Abstract: On the eve of hosting the FIFA World Cup in soccer, the most widely viewed sports event in the world, the Russian Federation is facing a surge in the terror threats linked to Vladimir Putin’s involvement in the Syrian civil war. There is increasing concern that terrorists linked to the Islamic State and other jihadi groups will seek to use the month-long global spectator event, kicking off June 14, to carry out high-profile terror attacks. Pro-Islamic State media platforms have launched an unprecedented social media campaign calling for attacks on the tournament. In just the past few years, there have been numerous successful terror attacks and thwarted plots in Russia by terrorists linked to or inspired by the Islamic State. This suggests the group may have the capacity to launch attacks in Russia during the World Cup.

In December 2010, Russia was selected to host the 2018 FIFA World Cup. Russian President Vladimir Putin was delighted to have landed the prestigious international event.1 He felt that Russia’s image depended upon the World Cup being held safely, and he subsequently spoke to Russian police, saying “[Russia] must hold it at the highest level and most importantly, ensure maximum security for players and fans.”2 Putin himself is set to attend the opening match between Russia and Saudi Arabia to be held on June 14 at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow and clearly has much invested in ensuring a safe and successful World Cup in his homeland.3

Russian officials have assured sports journalists that “Russia, by comparison with other championships, will guarantee one of the highest levels of security. In view of the measures taken and the experience of other major championships we will be able 100pc [percent] to ensure order in the stadiums and fan safety.”4

Russia has had almost three decades of experience in counterterrorism operations, but such bold promises of 100-percent security would appear difficult to keep in light of the recent Islamic State-inspired attacks that have taken place since 2015 in retaliation of Russia’s military campaign against Sunni rebels in Syria. As the World Cup approaches, pro-Islamic State media platforms have launched an unprecedented media campaign designed to galvanize “lone wolves” or “wolf pack” cells to carry out the sort of self-starter, do-it-yourself attacks that have increasingly become the group’s trademark. There is also the possibility that hundreds of battle-hardened Russian fighters from Dagestan, Chechnya, Tatarstan, and the former Soviet republics of Central Asia could return to Russia following the collapse of the Islamic State’s caliphate, seeking vengeance. Furthermore, there is concern Russians recruited locally into the Islamic State-aligned Kavkaz Velayet (Caucasus Province) could carry out terror attacks during the World Cup.

In response to these threats, Russian security forces have launched a series of raids in the Caucasus region over the course of the last year and have arrested cells throughout Russia. Stringent security measures have also been put in place to protect the World Cup, but it will be difficult to maintain security of the sort achieved during the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi as the matches will be held across Russia in 11 cities that are connected by vulnerable travel networks.

The Bear and the Hornet’s Nest
At the time Putin received news that Russia had beaten out other contenders to host the 2018 World Cup back in 2010, the Russian president could not have foreseen how embroiled he would become in a Middle East conflict that has taken the lives of over 400,000 people.5 Due to its intervention in Syria, Russia has in many ways replaced the United States as the primary enemy of global jihadi groups.

In September 2015, the Russian Federation overtly joined the Syrian civil war with direct military action on the side of its embattled client, the Alawite Assad regime in Damascus. As Russian Tupolev 95 strategic bombers leveled Sunni-occupied east Aleppo, killing thousands of Sunnis, and Russian special forces backed by Mil Hind 24 attack helicopters and MiG 29 fighter bombers bolstered Syrian Arab Army offensives against the Islamic State in Palmyra (central Syria) and towns such as Abu Kamal (eastern Syria on the Iraqi border), the crumbling caliphate declared war on the “infidels of Moscow.”6 In a typical threat to Putin in a video aired on the Al Arabiya TV channel, an Islamic State fighter sat in the cockpit of a captured Russian war plane in the Raqqa region with a second fighter warning:

This message is addressed to you, oh Vladimir Putin. These are your aircraft, which you sent to Bashar, and with the help of Allah we will send them back to you. Remember this. The Islamic State exists, and it will exist and it will expand with the help of Allah. Your throne is already shaking. It is in danger, and it will collapse when we get to you. We are on the way with Allah’s permission.7

Putin’s rationales for involving his nation in the bloody sectarian war in Syria were varied. When the Arab Spring demonstrations shook the region in 2011, the Russian leader watched as strongmen like Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in Tunisia, Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, and Muammar Qaddafi in Libya were overthrown and Islamists and jihadis gained power, just as they had in post-Saddam Hussein Iraq. The authoritarian Russian leader feared that his Middle Eastern ally, Syrian Baathist president Bashar al-Assad, would share the same fate and that his fall would bring Islamists and jihadis even closer to Russia’s borders. As the Arab Spring spread to Syria and Sunni rebel groups—including the Islamic State and the al-Qa`ida-aligned Jabhat al-Nusra (now Hayat Tahrir al-Sham)—and other more moderate groups, such as the Army of Conquest, seized vast swaths of territory, his fears did not appear to be far-fetched. To prevent a similar outcome in Russia’s Middle Eastern client state that was home to Russia’s only external warm water port at Tartus, in September 2015 Putin intervened militarily in Syria to bolster the beleaguered Assad regime.

Putin’s Levantine venture—informally dubbed by Russian media as Operation Vozmezdie (Retribution)—has subsequently been portrayed domestically as an unmitigated success in combating the Islamic State and even protecting the Russian Rodina (Homeland) from terrorism. But this has not been the case. While Putin has brought the Assad regime back from the brink of defeat, the Russian intervention in the Syrian civil war has actually escalated the risk of a terrorism blowback at home.8 Indeed, it has placed his citizens squarely in many jihadis’ crosshairs. This comes at a time when the Islamic State’s external operations network is attempting to prove its ability to project terrorism abroad, despite losing its territorial caliphate. While the Western media has been focused on terrorist attacks in places such as Paris, Brussels, Manchester, London, and Orlando, there has been far less coverage of the jihadis’ concurrent campaign to punish those the Islamic State describes as “Eastern Crusaders” in Moscow.9

Russia had previously dealt with an Islamist terrorism threat, emanating from its war-torn northern Caucasus region during the suppression of the Chechen independence wars of 1994-96 and 1999-2007 and the suppression of the multi-ethnic jihadi insurgent group the Kavakaz Emirate in Dagestan from 2008-15.10 However, since 2015, the jihadi terror threat has expanded from domestically driven Chechen-Dagestani and other Caucasian actors to foreign actors after Russia launched a military offensive against Sunni rebels in Syria. This coincided with leaders from the rump Kavkaz Emirate declaring themselves a Velayet (Province) of the Islamic State in June 2015.11

Just days after the Russian bombing campaign commenced in Syria in September 2015, 41 Sunni rebel groups in the country—which ranged from the U.S.-backed Division 101 to other powerful groupings such as Ahrar al-Sham, Jaish al-Islam, and Jabhat al-Shamiyah—warned Russia that “any occupation force to our beloved country is a legitimate target.” The Islamic State and the al-Qa`ida-linked Jabhat al-Nusra issued threats of their own.12 On October 12, 2015, then head of al-Qa`ida affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra, Abu Muhammad al-Julani, released a 21-minute audio message online titled “The Russian Intervention – The Last Arrow,” in which he described the Russians as “Eastern Crusaders.” He then called for retaliatory attacks as well as the need for the “mujahideen in the Caucasus to distract” Russia from the war in Syria by killing Russians in their home country.13

Just hours after the release of his message, two mortar shells struck the Russian embassy compound in Damascus as hundreds of pro-Assad supporters rallied outside in support of the Russian airstrikes.14 Not to be outdone, the next day the Islamic State released an audiotape in which its then spokesman Abu Mohammed al-Adnani called for “Islamic youth everywhere [to] ignite jihad against the Russians and the Americans in their crusaders’ war against Muslims.”15 In July 2014, Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi declared “the crusaders, their allies, and with them the rest of the nations and religions of kufr (infidel), all being led by America and Russia.”16 This was the first time, to the authors’ knowledge, that the Islamic State leader had focused directly on Russia.17

Terror Blowback 2015-18
Since these declarations, there have been numerous terror attacks against the Russian Federation by Islamic State-inspired terrorists and other jihadis. Many attacks have been carried out by Caucasus-based insurgents who have simply rebranded their long-running terror campaign as being on behalf of the Islamic State.

