Tag Archives: Attack

Maoist insurgency to remain significant internal security risk in central India despite growing security offensive – India Analysis

Executive Summary:

  • On April 3, dozens were killed as Maoist militants ambushed a contingent of security forces in Chhattisgarh’s Bastar region in the most deadly attack since 2017, underscoring continued tactical capabilities despite leadership losses and ceding significant territory in recent years.
  • The latest ambush highlighted the authorities’ flawed intelligence gathering and limited operational competencies in Maoist strongholds, largely due to their lack of knowledge of the terrain, compounded by support from local tribes for Maoist elements.
  • Going forward, insurgent attacks are expected to recur in central India, as Maoists make a concentrated effort to portray strength and bolster recruitment amid a tightening security grid in neighboring states that have forced cadres to retreat to Chhattisgarh.
  • Travel to Delhi and other major Indian cities can continue, while travelers are advised to maintain general vigilance for security risks associated with potential insurgent threats targeting government buildings, security installations, and large crowded public places.

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Current Situation:

  • On April 3, 22 soldiers were killed and 31 injured following an encounter with Maoist insurgents along the border between Sukma and Bijapur districts in Chhattisgarh’s southern Bastar region. Nearly 400 Maoists ambushed a joint contingent of forces conducting an anti-Maoist operation, leading to a three-hour encounter. Maoists in an official statement claimed that four of their members were killed in the clashes, contradicting the government’s earlier announcement that 12 Maoists were killed.
  • The attack came amid days of counterinsurgency operations in the region, with reports indicating that several teams of around 2,000 security personnel were deployed. Operations were ongoing following intelligence reports stating the presence of Maoist squads along with Madvi Hidma, the commander of the Maoists’ People’s Liberation Guerrilla Army (PLGA) Battalion No. 1, who has been linked to major attacks since 2010. The latest intelligence suggested his location in the forests in Bijapur, along with a large number of Maoist cadres. The April 3 attack was reportedly orchestrated by Hidma.
  • This incident closely followed the first major Maoist attack in nearly a year, during which five security personnel were killed and 14 injured in Chhattisgarh’s Narayanpur district, on March 23.

Madvi Hidma


Background:

  • The left-wing extremist (LWE) movement is rooted in the violent rural community uprisings against landlords in West Bengal’s Naxalbari area in 1967. It has taken several forms over the years but gained momentum after two Maoist groups merged to establish the Communist Party of India (Maoists) [CPI (Maoists)] in 2004.
  • Under the banner of the CPI (Maoists), insurgents conducted violent attacks against security forces and state installations, which included low-intensity guerrilla ambushes and large-scale attacks. The violence has claimed the lives of thousands of security personnel and civilians over the years, with the insurgency being termed as the “single biggest internal-security challenge” by former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. During its peak years, Maoists were active in more than 200 districts across more than 20 states in India.
  • The rebel movement has waned since 2010 due to a concentrated effort by security forces to crack down on LWE groups while simultaneously conducting on-ground development projects. As of 2020, there were 90 Maoist-affected districts in 11 states, with the 30 worst-affected districts largely concentrated in Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand, followed by Andra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Odisha, and Telangana. While incidents of violence have significantly reduced since 2004-2010, Maoists continue to carry out deadly attacks against the state apparatus, with several major ambushes recorded over the last decade.

Major Maoist attacks and death tolls in Chhattisgarh


Assessments & Forecast:

Maoists look to demonstrate continued capabilities despite operational setbacks 

  1. The Maoist attack on April 3 is highly notable given the significant number of casualties, making it the most deadly LWE encounter since the 2017 attack in Sukma. The latest plot appeared to be a calculated and well-planned ambush, with reports indicating that the insurgents carried out a “U-shaped” trap, wherein rebels lured the team of security personnel into flat land before firing at them from the surrounding high ground. These developments, coupled with the attack just weeks prior on March 23, suggest an effort by Maoists to project their continued operational capabilities.
  2. This was likely informed by the fact that LWE activities, which have been on a declining trend in recent years, were further hit by the strict nationwide lockdown imposed at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. The movement restrictions that included strict controls at inter-district and inter-state borders served to constrict the Maoists’ supply chains for food, medicines, and other essential commodities, thereby, significantly hampering their capabilities. The insurgents reportedly also faced difficulties in procuring weapons from their arms factories in Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand, further impeding their capacity to conduct tactical offensives.
  3. The latest attacks are also notable as they were timed to coincide with the annual Tactical Counter Offensive Campaign (TCOC) from March to June, the core of the Maoists’ strategy, during which insurgents carry out recruitment drives and conduct major plots to showcase their tactical proficiency. This is relevant since there was reportedly a 40 percent decline in violence during the 2020 TCOC period as compared to the year prior. The alleged use of light machine guns (LMGs), IEDs, and crude rockets during the April 3 ambush also serves to display the Maoists’ capacities.

