KUWAIT CITY, June 3, (Agencies): Despite a spate of bloody incidents that made global headlines, the total number of deaths in terrorist attacks fell last year by 14 percent, a US government report said Thursday. While the Islamic State group remains the major threat and carried out devastating attacks in France, Lebanon and Turkey — violence and total deaths decreased in Pakistan, Iraq and Nigeria.
According to figures compiled for the US State Department, there was an average of 981 “terrorist attacks” per month worldwide in 2015, killing a total of 28,328 over the year. This represents 13 percent fewer attacks and 14 percent fewer deaths than in 2014, according to the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START).
The Government of Kuwait in 2015 continued to build and augment its capacity for counterterrorism and countering violent extremism (CVE). Despite efforts to detect and disrupt terrorist activities, June saw the most violent terrorist attack in recent memory when a Saudi Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) suicide bomber attacked the Imam Sadiq Mosque during Friday prayers in the Muslim Holy Month of Ramadan, killing 27 individuals — 18 Kuwaitis, three Iranians, two Indians, one Saudi, one Pakistani and one stateless Arab (bedoun) and wounding 227.
Those indicted included a Kuwaiti, a Pakistani and Saudi nationals, in addition to several bedoun. This case remained in the appeals process at the end of 2015. In November of the same year, the local media announced the conviction of five residents of Kuwait on terrorism finance charges. Later that month, an additional six individuals were arrested on charges of providing financial and material support to ISIL.
In response, the Government of Kuwait increased its emphasis on international counterterrorism cooperation and on internal CVE efforts, maintaining a robust counterterrorism relationship with the United States. This is in addition to taking several measures to improve the oversight and regulation of charitable fundraising, including monitoring transfers to international beneficiaries and regulating online donations and joined the Small Group of the Global Coalition to Counter ISIL, reflecting its contributions to several lines of effort of the counter-ISIL campaign.
In August, the Kuwait authorities disrupted a terrorist cell composed of 26 Kuwaitis (all Shiite), who had reportedly hidden a large amount of weapons, ammunition, and explosives at a farm near the Abdali border crossing with Iraq. In February 2015, the Parliament passed a law that ordered citizens to surrender all unlicensed weapons and explosives by June 22, penalizing wouldbe violators with fines and jail sentences.
In April, it passed a law that prescribed compulsory military service for all Kuwaiti males reaching 18 years of age.
In July, it passed a law mandating collection of DNA samples from all residents in order to facilitate comparison to samples collected from terrorist attack scenes.
In September, the Criminal Court sentenced to death eight of the 29 suspects accused of plotting the Imam Sadiq Mosque attack. It sentenced seven others to jail sentences of varying length and acquitted the remaining suspects. The Court of Appeals in December upheld the conviction and sentencing of two Kuwaiti citizens for joining and financially supporting ISIL.
However, entities and individuals within Kuwait continue to remain a funding source for terrorist and extremist groups. The Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor has taken several steps to regulate and monitor charitable fund-raising, and — in cooperation with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs — assure the legitimacy of foreign beneficiaries. In 2015, the Ministry detected 80 violations of illegal fundraising, leading to the dissolution of two licensed and a number of unlicensed charities. New regulations require individuals and organizations to register and apply for permits. The government in cooperation with the Interior and Social Affairs ministries has taken action against illegal fundraising by individuals, by unregistered groups, and in mosques during Ramadan.
The Government of Kuwait has organized a number of local counter-messaging campaigns — often focused on religion — which it supports, reportedly on radio, television, and billboards. Kuwait — a member of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation and the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism — cooperates regionally and internationally on counterterrorism issues, including in the Global Counterterrorism Forum. But while the global picture could be seen as encouraging, the figures record huge increases in indiscriminate political violence in Turkey, Bangladesh, Egypt, Syria and the Philippines.
The START figures were released Thursday as an annex to the State Department’s annual strategic assessment — “Country Reports on Terrorism” — prepared for the US Congress. This warned that the “global terrorist threat continued to evolve rapidly in 2015, becoming increasingly decentralized and diffuse.”
The report also placed some of the blame on nation states, warning that extremists exploit frustrations “where avenues for free and peaceful expression of opinion were blocked.” Where countries, including US allies, have rigged judicial systems and abuses by security forces and corrupt politicians go unchecked, violent non-state actors can win support. But the single greatest threat remains the Islamic State group and its growing legions of affiliates and supporters in the Middle East, Africa and South Asia.
The group has begun to lose ground to US-backed forces in its self-declared “caliphate” in Syria and Iraq, and it has begun to struggle to find funds, the report concludes. But the IS group has expanded its territory in Libya, and its branch in Egypt’s Sinai peninsula has gained strength, attacking local security forces and claiming the bombing of a Russian airliner.
The group has a small toehold in Afghanistan and in 2015 ordered or inspired attacks “by individuals or small groups of self-radicalized individuals in several cities around the world.” The Nigerian-based group Boko Haram pledged loyalty to the Islamic State in 2015, but has since come under increased military pressure from regional government forces.
Meanwhile, the IS group’s predecessor as public enemy number one, al-Qaeda, is seeking to mount a comeback and continues to inspire or order attacks, particularly in Yemen and East Africa. In other news, the Islamic State group is entering a new phase with an increased emphasis on attacking international civilian targets, according to a United Nations report circulated Thursday.
The report by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to the Security Council says the global threat from the Islamic State group remains high and continues to diversify even though its territorial expansion has been halted or even reversed in Iraq and Syria.
“Recent international attacks perpetrated by members of ISIL demonstrate that the terrorist group is now moving into a new phase, with the increased risk that well-prepared and centrally directed attacks on international civilian targets may become a more frequent occurrence,” the report states, using an acronym to refer to the group.
The report notes that in the last six months the Islamic State group has carried out attacks in 11 countries, excluding fighting in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Afghanistan or Libya, killing more than 500 people and injuring hundreds more.
It also said that an increasing number of “foreign terrorist fighters” were returning to their home countries and that while some had done so after becoming disillusioned with the group, many returned with the intent and capability to “conduct terrorist attacks in their country of origin or residence.”