By Al Emid Author Journalist Broadcaster
The Glamorous Life of an Author
Those who have sat — with greater or lesser degrees of attention — in university lectures on history –and confirmed history buffs — know that a historical event can have several perspectives. The simplest of these focuses on the facts: What happened? When did it happen?
However, an examination of the bigger picture will often bring conclusions that go a long way to explaining why the event happened and what may come next.
The ISIS crisis has no shortage of examples. Last October, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s decision to begin airstrikes in Syria appeared rooted in the current situation but the path to that decision actually started several decades earlier. Syrian President Bashir al Assad styled the move as a kind of international gesture of friendship but in fact intelligence specialists to whom I spoke argue that Putin had several big picture goals including Russia’s markets, its access to the Syrian port and staking a claim to getting back onto the world stage from which Russia had been largely excluded as a result of sanctions due to the Ukraine crisis.
The same principle applies to the tragedies that have already taken place in the Middle East in recent weeks and we have only seen two weeks of the New Year.
Last Friday night, gunmen stormed the Splendid Hotel in Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso, an African country which until then had certainly had coups and counter-coups but little outright jihadist terrorist activity.
At time of writing, reports say that the attack left 28 dead, including six Canadians and an American as well as 56 or more injured. The Al Qaeda affiliate in the region – sometimes known as Al Qaeda in the Maghreb — claimed responsibility for the attack. The group posted a statement designating the attack at revenge on France and the ‘disbelieving West’. As is often the case with the targets of the terrorist attackers, the hotel and café are popular with Western visitors.
The Burkina Faso attack followed several other assaults.
On January 07, a suicide bomber in Libya drove a truck into a police college in Zliten killing at least 46 and wounding at last 200 people.
Last Tuesday, a suicide bomber linked to ISIS killed 10 people and injured at least 15 others in a blast in Istanbul seen as targeting German tourists.
On Thursday, a deadly attack in Jakarta Indonesia left at least seven dead (including five attackers) and at least 24 wounded. ISIS claimed responsibility for that attack as well – marking its first known assault in Southeast Asia. Indonesia has a history of homegrown terrorist incidents often aimed at police authorities.
Last Monday the suicide bombings in Baghdad resumed when an attack on a shopping mall left at least 17 dead and 40 people injured.
And as I write this article on Sunday, reports have come in saying that three American contractors working in Iraq have been declared missing by their company. At time of writing, authorities have not suggested whether ISIS, a Shiite militia or other non-state actor carried out the kidnapping, likely aimed at garnering a large ransom. The fact that it occurred in Baghdad at least points to ISIS.
Several conclusions seem reasonable in the big picture.
Notwithstanding some of its recent losses, ISIS remains as aggressive as it has ever been and has now added Indonesia to its list of war theaters. Moreover, the Indonesia attack represents its first known operation in that country.
Meanwhile in Africa, Al Qaeda’s assault in Burkina Faso suggests a re-start of the ongoing competition between ISIS and Al Qaeda, its former parent with whom it split a little less than two years ago. As well as its many Middle East war theaters ISIS had already exerted influence in Africa, much of it through the Nigerian terrorist group Boko Haram, which has very publicly and very strongly pledged allegiance and uses ISIS’s methods as a template for its own strategies.
Al Qaeda in the Maghreb had regrouped with some of its allies in December. Put simply, Al Qaeda and its allies and ISIS and its allies are choosing up sides in Africa.
The stakes in the competition are huge: the favor of patrons, the right to claim supremacy in the jihadist movement, domination of the world stage and attraction of recruits.
At least two of the attacks – in Zliten and Jakarta — could be viewed as attempts to intimidate police forces. And most of the attacks occurred in tourist areas, with irreparable harm to the local and national economies. Moreover, the Libya attack has the hallmark ISIS strategy of attacking countries with weak governments. Libya in fact has two competing governments, each one claiming national legitimacy.
Following almost a year of research, Al Emid’s fifth book entitled What You Need to Know About ISIS – Terror, Religion, War and the Caliphate and set for release by Quidne Press in Spring goes behind the news about ISIS and examines what might lie ahead.