Increased threat of terrorist attacks during Ramadan

  • 03 Jun 2016 15:02

Article written by Senior Risk Analyst Francesca Wilkinson, published 03/06/2016


As the holy fasting month of Ramadan is set to commence on 5 June, security forces will be on high alert amid the rising threat of terrorist attacks across the globe, particularly in Europe, the Middle East and North Africa, Sub-Saharan Africa and Asia. Indeed, the start of Ramadan coincides with the anniversary of the announcement of an Islamic “caliphate” by Islamic State (IS) leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in Mosul on 29 June 2014, the first day of Ramadan that year. IS has already released propaganda calling on its sympathisers to launch attacks wherever they are in Europe. With several high-profile sporting events in France, as well as an influx of holiday-goers to global destinations, the threat of attack is assessed as high during Ramadan.

Baghdadi called on sympathisers to carry out attacks wherever they were present in Ramadan 2015, decentralising the IS threat away from its territories and out of the command of central leadership. With the group in retreat across much of its territory in Iraq, the emphasis on proving the group’s ability to attack anywhere and at any time has increased. Baghdadi may re-issue his call to attack and with the group’s spread across regions during this year, the area of potential attacks is widespread. IS affiliates and sympathisers are present across North Africa, the Middle East, Afghanistan, Somalia, Bangladesh, the Philippines and Nigeria. Sympathisers are found in almost every country. Several terrorist attacks took place during the 2015 holy month, including the attack on a Sousse tourist resort in Tunisia and bombings of Shi’a mosques in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. Mosque bombings are most likely to occur during Friday prayers and additional security at places of worship is anticipated during Ramadan.

With the beaches of Egypt and Tunisia emptying following attacks in recent months, the threat could spread to other resorts on the periphery of IS’s operational areas, including West African nations. Attacks have already been claimed by al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) in Burkina Faso and Cote d’Ivoire. Many of their neighbours have increased security at hotels and resorts amid intelligence of planned attacks, including in Togo and Ghana.

In Europe, the UEFA European Championship will take place from 10 June - 10 July in France; a highly attractive target for IS militants. Several security officials have advised that a terrorist attack is likely, while the US State Department has issued a travel warning over the threat at major events throughout Europe until the end of August. Such a high-profile event will be well secured, but IS has proven its ability to launch attacks in complex security environments and is likely to attack less securitised venues, attacking fan gatherings rather than stadia for instance. Although not specific to Ramadan, the timing of the Euro championship falls within the holy month, raising the already high likelihood that plans are underway to target the event.

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