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.”
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.
The Afghan Taliban have announced a new leader to replace Mullah Akhtar Mansour, who was killed in a US drone strike on 21 May.
In a statement, the Taliban acknowledged Mansour’s death for the first time and named his successor as Mawlawi Hibatullah Akhundzada. The statement disclosed that “Hibatullah Akhundzada has been appointed as the new leader of the Islamic Emirate (Taliban) after a unanimous agreement in the shura (supreme court), and all the members of shura pledged allegiance to him.” The statement further indicated that Mullah Mohammad Yaqoob, son of Mullah Omar, would become a joint deputy head of the movement, alongside current deputy leader Sirajuddin Haqqani. Sirajuddin Haqqani, who is much more well known, is leader of the Haqqani network, which has been blamed for some of the most violent attacks inside Afghanistan.
The group is known for its daring raids on Western and Afghan targets, particularly in Kabul. Taliban sources have reported that Mansour named Akhundzada as his successor in his will, in what may be an attempt to legitimize the transition. Analysts have reported that it is unlikely that the group will change direction under hardline religious scholar Akhundzada. Mansour was killed in a strike, which targeted his car in Pakistan’s Balochistan province on Saturday. Last year, the Taliban was plunged into turmoil when Mansour replaced the group’s founder Mullah Mohammad Omar. Under his stewardship, the Taliban refused to take part in peace talks and instead, militant attacks increased and became more daring. Mawlawi Hibatullah Akhundzada, a former head of the Taliban courts, was a deputy leader to Mansour.
Profile of New Taliban Chief
The Afghan Taliban’s new leader Hibatullah Akhundzada is a hardline religious scholars from Kandahar. The fact that he comes from the Taliban’s traditional stronghold is likely to please rank-and-file fighters.
Born in Panjwai district in Kandahar, during the 1980’s, Akhundzada was involved in the Islamist resistance against the Soviet military campaign in Afghanistan. He was quick to join the Taliban, however his reputation is more that of a religious leader as opposed to a military commander.
He served as a deputy to previous Taliban chief Akhtar Mohammad Mansour. According to Gharzai Khwakhogi, a political commentator who worked in intelligence for a while under the Taliban: “(Hibatullah Akhundzada) has lived most of his life inside Afghanistan and has maintained close links with the Quetta Shura.” When the Taliban captured Afghanistan’s western Farah province, he was put in charge of fighting crime in the area. Later, he was appointed to the Taliban’s military court in Kandahar and then as head of its military court in eastern Nangarhar province. As the Taliban consolidated its grip on power in Afghanistan, Hibatullah Akhundzada became the head of the group’s military court and deputy head of its supreme court. When the Taliban was toppled by the US-led coalition in 2001, he became the head of the group’s council of religious scholars. He is a member of the Taliban’s leadership council and has been responsible for issuing most of the Taliban’s fatwas. He also reportedly ran a madrassa (religious school) near Quetta. Experts have indicated that Hibatullah Akhundzada maintained close links with the Quetta Shura, which is understood to make the Taliban’s main decisions as well as appointing its leaders.
The new Taliban chief is not as controversial as his predecessor, who led the militants for two years before news emerged that Taliban founder Mullah Omar was actually dead. Hibatullah Akhundzada was appointed by senior Taliban figures who are said to have met somewhere near Quetta in Pakistan. However, not all members of the shura (council) were there, with many not appearing over fears of being attacked.
While the Taliban has called the new appointment unanimous, they did the same when Mullah Mansour took over last summer. Shortly after his appointment, splits emerged, with sources disclosing that this time, there could still be some disagreements, however they will probably be not enough to challenge the new leader’s authority.
On Friday, China’s Foreign Ministry announced Friday that a Chinese national, who was reported as being held hostage by the Islamic State (IS) group, appears to be one of its missing citizens. Earlier this week, IS, which controls territory in Iraq and Syria, published two photographs of men whom they called “prisoners” in its English-language magazine Dabiq. In the magazine, the militant group indicated that one of the hostages was from Norway while the other was a Chinese man identified as Fan Jingui. It shows Fan, who has been identified as a 50-year-old “freelance consultant” from Beijing, against a black background wearing a yellow top. He provides a telegram number for anyone who wishes to pay his ransom. It remains unclear where he is being held and the magazine did not give a ransom amount.
Speaking on Friday to reporters at a regular press briefing, Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei disclosed that “after initial verification of the relevant media reports of the two hostages, one of them matches the characteristics of a Chinese citizen who has gone missing overseas.” Hong has disclosed that China had launched an emergency response mechanism and reiterated that the Chinese government is firmly opposed to violence against innocent civilians.
In the past, Chinese citizens have been held hostage overseas before, including in Africa and in Pakistan. According to Pakistani officials, a Chinese tourist kidnapped in Pakistan by the Taliban more than a year ago was freed in August, as a result of an intelligence operation.
Afghanistan’s domestic intelligence agency, the National Directorate of Security (NDS), has issued a statement claiming that the leader of the Islamic State (IS) terror group in Afghanistan and Pakistan was killed in a drone strike in the eastern Afghan province of Nangarhar on Friday. Hafiz Saeed – a former Pakistani Taliban commander who pledged allegiance to the Islamic State in January – is believed to be among at least thirty other IS militants killed during the attack. Two IS commanders, formerly members of the Taliban, were present when the drone struck and have since confirmed Saeed’s death. A US military spokesperson in Afghanistan has also confirmed that a strike was carried out in Nangarhar but has declined to give any further details.
However, an audio recording of an individual believed to be Hafiz Saeed has since been posted on the Islamic State’s Arabic website. Speaking in the local Pashto language, the as-yet unidentified individual talks about the Islamic State’s desire to implement sharia law in Afghanistan. He also comments on the recent battles between IS militants and members of the Taliban in Nangarhar and the Pakistani security service’s influence over certain members of the latter group. While the authenticity of the audio recording has not been independently verified, it does cast doubt over whether or not Saeed was in fact killed during the Nangarhar drone strike. While this is not the first time that Saeed has been reported killed, his death could represent a major blow to the Islamic State’s ambitions in Khorasan, a geopolitical entity that encompasses both Afghanistan and Pakistan.
While Saeed is the most high profile IS commander to have been targeted recently he is by no means the only one. Earlier in the week, two senior Pakistani militants were also killed in a drone strike in Nangarhar. Security officials reporting on the incident have confirmed that one of the men, Gul Zaman, was Saeed’s deputy in Afghanistan, while the other, Shahidullah Shahid, was the Pakistani Taliban’s principal spokesperson until he defected to join the IS last year. Both men were killed in a US drone strike on a leadership council meeting of the Islamic State in Khorasan. A spokesperson for the Afghan NDS confirmed the strike in a public statement. However, the death toll remains unclear with reports ranging from 24 to 45 fatalities.