Terrorism

Striking at will

Print edition : August 05, 2016

The explosion in Medina, Saudi Arabia, for which the Daesh claimed responsibility, on July 4. Photo: Courtesy Noor Punasiya via AP

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (third from left) at Ataturk airport in Istanbul in front of photographs of blast victims on July 2. Photo: Kayhan Ozer/AP

At the Ataturk airport, passengers who were evacuated after the blast at the international terminal on June 29. Photo: Emrah Gurel/AP

Under pressure on many fronts from Syria to Turkey to Iraq, the Daesh reverts to guerilla tactics, leading to a surge in terror attacks in many countries.

The holy month of Ramzan witnessed a spate of terror attacks, most of them concentrated in the volatile West Asian region where the Daesh (the so-called Islamic State) continues to exercise influence. The spokesman for the group issued a statement in the last week of May calling on supporters to “make it, with God’s permission, a month of pain for infidels everywhere”. He indicated that the Daesh would once again revert to the guerilla insurgency tactics that had initially brought it international prominence as well as notoriety. The recent escalation in terror attacks started with the killings in Orlando, Florida. The overwhelming majority of Muslims believe that the holy month symbolises peace and brotherhood. The pernicious Daesh ideology, which has permeated the Indian subcontinent, however, glorifies suicide bombing and other forms of extreme terror activities. Bangladesh has been subjected to repeated terror attacks since the beginning of the year. The attack in the first week of July on a restaurant in Dhaka frequented by foreigners, for which the Daesh has claimed responsibility, has been the most brazen one so far.

Even as the territory controlled by the Daesh is diminishing by the day, its allure among radicalised sections of the youth seems to be growing. Reports about some young Indian professionals quitting their jobs and heading towards the badlands under the sway of the Daesh are a cause for alarm. There has been a constant refrain on Daesh social media platforms calling for terror attacks all over the Indian subcontinent. However, the Daesh and Al Qaeda are not the only ones responsible for killings worldwide. The United States’ drone attacks have resulted in countless civilian deaths. In the second week of July, a terror attack in the U.S. resulted in the highest number of police officers getting killed in a single day. A lone sniper, a former U.S. Army soldier, was responsible. He said, before being killed, that he targeted white police officers to avenge the killings of innocent blacks. People marching peacefully under the banner of “Black Lives Matter” were holding a demonstration in Dallas to protest the killing of yet another African American, in the city of Baton Rouge, when the sniper stuck. Most of the terrorist acts on the American mainland have been committed by white supremacists and right-wing Christian fundamentalists.

Escalation of violence

In the first week of July, there were terror attacks in Istanbul, Baghdad, Dhaka, Jeddah, Mecca and Medina. Shia mosques were targeted by suicide bombers in Iraq and Saudi Arabia. A suicide attack on a Jordanian army post in the first week of June killed seven army officers. It has now come to light that some senior Jordanian security officials were clandestinely selling sophisticated arms supplied by the U.S. and meant for the so-called Syrian opposition in the black market. Many of the weapons could have been diverted to the Daesh and other extremist groupings like the Al Nusra Front. There were terror attacks in Lebanon and Yemen, too, around the same time.

The U.S.-supported Saudi invasion of Yemen has allowed terror outfits in the Arabian peninsula to regroup. Both Al Qaeda and the Daesh have become very active in the last one year. A Daesh affiliate claimed responsibility for an attack in the Yemeni city of Makalla in early July, which killed more than 12 people. Al Qaeda is running a mini state along the south coast of Yemen, thanks to the U.S./Saudi intervention.

The countries most affected by Islamic terrorism have put the blame on Saudi Arabia for promoting a particular brand of Wahhabi and Salafist ideology that has been sustaining groups like the Daesh and Al Qaeda. But, the synchronised attacks on the U.S. consulate in Jeddah and the suicide bombings of a Shia mosque and the Prophet’s mosque in Medina in the first week of July have the tell-tale signature of the Daesh. The Saudi government, like its Turkish counterpart, has belatedly mobilised against the Daesh, which has retaliated by once again questioning the legitimacy of the House of Saud and the status of the Saudi King as “the custodian of the two holy mosques”. The Daesh has inculcated the teachings of the Saudi clergy and has put them into practice. This could be the reason why there is very little open criticism of the Daesh in Saudi mosques. With the latest attacks, the Daesh has signalled to its ideological mentors that it can now strike at will in Saudi territory.

