Terror on three continents

In one several-hour time period on Friday, the world saw jihadist terror attacks on three continents: In Europe, in North Africa and in the Middle East.

The three attacks underline the diversity of global jihadist terrorism today, both in terms of the types of tactics being used by Islamist terrorists and their choice of targets, demonstrating that such terrorism is no monolith, but can take several forms: “homegrown” extremists in the West, as well as well-trained gunmen and suicide attackers in the Arab world attacking a range of targets from an American commercial venture overseas, to Western tourists in the Arab world and Shia targets.

The multiple attacks underline the multiplicity of forms that jihadist terrorism is now taking and should serve to remind policymakers both in the West and in the Arab world that there are no simple fixes to countering the phenomenon.

In southeastern France, Yassin Sahli, who, according to French officials, had been associated with Salafism, which is a fundamentalist Islamic movement, allegedly conducted an attack on a factory owned by an American company.

That attack seems to have been inspired by ISIS as it involved a beheading and a black-and-white flag that is typical of the group was found at the scene.

One person was killed in the French factory attack, which looks similar to other ISIS-inspired attacks in the West with relatively limited impacts. Those include the attack in May in Garland, Texas, aimed at an exhibition of cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed in which the only deaths were the two ISIS-inspired gunmen killed by police, or the attack in Copenhagen in February aimed at an event celebrating a cartoonist who had drawn Mohammed in which one person was killed.

These kind of “homegrown” attacks don’t involve militants training overseas, so they generally do not result in major death tolls.

Contrast the attack in France on the factory with the attack also on Friday at a hotel in Tunisia frequented by Western tourists.

That attack has resulted in at least 37 deaths and was carried out, it seems, by more than three gunmen using so called Fedayeen–” those who sacrifice themselves”– tactics of the kind that were deployed in the Mumbai attacks in 2008, in which 166 people were killed.

In such attacks the gunmen go into the attack planning to fight to the death to prolong the length of the attack, so ensuring higher casualties and prolonged media attention.

Typically such assaults involve more than one gunman and training by a terrorist organization, such as we saw in January’s Charlie Hebdo magazine attack in Paris in which two brothers killed 12 people, including an armed policeman. One of the brothers had received training from al Qaeda in Yemen.

Finally, in Kuwait, ISIS claimed a suicide attack on a Shia mosque on Friday in which some two dozen worshipers were killed. The attack was similar to those carried out against two Shia mosques in Saudi Arabia by ISIS in recent weeks.

These attacks are part of ISIS’ strategy to stoke what is now a regional, sectarian civil war stretching from Yemen on the southern tip of the Arabian Peninsula to Syria to the heart of the Gulf.

What we saw unfold on Friday is what we can expect going forward in the world of jihadist terrorism; relatively frequent small-scale attacks in the West inspired by ISIS; large-scale attacks by trained fighters in the Arab world, and attacks against Shia targets around the Middle East that are designed to inflame Sunni-Shia tensions.

Peter Bergen is CNN’s national security analyst, a vice president at New America and a professor of practice at Arizona State University. He is the author of Manhunt: The Ten-Year Search for bin Laden — From 9/11 to Abbottabad.

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