In remembering and honouring all victims of terrorism, Secretary-General António Guterres said the UN stands by those who grieve and those who “continue to endure the physical and psychological wounds of terrorist atrocities”.
“Traumatic memories cannot be erased, but we can help victims and survivors by seeking truth, justice and reparation, amplifying their voices and upholding their human rights”, he stressed.
Keep spotlight on victims, even amid pandemic
This year’s commemoration takes place against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic, when vital services for victims, such as criminal justice processes and psychosocial support, have been interrupted, delayed or ended as Governments focus attention and resources on fighting the pandemic.
Moreover, many memorials and commemorations have been cancelled or moved online, hampering the ability of victims to find solace and comfort together.
And the current restrictions have also forced the first-ever UN Global Congress of Victims of Terrorism has to be postponed until next year.
“But it is important that we keep a spotlight on this important issue,” stressed the UN chief.
“Remembering the victims of terrorism and doing more to support them is essential to help them rebuild their lives and heal”, said Mr. Guterres, including work with parliamentarians and governments to draft and adopt legislation and national strategies to help victims.
The Secretary-General vowed that “the UN stands in solidarity with all victims of terrorism – today and every day” and underscored the need to “ensure that those who have suffered are always heard and never forgotten”.
General Assembly President Tijjani Muhammad-Bande saluted the resilience of terrorist survivors and called the day “an opportunity to honour the memories of the innocent civilians who have lost their lives as a result of terrorist acts around the world”.
“Terrorism, in all forms and manifestations, can never be justified”, he stated. “Acts of terrorism everywhere must be strongly condemned”.
The UN commits to combating terrorism and the Assembly has adopted resolutions to curb the scourge while working to establish and maintain peace and security globally.
Mechanisms for survivors must be strengthened to safeguard a “full recovery, rehabilitation and re-integration into society through long-term multi-dimensional support”, stated the UN official.
“Together we can ensure that you live a full life defined by dignity and freedom. You are not alone in this journey. You are not forgotten”, concluded the Assembly president.
Closing the event, Vladimir Voronkov, chief of the UN Office of Counter-Terrorism, maintained that victims represent “the very human dimension of terrorism”.
While terrorists try to depersonalize victims by reducing them to mere numbers or statistics, Mr. Voronkov maintained that “we have a responsibility to do the exact opposite”.
“We must see victims’ hopes, dreams and daily lives that have been shattered by terrorist violence – a shattering that carries on long after the attack is over”, he stated. “We must ensure their human rights are upheld and their needs are met”.
While acknowledging the “terrible reality of terrorism”, Mr. Voronkov flagged that the survivors shine as “examples of resilience, and beacons of hope, courage and solidarity in the face of adversity”.
In reaffirming “our common humanity”, he urged everyone to raise awareness of victims needs and rights.
“Let us commit to showing them that they are not alone and will never be forgotten”, concluded the Counter-Terrorism chief.
At the virtual event, survivors shared their stories while under lockdown, agreeing that the long-term impacts of surviving any kind of an attack is that the traumatic experience never really goes away.
Tahir from Pakistan lost his wife in attack against the UN World Food Programme (WFP) office in Islamabad.
“If you have an accident, you know how to cope with it. Terminal illness, you know how to cope with it. But there is no coping mechanism for a person who dies in an act of terror”, he said.
Meanwhile Nigeel’s father perished in the 1998 US Embassy attack in Kenya, when he was just months years old.
The 22 year-old shared: “When you are growing, it really doesn’t have a heavy impact on you, but as life starts to unfold, mostly I’ll find myself asking if I do this and my dad was around, would he be proud of me?”
And Julie, from Australia, lost her 21-year-old daughter in the 2017 London Bridge attack.
“The Australian police came to our house and said ‘we have a body, still not confirmed’, so they recommended that we fly to London”, she recalled. “I can’t describe how devastating as a parent to lose a child in these circumstances is for the rest of your life”.
