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Terrorism and Counter Terrorism: Review of Year 2019 and Projections for 2020
The year 2019 had significant developments in global terrorism. The review covers the important activities of terrorism and counter-terrorism (CT) around the globe. There have been ongoing conflicts in Iraq, Syria and Yemen which includes terrorist activities at a large scale. These conflicts have, therefore, been kept out of this review. The 2019 Year review and Projections for 2020 are categorised into two sections: National (A), and International (B), with sub-grouping of the timeline of events quarterly.
On 14 February 2019, a terrorist attack on the convoy of the security forces was carried out by the vehicle-borne suicide bomber— Adil Ahmed Dar, a terrorist of Pakistan-based terrorist group Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM). The attack was conducted on the Jammu-Srinagar National Highway at Lethpora area in the Pulwama district, Jammu and Kashmir (J&K), India. In this attack, 40 CRPF personnel were killed and few were injured.1 In retaliation, the Indian Air Force conducted a pre-emptive air-strike to dismantle the JeM’s training camps based in Balakot in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan on 26 February 2019. The air-strike did extensive damage to the terrorist training camps and led to the death of a large number of terrorists.2Since, 1971 India-Pakistan war, it was the first time that the combat aircraft of the Indian Air Force crossed the Line of Control (LoC) and conducted air-strike.
In an IED (Improvised Explosive Device) explosion on 10 April 2019, Maoists targeted and killed a politician— Bhima Mandavi, the BJP MLA (Member of Legislative Assembly) near Nakulnar in Dantewada district. In this attack, the MLA’s driver, and three security personnel were too killed.
The Maoist insurgency or Left-Wing Extremism (LWE) is an ongoing internal issue since the 1960s. The issue has increased in intensity with the rise of the Communist Party of India (Maoist) aka CPI (Maoist), and its armed wing—the People’s Liberation Guerrilla Army (PLGA) in early 2000s.3On 01 May 2019, the Maoists attacked the security forces’ convoy and killed 15 police personnel and a civilian in a landmine explosion in Gadchiroli district in Maharashtra.
The Indian security forces had significant success in a counter-terrorism operation in the Kashmir Valley. On 23 May 2019, the Indian Army’s 42 Rashtriya Rifle (RR) Battalion, SOG (Special Operations Group) of the J&K police, and the CRPF (Central Reserve Police Force) carried out a joint counter-terrorism operation and killed Zakir Musa aka Zakir Rashid Bhat—chief of al-Qa’ida Kashmir unit Ansar Ghazwat ul-Hind (AGuH). The operation took place in Dadsara village in Tral area in Pulwama district, J&K.4 After few days, Hameed Lehari was appointed as the successor of Zakir Musa. Lehari, too, was killed in a CT operation in Awantipora area in Pulwama district of J&K on 22 October 2019. 5
There were no major terrorist incidents in the valley in mid-2019. However, there were attacks on the labourers hailing from the other states of India. On 29 October 2019, Hizb-ul-Mujahideen (HM) terrorists targeted and killed five Bengali-Muslim labourers in Kulgam district of J&K, who were employed in apple orchards.6 This incident reflected the frustration growing among the jihadi groups over the failure to conduct attacks and adopted a strategy to target the civilian population. It was the first attack targeting civilian post-abrogation of Article 370 on 05 August 2019, which resulted in the bifurcation of the State of J&K into two Union Territories (UTs).
The Indian security agencies, including the National Investigation Agency (NIA), cracked down several IS-inspired modules and arrested 127 suspects for their connection with IS in India during 2019. According to the NIA Spokesperson Inspector-General (IG) Alok Mittal, these arrests were made from 14 States of India, to include the largest number of arrested suspects came from Tamil Nadu (33), followed by Uttar Pradesh (19), followed by Kerala (17), and from Telangana (14). 7
In Afghanistan, 20 Taliban terrorists attacked the Shorab military base in Helmand province and killed 23 Afghan soldiers on 01 March 2019. 8 The Shorab military base is the largest military establishment in the country. However, the terrorists were unable to breach the compound walls. To capture the military base, this was the third unsuccessful attempt made by Taliban.
New Zealand— one of the peaceful countries with no history of terrorism, witnessed a terror attack on 15 March 2019, where a white-supremacist—Brenton Tarrant, an Australian national carried out a terrorist attack at two locations—Al Noor Mosque and Linwood Islamic Centre in Christchurch in New Zealand.9 This was the first time a terrorist attack was live-streamed on a social media platform— in this case, Facebook. In this attack, 50 people were killed and 49 were injured.
