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Fact Check: Most Terrorism Victims are in Muslim Majority Countries

By far the vast majority of victims of terrorist attacks over the past 15 years has been Muslims killed by Muslims

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Photo: www.simplydecoded.com

Long before there was an Islamic State, Muslim jihadists grappled with a nagging conundrum: how to build authentically Islamic states.

While some advocated toppling the near enemy – the so-called atheist regimes and their collaborators — others pushed for striking the far enemy — Western enablers, the United States in particular.

In the 1990s, al-Qaida put the debate to rest by taking the fight to the far enemy, a strategy that culminated in the attacks of September 11, 2001.

As al-Qaida has diminished in power in recent years, though, and given birth to myriad offspring and permutations with often local agendas, including the so-called Islamic State, the near enemy has borne the brunt of the terrorist violence.

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By far the vast majority of victims of terrorist attacks over the past 15 years has been Muslims killed by Muslims. In the latest instance, an Islamic State suicide bomber struck a Kurdish wedding in southeastern Turkey on Saturday, killing more than 50 people.

“I understand why the media cover terrorism in the West so closely, and I understand why people who follow these events become so frightened, but objectively speaking the threat of terrorism is not very great,” said Richard Bulliet, a professor emeritus of history at Columbia University.

In this image taken from a video filmed by the Abu Sayyaf Group and released by the Islamic State extremist group, militants swear allegiance to IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi at a ceremony in Basilan, Sulu Archipelago, Philippines. Photo Courtesy: International Center for Political Violence and Terrorism Research, Singapore
In this image taken from a video filmed by the Abu Sayyaf Group and released by the Islamic State extremist group, militants swear allegiance to IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi at a ceremony in Basilan, Sulu Archipelago, Philippines. Photo Courtesy: International Center for Political Violence and Terrorism Research, Singapore

Of 167,221 terrorism-related fatalities reported from 2001 to 2015, almost all — 163,532 or 98 percent — occurred outside the United States and Western Europe, according to the University of Maryland’s Global Terrorism Database. The U.S. government-funded GTD is the world’s largest public database on terrorist attacks.

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The database does not sort victims by religious affiliation. But GTD data on 25 Muslim-majority countries from Iraq to Malaysia reveal that these countries account for 75 percent of all fatalities from terrorist attacks from that period. The United States and Western Europe, with a combined 3,689 fatalities — including 2,977 from the attacks of September 11, 2001 — account for just 2.2 percent of terrorism-related deaths during the period.

Not all victims of terrorism in Muslim-majority countries are Muslims. In fact, the fatalities have included Christians, Yazidis, and other minorities just as there have been many non-Christians among casualties of terrorism in the U.S. and Western Europe. But it is safe to assume that the majority of victims in Muslim countries are Muslims, according to Michael Jensen, GTD data collection manager.

Driven by more than religion

The GTD data vary wildly from country to country. While Iraq accounts for more than 50,000 fatalities, Malaysia shows only six deaths for the past 15 years.

In many cases, the motive never becomes clear but the discrepancy in terrorism-related fatalities among Muslim countries suggests that “it’s not just religion driving it,” Jensen said. “It has to be something else.”

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Researchers at the Institute for Economics and Peace have combed the GTD data for patterns and identified two features common to countries where terrorism thrives. According to their research, 92 percent of all terrorist attacks in the past 25 years have occurred in countries with widespread state-sponsored political violence, while 88 percent of attacks have occurred in places with violent conflicts.

“The link between these two factors and terrorism is so strong that less than 0.6 percent of all terrorist attacks have occurred in countries without any ongoing conflict and any form of political terror,” the researchers write in the 2015 Global Terrorism Index Report.

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In most Muslim-majority countries with a significant level of terrorist activity, one or both of these features are present. Iraq may be the most extreme example of a country with a long history of state-sponsored violence and conflict over political authority. At the other end of the spectrum is Egypt, where authoritarian regimes have long sanctioned violence against political opponents.

Categories of targets

Historically, terrorism travels in waves. In the 1960s and 1970s, with wars raging in Vietnam and Algeria and a conflict in Northern Ireland, the epicentre of terrorism was Western Europe and to a lesser extent, the U.S.

