Can terrorism ever be curtailed? The case of the recent Moscow terror attacks - Hindustan Times
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Can terrorism ever be curtailed? The case of the recent Moscow terror attacks

BySriparna Pathak
Apr 24, 2024 12:56 PM IST

This article is authored by Sriparna Pathak.

The recent terror attack in Moscow shocked the international community and reiterated the fact that such terror attacks by Jihadists have neither disappeared nor diminished. Besides the loss of lives, casualties, and economic and social loss the attack caused, it also reopened the question of whether state actors or governments can respond adequately to these tactics of non-state actors. Terrorism is a global scourge that has spared none- be it the United States of America, Russia, or India. However, there is no commonly accepted definition of what constitutes terrorism, owing to the differences in interpretation by various states, based on calculations of their national interests. In 2001, when the US launched the global war on terror, it was accepted by most countries of the world, including Russia and China, which currently are at loggerheads with the US.

Terrorism (Shutterstock) PREMIUM
Terrorism (Shutterstock)

After the terror attack in Moscow last month, Russian officials not only blamed Ukraine but also accused the West of involvement. As a response, Russia launched a “financing terrorism” investigation, implicating Western countries and specifically targeting funds received by US firms in Ukraine. Among these firms is Burisma Holdings, an oil and gas company that employed Hunter Biden, the son of US President Joe Biden! The US has disputed the claims.

While the divergences in understandings between Moscow and Washington show how there is no uniform understanding of terrorism, especially among geopolitical adversaries, the fact also is that even among partners or friends working within regional organisations like the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), there is no common approach. The case in point in this context is the divergences with the SCO, particularly between India and other members on the understanding of terrorism. The members include India, Pakistan, and China, and India has often been at the receiving end of Islamabad’s state sponsor of terrorism, supported by China to maintain power differentials between India and itself within Asia. In 2022, the SCO decided to come up with a list against terrorism. However, India’s problem with Jihadi terrorism is not going to be agreed upon or accepted by at least Pakistan and China. With the inclusion of Iran into the SCO, things will only get more problematic even within a regional organisation like SCO, on how to have a unified understanding of terrorism.

The terror attack in Moscow last month at a concert hall last month, in which at least 137 people were killed and more than 150 injured was not the first terrorist attack and has not been the last one. Terrorism in Russia and Eurasia peaked in 2010 in the wake of the Russia-Georgia conflict, with 339 attacks and 318 attacks recorded that year alone. Since 2007, the most active terror group in the region was Shariat Jamaat and its affiliates which recorded 215 attacks and 257 deaths mostly occurring in Russia. They were followed by the Caucasus Emirate with 39 attacks and 134 deaths attributed to the group. In the case of the terror attack last month in Moscow, within 14 hours of the attack, Russia announced the arrest of four suspects- all of whom were Tajik citizens residing in Russia. According to Russian security agencies, the four were trying to flee to Ukraine and confessed to the crime. On pro-Islamic State (IS) Telegram channels, the IS claimed responsibility for the attack but did not link it to any affiliate. The bizarreness of the situation only increased as ‘IS watcher’ social media accounts soon began attributing the attack to the IS Khorasan Province (ISKP). Russian security officials have nevertheless disregarded the claims of responsibility by the Islamic State.

According to US officials, they gave Moscow a specific warning that the IS could attack the venue, which was not heeded by Moscow. Reportedly, Iran had also 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. While doubting US intelligence on terrorist attacks inside Moscow is a rationale for Russia which currently is at war with Ukraine and NATO forces, the non-heeding of intelligence from an ally like Iran is difficult to rationalise.

In April, within less than a month of the terror attack in Moscow, Russia’s Security Service of the FSB stated that it was successful in preventing an attack on a synagogue in Moscow. The purported terror attack was planned by a Central Asian national who was planning the attack on a Jewish religious institution in Moscow at the time of a mass gathering. While this Russian arrest and the thwarting of a purported attack is laudable, what is still difficult to comprehend is why did Russia not work on the intelligence it received before the Moscow attacks of March 2024.

The case clearly shows how realpolitik still dominates international relations, even when the issue pertains to the global scourge of terrorism. There is never going to be a universal understanding of terrorism, but states need to protect themselves from the global scourge utilising cooperation and intelligence sharing wherever possible. Terrorism not only affects state actors; it primarily targets civilians- the protection of whom is the responsibility of not just the international community at large but primarily of the states that they live in, and of the governments that are supposed to represent them!

This article is authored by Sriparna Pathak, associate professor, Chinese Studies and International Relations, Jindal School of International Affairs, OP Jindal Global University, Sonipat.

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