 

The latest attack highlights major lapses in counterinsurgency intelligence and operations in Maoist strongholds

  1. While the Chhattisgarh state government ruled out intelligence and operational failure as the reason behind the April 3 encounter, the details of the attack that dealt heavy casualties to security forces suggest otherwise. The information regarding the presence of Maoist commander Hidma and other cadres in the area was not incorrect but the ambush indicates that the intelligence was flawed in terms of the intention and scale of the Maoist presence in the region, resulting in security forces walking into a trap.
  2. There are two main reasons behind the recent tactical failure. Firstly, security forces in Chhattisgarh are largely dependent on human intelligence to gather information about Maoists. This serves as a major problem in Bastar, a Maoist bastion, where the insurgents have strong support from the locals who keep them informed of security movements. This was also evidenced by the fact that Maoists allegedly vacated locals from the villages near the encounter zone days before the ambush to prevent civilian casualties. Such acts are liable to heighten goodwill towards the rebels among the villagers in Bastar, ensuring future support and possibly boosting recruitment.
  3. Secondly, the Maoist rebels have an undisputed advantage vis-a-vis knowledge of the terrain since the cadres are largely composed of individuals from the area, including Hidma, who was reportedly born in Sukma. In this context, the deployment of 2,000 security personnel in the weeks before the attack was a major oversight in the counterinsurgency operation. The large number of troops moving in the Maoist stronghold lands was a highly overt operation , underscoring the difficulty in formulating an effective strategy in countering the insurgents in Chhattisgarh’s Bastar region.
  4. FORECASTUnless security forces recalibrate their strategy and intelligence gathering techniques in the stronghold of Bastar, the Maoist insurgency is expected to remain a major threat in central India. Instead of conducting large operations, smaller special operations units are more likely to succeed in infiltrating the stronghold and carrying out targeted operations against key Maoist leaders. This is especially given reports that top leaders like Hidma are reportedly protected by a multi-layered security cover, making it particularly hard to breach with direct offensives. Authorities are also seeing problems due to their inability to adequately adopt a more population-focused approach, which includes development strategies in the tribal regions, to sway local sentiment away from the Maoists.

Maoist insurgency - Affected states in India

 

Insurgency attacks to sustain for foreseeable future despite losing ground in recent years 

  1. The latest developments suggest that the Maoist insurgency is not in its last stages despite the steady decline in LWE-related incidents of violence since 2010. While the group has ceded significant territory and lost several leaders in recent years, the outfit remains a major security threat in central India. That said, the recent incident does not signify that the outfit is regaining dominance or expanding into lost territories; rather, it points to a concerted effort to portray strength and bolster recruitment in the Maoist bastion amid a tightening security grid in neighboring states that has forced cadres to retreat to strongholds in Chhattisgarh.
  2. FORECAST: In this light, LWE attacks are expected to continue for the foreseeable future, especially in Maoists’ core areas where they have the capacity to conduct high-visibility attacks. This is particularly given the increasingly assertive tactics adopted under Basavaraj, the former head of the outfit’s Central Military Commission (CMC), who was appointed as chief of the CPI (Maoists) in 2018. His leadership reinvigorated violent plots by the group through large-scale IED-based attacks and multi-pronged ambushes on security forces as well as high-value targets, such as prominent politicians. Unconfirmed reports also indicate that Hidma is set to head the CMC, which oversees all guerrilla activities in India, increasing the risk of attacks in restive regions.
  3. FORECAST: While insurgents are expected to predominantly attack security operatives and the state apparatus, civilians residing or traveling in Maoist-affected regions can be potential targets, particularly if they are suspected of being police informants or of holding links to the government. Maoists may also target infrastructure projects as well as local industries and businesses in a bid to extort money. In the near term, security forces are liable to increase the frequency and intensity of anti-Maoist operations in Chhattisgarh, as well as in other Maoist-affected regions in the “Red Corridor”, which mainly encompasses parts of Andhra Pradesh Bihar, Jharkhand, Maharashtra, Odisha, and Telangana. Such measures may include intensified combing operations and the deployment of additional security personnel, increasing the risk of clashes.