The terror attack in a busy shopping complex in Karada, an affluent district of Baghdad, on July 2 was the worst single act of terror since the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003. Baghdad was among the most peaceful cities in the world before the U.S. invasion, despite the privations and suffering caused by the draconian U.S. sanctions. This correspondent, a frequent visitor to the Iraqi capital before the U.S. occupation, could walk the streets of Baghdad until midnight without fear. Even cases of petty violence were rare under the authoritarian but secular rule of Saddam Hussein. It was the invasion of Iraq and the dismantling of the country’s security forces that led to a downward spiral, culminating in sectarian warfare, general lawlessness and corruption in Iraq.

The carnage in Baghdad happened when a van packed with explosives blew up even as people were shopping in preparation for Eid. More than 200 innocent lives were lost, many of them children. A few days later, there was a mortar-cum-suicide attack on a prominent Shia mosque near Baghdad, which was packed with devotees. More than 40 people were killed in that attack. The terror attacks in Iraq have escalated after the recapture of Fallujah from the Daesh in May. The Iraqi forces had earlier liberated Ramadi. The capture of both Falluja and Ramadi entailed massive aerial bombing by U.S. forces. The cities were reduced to rubble, leaving most of the population homeless and desperate. The Syrian army has been on the offensive too, freeing places like Palmyra from the clutches of the Daesh. Since 2014, the Daesh has lost 50 per cent of its territory in Iraq and 20 per cent in Syria.

The Daesh has been busy dispatching a steady flow of suicide bombers to Baghdad and its outskirts with alarming frequency. In the month of May alone, more than 200 people were killed in separate terror attacks that have all been claimed by the Daesh. Its news outlet claims that 80 to 100 suicide attacks have been carried out every month since the beginning of the year. Iraqis and Syrians have been bearing the brunt of these attacks, which have grown in number since the U.S. occupation of Iraq and the West’s open encouragement of sectarian elements.

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, who is being blamed by many Iraqis for the government’s inability to counter terrorism, said that the spate of attacks was an attempt by the Daesh to dampen the happiness Iraqis felt after the liberation of Falluja. The attack in Karada killed many ordinary Iraqi Sunnis too. Abadi and the government he leads have become deeply unpopular. His vehicle was pelted with stones when he went to commiserate with the victims and families of the Karada bombings. Earlier, in April this year, thousands of Iraqis owing allegiance to the Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr stormed the high security “Green Zone” in Baghdad, even managing to enter the Iraqi parliament building.

The tactics of the Daesh vary from region to region. In Dhaka, the targets were mainly non-Muslim foreigners. In Turkey, it has chosen its targets to inflict maximum carnage, mindless of nationality or religion. Last year, a peace rally organised by the opposition, the People’s Democratic Party (HDP), that mainly represents Kurds and sections of the secular voters, was targeted by the Daesh. More than 120 people were killed in that attack, which had an impact on Turkish politics. Many Kurds, fearing for their safety and security, switched allegiance to vote for the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) of Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

The war in Syria has undergone a dramatic shift since the Russians intervened on the side of the government in Damascus. Domestic political compulsions and pressure from the U.S. have forced Turkey to seal its borders and stop the purchase of oil from the Daesh. The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) claims that U.S. bombing raids have slashed the Daesh’s oil output by more than 50 per cent.

The terror attack by the Daesh on the Ataturk airport came immediately after the Turkish government’s announcement that it was normalising relations with Russia. Many of the foreigners fighting for the Daesh and its allied rebel groups come into the region through the Ataturk airport, one of the busiest in the world. Chechen, Uzbek and Kyrgyz suicide bombers involved in the suicide attack on the airport had once transited through its gates. Many of the Indians who are said to be with the Daesh also went through the same airport. With Turkey now clamping down on the flow of foreign jehadists, the Daesh had no longer much use for the airport. One reason it chose to target the Istanbul airport was to ensure that the tourist industry in Turkey which has been on a steady decline does not bounce back. The Turkish economy is heavily reliant on revenues from tourism. Turkey was the favourite tourist destination of Russians. After Russia applied sanctions following the downing of their military jet, millions of Russian tourists have stayed away. Terror attacks, smaller in scale, have also been going on for the last two years in Istanbul, scaring away wealthier Western tourists.

The Turkish military had also started targeting the Daesh in a serious way in the last couple of months. In June, the Turkish government gave the U.S. Air Force permission to use the Incirlik Military Base near the border with Syria to launch bombing raids against the Daesh. The CIA Director, John O. Brennan, told the U.S. media that Turkey was now cooperating more closely with the U.S. “There are lots of reasons why the Daesh would want to strike back,” he said.

Terror attacks are now being used as pretexts by many countries to curb basic freedoms. In France, “emergency rule” is still in force following last year’s Paris attacks. In Turkey, many media freedoms have been severely curtailed for some time now. Other “democratic” countries may be tempted to follow suit if copycat terror attacks happen on their soil.

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