Russian law enforcement is holding 15 radical Islamists in Moscow who allegedly belong to a banned branch of the al-Qaida terror network, AFP reports. Members of the over 50-year old Egyptian founded group, Takfir wal-Hijra, were allegedly preparing suicide strikes.
Television footage on Russian news programs showed riot police busting into an apartment during a pre-dawn raid and throwing some men on the ground face first. Among items seized by police from the apartment in plastic bags were grenades and pistols. One officer told AFP an explosive belt was taken as well.
The interior ministry said the group had been funding its activities by “conducting general crime” in and around Moscow.
Russia remains on heightened security alert ahead of the February 7-23 Winter Olympic Games in the Black Sea resort of Sochi that lies near the volatile North Caucasus.
A top North Caucasus guerrilla commander who has claimed responsibility for a string of deadly suicide bombings in Moscow has threatened to target the Sochi Games.
Officials in 2011 claimed to have uncovered a complex terror plot against the Games by Islamist rebels who allegedly used little-policed mountain regions of Georgia as their base.
Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko has said Russia is “very worried” about security at all its sporting events.
Takfir wal-Hijra was quashed in Egypt in the 1970s but is believed to have cells linked to al-Qaida in several European and other countries.
Counter-terrorism and Middle East policy expert Patrick Poole told Breitbart News that this particular terror cell presents a number of problems, including how members blend in with their environment and who they are willing to kill for the sake of their ideology. In an e-mail statement, Poole wrote:
First is that the Takfiri ideology encouraged members to adopt Western habits, such as drinking alcohol, to blend into the culture that they are dedicated to destroying, making them much harder for authorities to detect. Secondly, their ideology calls for targeting Muslims and non-Muslims alike, so no one safe. If current reports are accurate, they were beyond the planning stage and well into advanced operations, meaning an attack was imminent.
As to possible motive for this operation, Russia’s support of the Assad regime in Syria against Sunni Islamist rebels comes immediately to mind. The Assad Alawite regime is perceived by many Sunnis to be heretics. Another important unanswered question with this incident is whether members of the Egyptian branch were involved, and if so, were they part of the hundreds of jihadists freed under deposed Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi during the Muslim Brotherhood’s brief reign. If so, this could indicate a wider scale problem of these released jihadists exists.
The TrackingTerrorism.org website shows that members of Takfir wal-Hijra have included the 9/11 US terror attack pilot Mohamed Atta and former Al-Qaeda leader in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, AFP notes.