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25 Mar, 2024 18:40

Terrorism suspects came to the EU through Ukraine – media

Two Tajik nationals who lived in Ukraine are accused of plotting attack on a Vienna cathedral, Austria’s Heute news outlet claims
Terrorism suspects came to the EU through Ukraine – media

Ukraine may have become a convenient passageway for violent extremists seeking to enter the EU under the radar, Austria’s Heute news outlet reported on Sunday, citing security officials. A “large number” of suspected terrorists have traveled to the bloc via Ukrainian territory, it said.

The media outlet cited the example of two Tajik nationals and a Chechen arrested in Austria and Germany in December last year on suspicion of plotting an attack on the iconic St Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna. The suspects allegedly aimed to attack the cathedral on New Year’s Eve, using Kalashnikov assault rifles and explosives, according to Heute.

Those suspects could be part of a wider terrorist network linked to an Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) offshoot known as IS Khorasan Province (ISIS-K or ISPK), the outlet reported in December, citing law enforcement officials.

According to Western media reports, the same terrorist group claimed responsibility for last Friday’s attack on the Crocus City Hall concert venue outside of Moscow. The massive attack claimed more than 130 lives and left over 180 people injured.

Austrian prosecutors said in December that the Vienna plot suspects were “highly radicalized,” shared “Jihadist” beliefs and were allegedly part of a network that was planning attacks in Cologne and Madrid in late 2023.

There are “indications” that suspected terrorists have “flowed into Europe under the radar” from Ukraine, the outlet said. Noting that there was no official confirmation of this, the outlet said it “could be” that the perpetrators of the attack in Moscow on Friday “had connections to like-minded people who were on Ukrainian territory.”

The young Tajik couple who planned the Vienna attack are said to have lived in Ukraine until the start of armed conflict between Moscow and Kiev in February 2022. The two claimed to have been “pro-democracy” activists campaigning for the “rule of law” in their home nation of Tajikistan, Heute said. However, German security services intercepted their messages on Facebook, where the suspects discussed their attack plans and swore allegiance to the ISPK.

On Monday, Russian President Vladimir Putin said that the attack on the Crocus City Hall was carried out by “radical Islamists.” It is still unclear who “ordered” the assault, he said, pointing to Ukraine as the possible culprit.

The Russian domestic security service (FSB) earlier said that the four suspected attackers attempted to reach the Ukrainian border following the massacre, adding that they had a “contact” there that could have helped them cross into Ukraine.