The attack that struck Moscow on March 22 highlights the resurgence of the jihadist group Daesh worldwide, spanning from the Middle East to Africa. This time, with the Khorasan cell firmly established in Central Asia leading the charge.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine had previously monopolized attention, while the conflict between Israel and Hamas seemed to have been pushed aside. However, the attack on the Crocus City Hall in Moscow on Friday, March 22, abruptly brought ISIS back into the focus of security circles; the jihadist group remains present and determined to pursue its attacks.

The Kremlin’s operations against Kiev have likely contributed to this oversight. Focused on Ukraine, the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) probably diverted resources away from combating jihadism on its own soil, even though the threat appears to have resurged.

On March 7, Moscow’s main intelligence agency claimed to have foiled another ISIS attempt, targeting a synagogue in Kaluga, in the southwest suburbs of the Russian capital. Another significant event was the warning issued by US intelligence to their Russian counterparts on the same day, accompanied by a security advisory for American citizens in the area.


While Russia deals with its own challenges, its leader, Vladimir Putin, seems intent on blaming Ukraine by all means possible. Nevertheless, the threat of ISIS persists.

The cell suspected of attacking Moscow mirrors the one that targeted Iran almost three months earlier: it is the Afghan branch of the jihadist organization, known as Daesh-Khorasan, named after an ancient province encompassing Afghanistan and parts of Central Asia.

An Afghan soldier points his weapon at an Islamic State group banner while on patrol in the Kot district of eastern Afghanistan’s Nangarhar province, July 26, 2016. (NOORULLAH SHIRZADA / AFP)

Established officially in 2015, during the peak of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s “caliphate,” this branch has gradually gained importance. According to Hans-Jakob Schindler, director of the NGO Counter Extremism Project (CEP) and former UN expert on terrorism, emissaries from Iraq and Syria played a significant role in its establishment. “They have very close ties with the central core, much more than other branches of the group worldwide,” Mr. Schindler adds in an interview with AFP journalist Didier Lauras.

An investigation published by the American think tank Washington Institute for Near East Policy, just two days before the Moscow attack, asserts that the Afghan annex has become “the vanguard of the organization’s external operations.”

“The Daesh-Khorasan plots should be considered the organization’s greatest global threat today,” the report specifies.

Syrian and Sahelian Resurgences

However, the international activity of Daesh-Khorasan must not overshadow the resurgence of other Daesh “provinces.” This is particularly notable in West Africa, where political upheavals resulting from a succession of coups have facilitated the organization’s regional resurgence.

This trend is corroborated by the findings of the Washington Institute, which notes that the region in question has witnessed the highest number of attacks in the name of the jihadist group between March 2023 and March 2024, totaling 403 out of 1,119. This surge in attacks led UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to designate the region as the “new epicenter” of global terrorism.

Iraqi forces take part in an operation against the Islamic State group in al-Miqdadiyah in the Iraqi province of Diyala, March 10, 2024. (Younis AL-BAYATI / AFP)

As for the organization’s original “province,” it remains active, with 158 attacks claimed in Iraq and 189 in Syria, according to the Washington Institute. Regarding Syria, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) regularly reports ambushes against civilians searching for truffles in isolated areas. The latest incident was the massacre of eleven truffle prospectors in the Syrian desert on Sunday, March 24.

Towards a New Wave of Attacks Worldwide?

Nevertheless, Daesh-Khorasan has surpassed its Syrian-Iraqi sponsor as the primary platform for attacks, targeting not only Russia and Iran but also the West, particularly Europe.

The most recent example occurred on Tuesday, March 19, when German authorities announced the arrest of two suspected Afghan jihadists, accused of planning an attack near the Swedish Parliament. Similar networks originating from Daesh-Khorasan had been dismantled in Europe in 2020, 2022, and 2023, according to Didier Lauras.

Paris echoes similar concerns. Following the Moscow attack, French President Emmanuel Macron announced that the jihadist group’s subsidiary “had attempted several attacks on our own soil in recent months.” Consequently, he decided to “increase the posture” of the Vigipirate counterterrorism mechanism, which had been lowered in January.