Spain suffered last Thursday 17 August the largest terrorist attack since 11-M, which left 192 dead and 2,057 injured. A double attack shook the cities of Barcelona and Cambrils (Tarragona).
The first attack took place at 16:50 on La Rambla, Barcelona’s most tourist and commercial street. A van hurled itself against the pedestrians and ran for 500 meters running over in a zigzag. The driver and author of the attack, Younes Abouyaaqoub, fled through La Boqueria market, whose multiple entrances and exits served him to sneak out and remain on the run until Monday, when he was discovered thanks to citizen collaboration in an area of vineyards in Subirats, where he was shot down by the police after pouncing on them with a false explosive vest.
The second attack occurred at one in the morning in the town of Cambrils, Tarragona. A car with five people escaped a police control, running over six civilians and wounding a policeman; the occupants then left the vehicle to continue their slaughter using knives, an axe and wearing fake explosive vests, but four of them were instantly shot down by the police, while the fifth ran part of the boardwalk stabbing several passers-by before being dejected.
The attacks have resulted in the death of 15 people and more than a hundred wounded. Among the dead are six Spanish citizens, three Italians, two Portuguese, one American, one Belgian, one Canadian and one Australian. Among the wounded are citizens of 34 nationalities from different parts of the globe. The events have been linked to an explosion that occurred in the early hours of Wednesday to Thursday in the town of Alcanar, Tarragona, in which a house was destroyed and later it was discovered that the cause was the accidental explosion of 120 gas bottles the terrorists were going to use as an explosive to attack the basilica of the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona.
The police investigation determined that the attacks were linked to each other and were planned by a terrorist cell composed of 12 people, which has been dismantled this week. Four terrorists are in detention, five died in Cambrils, the author of the Barcelona attack died in Subirats, and two bodies were found among the debris of the Alcanar house.
The Islamic State claimed responsibility for both attacks on the same day, and the investigation points to the imam of the Ripoll mosque, Abdelbaki Es Satty, who died in Alcanar, as the ideologue of the attacks and the culprit of radicalizing the other members of the cell, all young people between 17 and 34 years. Es Satty had already gone through prison for drug trafficking and had friends involved in the 11-M bombings in Madrid. The imam gathered the youths he considered most prone to radicalization outside the mosque, and shortly before the bombings disappeared altogether.
With the death of Younes Abouyaaqoub and the dismantling of the terrorist cell, the most urgent tasks of the anti-terrorist unit are put to an end, but the police keep the investigation open, as there are many questions surrounding the case. Among them, the reason why Abouyaaqoub went to the town of Subirats, where he was seen whistling near a house in which formerly lived a family of Moroccan origin; a trip to Paris carried out by four members of the cell five days before the attacks, or the reason why no one noticed that they were occupying the house of Alcanar, seized by a bank, and that served as the place to prepare the attacks.
Condolences to the largest terrorist attack in Spain since 11-M came from all over the world, Donald Trump, Barack Obama, Theresa May, Angela Merkel, Enrique Peña Nieto, Emmanuel Macron, Pope Francis, Justin Trudeau, Vladimir Putin, the King of Morocco, Mohamed VI, and many others sent their condolences to the victims of the attacks, which follow the trail of other attacks in other European cities such as Berlin, London, Nice, Paris or Stockholm, and whose victims belong to nationalities from all over the world, which has made Barcelona the world capital against terrorism.
A report released on 16 November indicated that deaths from terrorism in Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries decreased last year by 650 percent despite a marked fall globally as Nigerian-based Boko Haram militants and the so-called Islamic State (IS) Group suffered military defeats at home but carried out more attacks abroad.
The Global Terrorism Index (GTI) has reported that worldwide, there were 29,376 deaths that were caused by terrorism in 2015. This figure represents a decline of 10 percent, adding that this is the first decrease in four years. GTI disclosed that his decline was due to action against IS in Iraq and Boko Haram in Nigeria, which cut the numbers killed there by a third. IS was the deadliest group in 2015, overtaking Boko Haram. Last year, IS carried out attacks in 252 cities that led to 6,141 deaths. The index however has noted that Boko Haram’s move into neighbouring countries – Cameroon, Chad and Niger – saw the number of fatalities in the se countries increase by 157 percent.