Bad Strategies Boost Al-Shabab
There is not much left to debate on the dangerous aspect of al-Shabab’s demonic doctrine that proclaims Islamic values and functions as mindless terrorists or bloodthirsty hoodlums, at best. At its core, al-Shabab is what it is. However, in recent years it has been transforming away from its original monolithic nature. Aside from becoming decentralized franchises with mercenary style function, it has infiltrated the Somali government, intelligence, and the traditional clan structure. That said, it would be naïve to assume that al-Shabab is the only source of violence and insecurity in Somalia.
More than a year ago, President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud declared an ‘all-out war against al-Shabab’ and vowed to take the fight to them in every remote village across Somalia. Therefore, he decided to partner with various clan-based vigilantes and armed them to fight al-Shabab. Some warned against that strategy due to its potential to further divide the country, fuel perpetual clan wars, and inadvertently strengthen al-Shabab. Almost a year and a half later, Somalia is barely surviving a worse scenario. Today, more and more clans are turning their guns on each other.
Worse, the Somali army and the highly trained counter-terrorism divisions Danab and Gorgor continue to get ambushed at night, massacred, their equipment taken, and others destroyed in remote villages and military camps in no man’s land in Galmudug and Hirshabelle federal states. These kinds of attacks that happened more than a dozen times—the worst and most under reported being Cowsweyne—are raising serious concerns. They are causing finger pointing, and profound distrust within the military apparatus.
Is al-Shabab strong enough to deliver these successive defeats against a much larger army that is backed by ATMIS and U.S.? Is al-Shabab logistically capable of executing deadly operations in various locations of a vast geographical area? How many fighters, combat technical and suicide trucks did they bring to execute such ambushes? How come on each occasion the massacred soldiers failed to hear the roaring engines coming at them? We are talking about rural areas where there are only dirt tracks that zigzag through a flat landscape. And at night one could hear the muffled sound of the coming truck from a far distance and could see its headlights from afar.
Answers to these critical questions, and to get to the bottom of these mysterious attacks, would depend on whether you drank the Kool-Aid or not. In other words, if you are persuaded by the government’s version that al-Shabab is the only group behind all terrorist attacks—past, present, and future—you don’t need to read beyond this point. However, if you are pained by the scores of young commandoes being mysteriously terminated, or are simply in pursuit of truth, things are not the way they are officially presented.
Somalia, due to its abundant natural resources, lack of patriotic leadership, prevalence of high-level corruption, and relentless zero-sum political competition, is a lucrative, open-for-all illegal mining cottage industry. And Galgadud region, particularly around the town of El-Bur, remains the center of gravity regarding this latest, multi-actor, deadly competition for control.
War Is a Deception
In late August 2011, at that historic night when al-Shabab abruptly pulled out of Mogadishu, I received a good news call from a senior Somali official who told me something to the effect ‘Our mole was right. They are leaving.’ When I asked ‘Who?’ He enthusiastically replied: ‘Al-Shabab, of course.’ I was Somalia’s Special Envoy to the U.S. at the time. In the morning, local and international headlines were claiming that al-Shabab was defeated by a coalition of the Somali National Army and AMISOM. President Sharif Sheikh Ahmed declared al-Shabab “defeated,” and they declared it “a change of tactics.”
However, there were no face-to-face deadly battles between these entities that ultimately compelled al-Shabab to run for their lives. Al-Shabab was controlling almost all of Mogadishu and executing its terrorist attacks at-will. Likewise, it controlled the narrative as it owned more propaganda outlets than the government. But, behind the scenes, al-Shabab militants were being hunted down every night by killer ghosts- mercenary sharpshooters using military night vision and silencers. Al-Shabab militants were dropping like swatted flies when their leader, Ahmed Godane, realized the existential threat that his militants were facing and ordered immediate evacuation.
The ghost-lords of Halane, predatory capitalists, and their armed enforcers, have always been the x-factor. A few countries already have their own mercenaries to serve their interests. Sure, those interests may at times coincide or confluence with the national interest of their host nation. But let us not forget, mercenaries are neither disciplined and restrained by ethics or moral values nor are they accountable to any authority other than their next lucrative contract.
Change of Scenery
On August 5, President Mohamud put on his military gear and set up a central command in Dhusamareeb of Galmudug region to lead the Somali military and clan militias’ all-out war against al-Shabab from there. He has been there more than 40 days. This raised many questions since the town of Mahas in the Hiiraan region was recognized as the ground-zero where that whole community declared war against al-Shabab.