In the 1980s, the focal point shifted to Latin America where insurgencies in Peru, El Salvador, and Colombia spawned a wave of terrorism in the region. Since the 1990s, the predominantly Muslim countries of the Middle East, South Asia, and North Africa have served as the hotbed of global terrorism, as jihadists, emboldened by the fall of the Soviet Union, have sought to bring down regional governments.

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GTD’s Jensen said that in Muslim-majority countries, as in most other countries with a history of terrorism, militants often strike three categories of targets: Private citizens and property represent the largest target of terrorist attacks, followed by security forces, and government and diplomatic officials and institutions.

In Afghanistan, “you have a classic example of a progressive expansion of the categories of targets so that you see not only the Taliban but also other groups … progressively have begun to target individuals that they feel are associated with the government,” said Candace Rondeaux, a senior program officer at the U.S. Institute of Peace in Washington.

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The victims include teachers and bus drivers “so it’s become a much more expansive category in a lot of cases and you see that replicated in other parts of South Asia, in parts of North Africa and in the Horn of Africa,” Rondeaux said.

The violence has involved Islamic State militants killing Kurds in Turkey, Sunni suicide bombers targeting Shiite mosques in Pakistan, Shiite extremists assassinating Sunni religious figures, Taliban bombs killing civilians in Afghanistan, Islamic State suicide bombers blow up Shiite shrines and massacring members of the Yazidi minority in Iraq, and Boko Haram militants killing peaceful Muslim worshipers and restaurant guests in Nigeria.

“I think in a majority of cases where Muslims are victims of terrorism, they’re largely targeted not because they’re Muslim but because they’re police officers or soldiers or happen to be in a public place,” said Jensen.

Political motivations

Nevertheless, he said Sunni-Shiite sectarianism “is a big part of it.” Proportionally, Shiites, who make up about 10% of the world’s 1.7 billion Muslims, are killed in increasingly large numbers as Sunni extremists from Iraq to Pakistan target members of a minority sect they view as heretical, according to Bulliet.

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While not all Shiite groups have been targeted by Sunni militants, ‘’it is striking how often in Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan, you have terrorist outrages that really focused on Shiites,” Bulliet said.

Terrorism. Image source: io9.gizmodo.com
Terrorism. Image source: io9.gizmodo.com

At its core, the violence is part of a broader struggle over power in predominantly Sunni societies where questions over political and religious authority as well as the relationship between religion and modernity longer unsettled decades after European colonial rule and the fall of the Ottoman Empire. With Sunnism collapsing as a unifying state institution, Islamists have turned to religion to combat authoritarian regimes, Bulliet said.

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“Sunni Islam… is falling apart drastically, and I think this is the source of a great deal of the violence,” he said. “Ultimately, that’s the problem: If you have an entrenched state, can you get rid of it without violence? If you don’t believe that’s a possibility, then violence becomes the alternative option.” (VOA)

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The Death of Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi

Friedman then gives vent to the bile he has accumulated against Trump for having been at cross purposes with the Deep State Friedman

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Death, Baghdadi, Terrorism
He notes, satirically, how "effusive Trump was of the intelligence agencies who found and tracked al-Baghdadi to the lair in Syria where he blew himself up to avoid being captured." Flickr

In these dark days when terrorism has become a strategic asset, to bump off a superior practitioner like Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has implications. Had he begun to serve the interests not of his original handlers but, possibly, their rivals? Has he been eliminated at all? Does his disappearance leave unprotected those oil wells, which his gang or his patrons profited from? Is the drama in murky light, a bait to drag President Trump back to the West Asian arena, which he is militarily withdrawing from? Death.

From the very beginning, Syria was at the heart of the conflict between Trump and the Deep State, which is now accepted even by the New York Times.

In fact, NYT’s Establishment columnist Thomas Friedman, while applauding the killing of the ISIS leader, reveals which side he is on in the Trump-Deep State conflict. He notes, satirically, how “effusive Trump was of the intelligence agencies who found and tracked al-Baghdadi to the lair in Syria where he blew himself up to avoid being captured.”

Friedman then gives vent to the bile he has accumulated against Trump for having been at cross purposes with the Deep State Friedman so obviously adores. “Well, Mr. President, those are the same intelligence agencies who told you that Russia intervened in our last election in an effort to tip the vote to you and against Hillary Clinton.” What does this line of reasoning mean?

