MOSCOW (AP) — Intelligence agents have foiled 20 terror plots in Russia this year, President Vladimir Putin said Tuesday, and asked officials to increase their efforts to prevent attacks.
Just a few hours after Putin's announcement, police said they had detained 20 members of a banned Islamic organization in the Moscow region.
Russia began carrying out airstrikes against Islamic State militants in Syria last month to support government forces there. The Kremlin has cited curbing terrorism internationally and making sure Russian nationals in IS ranks don't come back home as the main reasons behind the Russian airstrikes.
Speaking Tuesday at a ceremony at the Kremlin, Putin said in televised comments that the FSB intelligence agency this year had foiled 20 terror plots, arrested 560 militants and killed 112 others in Russia's North Caucasus in raids and clashes.
Putin asked the FSB to increase its efforts in preventing terror attacks as well as uncovering militants' links to international groups.
Islamic insurgency has been brewing in the North Caucasus following two wars in Chechnya in the 1990s. In neighboring Dagestan, the insurgents — who want to carve out a state governed by their strict interpretation of Islamic law — clash with law enforcement officers almost daily. Moscow says some of these militants have links to Islamic State.
The FSB, the main successor to the KGB, says that it has foiled two major terror plots in two weeks in Moscow and in southern Russia which were allegedly prepared by men with links to IS.
The Interior Ministry said in a statement later Tuesday that authorities have "destroyed a cell" of the Islamic organization Hizb ut-Tahrir in the Moscow region. Hizb ut-Tahrir, which preaches a radical brand of the Islamic faith but has renounced violent methods, is banned in Russia and several Central Asian nations.
The ministry said 97 people have been taken in for questioning in a "large-scale operation" involving police and intelligence services with 20 of them already detained. Officials said the Hizb ut-Tahrir "secret cell" was raising funds for unnamed Islamic militants and attracting new members.