Small Wars Journal

Potential Terrorist Activity During Ramadan 2016 and Beyond

Wed, 06/29/2016 - 5:56am

Potential Terrorist Activity During Ramadan 2016 and Beyond

James Emery

Ramadan is the most sacred time of the year to over 1.6 billion Muslims who are encouraged to focus on spiritual matters, sacrifice, and personal improvement during the month of fasting.  Islamic extremists will celebrate Ramadan by encouraging unwarranted attacks against Westerners, Shi'ites, and other perceived enemies.

During 2016, Ramadan occurs from the evening of June 5th until sunset July 5th in North America and Europe and one day later in Asia and the Middle East.  The actual starting and ending date may vary from one location to another, if residents rely upon the actual local sighting of the new crescent moon, rather than astronomical calculations.

Waging war during Ramadan is prohibited by the Qur’an. There are exceptions, noted in the second surah (chapter), verse 194 and verse 217, which Islamic extremists exploit to encourage attacks and martyrdom during the sacred month.  Ramadan has a bloody history of celebrated battles and recent carnage that date back to its earliest days, through numerous attacks that took place last year. 

Motivation for Attacks During Ramadan 2016

The Competition Between Islamic State and al-Qaeda

The Islamic State (also IS, ISIS, and Daesh) and al-Qaeda are fiercely competing for leadership of the global extremist jihadi movement.  They have been in competition with each other since ISIS was an affiliate of al-Qaeda.  They are competing for power and ranking, supporters and recruits, the allegiance of fighters and affiliates, media coverage and donations.  ISIS had been self-funding, but the drop in oil prices, combined with the detrimental impact of NATO and Russian combat activities, has reportedly reduced their monthly income by 40 percent.

The leadership of the Islamic State and al-Qaeda believe the best way to win the top ranking is by carrying out attacks against the West.  The United States and European countries are their most desirable targets, followed by attacks against Westerners anywhere in the world – from beach resorts and night clubs to countless soft targets for jihadi cells and lone wolves.

Affiliates and independent jihadi groups will exploit Ramadan to generate attention through murder and mayhem.  Small cells and lone wolves will use Ramadan as an incentive to carry out operations, with some hoping to salvage their wasted lives.

ISIS and al-Qaeda Desire to Strike the US on a Large Scale

The Islamic State and al-Qaeda have strong desire to carry out sensational 9/11 type of attacks against the United States.  Both groups have access to biological and chemical agents, along with the full spectrum of explosives, small arms, and a global network of jihadists, foreign fighters, and supporters.  They believe that attacks against their primary adversary, the United States, will provide the most media coverage and prestige, boosting their global ranking.

Historically, al-Qaeda has had a greater capacity to carry out large scale attacks, while the Islamic State’s command of social media provides them with scores of indigenous terrorist cells and lone wolves.

The Emphasis on Benefits Jihadists Receive for Martyrdom During Ramadan

Ramadan is the holiest month of the year to Muslims.  Sacrifice and good deeds done during Ramadan are believed to garner more merit from Allah than if they had been done in any other month of the year.  Islamic extremist will encourage Muslims and converts to receive additional merit in heaven and on earth by carrying out suicide attacks during this sacred month.

Lailat al-Qadr (Night of Power or Night of Destiny), in which Mohammad is believed to have received the first verses of the Qur’an from Allah, is the 27th day of Ramadan to most Sunnis.  It will begin on July 2nd in North American and Europe, and a day later in Asia and the Middle East.  It will carry over until sunrise of the following day.  Most Shi’ites celebrate it on the 23rd day of Ramadan, while other sects recognize one of the other odd days of Ramadan, within the last ten days of the sacred month.

The Qur’an states that good deeds and sacrifices performed during the Night of Power will garner benefits from Allah as though they were done for 30,000 nights (82 years).  Many Muslims will stay up all night praying.  Islamic extremists will encourage radicalized or despondent Muslims to carry out attacks during this sacred evening. 

During the Night of Power and the day after, I suggest a limited presence by Westerners - especially military and police - operating in Muslim communities in the US and abroad.  At the least the patrols will disrupt prayers and services; at worst, they will become targets of opportunity for motivated martyrs. The next day, Muslims will be trying to make up for lost sleep.  They will not want to see or hear from military, police, or other Westerners.

Islamic extremist will use Eid ul-Fitr, the festive three day celebration marking the end of Ramadan, as an added incentive to radicalized Muslims.  Eid ul-Fitr is Islam’s largest and most festive holiday.  It is a time when Muslim families, friends, neighbors, and others, come together to celebrate.  Jihadi extremists will tell would-be martyrs that their sacrifices during Ramadan will be discussed and honored – by their family, friends, and Muslims around the world – during Eid ul-Fitr. 

Enhanced glory in heaven and on earth provide added incentive for jihadists during Ramadan and Lailat al-Qadr.

