Twin bombings targeting churches in Egypt earlier this month have suggested that the so-called Islamic State (IS) group are lashing out, as they find themselves coming under increasing pressure in their strongholds in Iraq and Syria.
IS’ Egyptian affiliate claimed responsibility for the 9 April attacks in the Nile Delta cities of Tanta and Alexandria, with the group being centred in the Sinai Peninsula, where it has killed hundreds of policemen and soldiers. It has however been unable to seize population centres there, unlike its early gains in Iraq and Syria. Furthermore, in recent months, it has lost top militants to Egyptian military strikes.
While the militant group has attacked Egyptian Coptic Christians before, Since December 2016, it has increased their campaign against the minority group. That month, a Cairo church bombing killed 29 people. In Sinai, IS militants killed seven Copts in January and February, forcing dozens of Christian families to flee the peninsula, which borders Israel and the Palestinian Gaza Strip. That December church bombing however marked a shift in IS tactics, as it was not until that incident when IS began a systematic campaign to target Coptic Christians in the North African country. In a video released in February 2017, IS attacked Christians as “polytheists” and promised that there would be further attacks.
The shift in tactics also comes at a time when it has been under growing pressure in Iraq and Syria, with the group likely carrying out deadly attacks elsewhere in a bid to boost morale amongst its followers and show its relevance and continued capability to launch attacks. In Iraq and neighbouring Syria, where the group proclaimed its “caliphate” in 2014 as it swept across the northern region of Iraq, IS has faced consecutive defeats in the last year and is now on the verge of losing control of Iraq’s second city Mosul.
The ongoing attacks on Coptic Christians hae prompted President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to declare a three-month state of emergency in Egypt.
Last week, London was rocked by what authorities are calling a terrorist attack, after a man in a vehicle ploughed into pedestrians near Parliament in the central part of the British capital.
The attack, which occurred during the afternoon hours on Wednesday 22 March resulted in four deaths after the man drove his car along a pavement on Westminster Bridge, knocking down pedestrians, creating panic and leaving at least fifty people injured. After crashing his car into railings, the attacker ran towards Parliament where he stabbed a police officer to death. Armed police then shot the attacker. The attack lasted 82 seconds.
In the days that have followed, information emerged regarding the attacker. On Thursday 23 March, Prime Minister Theresa May revealed that the Westminster attacker was a British-born man who was known to the police and intelligence services. The attacker has been named as Khalid Masood. Speaking to MPs on Thursday, she disclosed that the authorities had investigated some years ago but was not part of the current intelligence picture.
Overnight, police officials carried out several raids across the country, which resulted in eight arrests in London and Birmingham. In total, eleven people have been arrested and nine people in total have been released without charge. Scotland Yard has since reported that Masood acted alone and that there is no information to suggest that further attacks are planned. The Metropolitan Police have disclosed that Masoon, 52, had previous criminal convictions but none for terrorism. He had used a number of aliases. At birth, he was registered in Dartford, Kent, as Adrian Elms, but later took his stepfathers name become Adrian Ajao in childhood. In the early 2000s, he was convicted of causing grievous bodily harm after slashing a man across the face with a knife in a pub.
The so-called Islamic State (IS) group has disclosed that it was behind the attack, stating that the attacker had been a soldier of the Islamic State.
Security officials are reporting that Islamic State (IS) militants have shifted to desert valleys and inland hills southeast of the capital Tripoli in their bid to exploit the North African country’s political divisions in the wake of their defeat in their former stronghold of Sirte.
Officials have disclosed that the militants, who are believed to number several hundred, are now attempting to foment chaos by cutting power supplies and identifying receptive local communities. While they are being monitored by aerial surveillance and on-the-ground intelligence, Libyan officials have noted that they cannot be easily targeted without advanced air power.
While for more than a year, IS exercised total control over Sirte, building its primary North African base in the coastal city, it struggled to keep a footing elsewhere in the country. By December 2016, it was forced out of Sirte after a six-month campaign, which was led by brigades from the western city of Misrata and backed by US air strikes. During that battle, IS lost many of its fighters and it currently holds no territory in Libya. However militants who managed to escape last year’s fighting and sleeper cells are now seen to pose a threat in the country, which had been deeply fractured and which remains largely lawless in the wake of the 2011 uprising that toppled Muammar Gaddafi.
Ismail Shukri, head of military intelligence in Misrata, has reported that the threat is now focussed south of the coastal strip between Misrata and Tripoli, arcing to the southeast around the town of Bani Walid and into the desert south of Sirte. According to Shukri, one group, comprised of 60 – 80 militants, is operating around Girza, which is located 170 km (105 miles) west of Sirte; while another group of about 100 militants is based around Zalla and Mabrouk oil field, which is located about 300 km southeast of Sirte. He added that there are also reports of a third group present in Al-Uwaynat, which is located close to the border with Algeria. Mohamed Gnaidy, an intelligence officer with forces that conducted the campaign in Sirte, has disclosed that “they work and move around in small groups. They only use two or three vehicles at a time and they move at night to avoid detection.
According to the United Nations, civilian causalities from fighting in 2016 in Afghanistan hit their highest level since the organization began systematically gathering such information eight years ago.
A report released on 6 February by the UN Assistance Mission to Afghanistan reported that civilian causalities in the conflict between government forces and insurgents went up by 3% from 2015 and included 3,498 dead and 7,920 wounded. The report disclosed that the increase of causalities amongst children was 24%, with 923 deaths and 2,589 wounded. The report went on to say that antigovernment elements, mainly the Taliban, were responsible of 61% of the civilian causalities in 2016, while government forces were to blame for 20% and pro-government armed groups and international military forces, 2% each. According to the report, the remainder could not be attributed to any side or were caused by unexploded ordnance. The Taliban, which has been fighting the central government since 2001, called the UN findings biased, with spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid stating “the Kabul government and the invading forces are the cause of the civilian causalities. Javid Faisal, an Afghan government spokesman, meanwhile blamed the militants for most of the causalities, adding that the government has taken many measures to avoid civilian causalities.
Most foreign troops were withdrawn from Afghanistan after the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) ended its combat mission in support of the Kabul government at the end of 2014. However since then, the security situation in the country has deteriorated significantly, particularly in provinces where the country’s largest insurgency, the Taliban, have attacked more densely populated communities.
According to new analysis, the so-called Islamic State (IS) group lost almost a quarter of its territory in 2016.
Security and defense analysts IHS Markit have reported that last year, the terrorist group gave up almost 18,000 sq km (6,900 sq miles), with its territory effectively reducing to some 60,400 sq km, just less than the size of the US state of Florida. According to IHS Markit, the 23% reduction in IS-held territory in 2016 followed on from a 14% loss in 2015.
IHS Market predicted the recapture of Mosul by Iraqi government forces by the middle of the year, nothing that the stronghold of Raqqa would be more difficult to recapture. What is also troubling is that IS retook the city of Palmyra in December 2016.
The report also highlighted what it said was a major theological dispute within IS, between those following mainstream doctrine and those taking a more radical interpretation, noting that this could raise the risk of defections or even cause an internal break-up.