An underground cell of battle-hardened jihadists from Central Asia are planning to carry out “terrorist” attacks during the upcoming New Year celebrations and presidential elections in Moscow, reportedly warns Alexander Bortnik, the head of Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB), charged with homeland security.
He also cautioned that returning foreign fighters who left Russia to join terrorist groups in Syria pose “a real threat” now that the Islamic State’s (ISIS/ISIL) demise in the region is imminent, reports Reuters, citing the RIA news agency.
“Many of them may be now planning to return to Russia,” indicated Bortnik.
In April, a study from the Soufan Group (TSG), an intelligence consulting firm, revealed that Russia is the top non-Muslim majority country with the most nationals fighting on behalf of ISIS in the Middle East.
At least 2,400 foreign fighters from Russia have traveled to engage in jihad in Iraq and Syria, the majority alongside ISIS,” noted Soufan.
— The Soufan Group (@TheSoufanGroup) April 3, 2017
Meanwhile, Australia’s Lowy Institute placed the estimate at 2,500, noting that Russia is the top non-Muslim country with jihadists in the Middle East.
Overall, Russia is reportedly the third top country with the most foreign fighters in the Middle East, after Muslim-majority Tunisia and Saudi Arabia.
Russia has suffered terrorist attacks at the hands of ISIS in recent years.
ISIS has suffered significant territorial and manpower losses in recent months, driving many of the estimated between 27,000 and 31,000 people from at least 86 countries who had traveled to Syria and Iraq to join jihadist groups back home.
Top U.S. national security officials from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI), Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and FBI have warned that the military pressure ISIS is facing on the group has exacerbated the threat the group represents.
The warning from Russia’s FSB head comes soon after President Vladimir Putin instructed his Ministry of Defense to begin withdrawing Russian troops from Syria, noting that the end of “large-scale combat actions” against jihadists in the war-devastated country is imminent.
“The large-scale combat actions against terror groups in Syria are coming to an end,” declared Putin, according to the state-owned TASS news agency. “I note that the efforts of Russia, Iran, and Turkey have helped to prevent Syria’s breakup, not allow its takeover by international terrorists and avoid a humanitarian crisis.”