In South Asia, IS claimed responsibility of a suicide bomb attack in Baluchistan, Pakistan. On 12 April 2019, a suicide bombing in an open marketplace in Quetta, in Baluchistan, killed 21 people (including the bomber) and injured over 48 people.10 The attack had targeted the minority-Muslim population of Shiites. On the next day, the Islamic State (IS) group claimed the responsibility of the attack through the online forum of its Amaq Agency. However, a Sunni terrorist group— Lashkar-e-Jhangavi (LeJ) which is an offshoot of Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP), had also claimed the responsibility for this attack. The Spokesperson of LeJ informed the CNN that their group has targeted the Hazara community of Shiites in Quetta and warned about more such attacks.11 LeJ was closely affiliated with Taliban, al-Qa’ida, and Jundallah terrorist organisations but after the killing of its one of the founding leaders—Riaz Basra in May 2002, the relationship between al-Qa’ida and LeJ came to a halt.12
In April 2019, South Asia witness another surprise terrorist attack. This time it was Sri Lanka— a nation which had enjoyed peace for almost a decade after 30 years of the end of civil war. On 21 April 2019, when Sri Lanka’s Christian community was preparing for Easter Sunday, eight suicide bombers carried-out a coordinated terrorist attack and targeted three Churches and three luxury hotels located in Colombo, Sri Lanka. In this attack over 320 people were killed and more than 500 were injured.13
The second wave of the similar attacks was planned for the next day, but it was foiled by the Sri Lankan security forces. No group immediately claimed the responsibility but according to the Sri Lankan government officials, all suicide bombers were associated with the National Towheeth Jamaath (NTJ)—an indigenous Islamist extremist group with the record of attacks against Buddhists, and Sufi community in Sri Lanka.14 Later, the IS through its media-wing Amaq Agency claimed that the eight suicide bombers of the Easter Sunday attack had an allegiance with the organisation.
Five Taliban’s terrorists carried-out the gun and bomb attack in the Wazir Akbar Khan area in Kabul, Afghanistan on 01 July 2019. In this attack, six people were killed and over 100 people were severely injured.15 The target was the Afghanistan Defence Ministry’s technical establishment. According to the statement released by the Health Ministry of Afghanistan, 51 children of two schools located nearby the blast location were injured.16A week later, a Taliban terrorist carried-out a suicide bombing in Ghazni area and killed 14 people, including eight security force personnel, on 07 July 2019.17 The bomber detonated a car nearby the office of Afghanistan’s Intelligence agency—the National Directorate of Security (NDS). In this attack, over 180 people were injured.
In 2019, Nigeria, Somalia, Niger, and Mali, remained in turmoil due to terrorist activities by the al-Shabaab (affiliated to al-Qa’ida) and Boko Haram (affiliated to Islamic State). Besides, the frequent terrorist attacks of small scale conducted by either of these two groups, five terrorists of the al-Shabaab group attacked the Asasey Hotel in Jubaland of Somalia on 12 July 2019. The attackers sieged the hotel for 14 hours, before being killed by the Somalian security forces in the exchange of fire. In this attack, 26 people were killed and 56 were injured.18The siege episode of the hotel brought back memories of the infamous 2008 Mumbai attacks in which Pakistan-supported LeT group’s terrorists sieged the Hotel Taj, the Nariman House and other locations in Mumbai for more than 48 hours.
Terrorists of Boko Haram attacked a public gathering for a funeral in Nganzai district of Borno state in Nigeria and killed more than 60 people on 27 July 2019.19The terrorist incidents in Somalia, Nigeria, Niger, and Mali are due to the “competition” between Boko Haram and al-Shabaab to prove their respective competence in the region. According to Global Terrorism Index 2019 report20, Nigeria (global rank 3) ranked in top 10 terrorism-affected countries in Africa, followed by Somalia (global rank 6), and followed by the Democratic Republic of the Congo (global rank 10).
SEPTEMBER – DECEMBER
In September 2019, two suicide bombings on 17 September killed over 48 people in two provinces— Parwan and Kabul of Afghanistan. In first incident, the attack targeted the rally for President Ashraf Ghani in which 26 people were killed and over 42 were injured.21 However, President Ghani was unharmed in the incident. In second incident, 22 people were killed and over 38 were injured in an explosion occurred nearby the US embassy in Kabul.22 Taliban claimed the responsibility of both attacks and warned the people for boycotting the Presidential elections in Afghanistan.
