International Terrorism: New Year’s Attacks Indicate No Respite in 2017
Attacks over the New Year’s holiday weekend indicate that 2017 is likely to be another bloody year in international terrorism. High-profile attacks occurred in Turkey, Iraq, and Somalia, with smaller-scale incidents in Egypt, Syria, Afghanistan, and Bahrain. The most lethal attack occurred during a New Year’s Eve celebration at a nightclub in Istanbul, Turkey, where 39 people were killed by a lone gunman (see photo), who remains at large. The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) claimed responsibility for the attack.
In Baghdad, five car bombs killed 64 people on January 2. In the worst attack, at least 36 people were killed when a suicide bomber drove a pickup truck loaded with explosives into a vegetable market crowded with day laborers in the Shiite neighborhood of Sadr City. The attacker pretended to be offering to hire day laborers and then detonated the vehicle as workers gathered around him. ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack.
In Somalia, on January 2, a suicide bomber detonated a vehicle loaded with explosives at a security checkpoint manned by Somali security forces, near Mogadishu International Airport, killing at least three people. The explosion leveled the checkpoint and allowed a second car bomb to pass through; African Union forces fired on the second vehicle and blew it up. Al-Shabaab claimed responsibility for the attack.
Al-Qa’ida: “Quietly and Patiently Rebuilding”
While international attention has been focused on ISIS, al-Qa’ida has been quietly rebuilding its capabilities, according to open-source reporting last week, including an interview with Professor Bruce Hoffman of Georgetown University and a feature article in the Guardian. In an interview with the Cipher Brief newsletter, Hoffman said that al-Qa’ida has succeeded in preserving its strength in a number of venues, has expanded in Syria, and has created an affiliate in the Indian Subcontinent. As ISIS suffers reverses, Hoffman argues that al-Qa’ida has positioned itself for a potential merger, takeover, or amalgamation with whatever is left of ISIS, which he thinks would be very dangerous for the West.
The Guardian article notes that al-Qa’ida and its affiliates are deliberately distancing themselves from ISIS and its savagery and trying to build support in Islamic countries through outreach to tribal leaders, power brokers, and sometimes the broader community. As evidence of the continuing threat, the article cites US airstrikes in October that killed three veteran al-Qa’ida operatives, including at least one who was actively planning attacks against the West.
Berlin Update: Attacker Fled Through Netherlands and France to Italy; No Accomplices Identified in Italy
As investigators piece together how Anis Amri, the Christmas market attacker, traveled from Berlin to Milan, the Dutch Public Prosecutor’s Office said surveillance video shows that he was at the train station in Nijmegen, in eastern Netherlands near the German border, on December 21, two days after the attack. Taking advantage of the EU’s open borders, Amri most likely took an overnight bus from Nijmegen to Lyon, in central France, getting off at the Lyon train station. From there, he traveled to Milan by train, with connecting stops in Chambery, France, and Turin, Italy. It is still uncertain how Amri was able to leave Berlin, cross most of Germany, and get to the Netherlands, and whether he had any help doing it. (Photo shows new concrete barriers at the Christmas market.)
Italian investigators have found no indications of connections between Amri and any individuals or networks in Italy. They had been trying to determine whether Amri was attempting to contact accomplices when he fled to Milan.