The global threat of terrorism
There is some comforting news but still much reason for alarm in the latest US State Department “Country Reports on Terrorism.”
The number of terrorist attacks and casualties in 2017 declined, compared to 2016. Across the globe, the number of attacks decreased 23% and deaths caused by terrorism dropped 27%.
In the Middle East and North Africa region there have been “sharp declines” in the number of attacks and casualties. However, the decrease, which is largely attributed to the severe blows sustained by the Islamic State (ISIS), cannot hide the fact that the peoples of the Arab world remain the primary victims of terrorism. Iraq and Syria are among the top five countries worldwide in which 70% of terrorism-related deaths occurred in 2017.
The State Department report, which talks about “dramatically fewer attacks and deaths in Iraq,” cannot gloss over the dark reality of Iraq and its people. Iraqis are in an abyss, one from which there seems no way out. Despite the decrease in terrorist attacks, Iraq suffered no fewer than 1,951 attacks in 2017, which caused at least 4,269 deaths.
The report mentions a 77% decrease in kidnap victims or hostages in Iraq but, at 1,900, the number for 2017 is still too high to imagine anything but a life of fear and anguish for most Iraqis.
Against the global trend, the death toll rose in Egypt, with 655 people killed in terrorist attacks last year, a 124% increase on 2016.
What’s clear is the potential perpetrators of terrorist attacks lurk everywhere in the region. ISIS has proven resilient and has “adjusted” to the new hard-edged reality of its situation in many countries, including Iraq, Syria, Libya, Somalia and Yemen.
As the US report says, al-Qaeda “quietly expanded its membership and operations in 2017.” Its offshoots, be they al-Nusra Front in Syria, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula or al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, remain active.
The other potent threat is Iran, which Nathan Sales, US coordinator for counterterrorism, pointed out remains “the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism” as it pursues its “terrorist-related and destabilising activities through the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ al-Quds Force and the Lebanon-based terrorist group Hezbollah.”
Sales added: “The Iranian government maintains a robust offensive cyber programme and has sponsored cyber-attacks against foreign government and private sector entities.”
Also, many of the factors that provided jihadists with fertile ground for recruitment remain in place. “While the immediate dynamics that led terrorists to flock to Iraq and Syria since 2014 have diminished,” Sales said, “other factors that terrorists exploit to recruit new followers remained a challenge, such as sectarianism, failing states and conflict zones.”
Sales did not even mention the outflow of jihadists from war zones, the simmering Palestinian-Israeli conflict, the inadequate policies for youth cobbled together by MENA governments and the lack of an integrationist approach towards vulnerable young Muslims in the West. The war on terrorism has not been won and may not be — at least not anytime soon.