A Russian airliner travelling from Sharm el-Sheikh to St Petersburg carrying 224 people crashed in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula on October 31, 2015, killing everyone on board. The Western leaders and media have been saying that ISIS had a role to play in this disaster. Western media has been reporting that U.S. and European intelligence suspect that ISIS or one of its affiliates used a bomb to bring down the plane. The Russian media has remained tight lipped so far about the incident.
If ISIS indeed planted the bomb in the Russian plane, it has a number of important implications for Russia and the world.
One, it means that the ISIS is expanding the scope of its operations. Till now, they have focused on local enemies like the Shi’a government of Iraq and the Alawite government of Syria. Now, they are looking beyond the Middle East.
Two, it signifies that ISIS would use terrorism to attack civil aviation, marking a major strategic shift in its policy.
Three, it also means that rather than striking Russian bases and personnel in Syria, the Islamic State is hitting them wherever they might be found—in this case leaving an Egyptian tourist resort. The Muslim world has been outraged that Moscow has been slaughtering Sunni Muslims by essentially serving as Bashar al-Assad’s air force. Russia’s longstanding brutality in Chechnya and past intervention in Afghanistan make it a time-honored foe. So striking Russia improves the Islamic State’s credibility as the avenging angel of Sunnism.
Russia is being targeted internationally; it makes sense to assume Americans will soon be in the crosshairs, too. In fact, this suggests the more aggressive the United States is in Iraq and Syria against ISIS, the more likely the organization is to respond with international terrorism.
If confirmed, it would be very bad news for Russian President Vladimir Putin, in both domestic and foreign policy terms. Putin could well therefore feel obliged to hit back even harder against ISIS in Syria, and closer to home as well.