Jihadist terrorism: Global challenge after Moscow attack - Hindustan Times
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Jihadist terrorism: Global challenge after Moscow attack

Apr 27, 2024 12:13 PM IST

This article is authored by Ananya Raj Kakoti and Gunwant Singh, scholars of international relations, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.

In the aftermath of Russia's presidential "election," a grim spectacle unfolded as armed assailants launched a coordinated assault on the Crocus City Hall in Moscow, coinciding with a crowded rock concert. Employing a combination of firearms and incendiary devices, the attackers wrought devastation upon concert-goers, resulting in a tragic loss of life and a significant number of injuries. The March 22 attack, now recognised as the deadliest act of terrorism in Russia in over a decade, claimed the lives of 137 individuals, with over 100 others sustaining severe wounds, many of whom are currently in critical condition. Islamic State Khorasan (IS-K) has claimed responsibility for the attack, highlighting the evolving nature of terrorist threats and the imperative for sustained vigilance in countering extremist ideologies. It also serves as a stark reminder that terrorism remains a persistent reality, neither disappearing nor diminishing, necessitating continual vigilance and proactive measures to mitigate its impact.

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Moscow attack

Russia is not unknown to such terrorist attacks. Over a timeline spanning several decades, Russia has been confronted with a series of security dilemmas arising from its engagements with Islamist terrorism. The initial clash occurred during the Soviet-Afghan War (1979-1989), where Russia encountered Afghan Islamists armed and backed by external powers, notably the United States. This conflict laid the groundwork for subsequent confrontations, including the Chechen wars of the 1990s and early 2000s, where Chechen nationalism evolved into a broader Caucasus jihadism, posing a significant threat to Russian sovereignty. The complexity of Russia's security landscape was further compounded by its involvement in the Syrian conflict, where it found itself in opposition to groups like Daesh (Islamic State). The withdrawal of American forces from Afghanistan precipitated intensified hostilities between the Taliban and Daesh, drawing Russia into the fray due to its favorable relations with the former. This vulnerability was underscored by jihadist attacks targeting Russian interests, including the September 2022 assault on the Russian Embassy in Kabul, reflecting a pattern of recurrent attacks within Russia itself. These incidents, such as the Dubrovka Theatre siege (2002) and the Beslan School siege (2004), have resulted in significant loss of life and have underscored the persistent security challenges facing Russia from Islamist groups.

The recent massacre of innocent civilians in Russia serves as a distressing indication of a renewed wave of ISIS-K attacks. Formally established in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region in 2015, ISIS-K brought together a faction of dissatisfied jihadists who opposed the Taliban and pledged allegiance to the then-ascendant Islamic State's self-proclaimed caliphate in Iraq and Syria. Their extremist ideology rejects any form of compromise with perceived enemies of Islam and espouses sectarianism, among other radical beliefs, surpassing even the Taliban in radicalism. In addition to the tragic events in Moscow, ISIS-K has been implicated in a string of attacks. Early in 2024, an ISIS-K-linked terrorist bombing in Iran claimed nearly 100 lives. These incidents represent a significant shift for the group, which previously focused mainly on operations in Pakistan and Afghanistan, engaging in conflicts with both the Pakistani government and the Taliban. Despite the Taliban's jihadist background, ISIS-K deems them too willing to engage in negotiations with non-Muslim entities.

The recent terrorist attack in Moscow has shocked the world, reminding everyone that jihadist violence is still a serious threat. In addition to the tragic loss of life and the damage to society and the economy, the attack has reopened the debate on whether governments can effectively respond to these kinds of attacks by non-government groups. Terrorism affects nations worldwide, including major powers like the United States (US), Russia, and India, yet there remains ambiguity in defining the term due to differing national perspectives. Despite contemporary geopolitical tensions, many countries initially supported the US's war on terror in 2001, underscoring the complexity of international responses to terrorism.

Following the recent terrorist incident in Moscow, Russian authorities not only attributed blame to Ukraine but also leveled accusations against Western nations. In response, Russia initiated an investigation into "financing terrorism," targeting funds allegedly received by US entities in Ukraine. This development underscores the divergent interpretations of terrorism between Moscow and Washington, revealing the absence of a unified understanding, particularly among geopolitical adversaries. Furthermore, disparities persist within regional frameworks such as the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), where member States hold divergent perspectives. Noteworthy among these are India, Pakistan, and China, all of which exhibit differing stances on the issue of terrorism. India has consistently faced enduring obstacles due to accusations of state-supported terrorism emanating from Islamabad, further complicated by perceived support from China, thereby heightening geopolitical tensions across the Asian region.

The recent assault in Moscow has reverberated throughout the global community, signaling the enduring threat posed by jihadist violence, which persists despite efforts to curb it. In light of this, governments must adopt multifaceted approaches to effectively respond to such attacks. Firstly, bolstering intelligence and counterterrorism efforts is crucial, enabling authorities to identify and thwart potential threats before they materialize. Additionally, enhancing cooperation and information-sharing among nations is imperative to combat transnational terrorist networks effectively. There is also a pressing need to settle on a global definition of terrorism to facilitate unified action against this common threat. Furthermore, addressing the root causes of radicalisation, such as socioeconomic marginalisation and political grievances, is essential to prevent the proliferation of extremist ideologies. Moreover, there is a growing need to establish a UN treaty on terrorism akin to the Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism (CCIT) proposed by India, which would provide a framework for international cooperation and legal mechanisms to combat terrorism comprehensively. Promoting community resilience and promoting inclusive societies can help undermine the appeal of radical narratives and reduce the likelihood of individuals turning to violence. Ultimately, a comprehensive and coordinated response that integrates security measures with efforts to address underlying drivers of extremism is essential to effectively combat jihadist terrorism.

This article is authored by Ananya Raj Kakoti and Gunwant Singh, scholars of international relations, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.

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