How Russia Became the Jihadists’ No. 1 Target

Monday’s bombing in St. Petersburg might be only the beginning of a new terrorist wave.



It’s still too soon to say who is responsible for the bombing on Monday of the subway in St. Petersburg, Russia—but it wouldn’t be surprising if international terrorists were responsible. Russia is fast replacing the United States as the No. 1 enemy of Al Qaeda, the Islamic State and other Sunni jihadist groups motivated by violent and puritanical Salafist ideology.


This shift is rooted in recent Russian actions in the Middle East—including its escalating intervention in Syria and its moves toward intervention in Libya with the recent deployment of special forces to an air base in Egypt—that have drawn the ire of militant Sunnis worldwide and elevated Russia as the jihadists’ top target. And if the Islamic State’s “caliphate” in Syria collapses and foreign fighters, an estimated 2,400 of whom are from Russia, attempt to return home and fix their sights on the Kremlin, the situation could dramatically worsen for Moscow.


Terrorist groups have made their changing priorities clear. In an ISIS video titled “Soon Very Soon Blood Will Spill Like an Ocean,” an ISIS fighter threatens Russian leader Vladimir Putin directly, citing the country’s intervention in Syria and its growing alliance with Syrian dictator Bashar Assad, Iran and the Lebanese terrorist group Hezbollah as proof that Moscow is the chief proponent of a growing Shiite axis throughout the Middle East. Forty other Syrian rebel groups have concurred, pointedly saying that “any occupation force to our beloved country is a legitimate target.”


Russia has been the primary force propping up the Assad regime, which has waged a bloody six-year war against anti-government insurgents, most of whom are Sunnis. The political and military alliance between Russia and Iran is also deepening as the countries work together to help Assad reclaim pockets of territory from rebels. Russian Special Forces and warplanes have served as a force multiplier for Hezbollah fighters who have bloodied Sunni militants in battle, most recently in Palmyra.


But the cooperation between Russia and Shiite powers in the region has come with a price. ISIS has already expressed a desire and ability to strike Russian targets, with its affiliate in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula claiming responsibility for the downing of Metrojet flight 9268 after it departed Sharm El-Sheikh for St. Petersburg in October 2015.


Russian actions in the Middle East have antagonized militant jihadists, but its actions closer to home are even more provocative. In addition to Russia’s newfound penchant for adventurism in Muslim countries, its military has waged a draconian on-again, off-again counterinsurgency campaign against a patchwork of Sunni militants from Ingushetia to Ossetia in the Caucasus.


Read more from the source article published by POLITICO Magazine on Apr. 3 2017.




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