Wanted: Concerted global response to terror wave

NEARLY 100 people are dead and many more injured after three terrorist attacks unfolded within hours of each other on June 26. Among the victims were Shi'ite worshippers at the Al-Imam Al-Sadiq mosque in Kuwait, tourists at a beach resort in Tunisia and employees at a gas plant in Lyon, France.

The attacks coincided with the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which started on June 18, and the anniversary of the establishment of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria's (ISIS) caliphate, which was proclaimed on June 29, 2014 - the first day of Ramadan that year.

While there is no evidence that the attacks were closely coordinated, ISIS has claimed responsibility for those in Kuwait and Tunisia. The third, in France, appeared to have been inspired by the fundamentalist group, not least because an ISIS flag was found near the body of the man who died.

They exemplify the two categories of terrorism connected to ISIS and Al-Qaeda - the increasingly rival, main international terrorist franchises of our age.

One is the so-called "lone-wolf" attack, carried out predominantly in Western countries. There is a recent history of such attacks in France, including the killings at the offices of Charlie Hebdo. But lone-wolf attacks have also occurred elsewhere - the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013, the shooting at an exhibition in Garland, Texas, this year, the murder of soldier Lee Rigby in Britain in 2013, and the hostage crisis at a Sydney cafe last year also fall into this category.

The other type are attacks carried out by so-called affiliated groups or local branches. These predominantly take place across the Middle East and North Africa. They are variably aimed at Western targets, Shi'ite communities or local governments. Examples include the attack on an Algerian gas field in 2013, the Westgate Shopping Mall attack in Kenya in 2013 and the bombing of an African Union military base in Somalia by Al-Shabaab on the same day as the killings in Tunisia, France and Kuwait.

As the terror unfolded across Africa, Asia and Europe, ISIS forces re-entered Kobane on the Syrian-Turkish border, massacring more than 100 civilians before being forced to retreat by Syrian Kurdish fighters a day later.

A US-led coalition carries out air strikes on an almost daily basis in the area and an unlikely alliance of Iraqi government troops, Iran-backed Shi'ite militias, Kurdish Peshmerga and a range of insurgent groups and government loyalists in Syria are fighting the extremists on the ground. Neither, though, has managed to push ISIS back territorially or significantly degraded its capabilities.

Al-Qaeda continues to operate mostly through affiliate groups, such as Al-Shabaab, AQAP, AQIM, Al-Nusra Front and the Afghan and Pakistani Taleban. But it has generally seen its claim to leadership in the global jihad weakened. This is both as a result of counter-terrorism measures, including drone strikes, and because of the rising appeal of ISIS.

This appeal, in part facilitated by a sophisticated social media campaign, has enabled ISIS to attract followers from abroad and locally. It has created its own branches outside areas it controls, which have carried out attacks, for example, in Yemen and Libya. But it has also proved adept at inspiring lone-wolf attacks.

While it is important to note differences, and rivalries, between Al-Qaeda and ISIS, it is equally important to consider the cumulative nature of the threat that their activities pose locally, regionally and globally.

Terrorist attacks increased by 35 per cent between 2013 and last year, and fatalities by 81 per cent. By far, the largest number of these attacks and fatalities were caused by ISIS and two Al-Qaeda affiliates, the Taleban and Al-Shabaab.

The fourth most deadly terror group was Nigeria-based Boko Haram, and the only non-Islamist terror group in the top five were India's Maoists.

While there was an increase in activity by the Taleban and Al-Shabaab, the surge by ISIS was of a different magnitude: Its total attacks rose from 429 in 2013 to 1,083 last year, and the resulting fatalities increased from 1,752 to 6,286.

One obvious conclusion from all this is that current strategies to counter the threat from Islamist terror groups are simply not working.

These outrages may have been striking in the sense that they occurred simultaneously across Tunisia, Kuwait, France, Somalia and Syria, but they are, more worryingly, part of a broader trend.

We are witnessing more attacks that occur across more countries and kill more people (and, importantly, more Muslims than non-Muslims).

In that sense, the terrorism espoused by the likes of ISIS, Al-Qaeda and Boko Haram, which is grounded in their extremist interpretation of Islam, is a truly global problem that requires a global response.

It is pointless for world leaders to issue shared statements of condemnation while continuing to pursue otherwise nationally centred responses to the problem.

The writer is professor of international security at the University of Birmingham in Britain.

This article first appeared in theconversation.com, a website of analysis from academics and researchers.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 30, 2015, with the headline 'Wanted: Concerted global response to terror wave'. Print Edition | Subscribe