrorism officials in Europe have claimed to have thwarted several ISIS-K plots in recent months, indicating the ongoing threat posed by the group.

Gen. Michael Kurilla of U.S. Central Command testified that ISIS-K could carry out external operations against U.S. or Western interests abroad with little warning. The Biden administration previously warned Iran of an impending attack, which later occurred at a memorial ceremony, with ISIS-K claiming credit for the bombings. The group’s activities and plots have been closely monitored by intelligence agencies, with leaked assessments revealing the scale of ISIS-K’s operations and the challenges posed by their cost-effective external operations model. Despite efforts to degrade the group and prevent future attacks, ISIS-K remains a significant threat in the region and continues to carry out attacks in Central Asia.

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