Recommendations:

  1. Those operating or residing in Chhattisgarh over the coming months are advised to maintain heightened vigilance, particularly in rural districts, due to the risk of Maoist attacks and the threat of collateral damage from increased security operations.
  2. Travel to Delhi and other major Indian cities can continue, while travelers are advised to maintain general vigilance for security risks associated with potential insurgent threats targeting government buildings, security installations, and large crowded public places.
  3. We advise against all nonessential travel to rural and tribal areas of Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, West Bengal, and Odisha states given their restricted travel status with the government. Travel to urban areas, such as Bhubaneshwar, can continue while maintaining heightened vigilance.
  4. It is advised to consult with India’s Bureau of Immigration for a full list of restricted areas within India which travelers must obtain special permission to visit.
  5. Given the continued militant threat in India, maintain heightened vigilance for suspicious individuals and unattended baggage, particularly in public places including major hotels, government installations, transport hubs, markets, restaurants, entertainment venues, and places of worship.

Killing of at least 137 civilians in Tahoua Region on March 21 highlights role of ethnicity, communal conflicts in ongoing insurgency – Niger Analysis

Executive Summary

  • The killing of at least 137 civilians, primarily Tuareg, in Tahoua Region marks the deadliest ever militant attack in Niger. It aligns with a recent trend of high-casualty attacks against civilians in Niger in 2021 and is a notable departure from the Islamic State in Greater Sahara’s (ISGS) usual modus operandi of only small-scale violence against the civilians in Niger.
  • This lends credence to sources indicating that the attacks were perpetrated by local militias affiliated with the ISGS, suggesting that the attack may not have been motivated by jihadist ideology or ordered by central command but rather was conducted independently by the militia in pursuit of personal or communal aims.
  • The precedent of hostilities between the Tuareg and the Fulani communities in the Tahoua Region suggests that a Fulani militia may have been responsible and portends a spate of reprisals and attacks over the coming weeks. This aligns with the broader Sahelian trend of ethnically motivated violence against civilians, with communal militias being a large contributor of insecurity across Mali, Burkina Faso, and Niger.
  • We advise against all travel to Niger’s Tillaberi and Tahoua regions in the west along the borders of Mali and Burkina Faso, with the exception of Niamey, due to the ongoing risk of militancy.

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Please be advised

  • Reports indicate that at least 137 civilians, primarily of Tuareg ethnicity, were killed by armed men on motorbikes who attacked Intazayene, Bakorat, and Wistane in Tillia Department in Niger’s Tahoua region on March 21.
  • Some sources indicate that the attack was perpetrated by militias affiliated with Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS), with one source stating that the militia responsible for the attack started associating with the ISGS In 2018.
  • Sources from March 23 indicate that Jamaat Nusrat al-Islam waal Muslimeen (JNIM) denied perpetrating the attacks and promised to take revenge on those responsible.

