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Islamic State’s reach

Updated June 28, 2015

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FRIDAY’S deadly events illustrate the capacity of the self-styled Islamic State to wreak havoc across regions beyond its direct control, as well as the need for a coordinated response from the international community in order to neutralise the extremist movement. At least two of the attacks — in Tunisia and Kuwait — have directly been claimed by IS, while it is unclear which group is responsible for the assault on a French gas factory. A fourth attack in Somalia was carried out by the Al Shabab outfit. The Tunisian and Kuwaiti attacks also illustrate the favoured targets of the so-called caliphate: Westerners and Shias, respectively. Nearly 40 tourists — reportedly mostly Europeans — were killed when a gunman opened fire in a Tunisian beach resort; the attack was confirmed to be the work of IS on Saturday, while this is the second major terrorist assault in the North African country this year. In Kuwait, a suicide bomber targeted a Shia mosque packed with worshippers during Friday prayers. Nearly 30 people were killed while over 200 were injured. This is said to be the oil-rich sheikhdom’s worst terrorist incident in many years while the atrocity mirrors two similar bombings of Shia mosques in Saudi Arabia that occurred over the past few weeks.

Clearly, the threat IS poses is not limited to the territory it occupies in Iraq and Syria. These attacks show it has the capability to inspire cells and lone-wolf attacks much further afield. Only a few days ago, an IS ‘spokesman’ called for attacks during the month of Ramazan. On Friday we witnessed the destructive response to this call. The need is for countries which have suspected IS cells or sympathisers to pool their efforts in order to prevent coordination between militants and the leadership. IS is a transnational threat, hence it requires a response that is not limited by frontiers. Along with a crackdown on the movement’s ability to communicate with supporters, including through the internet and the media, perhaps the most important requirement is to dislodge the ‘caliphate’ from the territory it has occupied in Iraq and Syria. For this, regional states will have to shed their divisions and work with both Baghdad and Damascus. This may be easier said than done, but unless the physical safe havens IS has occupied are taken away from the organisation and its leadership captured and neutralised, many more such atrocities can be expected.

Published in Dawn, June 28th, 2015

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