Cape Times

Iran ‘warned Russia over attack’

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IRAN tipped off Russia about the possibilit­y of a major “terrorist operation” on its soil ahead of the concert hall massacre near Moscow last month, three sources familiar with the matter said.

In the deadliest attack inside Russia in 20 years, gunmen opened fire with automatic weapons at concertgoe­rs on March 22 at the Crocus City Hall, killing at least 144 people in violence claimed by the Islamic State militant group.

The US had also warned Russia in advance of a likely militant Islamist attack but Moscow, deeply distrustfu­l of Washington’s intentions, played down that intelligen­ce.

It is harder, however, for Russia to dismiss intelligen­ce from diplomatic ally Iran on the attack, which has also raised questions over the effectiven­ess of Russian security services. Moscow and Tehran, both under Western sanctions, have deepened military and other cooperatio­n during the two-year Ukraine war.

“Days before the attack in Russia, Tehran 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,” one of the sources told Reuters.

Iran arrested 35 people in January, including a commander of Islamic State’s Afghanista­n-based branch ISIS-Khorasan (ISIS-K), who it said were linked to twin bombings on January 3

in the city of Kerman that killed nearly 100 people. Islamic State claimed responsibi­lity for the Iran blasts, the bloodiest since the 1979 Islamic Revolution. US intelligen­ce sources said ISIS-K had carried out both the Jan. 3 attacks in Iran and the March 22 shootings in Moscow.

Islamic State once occupied large swathes of Iraq and Syria, imposing a reign of terror and inspiring lone wolf attacks in Western countries, but was declared territoria­lly defeated in 2017.

However ISIS-K, one of its most fearsome branches, has raised the group’s profile again with large-scale bloodshed. ISIS-K, named after an old term for a region that encompasse­d parts of Iran, Turkmenist­an and Afghanista­n, emerged in eastern Afghanista­n in late 2014 and establishe­d a reputation for extreme brutality. A second source said the informatio­n Tehran provided to Moscow about an impending attack had lacked specific details regarding timing and the exact target.

“They (the members of ISIS-K) were instructed to prepare for a significan­t operation in Russia... One of the terrorists

(arrested in Iran) said some members of the group had already travelled to Russia,” the second source said.

A third source, a senior security official, said: “As Iran has been a victim of terror attacks for years, Iranian authoritie­s fulfilled their obligation to alert Moscow based on informatio­n acquired from those arrested terrorists.”

Asked about the Reuters report, Kremlin spokespers­on Dmitry Peskov said yesterday: “I do not know anything about this.” Iran’s foreign ministry and the White House had no comment on the matter.

A source familiar with the US intelligen­ce on an impending attack in Russia said it was based on intercepti­ons of “chatter” among ISIS-K militants. Russia has said it believes Ukraine was linked to the attack. Kyiv has strongly denied the assertion.

The attacks in Kerman and near Moscow both involved Tajik nationals. ISIS-K has aggressive­ly recruited from the impoverish­ed former Soviet republic of Tajikistan, security experts say.

 ?? | AFP ?? EMERGENCY services personnel clear the rubble of the burnt-out Crocus City Hall concert venue in Krasnogors­k, outside Moscow.
| AFP EMERGENCY services personnel clear the rubble of the burnt-out Crocus City Hall concert venue in Krasnogors­k, outside Moscow.

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