Dhusamareeb is the headquarter or the bazaar of international illegal mining. A fierce competition is already underway between Ethiopia—the old field guardian—and mercenaries funded by U.S, UAE, and the late comer, uranium-desperate, European Union whose new Ambassador took a private plane to present her diplomatic credentials to President Mohamud in Dhusamareeb. An historic moment, indeed.
Meanwhile, President Mohamud cannot go to Garowe- the capital city of Puntland which is only 270 miles from where he is now stationed. Puntland has officially suspended its relationship with the federal government. It is now where Somaliland was three decades ago.
Meanwhile, the people of Sool, Sanaag and Cayn (SSC-Khatumo) who have been living under brutal repression by Somaliland military have organized themselves in recent months and accomplishing what many thought impossible. They convincingly defeated Somaliland military and exhibited exceptional discipline for not chasing the fleeing army into their clan territory. Immediately after their victory, they officially declared their independence from Somaliland and appealed to the Federal Government to accept them as a federal state. With visionary leadership and the right strategy, this issue could have served as a catalyst to a Somali-owned, country-wide reconciliation process. But, President Mohamud pled deaf, dumb, and blind.
Danger still looms as this issue is likely to morph into a long military struggle. Neither Somaliland, nor UAE which heavily invested in Berbera seaport, nor UK which is Somalia’s penholder, and the trainer of Somaliland’s special forces are willing to accept this latest fateful development.
And as if all these are not enough, the federal government mandated citizens to apply for a digital national identification card. While this may be appreciated from the security perspective, for a nation whose constitution remains ‘provisional’ and what constitutes Somali citizenship is yet to be determined, this will only further divide the country. Because clan identity is strong in Somalia and these clans inhabit various parts of East Africa, the citizenship issue has been the most controversial issue since the trusteeship period (50-60).
The emotionalization of the war on al-Shabab, and the muzzling of media reports has not only ensured President Mohamud jingoistic praises, it also emboldened him to declare victory over al-Shabab despite a large number of Somali soldiers getting killed and others being forced to evacuate almost every town or region they occupied for a short while. Things turned out so bad that President Mohamud had to sideline top military commanders, give the greenlight to reshuffle the government after the UN General Assembly, and request an emergency 90-day delay on ATMIS troops reduction.
Any objective observer would question the logic driving the claim of victory against al-Shabab under the current circumstances. But thinking logically means questioning the government’s narrative, and that ironically is considered a treasonous act.
Sadly, the only thing that stood the test of time in Somalia in the past three decades is lustful greed and the attitude that integrity is not necessary in building trust and unity. The status quo preserves al-Shabab, sustains corruption, and makes failure a lucrative cottage industry. Neither the doner nations, nor the Somali government, nor the international non-governmental organizations want to see that industry under any form of scrutiny.
Moscow remembers horrendous terrorist attack in Beslan
On September 3, the Russian Federation is marking a memorable date, specifically, the Day of Solidarity in the Fight against Terrorism that became part of Russian legislation in 2005, a year after a horrendous terrorist attack in Beslan that killed over 300 Russian citizens, including children. This appalling terrorist atrocity was something unprecedented in terms of its meanness and brutality, and it highlighted the need to rally the entire international community against terrorism.
“We have to state that, in the current international realities, the issue of combatting terrorism has long since lost its unifying essence. The collective West that considers itself a beacon of democracy and human rights is openly waging a hybrid war against Russia. Not only is the West using Ukraine as a geopolitical battering ram against our country, but it is brazenly turning a blind eye on the terrorist essence of the Kiev regime and is sponsoring it,” official statement, released ahead of September event, said.
At the same time, the Western line to “isolate” Russia has not been crowned with success even in such a sensitive area as the fight against terrorism. The opinion of Russia remains significant and weighty during dialogue with friendly states. The Russian Federation prioritises cooperation with friendly states in the current complicated conditions of foreign policy turbulence. For example, we are collaborating rather fruitfully with our partners at various regional associations, including the Commonwealth of Independent States, the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation and the Collective Security Treaty Organisation.