The onslaught of terror attacks began on October 31, 2015, when the Islamic State’s wing in Egypt’s Sinai Desert claimed responsibility for destroying a Russian charter plane flying from the Sinai resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh to St. Petersburg with a bomb, killing all 224 people onboard. In its online magazine Dabiq, the Islamic State posted a picture of the small device it claimed was used to bring down the plane and justified its action as a response to the Russian airstrikes in Syria, which it claimed were “a rash decision of arrogance.”18

Such threats would continue to be translated into action as Russia increasingly became a primary target of global jihadis. On December 2, 2015, the Islamic State again made clear its intent to inspire attacks in Russia by releasing a gruesome video in which one of its Russian-speaking militants in Syria vowed to unleash murderous attacks on the people of Russia, before beheading a man he alleged was a Russian spy.19

These calls for attacks and acts of brutality appear to have inspired self-starter jihadis and Islamist extremists in Russia to imitate their brutality. Initially, most Islamic State-inspired attacks were carried out against Russian security forces in the insurgency-plagued, Muslim-majority southern Russian republic of Dagestan. On December 30, 2015, Islamic State-inspired gunmen opened fire on people standing on the panoramic terrace of the ancient citadel of Derbent in Dagestan, killing one and injuring 11 others. The terrorist group afterward claimed, “With the help of Allah, the warriors of the Kalifate were able to attack a group of Russian special service officers … killing one officer and injuring others.”20

In late February 2016, the Islamic State again targeted police officers in Dagestan when a suicide bomber drove a car loaded with explosives into a police checkpoint in the town of Dzhimikent, killing two officers and injuring approximately 10.21 The attack was claimed by the Islamic State, but it is unclear whether the bomber was a fighter who had returned from Syria or a homegrown lone wolf.22 Two terrorist acts followed in Dagestan in late March, one an IED attack on a police convoy, and a second a suicide bombing, claimed by the Kavkaz Velayet (The Caucasus Province of the Islamic State) that killed several members of the security forces.23

Islamic State-inspired terrorists managed to strike deeper into the Russian heartland. On March 2, 2016, Gulchekhra Bobokulova, a 38-year-old nanny from Uzbekistan, decapitated a four-year-old girl she had been babysitting in Moscow. Bobokulova subsequently claimed that “Allah ordered” her to kill the young girl out of revenge for the Russian military intervention in Syria and made clear she was imitating what she had seen in Islamic State beheading videos.24

On June 28, 2016, the threat of jihadi blowback from foreign fighters from the former Soviet bloc in Syria was underscored when a Chechen-led group of Uzbek, Dagestani, and Kyrgyz Islamic State terrorists launched an assault on Istanbul’s Ataturk airport, killing 42.25

More Islamic State-inspired attacks inside Russia followed. On August 17, 2016, two Chechen extremists wielding axes and firearms attempted to kill two police officers just east of Moscow at a traffic police station on the Schelkovskoe Highway. Both police officers were injured, one severely, but survived. Afterward, the Islamic State released a video of the two attackers, referring to them as “soldiers of the Islamic State,” and threatened more Islamic State attacks inside Russia.26 On October 23, 2016, two men opened fire on a policeman who was checking their car in the city of Nizhny Novgorod, a city in western Russia that will host 2018 World Cup matches. The police officer returned fire and mortally wounded his attackers. The Islamic State subsequently claimed that two of its “soldiers” had carried out the attack.27

On November 14, 2016, Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) foiled a terror plot to carry out a Paris-style mass casualty attack in malls in Moscow and St. Petersburg, just before it could be put into operation. The conspirators were Kyrgyz, Uzbek, and Tajik extremists who wanted “to prove their loyalty” to the Islamic State.28 No evidence has emerged of Islamic State direction in the plot.

On December 19, 2016, the Russian ambassador to Turkey, Andrey Karlov, was killed at an art exhibition in Ankara. Karlov was several minutes into a speech when a Turkish member of the security detail pulled out a gun, shouted “Allahu Akbhar,” and shot him dead. After killing the ambassador, the assassin shouted, “Don’t forget Aleppo,” before being killed by Turkish special forces.29

On April 3, 2017, a suicide bombing was carried out on the St. Petersburg metro between the Sennaya Ploshchad and Tekhnologichesky Institut stations, killing 15 and injuring 45.30 According to Russian authorities, the attack was carried out by Akbarjon Djalilov, a Kyrgyzstan-born Russian Uzbek national. A second bomb was found in a separate metro station and defused before it could detonate. Russian authorities subsequently accused Abror Azimov, another Kyrgyzstan-born Russian citizen, of training Djalilov.31 Three weeks after the attack, a mysterious group claiming affiliation with al-Qa`ida, Katibat Imam Shamil (Imam Shamil Battalion) claimed responsibility, describing Djalilov as a “knight of Islam” who was dispatched under the directive of al-Qa`ida leader Ayman al-Zawahiri. The previously unknown group, which it should be noted never provided evidence of any kind, would also describe the attack as revenge for Russia’s “support” for the “criminal” Assad regime in Syria.32 In the weeks that followed, Russian authorities apprehended 11 suspects involved with this bombing, all of whom were originally from Central Asia.33

On August 14, 2017, a group of three Central Asian Tajiks and one Russian were arrested as they plotted to carry out suicide bombing attacks on markets and crowded places. Interestingly, the FSB reported, “In the course of an initial investigation it was established that ‘terrorist attacks’ plots were organized by the leaders and emissaries of Daesh terrorist group in Syria.”34

On December 16, 2017, the FSB announced that seven suspected followers of the Islamic State had been arrested for allegedly planning to carry out terror attacks in St. Petersburg. The Russian security agency said it received tips on the terrorist cell’s activities from the CIA.35 According to Russian authorities, the cell was plotting a suicide bombing in Kazan Cathedral, home to Russia’s most cherished icon, The Lady of Kazan. The terrorists allegedly planned to set off other explosions in the city’s busiest areas, on the Islamic State’s orders.36 Russian TV stations ran footage of FSB operatives outside an apartment building detaining a suspect, who was later shown confessing that he had been ordered to prepare homemade bombs rigged with shrapnel.37 The FSB subsequently said it had also arrested several Islamic State-linked suspects in Moscow, where they were allegedly plotting a series of suicide bombings over the New Year.38 On December 27, 2017, an improvised explosive device packed with shrapnel with the equivalent of two hundred grams of TNT was set off in a supermarket in St. Petersburg, injuring 10 people.39 The Islamic State subsequently claimed responsibility for the attack on “Crusader Russia” via its Amaq news agency.40

