INTERNATIONAL Method in Madness
The footprint of the IS continues to expand while major Muslim countries are locked in never-ending disputes.
Friday June 26, 2015 was one of the bloodiest Fridays in recent history. On the second Friday of the holy month of Ramadan, a volley of terror attacks struck across three continents, leaving dozens dead in Tunisia, Kuwait and France, just days after the militant group Islamic State (IS) issued a call to arms. Only a year after Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s self-proclamation as Caliph of a worldwide Caliphate, the IS urged jihadists to strike in the holy month of Ramadan to wreak havoc on the “apostates” seeking martyrdom declaring that they are 10 times more likely to be accepted into paradise in the holy month. While the IS labels the west as apostates in a generic term, in a theological motivation it has declared the Shias too as apostates thus justifying targeting them. In fact the IS is trying to create discord between Shia and Sunni populations for its political gains.
The spate of violence came at an opportune moment because IS was under pressure, having lost ground in Syria, Iraq and most recently, Libya. This gave the group a greater incentive to hit back and regain momentum.
The overall impact on the security situation must be viewed in light of the agenda of the IS. Unlike Al-Qaeda, which is more of an ideology, the IS is intent upon acquiring territory to establish the “Islamic State”. To date the IS, mostly comprising Sunni Arabs, has control over territory occupied by ten million people in Iraq and Syria, as well as limited territorial control in Libya, Egypt and Nigeria. The group also operates or has affiliates in other parts of the world like its recent ingress into South Asia, specifically the region called Khorasan, laying claim to territory in Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan and parts of India. Disturbingly, young volunteers including females have joined the group from Europe, USA, Far East and Australia while splinter groups from Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and disgruntled members of the Afghan Taliban have also declared allegiance to the IS. The Afghan province of Nangarhar is witnessing a turf war between the Taliban and the IS fighters and ironically, now US drone attacks are targeting the enemies of the Taliban, the IS, lest they establish their foundations in the region. Some terror attacks in Pakistan also indicate IS footprint.
Coming back to the Middle East, where the IS is currently entrenched,
its aim is tot destabilize the Arab world and fish in troubled waters where turmoil andan strife already existed, like Syria, Libya, Yemen and now Egypt. Simultaneously, the strategy of the IS is to expand the territory under its control and widen its reach to every continent to leverage its ability to intimidate the world. Abu Muhammad al-Adnani, the chief spokesman for IS, has released a statements urging jihadists to attack Western targets. IS does not want democracy to successfully take root in Arab countries and is also targeting countries it perceives to be close to the west.
Following the Arab Spring of 2011, Tunisia has emerged as one of the most liberal Arab Spring countries. Its recent elections portray a robust democracy, where social politics have an affinity for the west, thus making it a prime target. Tourism is one of the major sources of revenue for Tunisia and an attraction for the west. It suffered the Bardo Museum attack in March, which had an IS footprint all over. The latest assault in which a Tunisian student opened fire on holiday-makers at a seaside hotel is likely to cripple the tourist trade. Although the IS did not claim responsibility but the synchronized timing of the attack points fingers towards the IS. The aim is to perhaps create chaos and confusion in Tunisia just like the IS managed to take advantage of the murky situation in Libya by adding to the mayhem and bedlam, then offering security to the residents, making them more open towards the Islamic State.
The attack on Kuwait has a different perspective since the country was very stable and wealthy like Saudi Arabia but targeting Shia mosques is designed to create a wedge between the Shias and Sunnis and also gain sympathy of the majority Sunni population in both countries. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and State of Kuwait are on the hit list of the IS. Saudi Arabia is infamous for persecuting the Shia minority thus the IS may be on the one hand sending a clear message to the House of Saud while on the other, it is enhancing the appeal of the ideology of IS, which seeks to establish a caliphate and topple the monarchy. It is again no coincidence that the young engineer who opened fire at two military facilities in Chattanooga, USA, killing four Marines and injuring three others, has been identified as Muhammad Youssef Abdulazeez, a naturalized US citizen from Kuwait who could have acted under directions from the IS.
It is imperative to examine the territorial claims by the group outside Syria and Iraq. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi announced in November 2014 new wilayats, or provinces: in Libya (Wilayat al-Barqah, Wilayat al-Tarabulus, and Wilayat al-Fizan), Algeria (Wilayat alJazair), Egypt (Wilayat Sinai), Yemen (Wilayat Sanaa), and Saudi Arabia (Wilayat al-Haramayn). In January 2015, the new province of Wilayat Khorasan was added while in March 2015 another new province was declared in and around Northern Nigeria (Wilayat Gharb Afriqiya), and a North Caucasus province (Wilayat Qawqaz) was announced in June 2015.
At the moment, sixty countries are in alliance with the USA to check the onslaught of the IS but so far the coalition has refused to commit ground troops and is engaged in aerial targeting from different airborne platforms, which has failed to achieve the desired effects. The Islamic world is unfortunately divided. Turkey refuses to outrightly support an anti-IS operation in Syria till its controversial ruler Bashar al-Asad is deposed. Iran is supporting Shia militias in Iraq and Syria to confront the IS but the Saudis’ distrust of Iran constrains their becoming allies. Egyptian forces are engaged in trying to dislodge the IS from Sinai but to no avail so far. In Afghanistan, the Taliban are battling the IS but simultaneously they are conducting their spring offensive against the Afghan government, which is adding to the critical divide in the war ravaged country, rather than uniting them to challenge the threat. Pakistan is still in a state of denial regarding the existence of IS anon its territory. The overall milieu makes it ripe for the IS to attain ingress as well as extend its appeal to apparently educated and enlightened Muslims both in the Orient and the Occident to believe in the establishment of a salafijihadism – an ultra-conservative and trans-national Caliphate governed by seventh century laws . No wonder then that the IS focus on Muslims - carrying out individual jihad, as opposed to collective jihad – is having the desired effect in the US and elsewhere. The trio of attacks mentioned earlier and more recent events are making the situation grim, meriting instant collective attention rather than paying lip sympathy only.