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ISIS – Time to end the pestilence of terrorism

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ISIS

One may not realise the impact of a terrorist attack until he or she personally witnesses it in all its devastation. Back in 2001, I was an undergraduate in the University of Nigeria, Nsukka when one fateful day in September 11 while passing through the hostel lobby on my way out to the library, caught a glimpse of two commercial airplanes shown crashing into skyscrapers on the television telecasted by CNN. 

It was hours later that I realised that a terrorist attack of an unprecedented scale had occurred on American soil taking the then famous twin towers of the World Trade Centre with it. The casualty figure was staggering with more than 3,000 people dead. The world for the first time got to know about Osama Bin Laden and Al Qaeda.

Today, about 14 years later with Bin Laden dead and the Al Qaeda organisation more or less moribund, a new axis of evil has emerged from the ruins of a post Saddam Hussein Iraq, an area which used to be the bed of the ancient Babylonian empire. They call themselves the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, also known as IS or ISIS. 

On Friday the 13th (a day many now associate with some sort of bad omen) ISIS in a series of coordinated gun and suicide bombing attacks unleashed violence in Paris leaving at least 129 people dead and 352 injured, almost 100 of them in critical condition. Seven of the attackers shot assault rifles at cafes while others detonated suicide bombs near the national stadium where a friendly soccer match between France and Germany. President Francois Hollande was in the stadium while the bomb attacks took place. Some of the terrorists also stormed the Bataclan concert hall, held hostages and killed about 89 people. The French President in reaction closed all the borders and declared war on ISIS. He also declared a nationwide state of emergency. 

The last time France experienced an internal attack of this scale was during World War 2. In May 1940, after successfully overrunning Poland, Denmark, Norway, Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands with the dreaded military tactic called the ‘’Lightning War’’ or ‘’Blitzkrieg’’, Adolf Hitler’s troops turned their attention on France. 

The German tanks, planes and artillery drove a breach through the French defences, permitting armoured tanks to roam freely behind enemy lines, causing shock and disorganisation among the attacked troops. Within a short period, Paris fell to the Nazis. But one may be forced to ask why ISIS has suddenly intensified their campaign of terror outside Iraq and Syria. Why engage soft targets in faraway Europe? The answers lie in how the terrorist organisation began.

ISIS is an effective fighting machine no doubt, whose military skills evolved through years of fighting. They have perfected the act of urban terrorism. Originating from Iraq, they began their campaign by orchestrating a wave of suicide bombing attacks in Baghdad and central Iraq using vehicles packed with explosives for maximum effect. 

The Shia Muslim sect of Iraq was their main targets as they formed majority of the casualties resulting from their bombing attacks. The number of civilians killed by them in 2012 alone was 9,473 in Iraq. By 2014, amidst the atmosphere of fear and confusion, they launched a blitzkrieg form of attack, killing more than 17,000 in the process. Within months, they quickly overran their host country and quickly spread to neighbouring Syria which was already enmeshed in a bloody civil war. They capitalised on the weakened Syrian defence (as most of the Syrian troops loyal to President Bashir Al-Assad were battling insurgents and opposition militia) to quickly establish their presence in the war torn country.

From then on ISIS turned from a rag tag terrorist group, to a regional force, annexing parts of Syria and Iraq to their growing Islamist Empire. In the areas controlled by them, they unleashed terror on its inhabitants, on a scale not witnessed before. They kidnapped and beheaded strayed journalists, perceived enemies and those who defiled their brand of Islam. They destroyed historic sites, enslaved, raped and forcefully married women, some as young as 11. 

On one occasion they placed a man on the road and in a televised video, showed him being run over by an armoured tank, his bones and torso and all crushed while blood splattered across the pavement, as gun trotting men shouted and hailed. Gradually an overwhelmed Syria lost more territories to the blood thirsty empire. At a point ISIS began exporting their brand of terrorism to other parts of the world as their campaign of evil began taking a global dimension. 