Meanwhile, Islamic State-inspired attacks continued in the Caucasus. On February 19, 2018, the Islamic State claimed responsibility for a shooting attack that left five worshippers dead and five others wounded, including two security personnel, outside a Christian Orthodox Church in Kizlyar City, Dagestan. In the incident, the terrorist opened fire on worshippers with a hunting rifle before being killed by security forces.41

On the eve of the FIFA World Cup, to be held in various cities across the western provinces of European Russia, the Russian Federation faces threats from homegrown terrorists from the Caucasus acting in the name of the Islamic State; Russian or CIS nationals who have trained and fought in Syria; terror cells inspired by the Islamic State; and lone wolves who may have been mobilized by online propaganda.42 It is clear, based on recent history, that there is both a strong motive for the Islamic State and other jihadi groups to attack Russia, and a pattern of attacks in the last three years that shows they have the capacity to inspire further attacks. The Islamic State also may have the capacity to dispatch trained operatives to carry out attacks. While the large majority of plots appear to have involved extremists inspired rather than trained and directed by the Islamic State, there have been plots that authorities describe as having a deeper connection to Syria.a For example, on October 15, 2015, a group of 10 terrorists— were arrested for planning to carry out a terrorist attack on public transport in Moscow. The FSB announced that several of those arrested underwent training in Islamic State camps in Syria. It is not clear from Russian media reporting if they were sent back by the group with orders to launch an attack or had decided themselves to carry out an attack after returning to Russia.43

In light of the above history, it is not surprising that the Islamic State and other global jihadi groups have seen the World Cup as an opportunity to make threats against Russia, galvanize would-be supporters to carry them out, dispatch cells, and spread fear.

Threat to the World Cup
The FIFA World Cup 2018 will be held in Russia from June 14 to July 15, and a total of 64 matches will be held in 12 venues across 11 different cities, including Moscow (which has two host venues), St. Petersburg, Kaliningrad, Nizhny Novgorod, Kazan, Samara, Saransk, Volgograd, Rostov-on-Don, Sochi, and Ekaterinburg.44 Russian Deputy Prime Minister Vitaly Mutko predicted that approximately one million tourists will visit Russia for the event.45 While the World Cup venues are “hard targets” that are set to be protected with multiple layers of security, there will be no shortage of soft targets that terrorists could hit.

As demonstrated with the 1972 Munich Olympics, the 2013 Boston Marathon, and the November 2015 attack outside the Stade de France in Paris by an Islamic State cell based in Belgium, which also later planned to target the Euro 2016 soccer championships in France,46 sporting events can be attractive targets for terror attacks. During the Confederations Cup held in Russia in the summer of 2017, the FSB reportedly foiled a jihadi terrorist attack on a high speed train between Moscow and St. Petersburg. The alleged terrorist cell aimed to crash two express trains close to St. Petersburg on July 27.47

There are four main terrorist threat vectors for attacks on both hard targets and soft targets. Combined, these four strands point to a significant risk of some kind of terror attack during the 2018 World Cup.

Potential Threats Emanating From Russian and CIS Nationals Fighting in Syria
The northern Caucasus has been a hotbed of jihadi violence ever since Ibn Khattab’s small group of Arab mujahideen joined the outgunned Chechen boyeviki (fighters) during the first Russo-Chechen War of 1994-96 and grafted the notion of jihad onto what was essentially a war for Baltic-style national independence.48 When the Russians and their local Chechen proxies—led by the Kadyrov family—brutally suppressed the increasingly ‘jihadified’ Chechen independence movement in the second Russo-Chechen War of 1999-2007, the epicenter of violence in the region shifted eastward to the neighboring multi-ethnic republic of Dagestan. From there, a multi-ethnic jihadi movement led by ethnic Avars aimed to create a sharia law theocracy stretching across the small Muslim-majority republics of the northern Caucasus known as Kavkaz Emirate (Caucasus Emirate). This group assumed the mantle of the jihad from the Chechens and launched a deadly and still ongoing insurgent terror campaign targeting Russian forces.

This insurgency in the Caucasus was largely suppressed by the time of the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, although the insurgents managed to carry out bombings in the town of Volgograd and in Chechnya and Ingushetia in the months leading up to the Games. Following the Russian suppression of the insurgency, there have been allegations that many jihadis from the region were subsequently allowed and encouraged to emigrate to the Islamic State’s caliphate in Syria in 2014-15 by Russian authorities who were glad to be rid of this menace.49 They reportedly did so via so-called “green corridors” with “facilitation, payment, passports” believed to have been approved at senior levels in the Russian government, according to a former Obama administration official quoted by ProPublica.50 The majority of insurgents who remained subsequently abandoned the Kavkaz Emirate and declared bay`a (oath of allegiance) to the Islamic State and renamed themselves the Kavkaz Velayet of the Islamic State (although the Kavkaz Emirate remained active in parts of Dagestan).

Foreign Fighter Flows to Syria and Iraq from Russia and Central Asia (Jean-Francois Allaux, MappingISIS.com)

Together, Russia and the countries of post-Soviet Central Asia have seen more of their citizens travel to fight in Syria and Iraq than have any other parts of the world. Although the numbers vary, the Center for Strategic and International Studies estimates that roughly 8,500 individuals from Russia and the Central Asian states traveled to join the Islamic State and other jihadi factions in the Middle East.51More volunteers joined the Islamic State from Russia than from Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, or Jordan.52 After Arabic and English, Russian is the third most spoken language of the Islamic State.53

With the subsequent 2016-18 collapse of the caliphate in northern and eastern Syria, due in part to Russian-backed Syrian Army offensives in Palmyra and the central Euphrates River valley, hundreds of battle-hardened Russian and CIS jihadis with experience in using weapons or making explosives are feared to have returned to the Russian Federation.54 The Russian and Central Asian fighters from the battlefields of the Middle East pose a significant threat to the World Cup due to their considerable military experience fighting for the Islamic State.55 While a significant number of returnees have been arrested or put under criminal investigation by Russian authorities, the concern is others have gone undetected and may be running terror cells.56

There have also been indications that Central Asian groups based in Syria have cooperated in overseas attack planning. In August 2016, for example, the Syria-based leadership of the al-Qa`ida-aligned Katibat Tawhid wal-Jihad was allegedly involved in facilitating a vehicle attack on the Chinese embassy in the Kyrgyzstan capital of Bishkek by a Tajik Uighur who had joined the Turkistan Islamic Party (TIP).57

If this were not worrying enough, the Islamic State affiliate in Afghanistan has threatened to dispatch terror cells to Russia. An Uzbek Islamic State leader based in Kunduz, northern Afghanistan, identified as Hamza, told Al Jazeera in 2017 that his Afghan-Pakistan wing of the Islamic State known as the Islamic State in Khorasan had organized sleeper cells to attack Russia. One of this group’s leaders boasted to Al Jazeera, “We have 4,000 trained fighters at the ready. God willing 2,000 of them will go on the offensive against Russia.”58 This leader also declared, “With God’s help, some of our forces have already entered Russia and we plan to send more.” Another commander explained their rationale for targeting Russia, stating, “They [the Russians] are at war with us, engaging us on the air and the ground. Russia is the enemy of Islam and the enemy of the Quran. They are trying to wipe out the mujahidin.” While it is entirely possible these claims were bluster, they nonetheless reflected the fact that Russia has become a top aspirational target for jihadis. Moreover, the Islamic State in Khorasan has a presence in areas of Afghanistan near the borders of Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan, providing them opportunities to recruit Central Asians who may be able to gain access to Russia.59