Targets and Events that Islamic Extremists May Attack during Ramadan

The July 4th celebration in the United States, takes place over a four day weekend - Friday through Monday - generating larger, extended celebrations of this patriotic holiday.  This provides jihadi extremist with additional incentives and infinite targets.

Craving media coverage, Islamic extremists, including small cells and lone wolves, may focus on New York, Boston, Washington DC, Chicago, Los Angeles, and other major markets.  However, every community is in play, especially given the number of foreign fighters, radicalized Muslim immigrants and their descendents, and American converts, who will be encouraged to carry out terrorist attacks within about 200 miles of their local communities.

The 2016 Union of European Football Associations (UEFA), which occurs every four years, will be hosted by France, with football (US soccer) matches taking place in cities throughout France.  EURO 2016 will have 51 matches between 24 teams occurring between June 10th and July 10th, 2016, overlapping Ramadan.  This is reported to be the third most popular sporting event in the world.  More than 1.3 million people attended the championship tournament matches in 2012, averaging about 45,000 per match.

There will be large crowds of Westerners and lots of media coverage around the world, an added incentive for Islamic extremists.  These matches draw millions of television viewers.  According to UEFA, 299 million people watched the final match for the European championship in 2012. 

Potential targets of Islamic extremists include military installations, government buildings, power grids, water supplies, trains and subways, entertainment and tourist areas, sporting events, festivals, soldiers and police officers, and more.

There is a need to keep citizens aware of what to notice, and where to report suspicious situations, packages, and individuals.  Situational awareness among law enforcement and military installations should be increased, including identifying and monitoring potential insiders, such as people like Major Nidal Hasan, the Muslim US soldier, who shot over 40 people at Food Hood during November 2009.

A series of Paris-like attacks on soft targets in multiple cities is also a concern.

Terrorists can utilize the summer tourist season to gain access to scores of Americans and Europeans by avoiding enhanced security measures in the West, and attacking easier locations, such as Bali, Thailand, Turkey, and other countries.

The Islamic State and al-Qaeda have global reach through their operatives and soldiers, affiliates, foreign fighters, recruits, and scores of radicalized and frustrated souls, looking to salvage wasted lives.

Countries that are working with or supporting the United States and NATO may be targeted, by Islamic extremists groups.

Shi’ite shrines, mosques, and communities could be targeted by the Islamic State to further increase Shi’a-Sunni hostilities that will funnel Sunnis - who became retaliatory targets of the Shi’ites - towards the Islamic State. 

Russia is potentially a target for Islamic extremists.  However, the Islamic State and al-Qaeda may avoid attacking them.  ISIS has suffered substantial financial and territorial losses from Russian and NATO attacks.  The Islamic State and al-Qaeda will likely focus on American, European, and secondary targets. 

The Imminent Return of the Mahdi

Many Sunni and Shi’ite Muslims believe in the imminent return of the Mahdi, also referred to as Imam Mahdi or Muhammad al Mahdi, which will mark the beginning of the End of Time, followed by the Day of Judgment several years later.

The Islamic State has crafted their rhetoric and accessories – from doomsday diatribes and the establishment of an Islamic caliphate – to the utilization of black flags, to feed into the Mahdi myth.  Stories of the Mahdi, include references to the valiant armies from Khorasan (also Khurasan), waving their black flags.  The Islamic State has been providing radicalized Muslims with another reason to martyr themselves - the impending end of the world.

Globally, many Muslims believe in the imminent return of the Mahdi, including 83 percent of Afghans, 72 percent of Iraqis, and 68 percent of Turks.  Some Muslims believe the Mahdi will return in 2016, with an Islamic Jesus returning a few years later, to slay the Dajjala, an evil false prophet.  Muslims believe that the Islamic Jesus, referred to as Isa, will assist Imam Mahdi and his armies in conquering the world for Islam.

The Qur’an claims that Abraham, Jesus, and the prophets of the Bible were Muslims.  Two verses from the 19th Surah of the Quran reference Jesus.

19:30 [Jesus] said, "Indeed, I am the servant of Allah. He has given me the Scripture and made me a prophet.

19:36   [Jesus said], "And indeed, Allah is my Lord and your Lord, so worship Him. That is a straight path."

The Qur’an’s statements that Jesus - and Jewish and Christian prophets were Muslims, is important  This is used by Islamic extremists to legitimize and encourage attacks on Christians and Jews, who are perceived as heretics that have renounced Allah and Mohammad.  This fits into the End of Time scenario.

The ongoing civil war in Syria and Iraq, coupled with other alleged “signs,” correlate with the Qur’anic sequence of events that will lead to the return of the Mahdi. According to ancient Islamic beliefs, the soldiers of Allah will fight an apocalyptic battle against soldiers of the West, near Dabiq, Syria. 