Close contacts between the security agencies of these associations’ member states are taking place under the auspices of the CIS Anti-Terrorism Centre and the SCO’s Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure. As for the CSTO, it can deploy its Collective Peacekeeping Forces in the shortest possible time, and this is an extremely important, effective and essential factor in facilitating counter-terrorism security in the zone of its responsibility.
Additionally, the BRICS Counter-Terrorism Working Group now ranks among the most advanced cross-regional formats. The BRICS Counter-Terrorism Strategy and the Action Plan for its implementation, drafted in 2020 and 2021 when Russia and India chaired BRICS, are the gold standard, reflecting an analytical and well-thought-out perception of real, rather than imaginary, terrorist threats.
The Russian Federation also supports constructive dialogue on counter-terrorism operations with the states of the African continent. The Declaration of the Second Russia-Africa Summit on Strengthening Cooperation in the Fight against Terrorism, signed following the Second Russia-Africa Summit in St Petersburg in July 2023, reflects the common approaches of our countries.
“We will continue to coordinate joint efforts in the above-mentioned multilateral formats, including those aimed at streamlining the existing mechanisms for coping with the security risks of the states involved,” the statement finally said.
The Beslan school siege and the Moscow theater siege were the toughest tests that Vladimir Putin went through during his 20 years in power. “Major terrorist attacks were the toughest to deal with. The Beslan school siege was one of them. I will never forget it. Another one was the Moscow theater siege,” Putin noted in the Kremlin.
Back in 2019, officers and rescuers who helped to release hostages from Beslan’s School No.1 in 2004 were awarded by Vyacheslav Bitarov in the Caucasus republic of North Ossetia.
More than 1,200 people were taken hostage during the terrorist attack at a school in the North Ossetian city of Beslan, which occurred on September 1, 2004, the first day of the academic year. The tragedy claimed 334 lives, including 186 children. Some 126 of these hostages became handicapped, of them 70 children.
The school, located next to the district police station, housed approximately 60 teachers and more than 800 students. Its gymnasium, where most of the hostages were held for 52 hours, was a recent addition, measuring 10 metres (33 ft) wide and 25 metres (82 ft) long.
There were reports that men disguised as repairmen had secreted weapons and explosives into the school during July 2004, something that the authorities later denied. However, several witnesses have since testified they were forced to help their captors remove the weapons from caches hidden in the school. There were also claims that a “sniper’s nest” on the sports-hall roof had been set up in advance.
The attack at Beslan was met with international abhorrence and universal condemnation. Countries and charities around the world donated to funds set up to assist the families and children that were involved in the Beslan crisis. This School No. 1 was one of seven schools in Beslan, a town of about 35,000 people in the Republic of North Ossetia–Alania in Russia’s Caucasus.
ISIS in Afghanistan exists, but the threat is overestimated
After a serious study, the UN Security Council management institutes issued a report concerning the activities of the Islamic State-Khorasan, a unit of an international terrorist organization in Afghanistan. The UNSC stated that the group is still a significant danger to the stability of the country and the Central Asia region. Despite the solid research, these conclusions seem exaggerated and alarmistic. In particular, the statistical data and the organization’s size proposed by the UN Security Council are in question. However, it is difficult to overestimate the value and importance of this report and the activities of the main UN institute. The most important thing for today is not to bypass the situation in Afghanistan and to push a diplomatic influence on the Taliban movement and its sponsors.
On the eve, the UN Security Council expressed apprehension regarding the activities of the Khorasan wing of ISIS and considered the Khorasan group “as the most serious terrorist threat in Afghanistan and neighboring Central Asian countries for nowadays.” In the UNSC report on the threats posed by ISIS, the number of militants of this group (together with their family members) is estimated from 4,000 to 6,000 people, exceeding previously published data on the number of ISIS members in Afghanistan. Some States from the Central Asian region believed that the number of Khorasan militants and their family members in Afghanistan was about 3.5 thousand people.
The report and the statement of the UN Security Council were spread in the media on August 25. “The terrorist group ISIS and its units still pose a danger in conflict zones and neighboring countries,” the statement said. It is reported that the operational capabilities of “the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant – Khorasan” group have increased, and its attacks have become much harder.
