Murder in the Name of Faith
Jul 7 2016 (Dawn, Pakistan) – A wave of terrorist attacks — from Istanbul to Bangladesh and Iraq to Saudi Arabia — has shaken the Muslim world. The deadly week has left hundreds of people dead and wounded. The militant Islamic State group (IS) has claimed responsibility for some of the attacks and others clearly seem to be inspired by the group that has now established itself as the most lethal terrorist network with global reach.
These terrorist attacks came even as the militant group was being driven out of much of the territory under its control in Syria and Iraq, and marked a dramatic shift in its strategy to extend its terror war to other regions. While the suicide bombing in Baghdad appears to be in retaliation to the series of military setbacks received by IS over the past months, the attacks in Istanbul and Saudi Arabia signal a widening of the theatre of terror wars in the Middle East.
Editorial: Terror in the kingdom
The profiles of the Dhaka restaurant killers and those involved in Karachi’s Safoora bus carnage are similar.
Although IS has not claimed responsibility for those two attacks, suspicion leads to its role in them. Ironically, both Turkey and Saudi Arabia have in the past been blamed for providing indirect support to the Sunni militant group fighting the Shia-dominated governments in Iraq and Syria.
Most of the oil from IS-controlled territory in Iraq was reportedly smuggled to Turkey. Turkey’s border areas with Syria had become the main transit point for fighters from across the world joining IS. Some analysts likened the Turkish border region with Peshawar of the 1980s during the Afghan jihad against Soviet occupation, when the Pakistani city became the main base of holy warriors from across the Muslim world. The tightening of the border under international pressure seems to have turned the foreign militants against the Turkish state.
Turkish security officials have named a Chechen militant for masterminding the deadly attack on Istanbul that left more than 40 people dead. Chechens form one of the largest contingents of foreign fighters in the IS ranks in Syria and Iraq. The group has also been blamed for other terrorist attacks that have rocked Turkey over the past few months.
No one has so far claimed responsibility for the series of coordinated suicide attacks in Saudi Arabia this week. But IS has been responsible for some recent terrorist attacks targeting Shia mosques and security personnel with devastating effect. This indicates the growing presence of the militant group in the country that the kingdom has been accused of patronising in its battle for influence in the region. With its growing internal and external problems, Saudi Arabia is much more vulnerable to the threat emanating from the same extremist elements.
But it is Bangladesh that has become the latest hotspot of rising Islamist militancy. The bloody siege in a restaurant in the nation’s capital underlines the evolution of IS activities beyond the Middle East. What is most disturbing is the growing influence of the militant group among the country’s youthful population.
The profiles of the six militants who hacked to death 20 people, mostly foreigners, inside a restaurant in an upscale neighbourhood in Dhaka last week fit into a new generation of militants influenced by IS. They were all young and products of elite schools — children of opportunity rather than deprivation. They came there to kill and die in the name of faith.
The gruesome carnage marked the scaling up in religion-based violence that has plagued Bangladesh for the past three years. Several liberal bloggers and intellectuals have been hacked to death in targeted individual attacks. Those convicted in the killing of bloggers also belonged to secular educational institutions. IS was quick to claim responsibility, posting pictures of the attackers online.
Not surprisingly the profiles of the Dhaka restaurant killers and those involved in Karachi’s Safoora bus carnage are quite similar — young, educated and from upper-middle class backgrounds. Both groups were home-grown militants influenced by IS ideology. They seem to have been radicalised by some local contact and powerful IS propaganda posted online. Religion is the most effective tool used by the terrorist group to manipulate the minds of young Muslims across the world.
As in Pakistan, IS may not have any organised structure in Bangladesh, but its footprint has been visible in the country for long. Some radical Islamist groups in Bangladesh are suspected to have established links with Al Qaeda and IS. Many Bangladeshi militants are reported to have joined the IS war in Iraq and Syria. The Dhaka attackers had reportedly disappeared from their homes months ago and their parents seemed to have no clue about the radicalisation of their children except for their becoming more religious. There is still no information about what they were doing during their disappearance.
Bangladesh is a new centre of militancy. The country has figured more frequently in the propaganda literature of Al Qaeda and IS. The IS central leadership may not have been directly involved in the Dhaka terrorist attack. The carnage, however, was part of the plan to escalate militant violence around the world. After France and Belgium, it is now the Muslim countries that are being targeted.
After losing much of the territory under its control, thereby endangering its dream of establishing a ‘caliphate’ that had attracted Islamist militants from across the globe, IS has now stepped up terrorist attacks in the Middle East and beyond. The latest bloodbath is yet another indicator of the grave threat the militant group poses to the world, particularly to the Muslim countries.
IS justifies its terrorist actions in the name of faith, declaring everyone who does not subscribe to its retrogressive ideology an ‘infidel’. There is a need for united action against the scourge before it is too late.
The writer is an author and journalist.
This story was originally published by Dawn, Pakistan