After two years of stabbing attacks, the Vienna bombing and its ramifications in neighboring countries illustrate ISIS’s determination to relaunch its militarized campaign of terror, which had already bloodied Europe from 2014 to 2018.
Austrian police cordoned off central Vienna in the November 2 bombing (Leonhard Foeger / Reuters)
There was a serious risk of seeing Daesh, the Arab name of the organization “Islamic State”, reconstitute its transnational networks, after the fall, in 2019, of its last stronghold in Syria, followed by the elimination of its “caliph” self-proclaimed. But Baghdadi’s Turkmen successor, Said Al-Mawla, succeeded even faster than one might have feared in resuming the terrorist initiative. Jihadist commandos regularly inflict heavy losses on government forces in Syria, while maintaining low-intensity guerrilla warfare in Iraq. IS is present in around ten theaters in Africa, from the Maghreb and the Sahel to Mozambique, Tanzania and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Its Afghan branch has just carried out a massacre on the capital’s campus and is the main threat to the peace process between Kabul and the Taliban. As for the Vienna attack, where four people were killed, on November 2, it could mark the relaunch of the terrorist organization’s “European campaign”.
THE FIRST “EUROPEAN CAMPAIGN”
IS opens its “European campaign” in May 2014 with an assault rifle attack on the Jewish Museum in Brussels (4 dead) by a French jihadist returning from Syria. The combination between the killings with automatic weapons and explosives marks the next escalation that bloodied Paris, in January and November 2015, then Brussels, in March 2016. Then comes the use of ram vehicles, on the Berlin Christmas market in December 2016, in Stockholm, in April 2017, and in Barcelona in August 2017, sometimes followed by stabbing attacks, as in London in March and June 2017. The suicide bombing in Manchester, in May 2017, is the only one to be linked to the Libyan branch of the Islamic State, the others having been coordinated or inspired by the terrorist leadership in the Syrian-Iraqi zone. This sequence, the list of which is not exhaustive, ends in December 2018, with the gun attack on the Strasbourg Christmas market.
This campaign is characterized by a great mobility of jihadists in the European space (the author of the attack on the Jewish Museum of Brussels is arrested in Marseille, that of the Berlin Christmas market crosses several countries before being killed in Italy , the jihadists of Barcelona had carried out locations on the Eiffel Tower…). It is also marked by collaboration with organized crime, which supplies the weapons and, possibly, the explosives. The blows to the Middle Eastern hierarchy of the IS are accompanied by a degradation of operating methods, with now systematic recourse to the knife. This trend seems to be reversed by the Kalashnikov attack in Vienna, the author of which, a 20-year-old Austrian of Macedonian origin, killed in the shooting, had failed to join Daesh in Syria. The complicity which he could have had led to arrests in Switzerland and Germany, while the Slovak services had warned their Austrian counterparts of the purchase of munitions of war.
A EUROPEAN RESPONSE TO TERROR
Already in 2015, France’s European partners, with the exception of Belgium, tended to consider that jihadist attacks hit our country because of a strictly national context. It was only with the spread of this type of terrorism to the whole of the continent that the perception of a shared threat finally emerged. But a comparable blindness seemed to prevail at the start of the autumn, as if the attacks perpetrated against the backdrop of the January 2015 terrorist attacks were again part of a Franco-French dynamic. The slaughter which bloodied the heart of the Austrian capital unfortunately recalled the obviousness of a European strategy of the IS, to which the responses must be coordinated as much as possible within the EU. A European anti-terrorism public prosecutor’s office would thus be the only one capable of carrying out the complex procedures for prosecuting transnational networks. Hopefully the institutional response will this time be up to the challenge.
However, we must not lose sight of the fact that the objective of the jihadist attacks in Europe, beyond the astonishment induced by terror, is to fuel a dynamic of civil war where Muslims are targeted by supposed “Retaliation”. That France and Europe have never fallen into such a trap is to the credit of their peoples and their leaders. It is all the more important to value, for example, the heroism of three Muslims during the Vienna bombing: Palestinian Osama Joda risked his life to rescue an injured policeman and was assisted in this act of bravery by two Turks, Recep Gultekin, who was shot and wounded, and Mikail Özen. The latter, martial arts champion, said: “We Muslims of Turkish origin reject all forms of terror. We are for Austria, we are for Vienna. “ At a time when the risk of a new “European campaign” looms, this type of commitment, active and courageous, is simply priceless.