Map of Russia showing venues for the 2018 FIFA World Cup (Jean-Francois Allaux, MappingISIS.com)

Russian security forces have broken up a number of cells with a Central Asian nexus. In February 2016, for example, they arrested a terror cell made up of “Russian and Central Asian citizens, led by an Islamic State fighter from Turkey” that was allegedly planning “high profile” attacks in St. Petersburg, Moscow, and Sverdlovsk region.60 There have been other incidents involving what Russian authorities call Islamic State cells, including one in which security forces “eliminated” an Islamic State terrorist cell in a highway shootout in the southern town of Saratov on March 12, 2018. And as recently as April 17, 2018, Russian security forces broke up what they claimed to be an Islamic State terrorist cell in Rostov. Russia Today reported that “the cell was preparing attacks based on orders it was receiving from the terrorist group Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS) in Syria” while the Russian Tass News Agency reported (without providing evidence) that the FSB had arrested an Islamic State cell:c

“Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) has exposed a cell of the Islamic State terror group (outlawed in Russia), whose members were planning to carry out terrorist attacks in the Rostov region upon orders from Syrian emissaries, the FSB press service said. The cell’s leader detonated an explosive device and died while being detained, but another three perpetrators were apprehended.”61

Potential Threat from Jihadis in the Northern Caucasus
There is also a danger that terror cells consisting of jihadi insurgents who have remained in the war-torn northern Caucasus region, especially in Dagestan and Chechnya, will try to carry out terrorist attacks. On June 20, 2015, much of the leadership of the Dagestani-led Kavkaz Emirate that did not immigrate to Syria swore an oath of allegiance to the Islamic State and subsumed their movement into that of the caliphate. On June 23, 2015, then-Islamic State spokesman Abu Muhammad al-Adnani named Abu Mohammad al-Qadari the leader of the new regional wing of the Islamic State and congratulated him and “the soldiers of the Islamic State” in the Caucasus. The Kavkaz Velayet was set up to cover the Muslim-majority republics of Dagestan, Chechnya, Ingushetia, Karachay Balkaria, and Karachay Cherkassia.

These Caucasian jihadis will likely be motivated to heed the Islamic State’s calls for terrorism during the World Cup. Before he was killed by Russian forces in December 2016, the Islamic State’s leader in the Caucasus, al-Qadari, issued a call for holy war in Russia instead of migrating to Syria. He stated, “We ask that you obey the order of the Caliph … the Muslims of the Caucasus, that they [should] go out and wage jihad in the Caucasus.”62

It is important to note that one of the World Cup venues, Sochi, lies close to territory the Islamic State’s Caucasus Province aspires to control. Sochi was also the de facto capital of an ancient Muslim ethnic group known as the Circassians who were largely wiped out or driven into exile by the Russians in the 19th century. The town has deep symbolism for jihadis in the north Caucasus who resent “Russian infidels” holding events on what they consider to be sacred soil containing the bones of slain Muslim “martyrs.”63

While the Russian FSB and Ministry of Interior forces have in recent years, and even more so in recent months, stepped up anti-terrorist operations in the north Caucasian republics of Dagestan, Chechnya, Ingushetia, and Kabardino-Balkaria, this rugged, undeveloped area is hard to control and essentially remains a war zone. The World Cup venues of Sochi, Volgograd, and Stavropol are close to this insurgency-plagued region, which is awash in weapons, explosives, and extremists. Russian repression has bred resentment, helping pro-Islamic State jihadis recruit in the region.64

The most active splinter group from the fractured Kavkaz Emirate remains the Islamic State’s Dagestan branch (one of the five sub-provinces of the Islamic State’s larger Velayet Kavkaz). The Russian news is full of almost weekly Russian police arrests, gunfights, and assaults on militants in the Dagestani capital of Makhachkala and elsewhere in this mountainous region. In response, terrorists and insurgents from the republic have claimed to have carried out bold razzias (raids) on Russian barracks from their bases in the forests of Dagestan.

Northern Caucasus Fighters in Syria and Iraq (Data Source: Atlantic Council /Jean-Francois Allaux, MappingISIS.com)

Before most of its members switched their loyalty to the Islamic State, the al-Qa`ida-affiliated Kavkaz-Caucasus Emirate was responsible for numerous terror attacks in southern Russia since 2007. The terrorist organization carried out complex attacks such as those in Moscow metro and international airport (2010) as well as bombings in Volgograd (2013 and 2015). Its boldest attack was launched on December 2014 when a group of armed militants attacked a traffic police checkpoint outside the city of Grozny, the capital of Chechnya. The militants then entered the city and occupied the “Press House” building in the city center and a nearby school. During this brazen attack and a subsequent police storming of the building, which caught on fire, 14 policemen, 11 terrorists, and one civilian were killed.65 However, a Russian counterterrorist campaign that led to the killing of the Kavkaz Emirate leader Doku Umarov in September 2013 and the killing of several other emirs and senior cadres subsequently greatly weakened the group.66

Potential Threat of Lone Wolves or “Self-Starters”
There is also the danger that lone wolves, possibly Russian converts to Islam, who have been radicalized by the Islamic State’s online messaging (of the sort that has recently inspired Russian Islamist extremists to carry out terror attacks) will heed the Islamic State’s recent calls for “soldiers of the Caliphate” to carry out solo or small-group attacks during the World Cup. The Islamic State has been encouraging would-be attackers to strike by any means possible—including with vehicles and knives during the tournament—via its social media channels and via the encrypted messaging platform Telegram.

An unsophisticated attack of this precise sort was recently seen when an Islamic State-inspired terrorist attacked and seriously wounded eight bystanders with a knife and axe on August 19, 2017, in the Siberian town of Surgut.67 Russian media reported a similar attack with a knife by a suspect who had tried to join the Islamic State was carried out in Stavropol, a city which will host World Cup matches, in May 2018.68 Russian security officials are worried this sort of ad hoc attack is harder to track and prevent than sleeper cell activity.69

But should “internet-enabled” terrorists seek to carry out a more elaborate attack using bombs, directions for simple pressure cooker bombs or IEDs of the sort used in the Boston Marathon bombing or the more recent bombing in St. Petersburg are all too easily available online.70

Potential Threat of Tatar and Bashkir Jihadis
A fourth vector that is less likely, but possible, lies with Tatar and Bashkir extremists who have carried out low-level terror acts or traveled to fight in Syria and returned. One of the matches will be held in the capital of the Tatarstan republic, Kazan. While the Tatars of Tatarstan and Crimea are largely Sovietized-Russified with an indigenous form of Islam that is not radical, radical strains of salafi Islam (often defined as “Vakhabity” or Wahhabi by Russian authorities) as well as a following for the Islamist group Hizb ut Tahrir have appeared in Tatarstan, and to a lesser degree among the Bashkirs, a fellow Turkic ethnic group living adjacent to Tatarstan in their own republic of Bashkortostan. The most notable act of terrorism was the assassination of the Mufti (Chief Cleric) of Tatarstan and his deputy in 2012 by assassins who were opposed to their crackdown on extremist mosques. After the murder, a group calling itself the Mujahidden of Tatarstan posted a video of themselves with guns standing before the black banner of jihad and promising to punish the “enemies of Allah.”71 Since then, there have been several small scale attacks in the republic, including a rocket attack on a major oil refinery in Tatarstan in November 2013.72

It was initially estimated that about 200 Tatars had traveled to Syria to fight in a Tatar jamaat (brigade), serving alongside the Chechen unit led by a Crimean Tatar commander named Abdul Karim Krymsky.73 But a second fighting unit known as Junud al Makhdi led by an emir named Sayfuddin al Tatari was said to have had approximately 400 members who fought alongside Turkish units in the Latakia region of northwestern Syria. (Tatar and Turkish are both Turkic languages.) One of their leaders in Syria stated, “Our strategic aim is to raise the Muslims of Tatarstan and Bahkortistan to go out to jihad, so they would raise the banner of jihad in their native lands and destroy the criminal Putin regime.”74 This raises concern some may return to Russia to launch attacks.

