Editor’s Note: Peter Bergen is CNN’s national security analyst, a vice president at New America and a professor of practice at Arizona State University. He is the author of the new book, “United States of Jihad: Investigating America’s Homegrown Terrorists.”
Peter Bergen says an ISIS spokesman called for attacks during the holy month
ISIS has been suffering reverses on the ground militarily
In the past two weeks, ISIS has conducted lethal terrorist attacks in Bangladesh, Iraq, Jordan, Yemen, and also, very likely, in Saudi Arabia and Turkey.
On Thursday, a senior government official said there is strong evidence of ISIS involvement in planning the attack on the Istanbul airport. Still, ISIS has not claimed responsibility for the most lethal terrorist attack ever at an airport.
On Friday, ISIS did claim responsibility for the attack by multiple gunmen at a café in the diplomatic area of Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh, that killed twenty.
On Saturday ISIS also claimed responsibility for a suicide car bomb attack in Iraq’s capital Baghdad that killed at least 125 people, including 25 children.
On Monday suicide attackers targeted the US consulate in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, a Shia mosque in Qatif in eastern Saudi Arabia, and Saudi security officers in Medina, the second-holiest site in Islam, killing four. While ISIS has not claimed responsibility for these attacks, it is unlikely that any other jihadist group would carry out a suicide attack in Medina, given its sacred status. For ISIS the targets selected for attack are key targets for the group: the Shia, Americans, and the Saudi government.
None of this should be too surprising. After all, ISIS explicitly called for terrorist attacks during the holy month of Ramadan, which commenced four weeks ago.
Istanbul airport attacked
Abu Muhammad al-Adnani, the spokesman for ISIS, released an audiotape in late May in which he called for attacks, saying, “Ramadan, the month of conquest and jihad… make it a month of calamity everywhere for the non-believers.”
Seemingly a result of that call, ISIS or its affiliated groups started carrying out multiple attacks across the Middle East. Suicide attackers blew themselves up in a Christian village in Lebanon close to the Syrian border, killing five people.
Last week, a wave of ISIS suicide attacks in Yemen in the southeastern city of Mukalla killed more than 40.
ISIS claimed credit for a suicide attack that had recently killed seven Jordanian security personnel at a border crossing between Jordan and Syria.
The Istanbul airport was attacked by three suicide bombers who were almost certainly dispatched by ISIS.
In the past three weeks, ISIS-inspired attackers also struck in the West, first in Orlando, Florida, where 49 people were killed in a gay nightclub – the most lethal terrorist attack in the United States since 9/11 – and, the day after the Orlando attack, an ISIS terrorist killed a police official and his partner in a town outside Paris.
For Islamist terrorist groups such as ISIS, the holy month of Ramadan – a time of fasting and prayer for the vast majority of Muslims – is seen as a particularly auspicious time to launch terrorist attacks.
This is especially the case around the 27th day of Ramadan, the “Night of Power,” which is a particularly sacred day for the world’s Muslims as it was the time that the Prophet Mohammed started receiving the first verses of the Koran.
On the Night of Power in 2000, which that year fell on January 3, al Qaeda militants attempted to launch a suicide attack against the American warship USS The Sullivans off the coast of Yemen with a bomb-filled boat. The attack failed.
This year, the 27th day of Ramadan fell on July 2. This is the same day that the ISIS attackers in Bangladesh completed their massacre at the restaurant in Dhaka. The militants were all killed by Bengali forces.
The 27th day of Ramadan is also the same day that ISIS launched the attack that killed more than 200 in Baghdad.
If indeed the attacks at Istanbul’s airport are the work of ISIS, it would fit into the terrorist organization’s current strategy to attack commercial aviation targets. In March, two ISIS suicide bombers launched the attacks at the Brussels airport that killed 15.
In October, ISIS’ Egyptian affiliate brought down a Russian commercial jet leaving Sinai airport, killing all 224 people on board, the deadliest attack on commercial aviation since 9/11.
ISIS also has ample motivation to want to attack Turkey. Where the Turks once had a laissez-faire attitude to the tens of thousands of “foreign fighters” who have transited Turkey to join ISIS in neighboring Syria, now the Turks have substantially cut down on ISIS recruits traveling though their country.
In 2015, ISIS, in one of its English language online publications, advised would-be foreign fighters hoping to join the group that, “Turkish intelligence agencies are in no way friends of the Islamic State [ISIS].”
Turkey has also allowed the United States to fly bombing missions aimed at ISIS from airports on Turkish soil.
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Not coincidentally, the latest wave of attacks comes as ISIS continues to suffer reversals on the battlefield in both Iraq and Syria. Indeed, last month Gen. David Petraeus, the former U.S. commanding general in Iraq, predicted in an interview with me that ISIS could lose its de facto capital, the important Iraqi city of Mosul, before the end of the Obama administration’s term in January 2017.
Such battlefield losses may serve to accelerate ISIS-directed and -inspired attacks outside of Iraq and Syria.