Russian government blames neo-Nazi group for attack claimed by Islamic State

A gunman opened fire at the local office of Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) in the city of Khabarovsk yesterday. At least two people were killed. Depending on which source you consult, the shooter was either a far right neo-Nazi, or a jihadist loyal to the Islamic State.

Amaq News Agency, the so-called caliphate’s main propaganda arm, quickly claimed credit for the shooting. The statement can be seen above. Citing a “security source,” Amaq reported that an Islamic State “fighter” had assaulted the Russian intelligence office in Khabarovsk, killing three people and wounding others.

However, the Russian government contradicted Amaq’s claim. TASS, the Russian state news agency, reported that “information” about the gunman “points to his being a member of a neo-Nazi group.”

The shooter was “identified as A.V. Konev … a resident of the Khabarovsk region” who was born in 1999, according to TASS. He was killed by security forces.

The FSB said that two people, a “FSB officer” and a “visitor” from the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), were killed — not three as reported by Amaq. A third “visitor” also “suffered wounds.” But this discrepancy over casualties is minor, especially when compared to the different motivations for the killings offered by Amaq and the FSB.

As FDD’s Long War Journal has reported in the past, it is often difficult, if not impossible, to verify jihadist claims after operations are conducted inside Russia. Independent reporting is often limited and the Russian government tends to be less than forthcoming when identifying perpetrators.

In March 2016, for instance, the Islamic State’s Caucasus Province claimed responsibility for two attacks in Dagestan, saying that its jihadists had detonated “two explosive devices” on Russian Army vehicles “in the area of Kaspiysk in eastern Dagestan.” Russian officials blamed members of a “gang” and said they were investigating whether this group had “sworn allegiance to the Islamic State terrorist organization.” [See FDD’s Long War Journal report: Islamic State claims 2 attacks on Russian forces in Dagestan.]

The Russians also did not immediately credit the jihadists with an Aug. 2016 attack on police in Balashikha, which is east of Moscow. Amaq quickly released a claim of responsibility after that shooting. Leaving little doubt about the identity of the perpetrators, Amaq also disseminated a short video of two jihadists swearing allegiance to Abu Bakr al Baghdadi. [See FDD’s Long War Journal report: Jihadists who attacked Russian police appear in Islamic State video.]

Without more information about the shooter in Khabarovsk, a city in Russia’s far east, it is impossible to adjudicate between the competing claims. The location of the attack is far away from Chechnya and Dagestan, where the Islamic State’s Caucasus Province is known to operate. Still, it is possible that the organization had a young recruit in Khabarovsk and was in contact with him online or in some other fashion.

Abu Bakr al Baghdadi’s organization does not claim all terrorist attacks.

For example, no group has claimed responsibility for the April 3 bombing at a subway station in St. Petersburg. Russian officials have identified the bomber as a 22 year-old Russian citizen, Akbarjon Jalilov, an ethnic Uzbek who was born in Kyrgyzstan. Ten or more individuals of Central Asian origin were arrested during the investigation that followed. According to RT, which is controlled by the Russian government, a Russian court found that the metro bombing was “financed by an international terrorist group from Turkey.”

Still, the Russians haven’t definitively identified the group responsible for the St. Petersburg bombing. Sixteen people were killed and dozens more wounded in the explosion.

Thomas Joscelyn is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Senior Editor for FDD's Long War Journal.

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