Location of armed attacks in Niger on March 21

Assessments & Forecast

  1. These coordinated raids, with 137 dead and the death toll still likely to rise, mark the deadliest attack on Nigerien soil since the beginning of the jihadist insurgency. It is particularly notable that the attack targeted civilians, primarily ethnic Tuareg, which aligns with the recent trend established by the January 2 attack that killed 100 civilians and the March 16 attack that killed 58, both in Tillaberi Region’s Ouallam Department. While violence against civilians perpetrated by the jihadists has always been prevalent in Niger, predominantly in the form of militant raids and assassinations of local leaders and government collaborators, this violence had largely been small-scale before 2021. The Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS) was likely oriented toward presenting the group as a viable alternative to state presence to local communities in western Niger. Thus, these recent attacks are a marked departure from the group’s usual modus operandi in Niger.
  2. This lends credence to reports suggesting that the attacks were conducted by local communal militias affiliated with the ISGS. There is an important distinction between ISGS and affiliated militias conducting the attack because it potentially implies that the attack was not ordered by the ISGS leadership, but was rather carried out by the militias autonomously. This highlights a broader theme of local militias affiliated with larger jihadist groups sometimes acting independently from the central command, with their actions motivated by personal and communal grievances and not jihadist ideology or strategy. This potentially explains some of the larger casualty attacks, and even some smaller-scale raids, against civilians that have not been claimed by the jihadist groups over the past years. The leadership of the jihadist groups may tacitly support the militias’ activities since they serve to intimidate the population, making them more susceptible to the jihadists’ overtures of protection. However, the jihadists likely want to maintain some plausible deniability as they recruit from numerous ethnic communities, some of which have long-standing disputes.
  3. Within this context, the latest attack targeting the Tuareg in Niger was likely rooted in communal and local conflicts, possibly over some resource dispute or as a reprisal for some action perpetrated by Tuareg militiamen. The assailants likely belonged to a militia that was ethnically Fulani and the attack was probably a manifestation of the cyclical violence between the Arab and Fulani militias in Tahoua Region, given the precedent of hostilities between the two communities, with multiple attacks and reprisals reported over the past years. The conflict between the two communities has been heightened since 2017 when the Arab Malian militias, sanctioned to operate in the country by the Nigerien government, were perceived to be indiscriminately targeting the Fulani under the guise of fighting militancy. To that point, the attack aligns with the broader Sahelian trend of high-casualty attacks against civilians being ethnically motivated, with communal militias being a large contributor to the ongoing violence and insecurity across Mali, Burkina Faso, and Niger. Militants exploit this dynamic by escalating communal hostilities and engendering perceptions of marginalization to exacerbate insecurity and facilitate recruitment and their entrenchment.
  4. The authorities’ hardline response exacerbates this tension, thereby benefiting the militants by further giving rise to sentiments of disenfranchisement. This was exemplified in Niger when the government authorized Malian ethnic militias to operate in the country in 2017-2018 to combat rising jihadism. These militias, which were largely composed of ethnic Tuareg and Daosahak, engaged in biased targeting, extrajudicial killings, and large-scale violence, primarily against the Fulani, leading to the creation of communal militias and accelerating the militarization of the border. While the government attempted to take a more conciliatory approach towards the border communities following this, the perception that the government-sanctioned the targeting of border communities, particularly the Fulani, had taken root, driving both the recently formed and existing militias to align with the ISGS. In fact, the militia allegedly responsible for the latest attack in Tahoua was reportedly formed in the early 2000s but started being associated by the ISGS in 2018, likely in the aftermath of the Malian militia’s activities.
  5. FORECAST: In line with the constant spate of attacks and retaliation that characterize these ethnic conflicts, the latest attack is liable to elicit a swift reprisal. Arab militias operating in the area are liable to pursue the militia responsible for the attack and may even target civilians, likely Fulanis. Even JNIM may get involved given leader Iyad ag Ghaly’s Tuareg heritage and as suggested by their denial of complicity and promise of revenge. This has the potential to devolve into clashes between JNIM and ISGS, as the latter is likely to take umbrage with JNIM operating within its strongholds. As such, insecurity is likely to persist in the Tchintabaraden Department along the Malian border over the coming weeks.
  6. FORECAST: The government is also likely to intensify operations in Tahoua Region to catch the perpetrators of the attack over the coming weeks. This is especially likely since newly elected President Mohamed Bazoum will likely want to demonstrate his ability to handle the ongoing insurgency. These operations may succeed in temporarily incapacitating the activities of the armed groups operating in the region, however, they are unlikely to be successful in curtailing the groups’ activities in the long-term. This aligns with the limitation of hard-line military response against the jihadists and other armed actors to adequately combat the insurgency since it fails to address the conditions that lead to radicalization and ethnic conflicts.

Recommendations

  1. We advise against all travel to Niger’s Tillaberi and Tahoua regions in the west along the borders of Mali and Burkina Faso, with the exception of Niamey, due to the ongoing risk of militancy.
  2. Avoid all travel to the border region between Mali, Niger, and Burkina Faso, given the extreme risks of militancy, ethnic conflict, and violent crime.
  3. Travel to Niamey can continue while adhering to stringent security precautions regarding crime.

Car Ramming Attack on Parliament Illustrates the Continuing Impact of Declining Islamic State’s Ideology on Disenchanted Migrants – London Alert

Please be advised

At 07:37 (local time) on August 14, an individual drove a vehicle at speed towards a security barrier outside Parliament, Westminster, London. Three people were lightly injured and security forces immediately arrested the individual without further violence. The area was closed to the public for several hours while security forces determined that the vehicle posed no further risk and no weapons were inside.