The report however notes that the groups have spread their actions to neighbouring states and regions, where they have caused a huge increase in fatalities amongst OECD members, most of which are wealthy countries, such as the United States and European countries. According to GTI, of the 34 OECD member countries, 21 had witnesses at least one attack with most deaths occurred in Turkey and France. Last year’s terror incidents included coordinated attacks carried out by IS gunmen and suicide bombers at the Bataclan music venue, a soccer stadium and several cafes in Paris in November, which killed 130 people. The index also noted that Denmark, France, Germany, Sweden and Turkey all suffered their worst death tolls from terrorism in a single year since 2000, adding that in total twenty-three countries registered their highest ever number of terrorism deaths. Iraq, Afghanistan, Nigeria, Pakistan and Syria, which accounted for 72 percent of all deaths, were the top five ranked countries in the GTI. The United States ranked 36th, with France coming in 29th, Russia in 30th and the United Kingdom in 34th.
According to Steve Killelea, executive chairman at the Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP) think-tank, “while on the one hand the reduction in deaths is positive, the continued intensification of terrorism in some countries and its spread to new ones is a cause for serious concern and underscores the fluid nature of modern terrorist activity,” adding that “the attacks in the heartland of western democracies underscore the need for fast-paced and tailored responses to the evolution of these organizations.”
Last year, a record number of terrorist attacks were planned, foiled or carried out within European Union (EU) countries, with the United Kingdom reporting the highest number of attacks.
EU law enforcement agency Europol has reported that in 2015, there were 211 attack, the highest since records began in 2006. The failed, foiled and completed terrorist attacks occurred in six EU member states: Denmark, France, Greece, Italy, Spain and the UK. Of these countries, the UK had the highest number of attacks, 103 in total, in which most are believed to have been in Northern Ireland.
France had the highest number of planned, foiled or completed attacks – 72 – followed by Spain with 25. A spokeswoman for Europol has disclosed that it did not have a breakdown of the number of terror attacks that had actually been carried out in the EU.
According to the agency’s EU Terrorism Situation and Trend Report, there were 1,000 arrests for terrorist-related offences last year, in which 424 occurred in France. Europol has further reported that more than half of arrests that occurred in the EU – 687 – were “for jihadist terrorism,” adding that of these arrests, 94% were later found guilty in court. In addition to the jihadist terrorist arrests, there were 67 arrests for left-wing terror; 11 for right-wing terror; and 168 separatist. A further 144 arrests were unspecified. Europol has reported that 151 people died and that more than 360 were injured in terrorist incidents that occurred last year.
In its report, Europol states that “as in previous years, the attacks specifically classified as separatist terrorism accounted for the largest proportion, followed by jihadist attacks.” Europol also noted that the report outlines two “worrying developments,” stating that “the overall threat is reinforced by the substantial numbers of returned foreign terrorist fighters that many member states now have on their soil, and the significant rise in nationalist (xenophobic), racist and anti-Semitic sentiments across the EU, each resulting in acts of right-wing extremism.” While Europol has indicated that there was “no concrete evidence to date that terrorist travellers systematically use the flow of refugees to enter Europe unnoticed,” it noted that two of the men who carried out the 13 November terror attacks in Paris France, which killed 130 people, had entered the EU through Greece as part of the influx of refugees from Syria.
The report also highlighted that nuclear power plants and nuclear weapon facilities in the EU “remain potential targets for terrorists,” as does “the deliberate contamination of water supplies,” adding “explosive remnants of war and illicit trafficking in explosives from former conflict areas present a significant threat to the EU.” The report goes on to state that “chemical facilities or companies, especially these perceived as having a low profile until recently, can become a vulnerable target,” adding, “terrorists prefer the use of conventional firearms and explosives because of their availability, simplicity and effectiveness. Europol also described cyber terrorism as “high potential but currently low probability.”
According to the United States State Department, there was a marked fall in the number of terror attacks that occurred around the world in 2015.