Just before the Nigerian military began scoring major victories against the dreaded Islamist sect, Boko Haram, the leader of the terrorist group who is simply known as ‘’Shekau’’, in a video pledged allegiance to the Islamic State, renaming their organisation after ISIS. Shekau also claimed logistics and other support from their new parent organisation. 

The resultant effect of all these was one of the greatest refugee crises the world has ever seen. Millions of internally displaced persons began to migrate from the war torn areas with almost half a million of them crossing thousands of miles into Europe! But the ISIS reign of terror was soon to be given a bloody nose from the unlikeliest of sources.

The United States in coalition with the Free Syrian Army which is opposed to the Assad regime, in September 2014 began a series of airstrikes aimed at ISIS controlled areas, but these were largely unsuccessful in achieving their mission goals. According to many analysts, the Americans were in a way aiding and abetting ISIS’s expansion as their support for anti-Assad rebels was seriously limiting the effectiveness of the Syrian Army who by now was fighting on two fronts. Frustrated, President Assad turned to Russia for help by formally requesting President Vladimir Putin to assist in airstrikes. 

In August, Russia began to send Russian operated warplanes, T-90 tanks and artillery as well as combat troops. By September, Iran (a predominantly Shia country which was sympathetic to the Shia victims of ISIS attacks), Iraq and Hezbollah (a Lebanese Shia militia) joined the new coalition against Islamic state.

History has a funny way of repeating itself. The entry of the United States into the Second World War in 1941 marked the beginning of the end for Hitler’s Third Reich and the axis of evil. Similarly the entry of Russia and the resulting waves of counter attacks on ISIS began impacting devastating effects on the terrorist organisation. 

Precision bombing by state of the art Russian war planes destroyed several weapons storage facilities of ISIS and killed hundreds of militia, sending the terrorists scampering for safety in all directions, while the Syrian Army began advancing on the retreating militias. Just last week the all-important Kweiris Airbase located west of Aleppo was recovered from ISIS in the biggest Syrian Government victory in two years. 

On another front, the Syrian Kurds in cooperation with the US air force are also currently advancing south around the city of Hasaka, while the Iraqui Kurds again with US air support have captured and liberated the city of Sinjar, west of Mosul. This victory is quite significant because cutting off ISIS from Mosul means they can no longer access the oilfields of North East Syria from which they derived a chunk of the revenue used in prosecuting their reign of terror. 

Boxed in, ISIS began revenging on the countries assisting Iraq and Syria against them. The recent destruction of a Russian passenger jet, killing all 244 passengers inside meant ISIS was now taking out their frustrations on countries partaking in the coalition. Unable to perpetuate further attacks in their home base, they have turned to soft targets outside their spheres of influence; the Paris bombing was just one of those external attacks which are beginning to emerge.

The world no longer needs to be reactionary in the war on terror. It is time to be proactive and take the war to ISIS right at their doorsteps. The US and Russia have not conducted joint operations since World War 2 when President Roosevelt and Joseph Stalin’s troops jointly attacked Germany. Now is time to cast away political and regional differences and face the war on Islamic State squarely. There must be no backing down. It is France today; it could be any other country tomorrow. 

Back in Nigeria, the multinational joint task force consisting of Nigeria, Chad, Niger and Cameroon have almost succeeded in reducing the sphere of influence of Boko Haram in the region. As a result they have resorted to soft targets using suicide bombers and gunmen to terrorise people similar to what happened in France. The good news is that ISIS is losing the war. If the current tempo is maintained, Islamic State will go the way of Al Qaeda.

ISIS is a clear and present danger and thus no mercy should be shown to them. There must be no negotiations. Their various cells spread across Europe and the world must be identified and destroyed. Hate preachers in mosques need to be monitored closely as most of the young people become radicalised by some of these teachers. This is the time for the world to come together and end this pestilence that terrorism has become.

Nonso Ndibe is a Pharmacist, Blogger and a Public Affairs Analyst.


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