As a major success in the counter-terrorism operations, the United States (US)’s Special Operation Forces (SOFs) conducted an operation and killed the leader and ‘caliph’ of Islamic State (IS) — Ibrahim Awad Ibrahim al-Badri al-Samarrai, popularly known as Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, in the village of Barisha near to Syria-Turkey border in Idlib province of Syria on 26 October 2019.23 At last, al-Baghdadi reached an end of the tunnel and had no option but to detonate his explosive vest which led to the killing of himself and his two children. The killing of al-Baghdadi gave a major blow to the IS organisation after the loss of their last stronghold in Syria in March 2019. Five days later, the IS’s media outlet Al-Furqan released an audio message on 31 October confirming the death of al-Baghdadi and announced the appointment of its new leader— Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi.
Islamic State (IS) terrorists killed 53 Malian soldiers and a civilian in a terrorist attack at the military post in Menaka region in Indelimane, Mali, on 01 November 2019.24 This attacked considered as one of the deadliest attacks on the Mali’s security forces. Al-Qa’ida affiliated terrorist group— Boko Haram, often, target the military posts in the Mali; but Islamic State claimed the responsibility of the attack via Amaq News agency.
On 29 November 2019, a 28 years-old IS-inspired terrorist Usman Khan— a Pakistani-origin British citizen, attacked and killed two people and injured three others, using a kitchen knife and wearing a fake explosive vest in the Central London. At the time of the attack, Usman Khan was on licence from jail for which he was convicted for the previous for terrorism offences in 2012.25 Soon, the Armed Police officials of the City of London surrounded the attacker, shot twice and killed him.26
Al-Qa’ida’s affiliate in Africa— al-Shabaab is known to carry out terrorist attacks on public gatherings, shopping malls, senior government officials, and foreign nationals. In Somalia, the al-Shabaab’s suicide bomber carried out an attack on 28 December 2019 at the Ex-Control Afgoye police checkpoint in Mogadishu and killed over 80 people and more than 120 were injured.27 In response to the attack, the Somali government and joint US Africa command (AFCOM) conducted airstrikes on al-Shabaab establishments.
Projections for the Year 2020
According to a report “Global Terrorism Index 2019: Measuring the impact of terrorism” released by the Institute for Economics & Peace28, in 2019, Afghanistan replaced Iraq in terms of the nation most affected by terrorism. The territorial loss in Syria and shrinking of the cadre of the Islamic State (IS) in Afghanistan, coupled with the rise in terrorist activities in Afghanistan shows that Taliban outdid IS as the deadliest terrorist organisation. However, South Asia region was highly impacted by the acts of terrorism. Afghanistan (rank 1), Pakistan (rank 5), and India (rank 7) made into top 10 countries highly affected with the acts of terrorism.
In 2019, the crackdowns of IS modules in India reflects the efficiency of the Indian security agencies to contain the IS threat to India. Despite the rumours about the death of AQIS’s leader—Asim Umar in mid-2019, AQIS has been inactive in the region. There were no terrorist activities carried out by the group in the South Asian countries. Subsequently, the fate of al-Qa’ida’s and Islamic State’s regional groups—AQIS (al-Qa’ida in Indian Subcontinent) and IS-KP (Islamic State-Khurasan Province) respectively, depends on the strategies of their respective leaders to carry forward the propaganda of deed of the organisations.
The killing of Zakir Musa and Hamid Lehari of AGuH gave a blow to the organisation and its fate in the Kashmir valley. There has been no announcement on the new chief of AGuH. Despite success in the counter-terrorism operation, there is a need to contain the spread of Islamic radicalisation among the Muslim youth in India. As per the data of fatalities in J&K, in comparison to the previous year (2018), the year 2019 was of success for security forces, in terms of fewer casualties of the security forces personnel and eliminating terrorists in the Kashmir valley.
The kinetic approach towards terrorism will certainly contain it to some extent. The abrogation of Article 370 did not face serious protests in the valley as it was expected. This shows the support of local Kashmiris to the decision taken by the Central government. To enable the opportunity for the Kashmiri youth to join the mainstream, the government must take a fresh look on reversing the ongoing process of radicalisation. To bring assurance with the sense of security among the local Kashmiris, this is important under which day-to-day businesses can be carry-forwarded.
According to the data in Figure 2, in 2019, 154 Maoists were neutralised in counter-insurgency operations, as compare to 2018. However, 340 Maoists surrendered in 2019 as compare to 480 surrendered in 2018 to join the mainstream. It reflects the persistence of Maoist threat in the region. However, Maoists could not accept the development of basic infrastructures such as road and rail connectivity, mobile tower establishments, schools, and health initiatives taken by the government of India in remote areas of the Maoist-affected states. Therefore, it is essential to continue the development initiatives and security intervention in true spirits to defeat their propaganda.
