Middle East

Ramadan getting bloodier, warns analyst after attacks leave hundreds dead


The militant group called for new terrorist attacks during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, but analysts warn that the upsurge is likely to continue, even after Eid.

For most Muslims, Ramadan is a month of tolerance, of reflection and coming together.

Islamic State put the call out in late May, describing their Ramadan as the "month of attacks and jihad, the month of conquest".

In an audio message, purportedly from IS spokesperson Abu Muhammad al-Adnani, action was demanded.

"Make sure that every one of you spends it, in the name of God on the attack," he urged, "May it be, God willing, be a month of calamity on the non-believers anywhere, especially by those soldiers and supporters of the caliphate in Europe and America."

This Ramadan - as the militant group loses territory in Iraq with their retreat from Fallujah and US-supported anti-IS coalition forces continue their push in Syria - is particularly critical.

A trend is emerging, counter-terrorism expert Greg Barton told SBS.

"This Ramadan is worse than last Ramadan, and sad to say, it's very possible that Ramadan 2017 may be more bloody than Ramadan 2016."

It's about keeping the IS brand strong, he said.

"They've always attacked during Ramadan," he said, "but this time round we've seen an escalation of the cycle of violence over the last ten months, which is likely to carry through the rest of this year."

"The more they're under pressure, the more they'll push back."

It's been a month of bloodshed.

Just days into Ramadan, gunman Omar Mateen stormed Pulse nightclub in Orlando and killed 49 people.

Two weeks later, two suicide attacks in one day. In Yemen, 38 died, when suicide bombers distributing food for iftar detonated their explosives. In Lebanon, five were killed over two waves of attacks by eight suicide bombers; the second taking place while families were preparing for the funerals of their first victims.

The next day: the attack at Ataturk International Airport in Istanbul, when three men with guns and explosives left 45 dead.

Three days later, 20, mostly foreign, hostages killed by multiple attackers in Dhaka, Bangladesh, after a stand off in a cafe.

Then in Baghdad, deadly twin bombings that targeted a bustling area where people were shopping and celebrating after breaking their fast for the day. Authorities are still counting the dead; the tally at time of writing, had surpassed 200.

Some of these attacks have been directed by IS, but others have simply been inspired by them.

This Monday, three suicide bombers struck in Saudi Arabia. There have so far been no claims of responsibility.

Unlike Al Qaeda, IS will give credit to anyone - like Man Haron Monis in the Lindt Cafe siege - if they can weave it into their narrative, Barton said.

"They figure that any publicity can be good publicity, if they manage it right," he said.

But while IS has claimed responsibility for Bangladesh's worst-ever terror attack, their Interior Minister Asaduzzaman Khan insisted it was untrue.

"There is no existence of IS. These homegrown terrorists wants to contact with the IS, this is the main thing. But all are our homegrown, our nationals. It is not from other countries. It is all our nationals, our people," he said.

However Barton said it could be a combination of the two.

"It's not a case of 'either, or'," he explained. "Islamic State reaches out to local networks. It's tried to co-opt members of the Taliban in Afghanistan."

"In the case of Bangladesh, it seems to be tapping into a group that's been around for two decades, and basically saying, 'you can be a part of something much bigger, by doing things in our name.'"

Authorities are trying to keep up

In a Turkish court, 13 alleged IS militants - including three foreigners - have been remanded into custody, awaiting trial. Twenty-seven have now been arrested after a series of raids, in connection with the attack on Ataturk airport.

On the 4th of July - US Independence day - in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia's second city, two policemen tackled a suicide bomber outside the US consulate. They were injured in the explosion, but the attacker was the only one killed.

In Kuwait, authorities said they foiled three planned attacks - including one on a Shiite mosque - an echo of a Ramadan bombing last year that killed twenty-seven.

But as the war with IS continues on multiple fronts - Barton warns - this is just the beginning.

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