Hyperfocus on Ukraine Leads to ISIS In Russia. Is America the Next Target? 

railway fx / shutterstock.com
railway fx / shutterstock.com

On Friday, March 23, Russia faced the unthinkable. Terrorists burst into a Piknik concert and began firing weapons indiscriminately into the crowd, killing more than 130 people and injuring 150 more. The shooters continued to fire into the fallen crowd before setting the venue ablaze. It was the worst terrorist attack in Russia since the Beslan school attack in 2004. 

Even though ISIS-K, the Islamic State-Khorasan, took responsibility for the horrific, unprovoked attack, Russian President Vladimir Putin placed the blame on Ukraine. Russian pro-war commentators agreed with this assessment and said that the Islamic State claims were a red herring, and Kyiv organized the attacks.  

Some even said that the Kremlin organized the entire incident to boost support for Russia’s ongoing war with Ukraine, maintaining it was a “false flag” event.”  

Earlier in March, the United States had warned Moscow of “imminent plans to target large gatherings” in the Russian capital. Putin dismissed the warnings and refused to increase security for large gatherings. The police response was so slow that the attackers were able to continue the assault for more than an hour.  

Mark Galeotti, an expert on Russia’s security, pointed out that the Federal Security Service, Russia’s security agency, has been too focused on Ukraine and political opponents within Russia. Since the invasion of Ukraine, the FSB has been busy tracking down people who criticize the war online, LGBTQ+ youth, and those paying tribute to opposition figures like Alexei Navalny. Many security agents have also been sent to Ukraine to control the areas Russia has taken over instead of protecting the country. 

There was a sense of complacency in Russia, with Putin thinking the days of Islamic terrorism were over because of tough actions taken in the North Caucasus region. However, the recent attack in Moscow, conducted by radicalized individuals from Tajikistan, shows a shift in the source of terrorist threats. 

ISIS-K operates from Afghanistan. The group originated in 2015, founded by dissatisfied members of the Pakistani Taliban. Known for its strict interpretation of Islam, ISIS-K has a contentious relationship with other groups like the Taliban and Al-Qaeda. Before the deadly attack in Moscow, ISIS-K was most known for its actions during the botched Afghanistan withdrawal in 2021, when it was responsible for the deaths of 13 U.S. military personnel. ISIS-K has a strong focus on Russia, blaming the Kremlin for numerous Muslim casualties resulting from operations in Afghanistan, Chechnya, and Syria over recent decades. 

Once the Taliban took control of Afghanistan and the U.S. military withdrew, ISIS-K began to establish itself and expand. Despite the Taliban’s efforts to resist them, ISIS-K continued to conduct significant operations in the country and beyond. 

A little closer to home, Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) has issued a strong warning that ISIS-K terrorists could come through Biden’s open border and wreak havoc in America. Rubio, serving as the vice chair on the Senate Intelligence Committee, voiced concerns on ABC’s “This Week” about the danger ISIS-K poses to the U.S. He highlighted this in light of FBI Director Christopher Wray’s confirmation that ISIS-K operates a human trafficking network. Rubio suggested that such a network could potentially be used to infiltrate the U.S. with operatives. While he didn’t indicate an immediate threat, he emphasized that this network and the current border situation present a national security risk. 

“They would love to do what they did in Moscow, here inside the United States,” Rubio said. “And it’s something we have to be very vigilant about when we have a border in which 9 million people have come across in the last three years.” 

His words echo a warning from General Michael Kurilla, the leader of U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM), who testified in 2023 that ISIS-K could potentially execute “an external operation against U.S. or Western interests abroad within six months, with little-to-no warning.” 

The Pentagon has been keeping an eye on ISIS-K, noticing an uptick from nine planned attacks in December to fifteen by February. The group is setting up a “cost-friendly” way to carry out attacks, using outside help, people already in the countries they’re targeting, and a network of supporters. This method could help them dodge tight security and speed up their attack plans. Counterterrorism teams have stopped several of these plots in Europe, as reported by major newspapers. 

It’s unclear how much more warning the Biden administration needs before tightening the border, but the safety of Americans is far down their list of priorities. Biden already has blood on his hands, but an attack on American soil from ISIS-K would be an unforgivable negligence that even CNN could not ignore.