Russian massacre suspects’ homeland is plagued by poverty and religious strife

In this photo taken from video Sunday, a suspect in the Crocus City Hall shooting on Friday is escorted to the Russian Investigative Committee headquarters in Moscow, Russia. (Investigative Committee of Russia/via AP)

TALLINN, Estonia — The four men charged with the massacre at a Moscow theater have been identified by authorities as citizens of Tajikistan, some of the thousands who migrate to Russia each year from the poorest of the former Soviet republics to scrape out marginal existences.

Along with grinding poverty, Tajikistan is rife with religious tensions. Hard-line Islamists were one of the main forces opposing the government in a 1990s civil war that devastated the country. The militants claiming responsibility for the Moscow massacre that killed 139 people — a branch of the Islamic State group in neighboring Afghanistan — reportedly recruit heavily from Tajikistan.


The four suspects who were arraigned in a Moscow court late Sunday on terrorism charges appeared to have been beaten or injured during their detention. One was wheeled in on a gurney clad only in a hospital gown.

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday described the suspects as “radical Islamists,” and he repeated his accusation that Ukraine might have played a role despite its strong denials.

Here is a look at the militant groups and political history connected to the Moscow attack:

Islamic tensions in Tajikistan

As many as 1.5 million Tajik migrants are estimated to be in Russia after fleeing the poverty and unemployment that plague their landlocked, mountainous country. An array of mineral resources are present in Tajikistan, but the industry has been slow to develop because of belated foreign investment and poor geological data, among other factors.

Although its nearly 10 million people are overwhelmingly Muslim, tensions connected to Islam are common.

Islamists were a key opponent during a 1992-97 civil war in which the government killed as many as 150,000 people and devastated the economy. When the war ended, Tajik President Emomali Rahmon took steps to sharply curtail religious freedoms.

The government limited how many mosques could be built, prohibited women and children under 18 from attending mosques at all, and banned religious instruction outside the home for children. Critics say the limits encouraged people to turn to underground and radical Muslim factions via the internet.

Tajikistan has not made any official statement about the arrest of the four men suspected in the attack.

Islamic State vs. Russia

Most attacks tied to Islamic extremists that afflicted Russia in the past quarter century were committed by Chechen separatists, such as the 2004 Beslan school seizure that killed more than 300 people — or were blamed on them, as in the 1999 apartment bombings that triggered the second Russia-Chechnya war.

But attacks that began in 2015 were claimed by or attributed to the Islamic State group. The group opposed Russia’s intervention in Syria, where Moscow sought to tip the balance in favor of President Bashar Assad’s forces.

The U.S. government has said it had intelligence confirming IS was responsible for the weekend attack in Moscow.

After IS declared a caliphate in large parts of Syria and Iraq in June 2014, thousands of men and women from around the world came to join the extremist group.

Those included thousands from the former Soviet Union, among them hundreds from Tajikistan.

IS claimed responsibility for the 2015 bombing of a Russian airliner that was bringing tourists home from the Egyptian resort Sharm al-Sheik. Two years later, it claimed to be behind the suicide bombing of a subway train in St. Petersburg that killed 15 people.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


By participating in online discussions you acknowledge that you have agreed to the Star-Advertiser's TERMS OF SERVICE. An insightful discussion of ideas and viewpoints is encouraged, but comments must be civil and in good taste, with no personal attacks. If your comments are inappropriate, you may be banned from posting. To report comments that you believe do not follow our guidelines, email