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Henry M. Robert

An explosive Easter

It may take dozens of difficult years to fight Islamist terrorism
12 April, 2017 - 18:19

The fresh wave of Islamist terror that began with an explosion in St. Petersburg is spreading all over the world. It is not ruled out that these terrorist acts are linked to the upcoming Easter Day which falls on the same day this year among both Eastern and Western Christians. An act of terror occurred in Stockholm on April 7, when a truck, supposedly driven by a citizen of Uzbekistan, plowed into a crowd of people. On the night of April 9 an explosive device was deactivated in downtown Oslo, and nobody was hurt. The 17-year-old Russian teenager arrested on suspicion of planting the bomb denies accusations of terrorism and links with ISIL, but a court ruled to take him into custody for two weeks. Incidentally, ISIL has claimed responsibility for the acts in Sweden and Egypt, and some information suggests that Islamic State was also involved in the St. Petersburg blast. Finally, explosions rocked Coptic churches in Tanta and Alexandria, Egypt, on Palm Sunday, April 9.

Also in the same line is perhaps the fire at the Temple of All Religions in Kazan, Russia, which was presumably caused by arson. It was also reported that German police had detained a 24-year-old Moroccan who allegedly planned a blast near the Russian Embassy in Berlin.

There is every reason to fear that this series of terrorist acts will continue until Easter Day. This is not linked with any political events in or actions by certain states and is supposed to intimidate the whole non-Muslim population, above all, Christians, as well as the governments of the Muslim countries that are fighting Islamic State. Special services and police in all countries must exercise particular vigilance, for there are Christian temples and communities in practically all of them. Of course, it is inevitable to expect more stringent security measures, inconveniences in the life of ordinary people, a lot of false alarms, and a greater fear of new terrorist attacks.

The geography of terrorist act perpetrators is being rapidly expanding. They have long comprised not only Middle East inhabitants, but also those who come from Russia (above all, from the North Caucasus) and Central Asia (the latter presumably committed the terrorist act in St. Petersburg). Accordingly, the circle of suspects is more and more expanding, which heightens xenophobia towards the Muslim communities that have not been suspected of terrorism before.

Incidentally, Donbas separatists have also participated, as much as they could, in the Islamophobia campaign the terrorist acts triggered. In these very days they spread a canard that Ukraine had allegedly sent a 500-man-strong “Islamic battalion” to the frontline. This mythical battalion, which consists of God knows who (perhaps the overt and covert IS sympathizers), must allegedly establish control over the port of Mariupol which Russian and separatist propagandists believe is a base for illicit trade in arms, including chemical ammunition, with Middle Eastern countries. Chemical ammunition is clearly the fruit of the Russian version of the chemical attack in Syria – the “damned Ukrainians” supplied sarin-filled projectiles to IS terrorists through their “Islamic battalion.” However, the current series of terrorist acts has nothing to do with a new period of tension in Syria, and the first blast of this series, in St. Petersburg, had been clearly prepared long before the sarin bombs fell on Khan Sheikhoun.

 

It is also a question to what extent and in what way the current terrorist attacks are being coordinated with each other. Were they directed from the same IS center or did Islamic State’s different cells just decided to time their incursions to the pre-Paschal and Paschal periods? But in any case even if there is some coordination, it is beyond any doubt that terrorist cells in various countries are quite self-sufficient and elimination of one of them, as well as of some central IS bodies, has no impact on the other regional cells.

Fighting against Islamic terrorism more and more resembles fighting against the many-headed hydra each of whose heads, if cut off, grows back as two. And it is still totally unclear what objects IS and other Islamist terrorist organizations pursue. Of course, the current and previous acts of terror result in increased hatred towards Muslim immigrants and complicate their position in European countries. It is quite possible that harsher reprisals against Muslim immigrants and refugees are of benefit to IS because this will only increase the number of potential terrorists among them. Yet Islamic State has no reason to complain about the shortage of them. And as long as civil wars continue in Syria, Libya, and Yemen, as long as millions of Muslim refugees are rushing to Europe, as long as the gap between wealth and poverty widens in the Islamic world, IS will have no shortage of new recruits.

On the other hand, terrorist acts increase the chances of victory in the European elections for such radical anti-Islamic politicians as Marine Le Pen. But IS can also benefit from this because off-system radicals like her are, as a rule, isolationists who threaten to upset the European Union and NATO. These calls only play into the hands of Islamists because the collapse of even one of these entities would seriously weaken the fight against international, first of all Islamic, terrorism. IS leaders may be taking this into account.

However, calculations of this kind hardly form the main objective of this terrorist organization. It is really impossible to negotiate with it because IS and Al-Qaeda do not usually set any concrete conditions. The IS’ ideal is to wipe out all the unfaithful or to convert them into Sunnite Islam. As this ideal is clearly unattainable, none of the Islamists’ adversaries take it seriously. The impression is that what is important to IS leaders is the very process of preparing and committing terrorist acts, not the result of them in addition to the killed and maimed people and the ruined buildings and temples. They like to keep the whole world in fear. What is more, Islamist leaders pursue no concrete goals. They like the power they wield, owing to fear, over hundreds of millions, if not over billions, of people all over the world. For this reason, it may take dozens of difficult years to fight Islamist terrorism.

Boris Sokolov is a Moscow-based professor

By Boris SOKOLOV
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