Dabiq is a small town of about 3,000 residents, located in northern Syria, 25 miles northeast of Aleppo and just 6 miles from the Turkish border.  Dabiq strategically appears in the background of a number of beheadings that were carried out by European members of the Islamic State, including some who dared Western forces to come to Dabiq, to their death.  This location, rhetoric, and symbolism plays into the End of Time theme.

Billboards and murals in Islamic countries depict the return of the Mahdi.  Some of them include Jesus in the picture, as a follower of Imam Mahdi, and a warrior for Islam.  Additional billboards proclaim “Jesus IS Muslim,” feeding into the belief that the return of the Mahdi is imminent.  Islamic scholars have differing opinions regarding the specifics of the return of the Mahdi, the role of black flags, and other details.  However, most of them agree that the Islamic State, and other jihadi groups, represent the false prophets and deceivers, not the righteous defenders of Islam.

The Growing Threat from Within

The recruitment of Americans, Europeans, first and second generation Islamic immigrants, and other nationalities to ISIS, al-Qaeda, and other extremist groups provides them with planners and operatives that know their respective cultures, countries, and targets.  Some Westerners and Muslims who lived in the West are likely helping to select the targets and timing of attacks.  Other foreign fighters and recruits will help carry out attacks, knowing the culture and terrain and being able to pass as nonthreatening citizens.  Radicalized and supportive local Muslims may be used to facilitate jihadi operations of domestic and foreign terrorists.

American recruits may encourage attacks during the 4th of July weekend, while European recruits will target the 2016 UEFA matches.  Additional targets could include military and historical events, such as Trooping the Colour in London, to the post-Ramadan, July 14th Bastille Day celebration in France.  Beer and music festivals, entertainment areas, tourist attractions, and anything drawing large crowds are also possible targets.

Muslim extremists have been exploiting the racial unrest in the United States following the deaths of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, and other African-American citizens.  Islamic extremist utilize social media and radicalized mosques in the United States to reach out to protesters and Muslim converts following racial tensions caused by police shootings of black suspects and other racially-charged incidents. 

Islamists have attempted to draw parallels between the plight of the Palestinians in Israel and African-Americans in the United States.  Palestinian flags often appeared at racially-charged rallies and protests in the United States.  Palestinians were given prominent speaking roles at rallies, often mixing anti-American and anti-Israeli rhetoric, with anti-police and anti-government diatribes. 

Predatory Islamic extremists operating out of mosques in the United States and via social media have aggressively targeted and recruited despondent African-Americans, Muslim immigrants, Western converts, and other vulnerable groups, especially targeting the younger generation.

The increased animosity, violence, and distortion of facts, caused by self-serving community leaders and politicians - accompanied by an indulgent media - created a chasm of mistrust between law enforcement and black communities. This provided a recruiting windfall for Islamic extremists. 

Community and political leaders, refused to identify and address the core issues afflicting poverty-ridden black communities.  These include school dropouts, births out of wedlock, single parent households, drugs, gangs, criminal activity, high incarceration rates, unemployment, and other pressing issues that undermine many urban communities.

Unsavory opportunists were committed to strengthening false narratives that effectively condemned poor black communities – and the children within them – to a disproportionate level of frustration and failure.  Meanwhile, Islamic extremists, in the United States and abroad, are actively recruiting the increasingly despondent, frustrated, angry, and radicalized denizens of these urban wastelands.

Type of Attacks

Biological and chemical agents are unlikely, but terrorists have access to them, so they need to be considered.  These deadly agents could be delivered passively by ventilation system or water supply, actively with explosives, or by drones, gliders, crop dusters, small airplanes, and helicopters, flying over festivals, stadiums, and crowds.

The Islamic State and al-Qaeda are highly motivated to carry out sensational or large-scale attacks in the United States and Europe.  They have added incentive to try and pull these off during Ramadan with an emphasis on maximum casualties and destruction. 

On May 21, 2016, an audio clip from Abu Muhammad al-Adnani, an Islamic State spokesman, stated, "Ramadan, the month of conquest and jihad. Get prepared, be ready to make it a month of calamity everywhere for the non-believers ... especially for the fighters and supporters of the caliphate in Europe and America…The smallest action you do in their heartland is better and more enduring to us than what you would [do] if you were with us…” 

During Ramadan, and beyond, the Islamic State will continue to encourage small cells and lone wolves to carry out random acts of violence throughout the world.  As noted earlier, the number of foreign fighters and supporters of the Islamic State and other jihadi extremists potentially provides Islamists with insightful suggestions for targets and timing – from the planning, logistics, and operational perspective. 

Many of the foreign fighters have returned home, while scores of supporters of Islamic terrorist and jihadi groups never left.  Most of these small cells and individuals operate independently.  Those with handlers, will have little or no contact with them, once they’ve been launched, making it more difficult to track their movements.  The Islamic State increasingly encourages small terrorist cells to select their own targets and timing, making these random acts of violence difficult to anticipate and prevent. 

