- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 17, 2017

Russian President Vladimir Putin thanked President Trump in a phone call Sunday for U.S. intelligence agencies providing a warning that thwarted a major Islamist terrorist plot against a cathedral and other sites in St. Petersburg, Russia.

The White House said information that the U.S. provided had enabled Russian authorities to capture the terrorists “just prior to an attack that could have killed large numbers of people.”

No Russian lives were lost, and “the information received from the CIA proved sufficient to find and detain the criminal suspects,” the Kremlin said.

Mr. Trump appreciated the call — his second in three days with Mr. Putin — and told the Russian leader that he and the entire U.S. intelligence community “were pleased to have helped save so many lives.”

The warm call — and assurances from the Kremlin of continued anti-terrorism cooperation — comes as U.S.-Russia relations have generally been poor. The issues separating the countries range from Russia’s intervention in former Soviet republics such as Ukraine and Georgia to domestic U.S. political disputes over purported Kremlin efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election on Mr. Trump’s behalf.

Russian security services had said Friday that an Islamic State attack on St. Petersburg’s Kazan Cathedral had been foiled, though Sunday’s statements were the first to credit U.S. intelligence.

The Islamic State attack reportedly had been planned for Saturday, when the 19th-century cathedral in one of the city’s best-known boulevards would have been packed with Christmas-season worshippers. Russia’s FSB security service said the plan also included attacks on other heavily-trafficked areas in St. Petersburg, the nation’s second-largest city.

FSB said it had detained seven Islamic State supporters and seized a significant amount of explosives and weapons.

Mr. Putin “extended his thanks and congratulations to Central Intelligence Agency Director Mike Pompeo and the CIA,” the White House said. Mr. Trump then called Mr. Pompeo to congratulate him, “his very talented people, and the entire intelligence community on a job well done,” the statement said.

According to the Kremlin, Mr. Putin also assured Mr. Trump that “if the Russian intelligence agencies receive information about potential terror threats against the United States and its citizens, they will immediately hand it over to their U.S. counterparts via their communications channels.”

The previous call on Thursday, according to the White House, involved congratulations over a strong U.S. economic performance and discussions of handling the threat from North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic-missile programs.

Russian TV stations have aired footage daily since Friday of the suspects in the foiled attacks being apprehended and questioned.

One segment showed FSB operatives outside a St. Petersburg apartment building detaining a suspect, who appeared later saying he was told to prepare homemade bombs rigged with shrapnel.

“My job was to make explosives, put it in bottles and attach pieces of shrapnel,” the suspect, identified by Russian media as 18-year old Yevgeny Yefimov, said in the footage released by the FSB.

Several other suspects came from mostly Muslim regions in Russia’s volatile North Caucasus, and one man was from the ex-Soviet republic of Tajikistan that borders Afghanistan.

Islamist extremists have repeatedly hit Russia with mass-casualty attacks, ranging from a school in Beslan in 2004 to the St. Petersburg subway earlier this year. According to Russian authorities, several Islamic State-tied suspects were arrested in Moscow last week in suicide-bombing plots related to New Year’s celebrations.

This article was based in part on wire-service reports from Russia.

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