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Exclusive: Prior to the attack in Moscow, Iran warned Russia about a security threat

Exclusive: Prior to the attack in Moscow, Iran warned Russia about a security threat
Rescuers work to extinguish fire at the burning Crocus City Hall concert venue outside Moscow, Russia, March 22. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov

According to three people with direct knowledge of the situation, Iran warned Russia in advance of last month’s concert hall slaughter in Moscow of the potential for a significant “terrorist operation” on Iranian land.

At least 144 people were killed in the bloodiest incident to occur within Russia in 20 years on March 22, when terrorists using automatic weapons opened fire on concertgoers at the Crocus City Hall. The militant group Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack.

Additionally, Washington had forewarned Moscow of the possibility of a militant Islamist strike; however, Moscow, mistrusting Washington completely, downplayed the information.

However, Russia finds it more difficult to discount intelligence about the attack from diplomatic partner Iran, which has also prompted concerns about the efficacy of Russian security services. During the two-year conflict in Ukraine, Moscow and Tehran—both subject to Western sanctions—have intensified their military and other collaboration.

“Days before the attack in Russia, Tehran shared information with Moscow about a possible big terrorist attack inside Russia that was acquired during interrogations of those arrested in connection with deadly bombings in Iran,” a source told Reuters.

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Iran detained 35 people in January, including a commander of the Islamic State’s branch ISIS-Khorasan (ISIS-K), which is based in Afghanistan. According to Iran, ISIS-K was responsible for the twin bombs that occurred in the city of Kerman on January 3rd, which resulted in the deaths of about 100 people.

The most deadly explosions in Iran since the Islamic Revolution of 1979 were attributed to the Islamic State. According to U.S. intelligence sources, ISIS-K was responsible for both the shootings in Moscow on March 22 and the strikes in Iran on January 3.

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The Islamic State was reported to have lost territory in 2017. Prior to that, it controlled sizable portions of both Syria and Iraq, enforcing a reign of terror and serving as an inspiration for lone wolf attacks in Western nations.

But with widespread carnage, ISIS-K, one of the group’s most dangerous branches, has brought the organization back into the public eye.

ISIS-K first appeared in eastern Afghanistan in late 2014 and gained notoriety for its severe brutality. The group was named after an outdated designation for an area that included parts of Iran, Turkmenistan, and Afghanistan.

“IMPORTANT FUNCTION”

A second source, who also asked to remain anonymous because of the sensitive nature of the matter, stated that Tehran had not given Moscow precise information about the timing or target of the imminent attack.

“They (the ISIS-K militants) were told to get ready for a big operation in Russia… The second source claimed that one of the terrorists who was detained in Iran claimed that some of the group’s members had already left for Russia.

“As Iran has been a victim of terror attacks for years, Iranian authorities fulfilled their obligation to alert Moscow based on information acquired from those arrested terrorists,” stated a third source, a senior security officer.

When questioned on Monday about the Reuters story, Dmitry Peskov, a spokesperson for the Kremlin, replied, “I do not know anything about this.”

An inquiry for comment on this item was not answered by Iran’s foreign ministry. The White House remained silent on the subject.

The basis for the U.S. intelligence on an imminent attack in Russia, according to a source familiar with the plans, was intercepts of “chatter” among militants affiliated with ISIS-K.

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Russia has refuted the claims made by the United States and stated, without supplying any proof, that it thinks Ukraine was involved in the attack. Kyiv has categorically refuted the claim.

The Tajikik Nationals

Tajik nationals were implicated in the attacks in Kerman and the vicinity of Moscow. According to security analysts, ISIS-K has been actively recruiting people from Tajikistan, a former Soviet republic that is extremely poor.

Rumors circulated that Iran had spoken with Tajikistan about its security concerns. According to a diplomatic source in Tajikistan, Tehran and Dushanbe recently talked about the growing number of ethnic Tajiks engaging in extremist operations.

The Islamic State has an intense animosity against Shi’ites, who are the majority sect in Iran and the target of attacks in Afghanistan by its affiliates. The radical Sunni Muslim sect considers Shi’ites to be heretics.

In 2022 Islamic State claimed responsibility for a deadly attack on a Shi’ite shrine in Iran that killed 13 people. Tehran revealed that the assailant was a citizen of Tajikistan.

The Islamic State has already claimed credit for two bombings that occurred in 2017 that were directed against the tomb of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the founder of the Islamic Republic, and the Iranian parliament.

Nazarali Pirnazarov in Dushanbe, Steve Holland and Jonathan Landay in Washington, and others for additional reporting Parisa Hafezi wrote the article; Michael Georgy and Gareth Jones edited it.

 

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