France raises terror alert after ISIS attack in Moscow

President Emmanuel Macron says ISIS branch behind Russia shooting has planned attacks in France

A soldier on patrol at the Eiffel Tower on Monday with France on high alert after the attack in Russia on Friday. AP
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France has raised its terror alert level to the maximum after the ISIS mass shooting in Moscow triggered fears of renewed Islamist violence in Europe.

President Emmanuel Macron said the ISIS branch behind the atrocity in Russia had "also made several attempts" to launch attacks on French soil.

He said French intelligence findings backed the ISIS claim of responsibility for the Moscow concert hall shooting, which killed 137 people. "This attack was claimed by ISIS and the information available to us, to our [intelligence] services as well as to our main partners, indicates indeed that it was an entity of ISIS which instigated this attack," he said. "This group has attempted several times to hit France."

It was Europe's worst such attack in years, reviving memories of a spate of atrocities in France in 2015 and 2016.

Paris is already on high alert as it prepares to host the 2024 summer Olympics, and the heightened threat level allows for ramped-up security patrols.

The threat was raised “taking into account the ISIS claim of responsibility for the attack and the threats weighing on our country", the French Prime Minister Gabriel Attal said.

Britain and Germany updated their advice on travel to Russia to warn of terrorist threats.

Mourning in Russia after Moscow attack – in pictures

In European capitals, the attack prompted rare expressions of sympathy for Russia but also warnings not to try to pin the blame on Ukraine. “Based on everything that is known so far, it can be assumed that the terrorist group “Islamic State Khorasan Province” is responsible for the murderous terrorist attack near Moscow,” said German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser.

Italy followed France on Monday in stepping up security following the attack on a suburban Moscow concert hall. Both surveillance and checks will be increased, “paying the most attention to the places of greatest aggregation and transit of people, as well as sensitive targets,’’ the Italian Interior Ministry said.

While ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack, Russian President Vladimir Putin pointed the finger at Ukraine by claiming the attackers had tried to flee there.

Mr Macron said it would be "both cynical and counterproductive for Russia itself and the security of its citizens to use this context to try and turn it against Ukraine".

Russia has detained four suspected gunmen on terrorism charges, all of whom appeared in a Moscow court with visible cuts and bruises.

France has offered assistance at a "technical and ministerial level" to Russian security services dealing with the attack, Mr Macron said.

He said he would "see how the context evolves" to judge whether a call with Mr Putin was necessary. Their last known conversation was in 2022.

Terror threat in Russia

Nato and Russia once held joint counter-terrorism exercises as a shared anti-Islamism agenda provided grounds for co-operation during the 2000s and early 2010s.

However, practical co-operation ended after Russia's annexation of Crimea in 2014 and relations have been in the deep freeze since its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in 2022.

Mr Putin has blamed the West for supporting terrorists in the Caucasus region, where Russia has battled Islamist insurgents for years.

More than 100 people died in a bungled hostage rescue in 2002 after Chechen attackers took hostages at a Moscow theatre. Two years later, scores of children died in a shoot-out with terrorists at a school in Beslan.

The theatre attack was described by the militants as being in support of an independent Chechnya, although they warned “we will take with us the lives of hundreds of sinners”.

Some Chechen militants later jettisoned the idea of nation-states and ethnicities and joined the ISIS project. Some ISIS elements are believed to remain active in the Caucasus.

Like the Chechen rebels before them, the ISIS attackers in Moscow may have seen themselves as part of a wider conflict being fought in the Middle East, involving Russia.

The US had warned on March 7 of "imminent plans" by extremists to attack large gatherings such as concerts in Moscow.

The shooting on Friday was the first major attack in Europe claimed by the Afghan ISIS branch known as Islamic State Khorasan Province (ISIS-K).

On March 19, two men were arrested in Germany over an alleged ISIS-K plot to carry out a mass shooting in Stockholm.

The ISIS branch ordered the two Afghans involved to plan an attack in retaliation for the burning of the Quran in Sweden and Denmark, prosecutors claim.

Officials in Europe have repeatedly called for vigilance despite ISIS being weakened by its territorial defeats in Iraq and Syria – the group lost the last of the territory it held in those countries in 2019.

The perpetrator of a 2020 shooting in Vienna and the man who murdered the British MP David Amess in 2021 were both identified as ISIS supporters.

The most severe attack in France was the massacre at the Bataclan theatre in 2015 in which 90 people were killed as extremists opened fire on people at a concert. French troops have also fought against extremists in Africa.

Updated: March 28, 2024, 12:52 PM