The Islamic State Media Drive to Inspire Attacks During the World Cup
In the past six months, there has been a torrent of postings on pro-Islamic State platforms threatening the 2018 World Cup. In October 2017, for example, the pro-Islamic State Wafa’ Media Foundation posted a series of online propaganda posters, one of which depicted a jihadi equipped with a bomb staring at a soccer stadium, emblazoned with the words “O enemies of Allah in Russia. I swear the mujahedeen fire will burn you. Just you wait.”75 In another image that was released on the encrypted app Telegram, which is favored by terrorists, in April 2018, the Islamic State threatened Putin directly, stating “Russia 2018. Putin you disbeliever. You will pay the price for killing Muslims.” On the right side of the image, a bearded jihadi was depicted brandishing an AK47 assault rifle, emerging from an explosion in front of a packed soccer arena. The left side of the poster depicted Putin with his entire body trapped in the crosshairs of a jihadi’s rifle.76

On May 8, 2018, in a poster that was designed by al-Nur Media Center (an Islamic State-linked French media group) and published on Telegram, the terrorists sent a message to aspiring lone wolves and armchair jihadis. The image shows the flags of countries competing in the FIFA World Cup with the French text “Choisis ta Cible” (Choose your Target).77

In recent months, the Islamic State has also issued a continuing torrent of disturbing World Cup threats against players, including Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, arguably the greatest soccer players of their generation.78 One soccer star was depicted kneeling down wearing an orange jumpsuit next to a masked jihadi in Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium, where the World Cup Final is set to take place.79 In April 2018, the Islamic State produced a graphic depicting a camouflaged terrorist outside of a stadium armed with a gun and explosives.80

On May 3, 2018, Kavkaz Uzel, a Russian newspaper focused on events in the Caucasus, reported that the Islamic State had ordered its units in Russia to commit terror attacks against the FIFA 2018 targets and in the 11 cities that were chosen as hosts for the World Cup (although details on the source of the claim were not given).81 Russia’s most popular sports website also reported a direct threat to the Russian leader with a headline that read, “Putin you will pay for murdering the Muslims,” while another message in English read “Putin you Disbeliever. You will Pay a Price for Killing Muslims.”82

The drumbeat of threats from pro-Islamic State media outlets continued, with multiple threats sometimes being posted on the same day, as the tournament approached. On May 14, 2018, one of the threat messages put out by pro-Islamic State media groups featured posters depicting Islamic State fighters threatening stadiums with captions in several languages. The next day, a pro-Islamic State media platform provided instructions for supporters in Russia for targeting “infidels” inside and outside the stadiums through tactics such as vehicle attacks, stabbings and shootings.83

It should be noted that the sampling of threat messages described above were posted on media platforms supportive of the Islamic State rather than in official communiques or speeches by the group. It is difficult, therefore, to know the degree to which they are the result of a decision by surviving senior members of the group to prioritize inspiring attacks against the 2018 World Cup or a spontaneous effort by propagandists sympathetic to the Islamic State. Their sheer volume, however, suggests they may be part of a concerted effort with some hidden guiding hand.

Pro-Islamic State media platforms have, however, put out many threats against other venues and events in the past, which failed to provoke attacks—for example, Christmas and New Year’s Eve celebrations in Times Square at the end of 2017.84

Russian Security Precautions for the World Cup
In the light of the previously described history of Islamic State-related terror attacks and more recent online Islamic State calls for terrorism against the World Cup, the Russian FSB (former KGB), MVD (Ministry of Internal Affairs), and other security organs have gone on high alert. Russian intelligence agencies have also been active in surveilling towns and mosques in the north Caucasus republics that have been linked to Chechen and Islamic State-Kavkaz Velayet terrorist activities, as well as launching raids and carrying out arrests on terror suspects in other parts of the country. On April 27, 2018, for example, Russian sources reported that the FSB had captured two jihadi terrorists plotting attacks on the Pacific island of Sakhalin and the far western province of Kaliningrad.85 The rising number of arrests in Islamic State-related terror plots in the lead up to the World Cup is certainly cause for concern and points to the existence of a very real terror threat in Russia. Between January and April 2018, Russia reportedly detained 189 militants and killed another 15 for involvement in terrorist plots. According to the head of the FSB, Alexander Bortnikov, 12 distinct underground terrorist cells were broken up in this short time period.86

In one of these instances, on March 11, 2018, the FSB foiled an attempt by jihadis to launch a terrorist attack in Russia’s southwest Saratov region. According to the FSB’s public relations department, during the incident, members of an “underground terrorist group” opened fire on security personnel after their car was stopped in a search operation. A shootout ensued, and while the FSB did not disclose the number of injuries or deaths, the aspiring terrorists were stopped. At the scene, they found an improvised explosive device of about three kilograms of TNT, a self-made grenade, and Makarov pistols.87

The capital has not been immune either. On April 27, 2018, Russia claimed to have thwarted an Islamic State plan to carry out high-profile attacks in Moscow. The FSB said it had cut short the activity of what it called a four-man Islamic State sleeper cell, which was taking instructions from someone in Syria via the Telegram messenger service.88 Footage and reports of Russian counterterrorism agents arresting alleged Islamic State members have also appeared in Western media, one where a “shooting robot” neutralized the threat from an Islamic State-linked cell in Dagestan.89

On May 6, 2018, a man was stopped for a document check in Nizhny Novgorod, a host city for the World Cup, and opened fire on police, injuring three. He then fled to an apartment he had been renting just nine miles from the World Cup stadium before being killed by Russian authorities. The Islamic State subsequently claimed responsibility for the attack via its Xalifat Telegram channel, stating “The attack in Nizhny Novgorod when three Russian policemen were wounded was performed by the warrior of ISIS.”90

Out of concern over threats such as these, in January 2018, the U.S. State Department urged U.S. citizens to “reconsider” traveling to Russia for the World Cup. It stated, “Terrorist groups continue plotting possible attacks in Russia. Terrorists may attack with little or no warning, targeting tourist locations, transportation hubs, markets/shopping malls, and local government facilities. Bomb threats against public venues are common.”91 The British intelligence firm IHS Jane’s similarly “assesses increased violent risks to visitors in the host cities.”92

For their part, Russian officials have repeatedly assured fans that the international event will be safe.93 The head of Russian National Anti-Terrorism Committee, Igor Kulyagin, for example, explained:

“We have taken into account the huge experience, accumulated by the National Anti-Terrorism Committee and the security organizations involved in providing security for the Sochi Olympic Games, the Kazan Universiade and other huge events … Of course, special attention will be paid to providing anti-terrorism safeguards of the infrastructure that will be used for hosting the competition, such as the teams’ stadiums, accommodation units and training facilities.”94

