December 12, 2016

TSG IntelBrief: A Weekend of Terror Attacks

• Between December 9 and 11, five major terror attacks occurred in five different cities.

• Each was a product of local conflicts further fueled by regional rivalries, which exploded in seemingly unconnected attacks in Cairo, Istanbul, Aden, Somalia, and Nigeria.

• Almost two hundred people were killed between the five terror incidents, and hundreds more wounded.

• The victims were Egyptian Coptic Christians, Turkish police officers, Yemeni soldiers, Nigerian civilians, and Somali police officers.

While the coverage of terror groups and attacks often portrays terrorism as a monolithic entity striking across the world as part of some greater global plan, most acts of terror are locally driven. Groups such as al-Qaeda and the so-called Islamic State are indeed part of a broader global jihadist terror network, but many attacks—even if conducted under the flag of al-Qaeda or the Islamic State—are motivated at least in part by intensely local dynamics, though the effects may be felt globally.

Between December 9 and 11, five unconnected terror attacks highlighted the local focus of terrorism. On December 9, two young girls detonated suicide vests in Madagali, Nigeria, reportedly killing 57 people. Boko Haram is the likely culprit; forcing young girls to commit mass murder is one of the group’s brutal tactics to bypass increased security measures. On December 10, a suicide bomber in Aden blew himself up in a line of Yemeni soldiers waiting to collect their pay, killing at least 50. The Islamic State claimed responsibility for this latest attack on Yemeni soldiers; both the Islamic State and al-Qaeda have relentlessly targeted soldiers and police. The war in Yemen, fought between the Shi’a Houthi rebels—who have some level of support from Iran—and a Saudi-led, U.S.-supported coalition, has killed ten thousand people over the last two years. The chaos and power vacuum resulting from the conflict has enabled the growth and expansion of both the Islamic State and al-Qaeda in the country.

On December 10, two explosions at a soccer match in Istanbul killed 38 people and wounded at least 155. Most of the casualties were police officers, a long-time target of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). Turkey has been battling both an increase in Kurdish militancy as well as a persistent threat from the Islamic State for several years; the near-term outlook suggests that both threats will continue to pose serious challenges for the Turkish government.

On December 11, a truck bomb was detonated by a suicide attacker at the Mogadishu Port, the main port of the Somali capital. The attack, which killed at least 29 people and wounded dozens more, marked just the latest in the deadly campaign by al-Qaeda affiliated al-Shabaab. The bombing targeted a police station near the port, and came in the midst of protracted parliamentary elections in the country.

Also on December 11, a bomb killed at least 25 worshippers inside the church of St. Peter and St. Paul in Cairo, a Coptic Christian place of worship. There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack, which marked the latest in a string of assaults on the beleaguered Christian minority community over the past several years. After the bombing, a demonstration occurred outside the church, where protesters accused the Egyptian government of systemic persecution and inadequate protection. The Islamic State has tried to co-opt a long-running insurgency in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, resulting in a marked increase in attacks on police and soldiers in that area. Cairo has also seen an increase in terror attacks, with the Islamic State targeting both government and minority Christian targets. The al-Sisi government has responded in force, but the drivers and local dynamics fueling terrorism—as seen in so many other places—persist.


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