ISIS on the rampage
A slew of terrorist activities — from running people over to bombings, shootings and knifing bystanders — in numerous cities across Europe and the Muslim world has killed more than 400 people and wounded many more in what some observers say may indicate that the Islamic State (ISIS) is changing tactics.
That change comes amid multiple defeats for the jihadist group on conventional fronts in recent weeks.
Reports from Western intelligence sources said ISIS has suffered as much as a 25% loss of territory it had grabbed in Syria and Iraq. A coalition of Arab, European and North American forces on one side of the battle in Syria and Russian, Iranian and Hezbollah forces on the other have pounded ISIS positions with devastating effect.
Despite the large numbers of volunteers who have flooded to ISIS’s self-declared caliphate — many who made their way from Europe and Central Asia, especially from the Caucasus — the group has been in retreat.
Establishing a physical address rather than remaining in the shadows was a major point of contention between ISIS, which was eager to establish a territory, and al-Qaeda, which also wanted to create a caliphate but opted for a more cautious approach.
Facing defeat after defeat, ISIS chose to launch its terror campaign far beyond its borders. Eleven cities in the Arab world and beyond have been hit since the start of the holy month of Ramadan as ISIS expanded its geographic presence and reach.
The result — at least until ISIS is completely neutralised — is bad news for Europe and the Middle East, as experts predict more terrorist attacks to come. Attacks against civilian targets with the aim of causing large numbers of casualties, such as the attack in the French resort city of Nice or the shoot-out in a Munich shopping mall, seem to be the new ISIS tactic, although some observers fear economic and strategic installations, such as the oil industry, could also be potential targets.
Recently, however, it has been gatherings of people that have been chosen as targets. One of the most deadly attacks was in Baghdad where about 300 were killed when a truck bomb was set off in a commercial centre crowded with people shopping for Ramadan. ISIS claimed responsibility.
In Jordan, a suicide car bomb struck a Jordanian Army post along the Syrian border, killing seven soldiers in the worst attack in the kingdom in years. ISIS claimed to be responsible for the attack.
Yemen suffered a string of attacks in the southern port city of Mukalla, killing 43 people. The majority of the victims were intelligence and security officials. A group closely affiliated with ISIS claimed responsibility.
In Lebanon, five people died when three suicide bombers blew themselves up in a small Christian Lebanese village on the border with Syria.
In Turkey, three bombers armed with automatic weapons went on a rampage in Istanbul Ataturk Airport, killing 44 people and wounding 150 others. The perpetrators were a Russian, an Uzbek and a Kyrgyz with links to ISIS.
In Malaysia, a grenade thrown outside a bar in Kuala Lumpur wounded eight people watching a football game.
In Bangladesh, gunmen armed with automatic rifles and knives attacked patrons at an expensive restaurant in Dhaka and took 35 people hostage. They ended up killing 20 — nine Italians and seven Japanese among them. According to witnesses, the gunmen released Muslims but tortured those unable to recite the Quran. ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack.
In Indonesia, the most populous Muslim country, a suicide bomber struck outside a police station in Solo, Java.
In Orlando, Florida, a gunman killed 49 people in a crowded gay nightclub, in the worst mass shooting in modern US history. The gunman, according to law enforcement officials, claimed he was “a soldier of the caliphate” acting on behalf of ISIS. It is far more likely that he was mentally deranged.
In Saudi Arabia, suicide bombers struck in three cities, including outside the mosque in Medina where the Prophet Mohammad is buried, one of the holiest sites in Islam. Four security guards were killed. Just outside the US consulate in Jeddah, two security guards were wounded in an attack. Nobody claimed responsibility for the Saudi attacks, leaving open to speculation that these were home-grown and not coordinated by ISIS.
Whatever its new tactics may be, ISIS remains the most ruthless terror organisation in history.