What Is Behind the Terrorist Attack in St. Petersburg?

The terrorist attack in St. Petersburg showed that Russia, just like Western Europe and the United States, is not immune from the terrorist threat. Although no group has yet taken responsibility for this attack, the most recent data confirm that this is likely a result of Islamist terrorism.

It should be noted that statements of solidarity from European leaders at the moment have been extremely restrained, and it is disappointing that their number and tone are clearly not comparable in scale with similar statements that were made following terrorist attacks in France and Belgium. This has been noted not only by members of the Russian-speaking community in Europe, but also by many local experts who note the sad irony: "Well, where is #JeSuisSaintPetersburg?" At the same time, it is necessary to note the gestures of solidarity expressed by Israel, the administration of the city of Nice and many others.

It is still too early to know, whether the terrorist attack in St. Petersburg was in response to Russia's anti-terrorist campaign in Syria. At the same time, it should be noted that since 2015, Russia has been one of the priority targets for Daesh. The terrorist organization issued a series of video and text statements, as well as in its propaganda magazines (Dabiq, Rumiya), threatening to "bring the war to Russia," urging its supporters in Russia to lead individual jihad in every possible way.

Was it possible to prevent the attack? It is difficult to talk about it after the fact. If the investigation confirms that the terrorist act was carried out by a lone terrorist and not by an organized cell, this would mean that this terrorist attack is of the type that is most difficult to prevent. This was clearly demonstrated by the series of terrorist attacks in Germany in 2016, the attack on a policeman in Magnanville, France and the terrorist attack in Orlando, United States. Lone terrorists often do not have accomplices and constant contacts with terrorist groups, they are guided by online propaganda and choose targets at their own discretion.

Russia's current practical experience of combatting terrorism is rather broad and could be compared to that of Israel. Unfortunately, as practice has shown, there is no such thing as 100 percent protection from the terrorist threat in the modern world. This is first of all because the threat level today is unprecedented and security services are dealing with not dozens or hundreds, but thousands of potential terrorists. Second, terrorist groups, above all Daesh, seek to adapt to constantly changing conditions, and give their supporters various options of techniques of individual and collective jihad, as well as a much broader spectrum of potential targets.

At the same time, when it comes to the efficiency of Russian security services, there is a fact that an array of large-scale attacks planned by Daesh cells in large cities including Moscow and Saint Petersburg have been prevented in the past few months. Other than that, one should note the prompt response of Russian security services in the first few hours after an attack. This contrasts with Belgium, where because of the indecisiveness of the Belgian government following the explosion at the Brussels airport on March 22, 2016, the decision to evacuate the subway was not made, and an hour later, terrorists were able to make a second attack at the Maelbeek subway station. In Saint Petersburg, the prompt evacuation of the subway and deactivation of the second explosive allowed security forces to reduce the number of victims.

Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.