Death, Baghdadi, Terrorism
From the very beginning, Syria was at the heart of the conflict between Trump and the Deep State, which is now accepted even by the New York Times. Flickr

When history is written, Trump will be faulted on a hundred counts, and severely. But it would be uncharitable not to note one truth about him: Trump is the only President in recent history who tried to end military conflicts the US was involved in and who did not start a conflict. There have been 13 military conflicts in recent decades costing $18 trillion, by some estimates.

The Baghdadi image did have its uses. The last time his photograph appeared on front pages of newspapers was after the Easter Sunday massacre in Colombo, Sri Lanka on April 21. On TV too, Baghdadi was shown claiming the massacre as a “revenge” for the attack on a mosque in New Zealand. French experts, among others, soon established that it was a fraudulent clip — a voice had been super imposed on his visage.

Which outfit would like to stir up a conflict between Sri Lanka’s two frail minorities — Muslims and Christians? New Delhi alerted Colombo as early as April 4, that a major terrorist attack can be expected. How did New Delhi know?

At this time, Sri Lanka was sharply divided between two camps: President Maithripala Sirisena had embraced China’s Road and Belt Initiative; Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe was in convulsions to sign the (SOFA) Status of Forces Agreement with the US before the next general elections.

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A puzzle remains. The island nation is at the centre of fierce competition between a rising China and a retreating US for influence in the Indian Ocean. Over 300 people are killed; 500 injured. Among those killed are Chinese Marine engineers. Hotels attacked have Chinese links. Whodunit?

There were stories about Saudis leaving because they had advance knowledge. Supposing the al-Baghdadi clip claiming the massacre had been borne out by facts, which direction would the needle of suspicion point to? Islamic terror? What purpose would that narrative serve?

Looking for simple answers would not help. A small island nation, just recovering from a vicious civil war, would be shaken up by the sheer scale of the massacre, warranting the appearance of intelligence agencies from everywhere — US, UK, Israel, Australia, India. An initial pooling in of intelligence would lead to a penetration of systems until the benefactors achieve their hallowed goal: place roadblocks in the way of the Road and Belt project.

That may or may not have been the plan but police sniffer dogs found something extraordinary while walking through the Jaic Hilton hotel. The dogs stopped in front of an apartment and would not stop barking.

Death, Baghdadi, Terrorism
In fact, NYT’s Establishment columnist Thomas Friedman, while applauding the killing of the ISIS leader, reveals which side he is on in the Trump-Deep State conflict. Flickr

The management cited some difficulties in opening that apartment, national security or no national security. After considerable time had lapsed, two persons claiming to be with the US Embassy turned up. In the room were two “explosive detectors”. The detectors, said the two men, were for their personal security. Just look at the cockiness of this stance. They ignored the obvious fact: dogs would only bark if the detectors had been in touch with explosives. These details are part of the investigations conducted by Dr. Michael Roberts of the University of Adelaide.

Those who tried to foist the tragedy on al-Baghdadi were obviously embarrassed. But, even a fraudulent use of the ISIS chief was possible when he was still theoretically alive. He may be missed. Even NYT’s Friedman, I have quoted earlier, had recommended that al-Baghdadi can be creatively used in the American interest. He advises Trump not to waste his time fighting the ISIS. He wants “Trump to be Trump — utterly cynical and unpredictable.” He continues, “Trump should let ISIS be Assad’s, Iran’s, Hezbullah’s and Russia’s headache.”

Friedman has not cooked up the theory of terrorism as a strategic asset on his own. He has acquired this wisdom from leaders, including US Presidents like Barack Obama. In the course of a lengthy interview in August, 2015, he asked Obama a very pertinent question. When ISIS first reared its head in Mosul a year ago, why did the President not immediately bomb it out of existence?

Obama stated quite plainly: “We did not just start taking a bunch of air strikes all across Iraq because that would have taken the pressure off Iraqi Prime Minister, Nouri al Maliki.”

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Obama’s priority was not the elimination of the founder of the Caliphate. His priority was to exert pressure on Nouri al Maliki to vacate the Iraqi Prime Minister’s office. Why? Because Maliki was “brazenly” pro-Shia and had refused to sign the Status of Forces Agreement with the US. Obama’s “one-two” (to use a term from boxing) worked. US pressure, and al Baghdadi’s menacing presence at the gates of Iraq’s capital, helped ease Maliki out. (IANS)