The Revitalization of Jihad Terrorism in the Middle East

On the July 8th INCIPE held a breakfast conference titled, The Revitalization of Jihad Terrorism in the Middle East. At the conference Carlos Echeverría, an expert regarding the Islamic world and a professor of International Relations at UNED, presented on this topic.

Since the outbreak of the Arab Spring we have been witness to jihad terrorism gaining power as a result of an increase of support and new strategies and techniques. One clear example is the terrorist organization al-Nursa, which was created in January 2012 in the midst of the Syrian Civil war, and is ideologically similar to al-Qaeda. Al-Nursa, active in Syria but not in Iraq, has centralized its power to rebel against the Damascus regime and the Shiite in Libya. The terrorist group has been faced with opposition from al-Baghdadi, the Islamic State of Iraq, and ISIS. This conflict has lead to al-Zawahiri, leader of al-Qaeda, to demand that the conflict should not interfere with the priorities of the al-Qaeda organization.

The terrorist group of the Islamic State of Iraq and the East, including al-Baghdadi, is the most powerful today and is currently disputing its leader, al-Zawahiri, as many consider him to be an apostasy. Despite only having 12,000 troops, it has been able to push back the Iraqi troops trained by the United States. It is very likely that the group continue to expand not only in the East but throughout the Muslim world. It is estimated that half of its members are foreigners, and about 3000 are accounted to be western combatants fighting in Syria and Iraq. ISIS receives the majority of its money from donors particularly from the Arab states of the Persian Gulf, as well as from the Sunni tribal leaders in Iraq, who are unhappy about the Prime Minister al-Maliki (who belongs to the Shiite group in Iraq). Furthermore, ISIS has been capturing cities with the help of advanced weaponry, bank funds, and petroleum.

The government situation in Iraq is actually very committed. In the past election on March 3, 2014 the Shiite coalition “the rightist state”, lead by al-Maliki, did not win enough seats so it formed a coalition. Three months later, following the advancement of the rebels, much of the Sunni territory had been taken with hardly any resistance from the security forces. Mosul, the capital of the north of the country with a population of 800,000, fell under jihadist control on the 10th of June.

On June 29th ISIS proclaimed the establishment of a new caliphate ruled by a new caliph, al-Baghdadi. The new Islamic state (stripped of ties to Iraq and the east) requires all Muslims to pledge loyalty to the new caliph and stipulates that the principal objective be to eliminate all “bad” Muslims. The proclamation of the caliphate embodies the aggravation that will further increase the gap between the Sunnis and the Shiites. On the 4th of July at the Mosul Mosque the self-proclaimed new caliph announced the establishment of the Islamic state and the crusade against those disloyal.

It is not only Iraq; the entire Middle East faces a conflict which is beyond the fight between the two ideological extremes of Islam. The leaders of the Sunnis and Shiites, respectively in Saudi Arabia and Iran, are joining the fight for control over energy resources. The objectives and actions of the diverse terrorist groups of the region reveal the optimism and naiveté of the west before the Arab Spring.

Aranzazu Álvarez
Manager of Institutional Relations

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