The head of Russia’s Ministry of Internal Affairs in St. Petersburg, Sergei Umnov, similarly sought to assuage fears of terror attacks, stating that “on a daily basis, 11,000 people will be working; 4,500 others from attached forces will be operating in the city (St. Petersburg) and help us preserve order. Volunteers, private security firms, and members of public policing organizations have also been engaged.”95

Russian officials have pointed to the successful security precautions made for the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, which became known as the “Security Olympics” for the massive security presence, as a testament to Russia’s counterterrorism capabilities. But it is worth noting that the World Cup is a much larger event that will span 11 different cities and 37 pre-game training sites, instead of just one as was the case with Sochi. As already noted, the transportation networks between these cities, including trains, buses, and airplanes, will also be vulnerable to terror attacks of the sort jihadi insurgents from the Caucasus have carried out in the past. The Chechen capital Grozny is set to be the home base for Egypt’s soccer team during the tournament. To secure the event in such diverse and dangerous regions, the Russian government has implemented rigorous anti-terror measures, including the following steps:

Total bans on planes and ‘flying devices,’ such as drones, around World Cup stadiums

Controlled and forbidden zones in venue cities

Stringent ID checks ensuring that the identity of fans is known in advance

A massive restrictions in sales of arms, explosives, poisons, and narcotic and psychotropic drugs in venue regions

Closure of factories manufacturing dangerous goods for the duration of the World Cup

Bans on movements of boats and ships close to stadiums

Road closure and high security on train and planes transporting teams between match venues96

In addition, Russia’s Anti-Terrorism Committee announced that all elements of the security system had been put on heightened alert in preparation for the tournament. Security measures have been bolstered, including at airports and transport hubs. Facial recognition technology, which is cross-matched with images of wanted individuals from across government databases and social media, has also been installed on 5,000 CCTV cameras across Moscow.97 Other host cities have also installed CCTV cameras that plug into this database.98

Furthermore, all ticket holders are given FAN-IDs, which have their identification information on them, which is vetted by Russian security services.99 The Russian Tass News Agency has reported that security will be maintained at the World Cup venues by 14,500 security guards and 16,500 stewards.100 Also, it has been reported the stadiums in the 11 cities hosting matches will have high-tech security systems that include super-sensitive metal detectors at all steel-gated entry checkpoints. Fans are set to be searched by guards using handheld scanners and bomb-sniffing dogs, and all bags will pass through airport-style X-ray machines. There will be video surveillance of crowds, and Russian police and stewards will patrol the stadiums and their perimeter.101 “Electronic warfare assets” will be deployed to protect stadiums from hostile drones.102

Despite the ‘100-percent’ guarantees that the 2018 World Cup will be safe, the planned tight security at the venues, and a continuing crackdown by security services on suspected terrorists active on Russian territory, Russia faces a very significant risk of terrorist attack during the tournament.

Just weeks before the World Cup kickoff these dangers were again illustrated by a gun attack on an orthodox church in Grozny, Chechnya on May 19, 2018, by four teenage gunmen from the region which killed three and was claimed by the Islamic State. The casualty count would likely have been higher had the attackers managed to get inside the church and had the security services not quickly intervened.103 The opening match between Russia and Saudi Arabia is scheduled to take place on the last day of Ramadan. The Islamic State has, in past years, called on its followers to launch attacks during the Islamic holy month, and a surge in attacks has been seen in some years.104

Terrorists may feel special incentives in attacking such cities as St. Petersburg, Putin’s hometown, and “al Kafir Musku” (Infidel Moscow), especially during the match between Russia and Saudi Arabia, which Putin himself will attend. Other towns, such as Sochi, Stavropol, Rostov-on-Don, and Volgograd are located close to the epicenter of a still ongoing terrorist insurgency in the Caucasus. But any attack inside Russia while the world’s media covers the World Cup will be seen by the Islamic State or other jihadi groups as a significant propaganda victory over a Russian leader hated by many in the Sunni Muslim world.     CTC

Brian Glyn Williams is Professor of Islamic History at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth and author of Inferno in Chechnya. The Russian Chechen Wars, the Al Qaeda Myth, and the Boston Marathon Bombings (Dartmouth, 2016) and Counter Jihad. The American Military Experience in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2018). Follow@BrianGlynWillms

Robert Troy Souza is a research analyst at the Center for the Study of Targeted Killing at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth and an assistant managing editor for the Fellowship Program at Young Professionals in Foreign Policy, Washington, D.C. Follow@RobSouza2012

Substantive Notes
[a] It should be noted it is difficult to independently verify Russian media reports and claims made by Russian officials. This can make it challenging to assess the nature of the linkages between those arrested for terrorism plots and the Islamic State. While it has been reported that Islamic State cells operating in Russia that have been arrested by the FSB were “managed” or “directed” from abroad by the Islamic State, the authors have found no evidence of Islamic State cells dispatched directly from Syria to Russia. See, for example, Damien Sharkov, “ISIS Cell Preparing Holiday Attacks Using Bombs, Guns and Grenades Arrested, Moscow Police Say,” Newsweek, December 12, 2017.

[b] The Soufan Group estimates that about 3,400 foreign fighters traveled from Russia itself to Syria. Thomas M. Sanderson, Olga Oliker, Maxwell B. Markusen, and Maria Galperin, “Russian-Speaking Foreign Fighters in Iraq and Syria,” CSIS, December 29, 2017; “Beyond the Caliphate: Foreign Fighters and the Threat of Returnees,” Soufan Center, October 2017.

[c] It must be noted that to the authors’ knowledge, Russian authorities have not provided any evidence that this cell was under the control of the Islamic State. It is worth noting that when Russia first involved itself militarily in Syria, it conflated all Sunni rebel groups with the Islamic State, despite most of the groups having no known connection to the group. It is entirely possible that many of these so-called “Islamic State cells” have no direct links to the Islamic State.

[1] “Russia to host 2018 FIFA World Cup,” FIFA.com, December 2, 2010.

[2] “Russia’s Image Dependent on the Success of World Cup,” Football Match Preview, April 28, 2018.

[3] “Putin to Attend FIFA World Cup Opening Between Russia and Saudi Arabia,” Tass News Agency, May 4, 2018.

[4] “Russia Promises ‘100pc Security’ for Fans Attending the 2018 World Cup,” Association Internationale de la Presse Sportive, April 18, 2017.

[5] “Syria death toll: UN envoy estimates 400,000 killed,” Al Jazeera, April 23, 2016.

[6] For a detailed account of Russia’s military intervention in Syria, see Brian Glyn Williams and Robert Souza, “Operation Retribution. Russia’s Military Campaign in Syria, 2015-2016,” Middle East Policy 23:4 (2016).

[7] “ISIS Threatens Russia,” Al Masdar News (Syria), September 4, 2014.

[8] For more on the terrorist blowback against Russia following the country’s military intervention in Syria, see Brian Glyn Williams and Robert Souza, “The Consequences of Russia’s ‘Counterterrorism’ Campaign in Syria,” CTC Sentinel 9:11 (2016).

[9] Thomas Joscelyn, “Head of al Qaeda’s Syrian branch threatens Russia in audio message,” FDD’s Long War Journal, October 13, 2015.

[10] For a history of the post-Soviet jihad insurgencies in the Caucasus and Russian counterterrorism operations, see Brian Glyn Williams, Inferno in Chechnya. The Russian Chechen Wars, the Al Qaeda Myth and the Boston Marathon Bombing (Lebanon, New Hampshire: Dartmouth College Press, 2016).

