Muscovites were surprised by news reports of a thwarted terrorist attack (Lenta.ru, October 11) planned by militants with ties to the so-called Islamic State (IS). Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) said two people taken into custody testified that they were preparing a terrorist attack on the Russian capital’s public transportation system and that they were IS members. The militants reportedly planned to attack either the subway system or an airport in Moscow. Later, on the morning of October 11, it became known that the security services had detained 10 to 15 suspects. Most of the detainees were citizens of Central Asian countries (Interfax, October 11).
The next day, the Interfax news agency announced that three of the arrested individuals were Syrian citizens (Interfax, October 12). Moreover, an explosive device confiscated in Moscow reportedly resembled the one used in the terrorist attack in Ankara, Turkey, on October 10. The Russian authorities’ thinly veiled message was that Ankara and Moscow are threatened by the same forces and that Moscow should be invited to join the common fight against terrorism.
The FSB might have been praised for its success in uncovering the terrorist plot in Moscow had the organization’s history not raised doubts about the official Russian version. The landlady of one of the suspects said that a colonel of the GRU (the Main Intelligence Directorate, the Russian military’s intelligence service) from Chechnya named Said rented the apartment in February 2015 along with his wife Sabina and their little daughter. Said went to Turkey on vacation in September and handed over the apartment keys to his nephew Musa (Lenta.ru, October 13).
Thus, the apartment was rented out to a GRU colonel. According to the investigators, after Colonel Said gave his apartment keys to Musa and traveled to Turkey in September, his nephew immediately started setting up a workshop for building a bomb (Mk.ru, October 12). Musa reportedly went on to hire an impressive group of supporters, including three citizens of Central Asian countries and a resident of Kabardino-Balkaria. These Islamists also, apparently, used the apartment, located at 5 Strelbishchensky Pereulok, in Moscow, as a hostel (Kommersant, October 12).
It is unclear how they managed to turn the apartment into a hostel to host 10–15 people in the two to three weeks after Said left with his wife and daughter for their vacation destination. After the suspects were arrested, Said’s wife, Sabina, reportedly telephoned the police. Strangely, the investigators were not interested in the details of the family who were renting the apartment.
The owner of the apartment, a 59-year-old identified only as Andrei R., is also a member of the Russian military, who works for the 190th financial department of the Russian Ministry of Defense’s military representative office. Another amusing detail about this story is how the criminal plot was supposedly uncovered. A female living in the building reported her neighbors after she overheard them mentioning the word “detonator” when they spoke in a language that she could not understand on the staircase. Investigators assumed that word “detonator” does not exist either in Chechen or Arabic.
The identities of the suspected Chechens—Mohmad Mezhidov, Elman Ashaev and Aslan Baisultanov—also raise questions. Aslan Baisultanov was mentioned in connection with the special operation against the rebels in Grozny on October 8, when Ramzan Kadyrov said someone by that name was among the rebels killed in the Grozny incident. Later, Aslan Baisultanov’s name was dropped from the official news reports, but reappeared on October 11 in connection with the Moscow incident (Tvrain.ru, October 13).
Investigators say that on October 3, Baisultanov received orders to carry out a bomb attack in Moscow. Someone named Shamil Chergizov reportedly gave Baisultanov a detonator and components for making an improvised explosive device (IED). Together with Ashaev, Baisultanov brought the materials to Moscow on a train and stored them with Mezhidov in the apartment on Strelbishchensky Pereulok (Zona Media, October 13).
These details prompted Kadyrov to expand his claims (Tvc.ru, October 13): he said that Chechen law enforcement agents helped prevent the attack in Moscow because they found Baisultanov’s passport in Grozny, where Chergizov, the organizer of the attack, was killed (Instagram.com, October 13). Some sources close to the investigation believe the suspect from Kabardino-Balkaria, Elbrus Bittirov, was the organizer of the attack (Interfax, October 13), but little is known about Bittirov thus far.
Three days after the thwarted attack in Moscow, the authorities still had not given the names of the Central Asians and Syrians who allegedly plotted the attack. Journalists were also surprised that only ten FSB officers escorted the three Chechen suspects to Lefortovo prison instead of the special vehicles typically used for especially dangerous suspects. Several journalists noted that the court hearing was also quite loosely guarded, and that anyone from the street could have entered the room, which is highly unusual for Russian court trials (Radiovesti.ru, October 13). Two of the three suspects started to confess right at the hearing and the judge had to interrupt them, saying that he only was considering whether they needed to be detained for the duration of the investigation.
The timing of these purported Islamic State actions in Russia, which took place in the North Caucasus and Moscow simultaneously, suits Russian interests: indeed, Moscow needs such “terrorist attacks” against the backdrop of its military intervention in the Syrian conflict on the side of President Bashar al-Assad’s regime. Russia needs to convince the world that Moscow is under threat and that it has to fight international terrorism alongside other countries. Such an attack would be the best way to prove that Russia is being targeted by the Islamic State because of Russian strikes against the IS in Syria. Moscow is trying to do everything in its power to force the West to stop ignoring it and consider it an equal partner in the anti-terrorism fight, as it was in 2001 after the September 11 attacks.