It should be noted that the organization uses serious propaganda. For example, “The Voice of Khorasan” group produces propaganda in Pashtun, Persian, Tajik, Uzbek, and Russian to recruit new militants from ethnic groups in the region. According to the author of these lines, the organization conducted and tries to conduct propaganda in educational institutions of Afghanistan and some religious organizations and institutes.
Recall that the deadliest IS attack in the region occurred on July 30 this year at the congress of the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam party in Pakistan. As a result of this incident, at least 63 people were killed and more than 100 were injured. The organization also claimed responsibility for last week’s bombing in Kabul. Two people were killed, and one was injured.
The Afghan wing of IS has already been labeled in the West as IS-Khorasan. This group first declared itself in 2015. Although the main places of the organization’s activities are Afghanistan and Pakistan, the ancient Khorasan province traditionally covers the territories of modern Turkmenistan, Iran, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. The headquarters of IG Khorasan is located in Nangarhar province in eastern Afghanistan. In January 2016, the US State Department included IG Khorasan in the list of terrorist organizations.
In the UN Security Council report, the member states of the SC called for preventing Afghanistan from becoming a hotbed of terrorism and stressed that “the Taliban should be encouraged not to deviate from its promise to destroy ISIS.” Meanwhile, the Taliban government considered the report of the UN Security Council on the threats posed by ISIS from Afghanistan to the world unfounded. “The fact that the activities of the Islamic State in Afghanistan over the past year have been reduced to zero, and the international organization publishes such undocumented and negative propaganda and cannot provide proof of this, puts the organization’s status into question,” the Taliban stated.
“The ambassadors to the UN Security Council were informed by two high-ranking counterterrorism officials about the threats posed by the IG, including the presence of 20 groups in our country, the development of weapons, and statements about increasing the operational capabilities of the IG. The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan rejects these unfounded accusations again, calling for clear participation in such issues,” the Islamist movement said.
The Taliban claims that “anyone who makes such unfounded statements either has no information or strengthens the fighting spirit of the IG, which becomes bolder from this kind of propaganda, provokes instability in the region.” “The fact that the activities of the IG in Afghanistan over the past year have been reduced to zero, and the international organization publishes such undocumented and negative propaganda and cannot provide proof of this, puts the status of this organization into question,” the Taliban statement said. The Taliban claim that over the past two years, their security forces have conducted hundreds of operations against illegal armed groups and IS, “ammunition has been seized and the operational capabilities of IS have been destroyed.”
In addition, the UN report mentioned that up to 5-7 thousand people are still in terrorist groups in Iraq and Syria. “Experts said that despite the counterterrorism operations against ISIS, the group still has 5-7 thousand people in Iraq and Syria, most of them are militants. However, the IG deliberately reduced the intensity of attacks in order to focus on recruiting new fighters and regrouping,” the agency notes. It follows from the UN Security Council report that despite the IG’s losses and reduced activity in Iraq and Syria, the situation is still dynamic, and the terrorists can seriously strengthen their positions again.
It should be noted that the UN Security Council report has become a significant and relevant phenomenon among social scientists, researchers of international relations, Terrorism Studies, and Middle Eastern Studies. It is clear that after the Taliban seized power in Afghanistan, the situation with international terrorism deteriorated, as the author of these lines has repeatedly written about. For example, in neighboring Pakistan, the number of terrorist attacks increased several times, which caused the death of a large number of civilians. Despite the statements and promises of the Taliban and their sponsors in Islamabad and among the Pakistani military elite and the ISI intelligence services, given to the international community publicly and on the sidelines, there is no real fight against international terrorism.
At the same time, the UN Security Council statistics on the number of IS militants in Afghanistan seem to be overstated. The Taliban is still a monopoly radical terrorist organization in Afghanistan. Despite the large number of various terrorist organizations located on the territory of this country, they cannot be a significant threat or competitor to the Taliban. They have historical and fundamental support and sponsorship from the Pakistani military. In addition, the Taliban are an ethnic organization and, despite their radicalism and repression, have support among broad segments of the civilian population. As for the statements of the Taliban about their struggle and the victory over the IG Khorasan, they are not totally meaningless, but this does not deny the fact that the radical movement is not fighting other terrorists in Afghanistan.
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