[11] For an overview of the role of foreign fighters and terrorists in Chechnya, see Brian Glyn Williams, “The Russo-Chechen Wars: A Threat to Stability in Eurasia?” Middle East Policy 8:1 (2001).

[12] “Syrian insurgents vow to attack Russian forces as Moscow hints at ground role,” Guardian, October 5, 2015.

[13] Joscelyn, “Head of al Qaeda’s Syrian branch threatens Russia in audio message.”

[14] “Syria conflict: Shells hit Russian embassy compound,” BBC, October 13, 2015.

[15] “ISIS calls on ‘Islamic youth’ to ignite holy war against Russians & Americans,” Russia Today, October 14, 2015.

[16] “Islamic State Leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi Encourages Emigration, Worldwide Action,” SITE Intelligence Group, July 1, 2014.

[17] “Khalifat vse Bliszhe,” Radio Svoboda, October 21, 2015.

[18] Jason Hanna, Michael Martinez, and Jennifer Deaton, “ISIS publishes photo of what it says is bomb that downed Russian plane,” CNN, November 19, 2015.

[19] Greg Botelho, “ISIS video claims beheading of Russian spy, threatens Russian people,” CNN, December 3, 2015.

[20] Suman Varandani, “ISIS Russia Attack: Islamic State Group Claims Shooting in North Caucasus, Report Says,” International Business Times, December 31, 2015.

[21] Anna Nemtsova, “How ISIS Takes Revenge on Russia,” Daily Beast, February 19, 2016.

[22] “Islamic State says behind Dagestani bomb blast that killed two policemen,” Reuters, February 15, 2016.

[23] Thomas Joscelyn, “Islamic State claims 2 attacks on Russian forces in Dagestan,” FDD’s Long War Journal, March 31, 2016.

[24] Carolina Mortimer, “Moscow beheading: Nanny claims she was ‘inspired by Isis’ to murder four-year-old girl,” Independent, March 15, 2016. 

[25] “Putin Expresses Condolences to Turkish People After Istanbul Airport Attack,” Sputnik, June 29, 2016; Faith Karimi, Steve Almasy, and Gul Tuysuz, “ISIS leadership involved in Istanbul attack planning, Turkish source says,” CNN, June 30, 2016.

[26] Lizzie Dearden, “Isis claims responsibility for first terror attack in Russia after men try to kill police with gun and axes near Moscow,” Independent, August 19, 2016.

[27] “ISIS Claims Responsibility for Terrorist Attack on Russian Soil,” Moscow Times, October 26, 2016.

[28] “Terror Attack Targeted St. Petersburg Shopping Malls – Reports,” Moscow Times, November 14, 2016.

[29] “Russian ambassador to Turkey shot dead by police officer in Ankara gallery,” Guardian, December 20, 2016.

[30] Peter Bergen and David Sterman, “The likely culprits behind the St. Petersburg bombing,” CNN, April 4, 2017.

[31] Goktug Sonmez, “Violent Extremism among Central Asians: The Istanbul, St. Petersburg, Stockholm, and New York City Attacks,” CTC Sentinel 10:11 (2017).

[32] Thomas Joscelyn, “Islamic State claims its men planted bomb at St. Petersburg supermarket,” FDD’s Long War Journal, December 29, 2017.

[33] “A Year After St. Petersburg Subway Blast, Russia Says Probe Almost Finished,” Radio Free Europe Radio Liberty, April 3, 2018.

[34] “Russian FSB Detains Daesh-Linked Terrorists,” Sputnik, August 14, 2017.

[35] “Trump stresses importance of anti-terror cooperation between Russia and America,” Tass News Agency, December 18, 2017.

[36] Ibid.

[37] “Putin thanks Trump for CIA tip he says stopped bomb plot,” Associated Press, December 18, 2017.

[38] Ibid.

[39] “Casualties Reported Following St. Petersburg Store Explosion,” Tass News Agency, December 27, 2017.

[40] Joscelyn, “Islamic State claims its men planted bomb at St. Petersburg supermarket.”

[41] “Five Killed in Attack on a Church in Russia’s Dagestan,” Al Arabiya, February 19, 2018.

[42] The Commonwealth of Independent States (i.e., former Soviet states in Central Asia and Europe)

[43] “Russia says it foiled Moscow attack by ISIS-trained Islamists,” Al Arabiya, October 12, 2015.

[44] “Russia united for 2018 FIFA World Cup Host Cities Announcement,” FIFA.com, September 29, 2012.

[45] “Russia expects up to one million tourists for 2018 FIFA World Cup,” TASS, July 4, 2017.

[46] “Brussels terror cell ‘intended to target Euro 2016 in France,” Local (France), April 11, 2016.

[47] Ibid.

[48] Brian Glyn Williams, “Allah’s Foot Soldiers. Assessing the Role of Foreign Fighters and Al Qaeda in the Chechen Insurgency,” in Ethno-Nationalism, Islam and the State in the Caucasus: Post-Soviet Disorder (London: Routledge, 2007).

[49] Maria Tsvetkova, “Special Report: How Russia Allowed Home Grown Radicals to go Fight in Syria,” Reuters, May 13, 2016.

[50] ‘“Khalifat?’ Primanka dlia durakov! (Caliphate? A Lure for Fools),” Novaya Gazeta, June 3, 2015. For a discussion of this Russian-backed migration, see “Russia’s Response to Terrorism History and Implications for U.S. Policy,” American Security Project, October 2016, p. 5; “How Russia Allowed Homegrown Radicals to go Fight in Syria;” and Sebastian Rotella, “The U.S. Considered Declaring Russia a State Sponsor of Terror, Then Dropped It,” ProPublica, May 21, 2018.

[51] Thomas M. Sanderson, Olga Oliker, Maxwell B. Markusen, and Maria Galperin, “Russian-Speaking Foreign Fighters in Iraq and Syria,” CSIS, December 29, 2017.

[52] Richard Barrett, “Beyond the Caliphate: Foreign Fighters and the Threat of Returnees,” Soufan Center, October 2017.

[53] Oliver Carroll, “Cracking Down on Russia’s Caliphate,” Foreign Policy, May 31, 2016.

[54] Barrett; Alissa de Carbonnel, “Insight: Russia fears return of fighters waging jihad in Syria,” Reuters, November 14, 2013; Mansur Mirovalev, “How Russia spawned more ISIL fighters than most nations,” Al Jazeera, October 31, 2017.

[55] Sanderson, Oliker, Markusen, and Galperin.

[56] Mirovalev; Anna Arutunyan, “ISIS Returnees Bring Both Hope and Fear to Chechnya,” International Crisis Group, March 26, 2018.

[57] Sonmez.

[58] “ISIL Target Russia,” video found at Mirovalev.

[59] “Why are ISIS Fighters Heading towards Afghanistan?” Future for Advanced Research & Studies, January 15, 2018.

[60] Roland Oliphant, “Russia Arrests Members of ISIL Terror Cell,” Telegraph, February 8, 2016.

[61] “Leader of ISIS cell supporters blows himself up to avoid arrest in Russia,” Russia Today, April 17, 2018; “FSB exposes IS cell plotting terrorist attacks in Russia’s Rostov region,” TASS, April 17, 2018.

[62] Joanna Paraszczuk, “IS’s North Caucasus Affiliate Calls For Recruits To Join It In Daghestan,” Radio Free Europe, October 3, 2015.

[63] Brian Glyn Williams, “The Dark Secret Behind the Sochi Olympics: Russia’s Efforts to Hide a Tsarist-Era Genocide,” Huffington Post, March 4, 2014.

