In the aftermath of the mosque attack in the Sinai last week, Egypt’s allies and neighbors are expressing surprise, frustration, and grave doubts about the ability of Cairo’s security forces to effectively combat the Wilayat Sinai affiliate of ISIS. The mosque attack was one of the deadliest acts of terror in Egypt’s history with over 300 dead and appears to have completely blindsided Egyptian security services. This is the second major failure by security forces in the past month. In late October 50 Egyptian policemen were killed in a botched raid against a Muslim Brotherhood hideout west of Cairo. After battling the Muslim Brotherhood and Wilayat Sinai militants for years now it is hard to comprehend exactly how these groups are carrying out such murderous attacks with ease.
For Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, the mosque attack is a challenge that needs to be met swiftly and with decisive force. Sisi came to power promising security, stability, and prosperous times for Egyptians in exchange for nearly-complete political control of the country. He has failed to deliver on any of the three promises, mainly due to his inability to stamp out the insurgency going on in the Sinai. Even before Sisi entered the political realm, the Sinai was a hotbed of terrorism. It’s the modern day equivalent of the Wild West in many respects. Wilayat Sinai, Al-Qaeda, and numerous other Islamist groups are active on the peninsula. Following the 2013 coup that saw former Egyptian president Mohammed Morsi ousted from power, the level of violence skyrocketed.
The United States is growing frustrated with Egypt’s lack of progress in battling the insurgency. Israel is concerned because an unstable Sinai is a threat to its security. Saudi Arabia is watching the situation closely, worried that Iran’s next venture could very well be increased support for the Sinai militants if the Egyptian military and security forces fail to get the upper hand. These are three of the many good reasons why the Sinai situation should be watched closely in the coming months.
Today’s events in Barcelona serve as a grim reminder that the problems Europe faced in 2016 are still alive and well in 2017 despite individual and collective efforts by EU member-states to create the illusion of improving conditions across the continent. Since President Trump was inaugurated in January he has served as a scapegoat for all ailments European. In the aftermath of the populist tsunami last year, EU leaders have countered by portraying Trump and his seemingly anti-EU positions as the common enemy to be challenged. The true challenges facing Europe like terror, and the renewed refugee influx, have been minimized by pro-EU politicians and the media. Non-starter issues such as the US withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, Trump’s tweets, and European diplomatic forays into non-European matters have replaced them.
Although the number of refugees arriving in southern Europe is increasing once again, little is mentioned of it by pro-EU politicians and the European media. The same held true for terrorism until today. Apparent terror incidents in Germany are systematically ruled to be otherwise with astonishing speed. The same European media outlets which covered last year’s incidents with intense focus have downgraded their level of coverage, as was seen with the most recent car attack in Paris. Then came today’s Barcelona attack. As of the time of writing, thirteen deaths and over 80 wounded bystanders have been confirmed. Two men are in custody and a manhunt is underway across Spain for a third man, as anti-terror operations take place at various points around the country.
As much as the EU, and many Europeans try to pretend otherwise, terrorism is no less of a problem today compared to last year. If anything, terror is becoming an even greater security threat. ISIS and other Islamic terror organizations have an infinite pool of potential attackers to select from, and the EU, for fear of appearing politically incorrect for lack of a better term, is dragging its heels in monitoring the people who are potentially serious threats.
Today should serve as a wakeup call for Europe. The threats and problems which the EU have tried to keep hidden in the background still remain front and center. The responsibility for the Barcelona attack falls at least partly on Brussels which prefers to keep the collective EU head buried in the sand rather than confront terror as the danger that it is.
Monday was a dark day for Russia. An explosive device detonated on a crowded metro train as it departed from Sennaya Ploshchad station around 1430 local time. Eleven people were killed and over fifty injured to one degree or another. A second device was found at another metro station and defused before it could detonate. An investigation began immediately and it was not long before police labeled the incident a terror attack, specifically a suicide bombing. Today, Russian officials released the name of the bomber, Akbardzhon Dzhalilov, a 22 year old Central Asian national. Russian President Vladimir Putin was in the city at the time of the attack. It is not likely that there is a connection between his visit and the attack. Putin being in St Petersburg yesterday was merely a matter of happenstance.
Today, as St Petersburg attempts to return to normal amid increased security at transportation infrastructure locations there is speculation in the media on how the Russian government will respond to this terrorist attack. Russia is no stranger to terrorism and past attacks have favored transportation locations. They are especially soft targets with large amounts of people coming and going. Security is porous under the best conditions, however. It is simply not possible to screen each and every person stepping into or out of a metro station, bus terminal, or airport. Yesterday’s attack was the latest of many against transportation locations in Russia. One of the most infamous attacks was the 2009 bombing of the Nevsky Express train running between Moscow and St Petersburg that killed 29 people. Islamic militants from the North Caucasus were responsible for that attack.
The St Petersburg attack also reaffirms the grim reality that Russia has been wrestling with a terror problem long before it became involved in the Syrian conflict. The majority of bombers and attackers that have struck Russian targets have come from the North Caucasus region, a hotbed of instability and Islamic insurgency for decades, if not centuries. Many of the men and women responsible for launching terror attacks on Russian soil have come from this region or from Central Asia.
International reaction was swift in coming. Leaders from Europe to the United States expressed their remorse and offered aid if possible. President Trump spoke on the phone with Putin and personally extended his condolences. Combatting terrorism is one issue the US and Russia seem to agree on. Relations between the two nations have deteriorated in recent years, yet it’s the hope of many observers that fighting terrorism will provide some common ground for Washington and Moscow to build upon in the future.