Despite the “on-off” possibilities of the Afghan peace talk and the general elections which have been conducted in Afghanistan, the Taliban continues to be a strong terrorist organisation with the strong-hold of the region. According to the data available with the United Nations (UN), the strength of IS/IS-KP in Afghanistan is said to be 3,500 to 4,000, including around 1,000 in the northern part of Afghanistan.29
Globally, the killing of al-Baghdadi has raised questions about the fate of IS under the leadership of its new successor—al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi. It would be interesting to wait and see how al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi would carry forward the inheritance of al-Baghdadi in carrying forward the vision of Caliphate by 2020 all over the world.
In April 2020, Sri Lanka will be commemorating the first anniversary of the deadly Easter Sunday bombings. To prove its operational capability under the new leadership, the IS or its affiliated groups underground in could conspire a terrorist attack in Sri Lanka or the Maldives. After the territorial loss and killing of al-Baghdadi, the IS’s terrorists will disperse and may attempt to sneak into their homeland. If getaway undetected, the terrorists or returnees could do the “lone-wolf” attacks and raise a grave threat to national security.
The London Bridge attack in the United Kingdom (UK) in December 2019, reflected the loopholes in the regulations which deals with the acts of terrorism. The ‘Automatic Prisoner Release Policy’ allowed jihadists within the UK to be released from the prison and re-join the society on a license. Under the shadow of the same policy, the convicted terrorists may receive the parole and can conspire the lone-wolf attacks in the UK. Therefore, as an important task, the re-elected government of the Conservatives their second-term in 2020 must repeal the Automatic Prisoner Release policy and implement the measures to strengthen the counter-terrorism laws and policies to ensure the UK’s National Security.
Anurag Sharma (VIF)
28 January 2020
- Shaurya Karanbir Gurung. “what happened at Pulwama and history of terror attacks on convoys”, The Economic Times, 20 February 2019, Available from: https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/defence/what-happened-at-pulwama-and-history-of-terror-attacks-on-convoys/articleshow/68019194.cms
- FP Staff. “IAF struck JeM’s biggest training camp at Balakot, says Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale on India’s operation in Pakistan”, FirstPost, 26 February 2019, Available from: https://www.firstpost.com/india/iaf-struck-jems-biggest-training-camp-at-balakot-says-foreign-secretary-vijay-gokhale-on-indias-operation-in-pakistan-6154411.html
- Swati Gupta. “16 dead in suspected Maoist attack on police convoy in India”, CNN, 01 May 2019, Available from: https://edition.cnn.com/2019/05/01/india/india-attack-maharashtra-intl/index.html
- Ganai, Naseer. “Chief of Al-Qaeda Kashmir Unit Zakir Musa trapped after encounter in South Kashmir”, The Outlook, 23 May 2019, Available from: https://www.outlookindia.com/website/story/india-news-chief-of-al-qaeda-kashmir-unit-zakir-musa-trapped-after-encounter-in-south-kashmir/330866
- “Big win for security forces; Zakir Musa’s successor gunned down”, Rediff News, 23 October 2019, Available from: https://m.rediff.com/news/report/big-win-for-security-forces-zakir-musas-successor-killed-in-jk/20191023.htm
- Sujit Nath. “As Bengal workers flee Kashmir in wake of Militant attack, Mamta govt looks to stop migration”, News18, 30 October 2019, Available from: https://www.news18.com/news/india/as-bengal-workers-flee-kashmir-in-wake-of-terror-attack-mamata-govt-looks-to-stop-migration-2367429.html
- ANI. “127 held in connection with ISIS; those arrested say Zakir Naik videos inspired them: NIA”, The Times of India, 14 October 2019, Available from: https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/127-held-in-connection-with-isis-those-arrested-say-zakir-naik-videos-inspired-them-nia/articleshow/71578356.cms
- “At least 23 Afghan security forces killed in Taliban attack”, Al-Jazeera, 02 March 2019, Available from: https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2019/03/23-afghan-security-forces-killed-taliban-attack-190301171933621.html
- “Christchurch shootings: 49 dead in New Zealand mosque attacks”, BBC News, 15 March 2019, Available from: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-47578798