In a newly released report this month, the State Department attributed the 13% decline from 2014 to fewer attacks in Iraq, Nigeria and Pakistan, which are three of the five countries that have been the worst affected by terrorism. The other two are Afghanistan and India. Together, more than half of the 11,000 attacks that occurred last year happened within the borders of these five countries.
Data compiled by the University of Maryland indicates that more than 28,300 people died – a 14% decline – and about 35,300 others were wounded in 11,774 terrorist attacks that occurred worldwide last year. State Department Acting Co-ordinator for Counterterrorism Justin Siberell notes that attacks and deaths increased in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Egypt, the Philippines, Syria and Turkey. The State Department also reported that figures indicate that the terror threat “continued to evolve rapidly in 2015, becoming increasingly decentralized and diffused,” adding that extremists were exploiting frustration in countries “where avenues for free and peaceful expression of opinion were blocked.” The State Department highlighted that the so-called Islamic State (IS) group is the biggest single threat, adding that the group has attracted affiliates and supporters in Asia, Africa and the Middle East. It noted that while IS was losing territory in Iraq and Syria, it was gaining strength in Libya and Egypt. The United Nations has also warned that IS is increasingly focusing on international civilian targets. The UN has reported that over the past six months, IS had carried out attacks in eleven countries. This does not include the militant group’s ongoing activity in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria and Yemen.
The State Department report also disclosed that Iran was the biggest state sponsor of terrorism, stating that it supported conflicts in Syria and Iraq and that it was also implicated in violent Shia opposition raids in Bahrain. Bahrain has accused Iran of supplying weapons to Shia militants behind bomb attacks on security forces however Iran has denied this.
Islamic State now controls over 50% of Syria, after its capture of the ancient city of Palmyra. The group took control of Palmyra on Wednesday after a week-long siege. Forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al Assad collapsed away after at least 100 Syrian regime troops were killed overnight in fighting against ISIS. The terrorist group also reportedly began to massacre members of the Shaitat tribe, who had previously rebelled against ISIS in Deir Ezzor. At that time, ISIS killed 800 of their members. ISIS has imposed a curfew in the city and has conducted weeps to find remaining members of Assad’s forces. The capture of Palmyra brings Islamic State closer to the government controlled strongholds of Homs and Damascus. ISIS control of the ancient city also severs supply lines to Deir Ezzor.
ISIS also now has control of the Arak and al-Hail gas fields near Palmyra. These fields power most of the Syrian regime’s strongholds in the west. Control of these fields has given ISIS control over a large portion of the country’s electricity supply.
ISIS now controls over 95,000 square kilometres in Syria, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. The group controls majority of Raqqa province, which is the group’s de-facto “capital”, and also controls most of Deir Ezzor. ISIS has also taken parts of Hassakeh and the Aleppo countryside, as well as parts of the Homs countryside and the Yarmouk refugee camp in southern Damascus. The group also controls most of the Syrian Desert. The areas it holds are mostly sparsely inhabited.
Palmyra, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, was once a Silk Road hub a cultural centres of the ancient world. It is home to beautiful ruins of antiquity, including the Temple of Bel, built in the first century. ISIS considers the preservation of historical ruins a form of idolatry. UN and Syrian officials fear that ISIS plans to destroy the ruins, as it did in the ancient Assyrian city of Nimrud and in Iraq’s Mosul Museum. In the absence of opposition, the group can enter and destroy the historic city’s ancient ruins. ISIS has used the destruction of heritage sites as a form of profit; selling looted remnants of destroyed ruins on the black market. The group also uses the destruction of these sites as propaganda.
The cohesion and strength of Syrian troops has been called to question amid the fall of Palmyra. Forces fell away from the city rapidly, surprising many observers, considering the importance of Palmyra and its proximity to supply routes. Syria’s main cities, including Damascus, are located in the west, near the border with Lebanon or on the Mediterranean coastline. These cities have been the priority for the Syrian military. It appears the troops are focusing their attention on protecting areas to the west, rather than fighting for areas currently occupied by the terrorist group.