Murderous Islamic State attacks driven by territorial losses
Al-Qaeda Central leader and Osama bin-Laden’s son call for jihadists to unite
Iraqi security forces detain dozens of men from Fallujah for interrogation on suspicion of belonging to Isis during a military operation to take back the city. Photograph: EPA
Territorial losses in both Syria and Iraq are driving Islamic State (Isis) to lash out with suicide and car bombings targeting mainly Shias in Baghdad. The present focus has been on Iraq because there are few Shias in Syria, Iraq is ruled by a Shia fundamentalist regime, and Iraqi Shia militias are fighting Isis in both Iraq and Syria.
Mainstream Sunnis regard Shiism as a separate branch of the faith and the two sects have for centuries shared power, coexisted in mixed neighbourhoods and intermarried, but radical Sunni ideologues and jihadis, who adhere to the Saudi Wahhabi view, contend Shias are apostates and liable to punishment by death.
Since Druze, Alawites, Yazidis and Christians are considered heretics by Isis, their followers could also face rising violence as Raqqa, Isis’s de facto capital in Syria, and Falluja and Mosul in Iraq come under increasing military pressure. After conquering Raqqa and Deir al-Zor in 2013 and sweeping into Iraq in 2014, seizing Falluja and Ramadi in January and Mosul in June, Isis has suffered severe reversals this year and last, losing 20 per cent of its holdings in Syria and 45 per cent in Iraq, according to the US military.
Seeking to bolster faltering Isis forces, al-Qaeda Central leader Ayman al-Zawahiri has, at least temporarily, dropped his rejection of Isis as an off-shoot of al-Qaeda and called on jihadist fighters to unite. He was backed by Hamza bin-Laden (23), son of al-Qaeda founder Osama bin-Laden. “There is no longer an excuse for those who insist on division and disputes now that the whole world has mobilised against Muslims,” Hamza bin-Laden said. His words revealed the jihadis’ existential fears. Unity remains a mirage.
Isis leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi made a defiant statement last December as the jihadis were suffering major territorial losses, while other leaders have said the group will deploy globally and carry out deadly operations like those in Paris and Brussels.
This confidence may be misplaced. While Isis power was at its height and its fighters were seizing territory and getting paid good salaries, the terror group received thousands of recruits. But since it began losing territory and revenue, recruitment has fallen dramatically.
Western jihadis are returning home while some still in Syria are, reportedly, asking governments to repatriate them in spite of Isis death sentences for deserters and jail time at home. There could be, among the returnees, moles determined to strike at Isis’s “enemies” wherever found.