The Met Police stated later on August 14 that the incident was being considered a militant attack and that the suspect was refusing to cooperate with investigations.

Reports from the morning of August 15 state that the individual is 29-years-old, originally from Sudan, living in Birmingham. Footage from the area reportedly shows the vehicle used in the attack circling Parliament several times before the incident took place.

Security forces reportedly carried out raids on residences in the central UK cities of Birmingham and Nottingham as part of the investigation into a supposed militant attack in London on August 14.

Location of militant incident in London on August 14

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Assessments

The suspect’s lack of resistance to being arrested and absence of weapons inside the car differentiate the incident from recent Islamist militant attacks. Therefore, while he may have been inspired by previous vehicular attacks, it remains unlikely that he had direct links with an Islamist group, such as Islamic State (IS). As with previous similar incidents, it is possible that the attacker was suffering from a psychological disorder, which played a role in motivating the attack.

With that, the raids in Birmingham and Nottingham may have been precautionary and do not necessarily indicate the assailants links to an established or well-coordinated militant cell. However, there is a possibility that the individual was part of a small locally radicalized cell of untrained individuals who subscribe to the ideology of IS.

Given the details released about the suspect, the incident reiterates the risk of incitement to commit attacks among migrant populations who perceive themselves to be disenfranchised. This risk is amplified among young males, who are generally far more susceptible to feelings of frustration over such sentiments and are also more likely to become self-radicalized. Furthermore, the incident underscores that, even with the decline of the Islamic State, the aftereffects of their ideology and modus operandi on the collective consciousness of the West, particularly among disenchanted migrants, continues to inspire attacks.

The incident also reflects the popularity of the vehicular method for those intending to carry out indiscriminate attacks, regardless of ideology. The popularity of the method stems from the ease with which attacks can be carried out and the difficulty for security forces to be warned before the incident

Despite the unlikelihood of the suspect being directly linked to an organized group, militant organizations, like IS, may attempt to claim responsibility or connection to the incident in order to increase perceptions of their threat in the UK and Europe in general.

Recommendations

Travel to London may continue while maintaining vigilance for possible militant related activity.

Alert authorities immediately to any suspicious behavior or items.

Barcelona stabbing, one year after La Rambla attack, underscores continuing link between psychological instability and militant style attacks – Spain Analysis

Current Situation

On August 20, around 05:00 (local time), an individual armed with a knife reportedly attempted to enter a police station in Cornella de Llobregat, Barcelona and attack personnel, while shouting “Allahu Akbar”, before being shot dead. Reports indicate that the attacker was of Algerian origin and had lived in the area for several years.

The incident is reportedly being treated as a militant attack by authorities. However, police have claimed that they have no reason to believe that there are any direct links to major militant networks or that the assailant was connected to the cell that carried out the Barcelona attacks one year earlier. In addition, the testimony of his ex-wife indicated that the attacker had recently come out as homosexual, and was reportedly experiencing serious psychological instability and was suicidal due to confusion over how this could fit in with his Muslim faith. Some sources within the investigation have claimed that they do not believe the attack to be linked to jihad.

On August 16, a pro-Islamic State (IS) group published a poster on social media calling for attacks targeting police in Spain in both English and Spanish.

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Background

The August 20 attack is the latest in a series of violent or militant-related incidents involving North Africans or individuals of North African origins in south and south-west Europe over the past year.

In addition, on July 22, a 29-year old Canadian national of Pakistani origin, Faisal Hussain, killed two and injured three in a shooting in Greektown, Toronto. Hussain was allegedly also known to have had a history of psychological instability and had reportedly expressed concerns about his employment and financial situation to a friend prior to the incident. On July 25, the Islamic State (IS)-linked media outlet, al Amaq, reported that the attack was carried out by a soldier of the Caliphate in response to their call to target citizens of coalition nations.