- Asad Hashim. “Pakistan: Deadly explosion rips through Quetta market”, Al-Jazeera, 13 April 2019, Available from: https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2019/04/deadly-blast-hits-market-pakistan-quetta-190412045209786.html
- Euan McKirdy and Sophia Saifi. “At least 20 killed in market blast in Pakistani city of Quetta”, CNN, 12 April 2019, Available from: https://edition.cnn.com/2019/04/12/asia/quetta-market-blast-intl/index.html
- Animesh Roul. “Lashkar-e-Jhangvi: Sectarian Violence in Pakistan and Ties to International Terrorism”, IntelliBriefs, 03 June 2005, Available from: http://intellibriefs.blogspot.com/2005/06/lashkar-e-jhangvi-sectarian-violence.html
- “Death toll from Easter Sunday attacks climbs to 321”, Adaderana, 23 April 2019, Available from: http://www.adaderana.lk/news/54578/death-toll-from-easter-sunday-attacks-climbs-to-321
- James Griffiths and Sam Kiley. “Sri Lanka bombers’ mentor is dead, but his memory still stokes fear”, CNN, 26 April 2019, Available from: https://edition.cnn.com/2019/04/26/asia/sri-lanka-suicide-bomber-intl/index.html
- Hamid Shalizi, Abdul Qadir Sediqi, and Orooj Hakimi. “six killed, 105 wounded in Taliban attack in Kabul”, Reuters, 01 July 2019, Available from: https://uk.reuters.com/article/uk-afghanistan-attack/gun-battle-ends-in-afghan-capital-after-taliban-blast-wounds-105-idUKKCN1TW1FB?rpc=401&
- “Afghan car bomb kills 14 and wounds dozens, including students”, The Guardian, 07 July 2019, Available from: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/jul/07/afghan-car-bomb-kills-wounds-dozens-including-school-students
- Omar Nor, Zahid Mahmood, and Emily Dixon. “Death toll in Somalia hotel attack rises to 26”, CNN, 13 July 2019, Available from: https://edition.cnn.com/2019/07/13/africa/somalia-hotel-attack-intl/index.html
- “Boko Haram gunmen target mourners in deadly funeral attack”, France 24, 29 July 2019, Available from: https://www.france24.com/en/20190727-bokio-haram-kills-23-mourners-after-funeral-terrorism-jihadists-africa
- “Global Terrorism Index 2019: Measuring the Impact of Terrorism”, Institute for Economics & Peace. November 2019. Available from: http://visionofhumanity.org/app/uploads/2019/11/GTI-2019web.pdf
- “US Green Beret killed in Afghanistan as Taliban bombs leave dozens more dead”, CBS News, 17 September 2019, Available from: https://www.cbsnews.com/news/us-service-member-killed-in-afghanistan-taliban-bombs-dozens-dead-ashraf-ghani-rally-kabul-today-2019-09-17/
- “Official says at least 22 killed in Kabul attack”, AP News, 18 September 2019, Available from: https://apnews.com/9823e78330484480930a747b1d89c973
- Zachary Cohen. “Inside the dramatic US military raid that killed ISIS leader Baghdadi”, CNN, 28 October 2019, Available from: https://edition.cnn.com/2019/10/27/politics/bagdhadi-inside-the-raid-timeline/index.html
- “Terrorist attack on Northern Mali military post kills more than 50 soldiers”, France 24, 02 November 2019, Available from: https://www.france24.com/en/20191102-terrorist-attack-on-northern-mali-military-post-kills-more-than-50-soldiers
- Anurag Sharma. “London Bridge Attack: An Islamic State-Inspired Knife Terror Attack”, Vivekananda International Foundation, 12 December 2019, Available from: https://www.vifindia.org/2019/december/12/london-bridge-attack-an-islamic-state-inspired-knife-terror-attack
- “London Bridge knife attacker known to police and had links to terror groups”, Sky News, 02 December 2019, Available from: https://news.sky.com/story/london-bridge-police-dealing-with-incident-amid-reports-of-gunshots-11873515
- Omar Nor, Maija-Liisa Ehlinger, and Bukola Adebayo. “Al Qaeda affiliate Al-Shabaab claims responsibility for Somalia truck bombing that killed 85”, CNN, 31 December 2019, Available from: https://edition.cnn.com/2019/12/31/africa/somalia-truck-bombing-alshabaab/index.html
- “Global Terrorism Index 2019: Measuring the Impact of Terrorism”, Institute for Economics & Peace. November 2019. Available from: http://visionofhumanity.org/app/uploads/2019/11/GTI-2019web.pdf
- United Nations Security Council. “Twenty-second report of the Analytical Support and Sanctions Monitoring Team submitted pursuant to resolution 2368 (2017) concerning ISIL (Da’esh), Al-Qaida and associated individuals and entities”, United Nations, 27 July 2018, Available from: https://undocs.org/pdf?symbol=en/S/2018/705