[64] “Lasting Impunity for Violations in Russia’s North Caucasus and Human Rights Crisis in Chechnya,” Human Rights Watch, January 24, 2017.

[65] “V spetsoperatsii v Groznom unichtozheno 11 boyevikov, zayavil Kadyrov (Kadyrov said 11 militants were killed in a special operation in Grozny),” RIA Novosti, December 5, 2015.

[66] Brian Glyn Williams, “The Killing of Doku Umarov. A Post Mortem Analysis of the Amir of the Caucasian Emirate,” Militant Leadership Monitor 5:3 (2014).

[67] “Secret services weigh up whether Surgut atrocity was a terrorist attack after ISIS claim,” Siberian Times, August 20, 2017.

[68] “Neftekumskom rayone proizoshlo napadeniye na sotrudnikov politsii,” Glavnoye Upravleniye Mvd Rossii Po Stavropol’skomu Krayu (An Attack on Members of the Police Took Place in the Gas Producing Region), Press Release: Main Headquarters of the MVD for the Stavropol Province, May 1, 2018.

[69] “Grishin: verbovkoy v IG na russkom zanimayetsya 5-10 tysyach propagandistov (Grishin: 5-10 thousand propagandists are engaged in recruitment in the IG in Russian),” RIA Novosti, June 19, 2015.

[70] Azmat Khan, “The magazine that ‘inspired’ the Boston bombers,” PBS Frontline, April 30, 2013.

[71] “Skoro stanet zharko. Interv’yu iz islamistskogo podpol’ya,” APN, August 9, 2012.

[72] Leon Aron, “Russia is a New Front for Militant Islam,” Washington Post, November 13, 2015.

[73] For a history of the Crimean Tatars, see Brian Glyn Williams, The Crimean Tatars. From Soviet Genocide to Putin’s Conquest (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016) and “V Tatarstane natsional-separatisty ob”yavili o podderzhke boyevikov-islamistov v Sirii (National Separatists Announced Support for Islamist Militants in Syria),” Regnum, June 13, 2013.

[74] Joanna Paraszczuk, “More Detailed Information & Interview With Newly-Formed Tatar Group Junud Al-Makhdi Whose Amir Trained in North Caucasus With Khattab,” Chechensinsyria.com, July 3, 2016.

[75] For an image of the photo provide by SITE Intelligence Group, see https://ent.siteintelgroup.com/Chatter/pro-is-group-gives-2nd-warning-for-2018-fifa-world-cup-in-russia.html

[76] Natasha Turak, “Why the ‘lone jihadi’ poses the greatest terror threat to this summer’s World Cup in Russia,” CNBC, May 1, 2018.

[77] For an image of the photo provide by SITE Intelligence Group, see https://news.siteintelgroup.com/Jihadist-News/is-linked-french-group-tells-lone-wolves-to-choose-your-target-at-2018-fifa-world-up.html

[78] “ISIS uses doctored Messi pic to threaten attack on Russia World Cup,” Russia Today, April 18, 2018; Simon Osborne, “ISIS in World Cup threat to behead Ronaldo and Messi ‘your blood will fill the ground,” Daily Express, May 17, 2018.

[79] For an example of one of these images documented by the Site Intelligence Group, see https://ent.siteintelgroup.com/Chatter/pro-is-group-publishes-poster-of-messi-dead-neymar-awaiting-execution-to-threaten-2018-fifa-world-cup.html

[80] Sara Malm and Gareth Davies, “ISIS threatens to attack the World Cup: Terrorists warn Putin will ‘pay the price for killing Muslims’ in Syria,” Daily Mail, April 10, 2018.

[81] “Prigrozilo vzryvami vo vremya mundialya v Rossii (Threats of Explosive Attacks During the Finals,” Kavkaz Uzel, March 4, 2018.

[82] “Storonniki IGIL ugrozhayut Putinu atakami vo vremya CNM-2018,” Sports.Ru, April 11, 2018.

[83] “IS-linked Group Threatens 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia,” SITE Intelligence Group, May 14, 2018; “IS Supporting Group Gives Instructions for Attacks During 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia,” SITE Intelligence Group, May 15, 2018.

[84] “ISIS Supporters Step up Threats Against the West, Call for Attacks over Christmas,” MEMRI. Middle East Media Research Institute, December 22, 2017.

[85] “Veteran ‘Al’fy’: terroristy starayutsya osedat’ na periferiynykh territoriyakh (Veteren of Alpha. Terrorists to Settle in Periphery Territories),” RIA Novosti, April 27, 2018.

[86] “The FSB prevented six terrorist attacks from the beginning of 2018,” TASS, April 10, 2018.

[87] “Terrorist attack prevented in Saratov Region – FSB,” TASS, March 11, 2018.

[88] “Russia says thwarts planned Islamic State attacks in Moscow,” Reuters, April 27, 2018.

[89] Will Stewart, “Dramatic footage shows Russian cops arrest ‘terrorists planning attacks at World Cup 2018,” Sun, April 20, 2018; “Russia wipes out ‘ISIS sleeper cells’ with KILLER ROBOT in World Cup terror crackdown,” Daily Express, May 1, 2018. Footage of Russian counterterrorism operations can be seen on the Germany-based video news agency Ruptly, which belongs to broadcaster Russia Today.

[90] “Terroristy vzyali otvetstvennost’ za napadeniye na politseyskikh v Nizhnem Novgorode,” Glavnie Regionalnie TV, May 7, 2018.

[91] “Russia Travel Advisory,” United States Department of State.

[92] Alex Kokcharov and Elena Ostanina, “Foreign visitors to 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia face elevated injury risks, collateral damage to property,” Jane’s 360, October 20, 2017.

[93] Bianca Britton, “England World Cup fans will be ‘safe in Russia,’ says Russian ambassador,” CNN, March 23, 2018.

[94] “We’ll take all measures to ensure safety’: Russia Anti-Terrorism Committee head on 2018 World Cup,” Russia Today, January 31, 2017.

[95] “Some 11,000 Police Officers to Maintain Order at FIFA World Cup in St Petersburg,” Sputnik, January 24, 2018.

[96] “Russia 2018 Football World Cup Security Advice,” Intelligent Protection International Limited.

[97] Turak.

[98] “Railway Station to be Modernized in Rostov-on-Don Ahead of World Cup,” Sputnik, January 25, 2018.

[99] “What is a Fan ID?” FAN ID; “Russia to present at conference in Sochi new security products for 2018 FIFA World Cup,” TASS, April 24, 2018.

[100] “About 14,500 security guards, 16,500 stewards to ensure security at 2018 FIFA World Cup,” TASS, October 3, 2017.

[101] Matt Barlow, “Football in Vladimir Putin’s Iron Grip,” Daily Mail, April 13, 2018; Jerry Lawton, “Inside Russia’s New ‘YOB PROOF’ World Cup Stadium,” Daily Star, March 1, 2018.

[102] “Russia to Deploy Anti-Drone Units at World Cup Stadiums, Reports Say,” Moscow Times, May 21, 2018.

[103] “ISIS claims responsibility for attack on Orthodox church in Chechnya,” Russia Today, May 20, 2018; Three Dead In Chechnya Church Attack, Police Kill Attackers, Radio Free Europe Radio Liberty, May 19, 2018.

[104] Yasmeen Serhan, “Is ISIS More Violent During Ramadan?” Atlantic, June 26, 2017.


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