Deadly month

Is­lamic State twist­ing im­age of Ra­madan.

The Washington Times Daily - - FRONT PAGE - BY DAN BOY­LAN

Three years ago, Is­lamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Bagh­dadi ap­peared pub­licly for the first time in a half-decade to de­liver a ser­mon at a north­ern Iraqi mosque. His pur­pose: to her­ald the start of Ra­madan.

Since then, his ter­ror­ist army has ef­fec­tively cam­paigned to twist the im­age of Is­lam’s holi­est month of fast­ing, sac­ri­fice and prayer into a month of Mus­lim­in­spired car­nage.

On Satur­day night, roughly a week into Ra­madan, Bri­tain was the lat­est tar­get as Is­lamic State-linked at­tacks at Lon­don Bridge and a nearby mar­ket killed seven peo­ple and wounded 48 more.

Last week in Kabul, a city hard to shock, life ground to a stand­still when a truck bomb rum­bled into the Afghan cap­i­tal’s most se­cure diplo­matic neigh­bor­hood dur­ing morn­ing rush hour. The blast killed at least 80, in­jured more than 400 and rat­tled win­dows a half-mile away.

The num­bers are stag­ger­ing. Since Ra­madan be­gan on May 26, Is­lamic State-in­spired at­tacks have tar­geted a mar­ket­place in Jakarta, In­done­sia; a casino in the Philip­pines; and an ice cream shop in Baghdad, Iraq. In­clud­ing those mur­dered in Lon­don and Kabul, an es­ti­mated 149 peo­ple have been killed so far.

Coun­tert­er­ror­ism of­fi­cials agree the trend of Ra­madan vi­o­lence has es­ca­lated since the Is­lamic State’s for­ma­tion ear­lier this decade.

Ac­cord­ing to the Washington-based Mid­dle East Me­dia Re­search In­sti­tute, which mon­i­tors Is­lamist mil­i­tancy, 2016 set records for deaths. Over­all, ex­trem­ism-af­fil­i­ated at­tacks dur­ing Ra­madan last year killed 420 and wounded 730 more.

“There’s no ques­tion, post-9/11, there’s not been a Ra­madan with more ter­ror­ist at­tacks across the globe than this one [2016],” Daveed Garten­stein-Ross of the Foun­da­tion for De­fense of Democ­ra­cies was quoted as say­ing at the end of last year’s Ra­madan.

Af­ter the ter­ror­ist group seized large swaths of north­ern Iraq and Syria in 2014 and 2015, its leader al-Bagh­dadi and espe­cially for­mer spokesman Abu Muham­mad al-Ad­nani pro­moted the idea of spread­ing Is­lamic State vi­o­lence to the West to turn Chris­tians against Is­lam over­all.

But a U.S.-led air cam­paign, the Iraqi mil­i­tary, U.S.-backed Kur­dish mili­tias and oth­ers soon had them on the de­fen­sive, and they lost ter­ri­tory. To show they re­mained dan­ger­ous, al-Ad­nani — who the U.S. has since killed — en­cour­aged Is­lamic State fol­low­ers to use Ra­madan as a stage for vi­o­lence.

“Get pre­pared, be ready,” he said be­fore the 2015 hol­i­day, “to make it a month of calamity ev­ery­where for non­be­liev­ers.”

Pre­vi­ously, al-Ad­nani had en­cour­aged Is­lamic State fol­low­ers to kill West­ern civil­ians with any weapons avail­able, in­clud­ing rocks, knives and mo­tor ve­hi­cles — which have been used mul­ti­ple times since, in­clud­ing Satur­day’s Lon­don at­tack.

Such weapons pro­duce more ran­dom vi­o­lence that in­tel­li­gence agen­cies have trou­ble thwart­ing.

Last year wit­nessed a wide va­ri­ety of at­tacks, from the Or­lando gay night­club shoot­ing that killed 49 to a mas­sive sui­cide bomb­ing in Baghdad that killed nearly 300 peo­ple to an Is­tan­bul air­port at­tack that killed 45. There was even an at­tack in Saudi Ara­bia out­side one of Is­lam’s holi­est mosques.

The sit­u­a­tion grew so dire that the State Depart­ment urged Amer­i­cans abroad to stay espe­cially aware of such “lone wolf at­tacks” dur­ing Ra­madan.

In coun­tert­er­ror­ism cir­cles, the ac­tual power of the Is­lamic State — be­yond small head­line-grab­bing vi­o­lent acts — is widely de­bated. Many within the Mus­lim com­mu­nity note that the cur­rent per­cep­tion of Ra­madan as espe­cially vi­o­lent is in­ac­cu­rate.

“If we see Ra­madan as more vi­o­lent than other parts of the year, we are fall­ing into the trap of so­ci­etal di­vi­sions — which is pre­cisely what ISIS is shoot­ing for,” said Ibrahim Hooper of the Washington-based Coun­cil on Amer­i­can-Is­lamic Re­la­tions. “This vi­o­lence is oc­cur­ring all the time, and to pin it to ISIS and Ra­madan is in­ac­cu­rate.”

Some say the Is­lamic State’s vi­sion of por­tray­ing Is­lam as “hy­per­vi­o­lent” is work­ing. Pres­i­dent Trump em­ployed in­cen­di­ary rhetoric against Mus­lims to gain sup­port dur­ing last year’s cam­paign.

But oth­ers counter that Is­lam is in an un­de­ni­ably vi­o­lent pe­riod. They point to the num­ber of fig­ures that keep emerg­ing who ad­vo­cate vi­o­lence.

Just last month ex­perts noted the emer­gence of au­dio tapes call­ing for ji­hadis to “fol­low in the foot­steps of mar­tyr­dom-seek­ers be­fore you.” The tapes were made by the 28-year-old son of Osama bin Laden — Hamza — whom ter­ror­ism an­a­lysts have started to call the crown prince of al Qaeda.


Is­lamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Bagh­dadi ex­horted his fol­low­ers to use the Mus­lim holy month of Ra­madan to stoke ter­ror­ism. Since then, forces loyal to the cleric have en­gaged in ter­ror at­tacks dur­ing the month of fast­ing, turn­ing it into a month of car­nage.

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