Why is ISIS attacking Russia? The real motivations beyond propaganda


By John

The United States has confirmed, through intelligence sources, that the Islamic State claims responsibility for the tragic attack that occurred during a concert near Moscow on Friday, as reported by an American official to Reuters. In particular, this is the Afghan branch of the Islamic State, known as ISIS-K.


The Islamic State of Khorasan (ISIS-K), taking its name from an old term that included parts of Iran, Turkmenistan and Afghanistan, arose in eastern Afghanistan in late 2014, quickly earning a reputation for extreme brutality. One of the most active regional affiliates of the Islamic State militant group, ISIS-K has seen its membership decline after peaking around 2018, following heavy losses inflicted by the Taliban and US forces. The United States has said its ability to develop intelligence against extremist groups in Afghanistan, such as ISIS-K, has declined since U.S. troops left the country in 2021.


ISIS-K has carried out a series of attacks, including attacks on mosques, both inside and outside Afghanistan. Earlier this year, intercepted US communications confirmed that the group carried out a double bombing in Iran that killed nearly 100 people. In September 2022, ISIS-K militants claimed responsibility for a deadly suicide bombing at the Russian embassy in Kabul. The group was responsible for an attack on Kabul International Airport in 2021, which left 13 US soldiers and dozens of civilians dead during the chaotic US evacuation from the country.

Earlier this month, the highest-ranking US general in the Middle East said ISIS-K could attack US and Western interests outside Afghanistan “in a period as short as six months and with little to no no warning.”


While ISIS-K's attack in Russia on Friday represents a clear escalation, experts said the group has already been vocal in its opposition to Russian President Vladimir Putin in recent years. “ISIS-K has trained its sights on Russia for the past two years, frequently criticizing Putin and his propaganda,” said Colin Clarke of the Soufan Center, a Washington-based research group. Michael Kugelman of the Washington-based Wilson Center added that ISIS-K “views Russia as complicit in activities that regularly oppress Muslims.” He also stressed that the group counts among its members a significant number of Central Asian militants who harbor deep grievances against Moscow.

Historical and geopolitical roots

The Russian presence in Syria and its support for the Bashar al-Assad regime have certainly influenced the intensification of hostilities. The Russian military intervention, which began in 2015, has significantly weakened ISIS on the ground, causing significant casualties and compromising the caliphate's expansion plans. From this point of view, the attacks can be interpreted as a form of retaliation directed against Russia for its key role in countering the expansion of the Islamic State in the Middle East.

The propaganda dimension

The choice to target Russia also serves as a powerful propaganda tool for ISIS, which seeks to portray itself as a force capable of striking a major player on the international scene. By attacking Russia, ISIS aims to demonstrate its resilience and ability to influence world geopolitics, despite the defeats suffered in Syria and Iraq. This serves not only to boost the morale of its fighters but also to attract new recruits, showing that the caliphate is still capable of operating effectively against its enemies.

Internal disagreements and the issue of Muslims in Russia

It must not be forgotten that, within the motivations of ISIS, there are also tensions within Russia, in particular those relating to the management of Muslims in the Caucasus regions. Militant groups have often criticized Moscow for its policies towards Islamic minorities, using these disagreements to further justify attacks on Russian targets.