With unabated attacks throughout 2019, terror modules continue to pose a grave threat to the peaceful world order necessitating stringent and coordinated countermeasures
Many experts had thought that after the extermination of ISIS chief, Al Baghdadi some months ago, the threat of Islamic terror would cease to exist and the world would possibly be a safer place to live. But all hopes stand dashed by spiralling incidents of terror that wrapped up the preceding year.
The latest deadly terror attack came under the spotlight only a few days before the year-end when Somalian capital Mogadishu witnessed a devastating car bomb killing over 60 and wounding well over a hundred. The incident occurred at a checkpoint and this modus operandi is commonly resorted to by Al Shabaab which has been known for its linkages with Al Qaeda Arab Peninsula (AQAP) and has possibly developed strategic connections with the remnants of the IS fighters. Earlier, a couple of years ago, the same terror outfit killed over hundreds of innocents carried through a fuel tanker causing a deadly fire.
Another African country, Burkina Faso, saw a spate of terror attacks in the recent past, killing 35 civilians when the armed terrorists, in the guise of military men, carried out the terror assault. This act is seen as the deadliest in the last five years. Burkina Faso is predominantly a Muslim country with only 20 per cent Christian population who often come under attack. A collaboration of ISIS in such acts of terror is nothing uncommon in this part of Africa. Security analysts believe that the AQ and the ISIS have vested interests in the gold mine existing in these areas, making them very vulnerable. This is also confirmed by the International Crisis Group (ICG). The modus operandi is akin to the ISIS action targeting the oil fields in Syria and Iraq during its rise to power a few years ago.
In 2019, the dark continent remained under focus and there was no let-up in the terror-related happenings in Nigeria. On December 5, impersonating as Nigerian soldiers, the terrorists belonging to Boko Haram, struck at a number of targets. Significantly, its pattern of action is similar to Tehreek-I-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and it is also suspected that training and funding to this Nigerian terror body were given by the TTP. Also, like the TTP initially targeted the rural and suburban areas in Pakistan before shooting to infamy, the Boko Haram is still following that trend including resorting to a number of abductions, keeping hostages and thriving by ransom and extortion money. Conforming to the TTP style of functioning, the Boko Haram also modelled itself like the former, targetting the Afridi, Mehsud, Mohmand and Wazir tribes before entering the terror mainstream. Its killing spree still continues making the oil-rich North West African country a sitting duck. As a spillover from such undesirable activities, other African countries affected by terror attacks include Chad, Niger, Cameroon and Mauritania. Coincidently, most of these countries were erstwhile colonies of France and the French still extend material and all technical supports to these countries to contain terror but have hardly succeeded so far.
Meanwhile, sources close to the Islamic State West African Province (ISWAP) claimed that Christians continue to be the primary targets of the Islamic terror groups as they want to avenge the killing of IS head, Al Baghdadi by the US forces considered Christians. Other than Africa, which is constantly under terror attacks by perpetrators, there are several other countries in various parts of other continents which saw incidents of terror. Beginning of the year was jolted by the nasty Pakistan-sponsored lethal terror offensive killing 54 CRPF personnel in Pulwama (Kashmir) confirmed to be the handiwork of the dreaded Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM). This followed the killing of many Muslim devotees praying in a mosque in Christchurch (New Zealand). Again, on April 21, Colombo and adjoining areas saw hundreds of Sri Lankans dying in fearsome terror attacks carried by suspected Islamic terrorists. In between, the world saw a spate of terror attacks in Afghanistan and Pakistan in the preceding year showing no signs of any abatement.
In the meantime, according to recent reports, Pakistan has claimed to have apprehended five hardcore AQ terrorists in the Punjab province who had planned to strike at the government offices. The counter-terror Police force of Pakistan has also claimed that they were successful in busting the media cell of the Al-Qaida Indian Subcontinent (AQIS) of the IS from a tip-off received from the ISI. This could be the result of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) pressure on Pakistan.
As if there are no indications yet for a cessation of terror hostilities in the world, experts gave out that ISIS is organising itself in politically strife Iraq after losing its territories two years ago. This is indeed a disturbing sign. Alarmed by such a development, the Kurdish intelligence inputs suggest that the renewed ISIS dispensation is now more skilled and technically better equipped than before. Also, they have more money at this moment further emboldening them to effectively come to the fore possibly exploiting the fragile political situation in Iraq. According to a conservative estimate, ISIS is now 10,000-strong in Iraq with 4,000–5,000 trained fighters and a similar number of sleeper cells and home-grown sympathisers. Amid this, the delta between the Tigris river and Great Zab remains very vulnerable.
In another important development, in the Maldives, there are reports of 1,400 Maldivians having claimed to kill anyone in the name of Jihad. The radicalisation is so high in this country of a little over 3,00,000 population, so many remain indoctrinated in the name of religion. According to available statistics, from 2013 till date, 423 Maldivians attempted to enter Iraq/Syria and 273 of them successfully entered for the cause of the creation of a Caliphate. It is assessed by the security analysts that the threat of Saudi-sponsored Wahabism is threatening to diminish the Sufi oriented Shafi Sunni Islam in this tiny Island. A large number of students from the Maldives are regularly going to study religion in the Madarsas in Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. There has been a regular flow of funds from Saudi Arabia for promoting religious causes and over 300 million US dollars was believed to have been spent to buy the Faafu atoll by the Saudis. This apart, the Salman mosque and the Islamic Centre stand tall, testifying foreign funds in the name of religion.
As we step into the new year, perhaps more stringent and coordinated measures are called for to contain the cases of spiralling terror cutting across several countries and continents. With the US Presidential election and political uncertainties in various countries, this security challenge to meet the threats of terror does not seem to get the priority it deserves. The principal sponsors of cross border terror need to be re-identified and dealt with an iron fist. In this regard, Pakistan has to do more than merely address the grey areas pointed out by the FATF. Unable to get a foothold to meddle in Kashmir and with its own house in distress, it might exceed its limits in fomenting terror.
Shantanu Mukharji is a retired IPS officer, a security analyst and also a former National Security Advisor to the PM of Mauritius. Views expressed are strictly personal