Assessments

Attack on police station underscores growing trend of violence copying Islamic State methods among psychologically unstable Muslim males

Despite claims that the attacker had a number of problems in his personal life, the possibility of links to wider militant trends cannot be ruled out. On the contrary, the fact that the attacker shouted “Allahu Akbar” and carried out the attack on the specific target that pro-IS groups had called for four days prior indicates that, even though he was likely not linked to any established militant cell, broader ideas of jihad informed part of his motivation. That is to say, while he may not have been looking to aid the goals of the Islamic State or avenge the deaths of Muslims, it is likely that, within his psychological instability, when thoughts of suicide arose, the concept of carrying out a jihadist attack was seen as a viable method. Possibly copying previous ‘suicide by cop’ attacks, in which the perpetrator intends to be killed by security forces. This assessment is further bolstered by the reports that his confusion over homosexuality was, in part, caused by an uncertainty about how it fit in with Islam.

With this in mind, the incident comes amid a continuing trend of psychologically unstable individuals, most of whom are migrants who adhere to the Muslim faith, carrying out attacks that mimic IS-inspired lone wolf incidents. Such attacks tend to be conducted by young males with mental health issues, who are, in part, influenced by the concept of jihadist militancy as a form of anti-establishment violence that has entered the West’s collective consciousness. Psychologically unstable individuals, and immigrants who perceive themselves to be disenfranchised and socially isolated from their community, whether it’s the Muslim or wider community, are copying IS-methods of attacks. In this sense, the media coverage of the various IS shootings and the general global trend of young men using mass violence as an outlet for frustration and disenfranchisement have merged.

Regardless of the psychological issues of the attacker, the fact that the incident came following the call from pro-IS groups means that online jihadist communities, and even Islamic State-linked media organizations, are likely to attribute the event to part of their ideology and larger plan. This is especially the case given the timing of the incident around the anniversary of the August 2017 attacks in Barcelona and Cambrils. In turn, this will perpetuate the aforementioned trend merging psychological instability and attacks that appear to be militant in nature.

Finally, the August 20 attack in Barcelona constitutes the latest in an ongoing trend of incidents related to violent attacks linked to Islamism from within the local North African community in north-eastern Spain and southern France. IS and IS-linked operatives have put a particular emphasis on recruiting in the region, due to the fertile ground for radicalization born from the feelings of disenfranchisement in both the established North African community and among North African migrants. These sentiments, which come partly due to perceptions of otherness within Spanish society and partly due to pressures put on from the local community, have the potential to lead young men towards violence, sometimes personally and sometimes linked to a militant organization.

Recommendations

Travel to Spain can continue while maintaining vigilance, due to the elevated threat of militancy.

Lone-wolf attacks underscore threat from radicals in Europe, despite dwindling connections with militant groups – France Analysis

Executive Summary

The uptick in stabbing and vehicular attacks in France bears a strong resemblance to previous Islamic State (IS)-inspired and linked attacks.

This wave follows the August 22 call to action from IS leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who asked supporters to “strike the West” and emphasized vehicular attacks in particular.

IS appears to have been particularly successful in radicalizing young Muslim immigrants in France.

Authorities are likely downplaying the militancy links in order to offset the increasing media attention surrounding such attacks.

Travel to France may continue while remaining cognizant of the increased threat of militant attacks. 

Current Situation

On September 14, a car-ramming attempt was recorded along Rue Racine in Nimes, southern France, during the early morning hours. The assailant reportedly intended to drive his car into pedestrians before being stopped by security barriers at around 01:30 (local time). The suspect was consequently subdued by locals in the area and later arrested by police. Reports quoting local eyewitnesses during the incident stated that the suspect shouted “Allahu Akbar”.

On September 10, an individual was detained for reportedly forcibly driving through multiple barriers and entering the runway of Lyon-Saint-Exupery Airport (LYS) in Lyon. The suspect was subsequently arrested following an extensive police pursuit. The incident caused significant delays and cancellations to flights. Following the arrest, a member of Lyon Prosecutor’s office reportedly stated that the assailant had alluded to a militant motive, claiming he was instructed to carry out the incident by Allah. However, this was later retracted.

The incident followed a September 9 stabbing attack in the 19th Arrondissement of Paris, when an assailant reportedly stabbed and injured at least seven people, including two British tourists, on Quai de Loire Street and Rue Henri Nogueres during the late night hours. The suspect was reportedly an Afghan national.

Authorities appeared reluctant to label all three attacks as being militant-related, calling the Nimes attack a “deliberate homicide”, and saying that the assailant who carried out the September 9 Paris stabbing attack did not appear to have militant motives. All three incidents were carried out by individuals of Muslim backgrounds and all three methods align with modus operandi that has been explicitly and repeatedly called for by the Islamic State jihadist group.