Timing of Attacks

All of Ramadan is in play.  Potential dates of terrorist attacks include the July 4th weekend, Night of Power, EURO 2016 matches, and Fridays and Saturdays, due to the additional activity and crowds.  Friday is the Sabbath in Islam.  There are four Fridays during Ramadan - June 10, 17, 24, and July 1, 2016.  The July 1st date kicks off the extended July 4th weekend celebrations that will also encompass the Night of Power, and capacity crowds at EURO 2016.  This creates “A perfect storm for Islamic extremists, as a confluence of factors and events may encourage multiple, global attacks during this four day weekend.

By encouraging affiliates, terrorist cells, and recruits, to strike on Fridays, The Islamic State and al-Qaeda can create an illusion of global and regional coordinated attacks that are for the most part, purely coincidental, beyond the ingrained jihadi drivers, and ongoing rhetoric that alludes to additional merit for becoming a martyr on the Sabbath.

Additional Friday attacks may be encouraged through the preaching of radical mullahs, and the extremist elements that begin speaking, after traditional Friday services at mosques, attracting many of the parishioners, with their radical rhetoric.  This could include mosques in North America and Europe.  This is one of the reasons why so many protests in Islamic countries, take place on Fridays; Muslim parishioners – spun up by primary or secondary speakers – spill out of the mosques and into the streets. 

Islam – Facts, Fiction, and More

Islamic extremists will encourage countless attacks and suicide missions during Ramadan and throughout the year.  The glory of killing infidels – as defined by radical extremists – is driven into jihadists with a cult-like persuasiveness and brainwashing that eliminates self-preservation and “free will.”  Unfortunately, there are numerous verses in the Qur’an and the Hadith that encourage attacks and martyrdom on non-Muslims, all wrapped within a promise of glory, wealth, fame, and 72 virgin sex slaves. 

In several cases noted in the Hadith, Mohammad repeatedly talks about the glories to be had in heaven, while encouraging soldiers to eagerly rush back into battle to fight to their death.  The offer of Paradise, with all of its “earthly” sensual and material pleasures and fame, is repeatedly used – by the Prophet Mohammad and Islamic Extremist groups – as an enticement to encourage desperate men to join the fight and to eagerly welcome their own death.

Here are verses from the Hadith allegedly spoken by Mohammad regarding, “Fighting for the Cause of Allah (Jihad), found in Bukhari, Book 4, Volume 52, Hadith 54.  Narrated by Abu Huraira: “The Prophet said, "By Him in Whose Hands my life is! Were it not for some men amongst the believers who dislike to be left behind me and whom I cannot provide with means of conveyance, I would certainly never remain behind any Sariya' (army-unit) setting out in Allah's Cause. By Him in Whose Hands my life is! I would love to be martyred in Allah's Cause and then get resurrected and then get martyred, and then get resurrected again and then get martyred and then get resurrected again and then get martyred.”

There are many more verses from the Qur’an attributed to Allah, and verses from the Hadith that are attributed to the Prophet Mohammad that encourage fighting and warfare, killing and martyrdom, with lustful and egocentric rewards.  It is important to be aware of what the Qur’an and Hadith say and how these verses are being used by Islamic extremist, to encourage terrorism, killing and murder.

Summary and Close

Islamic extremists are at war with the West and with most of the world community.  There are going to be terrorist attacks during Ramadan.  The only questions are: when, where, and how?  Security services, throughout the world have been monitoring Islamic extremists and initiating measures for interdiction and deterrence.

Situational awareness on the part of citizens, law enforcement, and military personnel is vital.  Anything that appears suspicious, including individuals, activities, abandoned bags or vehicles, or anything else should be reported to authorities.  Do not assume that it is nothing or that someone else will report it.  Enhanced reporting by citizens can help detect and apprehend lone wolves, jihadi cells, and other terrorists and facilitators – before they can launch their attacks.  The lives you save, may be your own or those of your family and friends.

About the Author(s)

James Emery is a cultural anthropologist, who has covered insurgencies, terrorism, narcotics trafficking, corruption, and political events in Afghanistan and around the world for thirty years. He has worked with and against insurgencies, from making numerous trips into Afghanistan with the mujahideen during the Soviet occupation and working with tribal groups in Southeast Asia, to countering terrorists, insurgents, and narcotics traffickers in Asia, Europe, and the Middle East. He provides training and research papers on Afghan, Arab, Asian, and African culture, issues, and events. He lectures on cultural anthropology, cross-cultural communication, Islam, strategic village programs, KLEs with positive and negative influencers, IO and PSYOP, COIN, counter-IED programs, narcotics trafficking, and other topics. For additional information about this report, or other topics, please contact James Emery at: