Study warns of growing threat to Israel from Al-Qaeda

International jihad network behind 95% of world’s suicide bombings in 2013, Institute for National Security Studies says

Avi Issacharoff

Avi Issacharoff, The Times of Israel's Middle East analyst, fills the same role for Walla, the leading portal in Israel. He is also a guest commentator on many different radio shows and current affairs programs on television. Until 2012, he was a reporter and commentator on Arab affairs for the Haaretz newspaper. He also lectures on modern Palestinian history at Tel Aviv University, and is currently writing a script for an action-drama series for the Israeli satellite Television "YES." Born in Jerusalem, he graduated cum laude from Ben Gurion University with a B.A. in Middle Eastern studies and then earned his M.A. from Tel Aviv University on the same subject, also cum laude. A fluent Arabic speaker, Avi was the Middle East Affairs correspondent for Israeli Public Radio covering the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the war in Iraq and the Arab countries between the years 2003-2006. Avi directed and edited short documentary films on Israeli television programs dealing with the Middle East. In 2002 he won the "best reporter" award for the "Israel Radio” for his coverage of the second intifada. In 2004, together with Amos Harel, he wrote "The Seventh War - How we won and why we lost the war with the Palestinians." A year later the book won an award from the Institute for Strategic Studies for containing the best research on security affairs in Israel. In 2008, Issacharoff and Harel published their second book, entitled "34 Days - The Story of the Second Lebanon War," which won the same prize.

Fighters from the Syrian al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra, or Nusra Front, during training (Wikicommons/File)
Fighters from the Syrian al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra, or Nusra Front, during training (Wikicommons/File)

A team of researchers at an Israeli institute has found a surge in the number of suicide attacks in the last decade, with al-Qaeda behind the lion’s share of them.

A new report by the Institute for National Security Studies indicates a steep rise in the number of suicide bombings since the turn of the century, with 2013 seeing a jump over the year prior.

Researchers also found a growing threat of al-Qaeda terror activity against Israel, even though the Jewish state has yet to be significantly targeted.

The study was authored by Yoram Schweitzer, head of the institute’s terrorism research program, and researchers Einat Yogev and Yotam Rosner.

From the 1980s, when suicide bombings first came on the scene, until 2000, the majority of the approximately 200 such bombings were carried out by the Lebanese Shiite terror group Hezbollah.

Since 2000, however, around 3,500 suicide bombings have been recorded. The turning point came following the September 11, 2001 terror attacks.

In all, al-Qaeda and jihadist groups have tallied more than 85 percent of the total suicide attacks worldwide, but in 2013 that figure rose to nearly 95%, the INSS study found.

Despite the relatively low number of suicide bombings compared to other tactics employed by terror groups, they resonate strongly thanks to both the number of lives they claim and their attack on public morale.

In the past year, terrorist groups launched 291 suicide attacks in 18 countries, killing around 3,100 people — a 25% rise in attacks compared to the year prior.

In a conversation with The Times of Israel, Schweitzer said that 2013 marked a significant rise in suicide bombings in Iraq, which constitutes a third of the global total with 98 attacks — a rise of 280% compared to the year before (only 35).

Suicide bombings in Iraq only began after the US-led coalition invaded in 2003 and toppled Saddam Hussein. To date, attacks of this kind, spurred by tension between ethnic and religious groups, have claimed the lives of 1,500 in the country.

Close to half of the suicide attacks in Iraq were directed at the civilian population (45%) — mostly restaurants, markets and mosques, as well as funerals and mourners’ tents — and most of the remainder were directed at security forces and police (48%). The majority of the suicide bombings targeting civilians occurred in Shiite areas — that is to say, they carried out by Sunnis.

According to the INSS study, several other factors are behind the rise in attacks apart from traditional Sunni-Shiite tensions: the intelligence-gathering and operational remnant of the US military presence; an increase of global jihadists — willing suicide bombers in Iraq — in the region as a result of the Syrian civil war; and perceived corruption by the Shiite-majority government, whose apparent discrimination toward the minority Sunni population deters them from aiding Iraqi security forces in the prevention of terror activity.

Today, the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham, a rebranding of al-Qaeda known locally as ISIS or ISIL, is behind most of the suicide violence in the country.

The researchers pointed out that there is a steep decline in female involvement in suicide terrorism and, contrary to popular belief that suicide attacks are typically carried out in countries occupied by a foreign military, this in fact only applies to 32% of all cases. Most attacks target local representation of state infrastructure, especially in countries with low regime legitimacy. The most obvious example is Syria, where researchers count at least 27 suicide attacks executed by Jabhat al-Nusra, another al-Qaeda offshoot, and ISIS.

This phenomenon has even trickled down to Egypt, where in the last year there were six recorded suicide attacks, four of them in the Sinai Peninsula.

Afghanistan and Pakistan traditionally suffer a high number of suicide attacks, and 2013 was no different: 65 were carried out in Afghanistan and 35 in Pakistan. Since the turn of the century, 1,150 have rocked the two countries combined.

Earlier this week, Schweitzer and Aviv Oreg, an expert in global jihad and a former IDF intelligence analyst, produced a memorandum that examined the 25 years of al-Qaeda operations, which concluded that despite al-Qaeda’s lack of success in the Western world in the last eight years, the organization is far from relinquishing its role in international terrorism and remains a global threat, fueling and driving global jihad.

While its position is far weaker today than prior to the September 11 attacks that prompted a united global response against the bin-Laden led organization, US President Barack Obama and senior members of his administration have determined that al-Qaeda has yet to be decisively defeated.

According to the memorandum, in the third decade of the organization’s operations there is a clear indication that global jihadists aim to attack Israel, as an alternative to the West, via cells in Lebanon, Syria and the Sinai Peninsula.

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