Background

On August 22, the (IS) al-Furqan media released an audio recording of the group’s leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who called upon the group’s supporters to “strike the West” through stabbings, bombings, and vehicular rammings, particularly emphasizing the last method. Al-Baghdadi then stated that “one such attack equals one thousand attacks in the Middle East and North Africa”.

On August 23, an assailant killed one and injured two in a knife attack in Trappes, Yveline, located 26 km from central Paris. The attacker reportedly shouted ‘Allahu Akbar’ and threatened police officers who arrived at the scene, and was later neutralized. Shortly after, IS-linked media reported that the assailant was a soldier of the Caliphate and conducted the attack in response to the group’s calls to “target the coalition countries”, referring to the US-led coalition of states that orchestrated a number of airstrikes against IS strongholds in 2014. Following the 2014 offensive, an IS spokesman had specifically singled out France as a target for future attacks.

Assessments & Forecast

Series of attacks likely lone-wolf incidents inspired by Islamic State methods and ideology, even if not ordered by IS in Middle East

Despite authorities’ reluctance to label the above-mentioned incidents as being IS-inspired militant attacks, various factors indicate that they may, in fact, have some connection to the group’s ideology and professed methods. In particular, the assailants resorted to stabbing and vehicular attacks in locations with a considerable civilian presence, which, in recent times, have been IS-linked lone-wolf actors’ chosen modus operandi. The assailants also chose to indiscriminately target these civilians and intended to cause widespread harm.

The known profiles of the attackers, who belong to immigrant communities who widely follow Islam, and the chanting of ‘Allahu Akbar’ during the attacks in at least two confirmed cases, is consistent with the details from similar previous IS-linked attacks. This lends credence to the possibility that the attackers’ actions were informed by a religious and ideological motive, in addition, it is equally likely that psychological instability also played a part in their motivations.

The link to IS is also strengthened by Baghdadi’s specific emphasis on the effectiveness of vehicular attacks in the August 22 call to action, which in turn was likely precipitated by the April 2018 airstrikes carried out by France and other countries in Syria, in response to the alleged use of chemical weapons by the state. In this case, the call was rather a wider propaganda piece, which was answered, and there is no evidence to suggest that any of the attackers had specific contact with IS in the Middle East or had been in touch with handlers.

Attacks likely catalyzed by individual feelings of disenfranchisement within community, which benefit IS’ recruitment

Due to the targeted locations being distant from one another, and absence of uncovered network between the suspects, it is likely that the attacks were not related, despite being conducted in quick succession. However, the attacks point to the potential success of IS propaganda and recruiting in France. The group has emerged as a viable outlet for Muslims who feel alienated from the wider community, exploiting feelings of disenfranchisement by offering them an alternative, in terms of belonging to the larger radical Islamist community.

Particularly, feelings of alienation among Muslim immigrants have likely been heightened by government policies such as the 2010 ban on religious face veils and head coverings, seen as being exclusionary, which have consistently prompted a backlash from both minority communities and their supporters, as well as anti-immigrant groups. Domestic factors such as a high unemployment rate and job discrimination against Muslims, religion-based tensions, as well as the general political culture of government criticism, also continue to contribute to making the immigrant population more susceptible to radicalization.

As has been seen in the past, IS also provides a useful narrative to psychologically-disturbed individuals, who then carry out copycat lone-wolf attacks using IS modus operandi, seeking to capitalize on media attention surrounding the IS ideology.

Authorities seeking to minimize impact of attacks through reluctance to make militant connection to avoid further media attention for such groups

Further, it is notable that authorities have not indicated that any of the September attacks were militant-related, despite suggestions, as evidenced above, that the assailants were at least influenced by IS, if not directly linked. This reflects a reluctance to label such lone-wolf attacks as Islamist militancy, possibly to discourage the media narrative against, and resultant disaffection within, Muslim immigrant communities in the country.

This unwillingness to attribute the incidents to militancy could also be a result of a conscious government decision to reduce the inadvertent aiding and abetting of IS’ operations, as the group has been known to use such official statements after attacks to legitimize itself as a threat to the West. Additionally, the government could be seeking to avoid heightened criticism of its security policy, especially amid the current administration’s declining public approval ratings.

