Wednesday,18 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1358, (24 August - 6 September 2017)
Wednesday,18 July, 2018
Issue 1358, (24 August - 6 September 2017)

Ahram Weekly

Global terrorism after IS’s fall in Iraq

The Islamic State militant group may be on the wane in Iraq and Syria, but in order to defeat global terrorism the world needs a new approach, writes Salah Nasrawi


Global terrorism after IS’s fall in Iraq
Global terrorism after IS’s fall in Iraq

It was another vicious attack that hit a European city and another shocking reminder that brutal terrorist groups will continue to wreak havoc across the world until a global solution is found.

The terrorists this time hit Barcelona, an iconic tourist destination in Spain and one of the top cities in the world. At least 14 people died and more than 100 were injured after a van ploughed into people on Barcelona’s Las Ramblas in the evening of 17 August.

The Islamic State (IS) terror group quickly claimed responsibility for the attack, and its supporters online celebrated the carnage. IS said the attack was carried out by “Islamic State soldiers” in “response to [its] calls to target Coalition capitals.”

The assault, followed by a second vehicle attack hours later in the seaside resort of Cambrils, raised concerns about a wider jihadist plot in Spain.

World leaders were united in their condemnation of the attacks, and many of them voiced concerns about a mounting terrorism campaign worldwide. They also stressed the need for a concerted international response to the menace.

“Today the fight against terrorism is the principal priority for free and open societies like ours. It is a global threat, and the response has to be global,” Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy told a news conference after the mayhem.

A day after the attacks in Spain, two people were killed in a stabbing spree by an 18-year-old Moroccan citizen in Finland that police described as a terrorist attack.

The following day seven people were injured after a knifeman attacked pedestrians in the Russian city of Surgut. IS claimed responsibility for the attack, the group’s Amaq news agency said.

These attacks and previous ones in Britain, France and Germany have raised key questions about whether existing multilateral instruments against terrorism are adequate to respond to rising global terrorist threats.

More importantly, these acts of terrorism have raised concerns about the proliferation of terrorism following the defeat of IS in Iraq and Syria and fears that foreign fighters who escaped the battlefield will now return home and turn their home countries into arenas for global jihad.

At its peak following advances in Iraq and Syria in summer 2014, intelligence reports suggested that IS could have mobilised some 40,000 people to travel to the two countries, mostly from Muslim-majority countries but also from Western countries with sizable Muslim communities.

Thousands of militants are believed to have returned to Europe from Iraq and Syria in recent months, while more are expected to do so after the militants are driven out of the territories they had controlled. 

According to the European police organisation Europol, around 170 Spanish Muslims have gone to fight in Iraq and Syria. This is a lower number than from some other European states, but the whereabouts of most of them are unknown

France’s Interior Minister Gérard Collomb said last month that an estimated 271 radical Islamists who had fought for militant groups have returned to France from war zones after being IS members. He estimated that as many as 1,900 French nationals were involved in radical activities in Iraq and Syria.

The British security services Scotland Yard and MI5 have reportedly identified a “hard core” of 100 British jihadists who could pose a serious threat to national security if they come back to the UK.

They are among 850 extremists from Britain who travelled to Syria and Iraq after IS took control of large swathes of land in the two countries.

Hundreds of others are believed to have returned to other European countries, posing serious threats to security together with those already caused by home-grown terrorism.

Last week’s attacks have again underscored the scope of the challenge and raised the disturbing question of whether the international system is equipped to deal with the threat of terrorism and if it has the tools to prevent it.

There are increasing fears that despite the progress in the war against IS in Iraq and Syria the world is still lacking effective means to respond to growing global terrorist threats.

Governments have been struggling to forge solutions to counter terrorism and ensure public safety, but the rise of terrorism has showed the need for creative strategies beyond extra travel bans, additional airport security checks and concrete barriers.

One suggestion which has come out of Iraq whose war against IS has been linked to Europe’s outbreak of jihadist terror deserves to be taken seriously in order to tackle terrorism at its roots.

Last week, Iraq asked the UN Security Council for assistance in collecting evidence to prosecute extremists from IS for possible crimes against humanity.

Iraqi Foreign Minister Ibrahim Al-Jaafari said in a letter to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres that his government was seeking a Security Council Resolution seeking assistance to prosecute IS crimes.

Iraq proposed that all IS terrorists should be brought to justice “in accordance [with] Iraqi law.” Al-Jaafari also urged the international community to assist Iraq with expertise in criminalising the terrorist group.

No specifics about the Iraqi proposal were made available, but the move seems to be targeting foreign IS fighters who have returned to their home countries after the terrorist group began reeling in Iraq.

Since the 11 September attacks on the United States in 2001, the international community has developed instruments and created initiatives to address the threat of terrorist attacks.

Yet, these measures have proved largely inadequate, especially in punishing those who have travelled across the world to join the terrorist groups in Iraq and Syria. The gap has highlighted a landscape of counter-terrorism that lacks coherence and multilateral frameworks that can incriminate these “foreign fighters.”

The merit of the Iraqi proposal is that it pushes for an international legally binding mechanism that bridges this gap and ensures that the perpetrators of terror crimes in Iraq are brought to justice.

However, in order for any Security Council Resolution to be effective it will need to ensure that agencies within the United Nations system conduct relevant counter-terrorism work.

This should include picking up returnees while in transit or upon their return to their home countries, investigating them to collect sufficient evidence, and bringing charges against them not only for any crimes they have perpetrated but also for travelling to Iraq and Syria to join the terrorist group.

Before Iraq and Syria, nowhere was the menace of terrorism more glaring than in Afghanistan, the school of jihad that created Osama bin Laden and his Al-Qaeda network which resulted in the mushrooming of jihadist groups throughout the world.

The challenge for the world today is to make sure that IS’s leadership will be decimated and the group’s membership diminished such that the problem can be dealt with effectively.

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