FORECAST: IS’ online presence and recruitment methods, in addition to the persistent domestic factors alienating the Muslim community in France, the global trend of young men using mass violence as an outlet for psychological frustration, and IS has tapping into this trend to further its agenda, makes it likely that further such attacks will occur in France over the coming weeks and months. Given the apparent shift in executive security policy towards mitigating the media clout of militant attacks in general, it is likely that authorities will continue miIslamist islamist motives in such attacks.

Recommendations

Travel to France may continue while remaining cognizant of the increased threat of militant attacks.

Recent Hizbul Ahrar militant activity highlights expanding nationwide sphere of operations – Pakistan Alert

Please be advised

On October 3, a police sub-inspector was killed in Ahsanabad area of Karachi by two unidentified assailants riding a motorcycle. The attackers reportedly opened indiscriminate fire, before fleeing the scene. Hizbul Ahrar (HuA), a splinter group from the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan Jamaat-ul-Ahrar (TTP-JA), claimed the attack on social media. Authorities have yet to confirm the identity of the assailants, as well as the veracity of the claim.

On September 20, both the HuA and the TTP-Hafiz faction claimed a bomb blast against security forces in Spinwam, in North Waziristan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) Province. The TTP and HuA both claimed an attack in Mastung on August 19, which was one of their earliest conflicting claims.

On June 2, the HuA claimed an attack against a paramilitary checkpost in Hub, Lasbela District of Balochistan, which lies at the border of Karachi, Sindh Province.

In May, the HuA claimed a suicide attack against a bus in Attock in Punjab Province, following which the Counter Terrorism Department (CDT) arrested five militant operatives on September 17 planning to carry an attack in Rawalpindi.

On January 12, the TTP claimed responsibility for the killing of a policeman in North Nazimabad area of Karachi.

Assessments & Forecast

The latest claim by the HuA is highly notable, given that it is the first such claim by the group in Karachi and in Sindh Province. The group has typically confined its operations to northern and western Pakistan, in provinces such as KP, Balochistan, and the former Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), in which the outfit has increased its operations in recent weeks. The latest attack in Karachi, combined with the May attack and the arrest of five of its operatives in Punjab Province, is indicative of the group’s attempt to increase its sphere of operations and to push for a presence in major civilian centers such in Karachi and Rawalpindi.

Over the recent weeks, the HuA also appear to be increasingly challenging the factions of its former patron, TTP, by claiming attacks in TTP-held territories and by challenging the group’s claims. This was witnessed in the Spinwam attack on September 20, which occurred close to Data Khel, an area predominantly controlled by TTP factions. While Karachi has frequently witnessed attacks by TTP and its affiliates against law enforcement, the recent HuA attack of October 3 may be another indicator of the growing competition between the groups in a new sphere. It is also likely that HuA’s operations in Sindh and Punjab are aided by the defections of TTP-JA personnel to the new breakaway group.

The modus operandi used is notable given that HuA methods that primarily use suicide bombings or IED attack. Motorcycle-borne shooter attacks are more characteristic of Karachi-based militants and criminal elements, which may indicate potential cooperation between these elements and the HuA. Should HuA be adding newer modus operandi to their current tactics, there is a threat that such attacks may be replicated by its cells in other parts of the country. Additionally, while the group has previously stated that all attacks will focus on government targets over civilian, the indiscriminate nature of their plot execution increases the risk of collateral damage, as the attacks have taken place in civilian-populated areas. FORECAST: Over the coming months, the authorities are likely to conduct operations in Sindh Province and along the border areas with Balochistan, in attempt to dismantle potential HuA cells and prevent infiltrations from Balochistan and the Afghan border regions into Sindh.

Recommendations

We advise against all nonessential travel to Pakistan given the heightened threat of militant attacks, criminality, kidnappings and sectarian tensions throughout the country.

Throughout Pakistan, we advise [as part of our security consulting services] minimizing non-essential movement given the daily nationwide threat of militant attacks and violent criminality.

As a general precaution, maintain heightened vigilance in the vicinity of security detachments, government buildings, public areas, diplomatic installations, news stations, military bases, restaurants, high-value soft targets like schools, shopping centers, and religious centers including mosques as they remain potential targets for militant attacks.

Those operating or residing in Sindh Province are advised to maintain vigilance in light of the recent HuA plot and the potential for growing competition between militant groups in Karachi, which may result in an increase in plots over the near term.