Written by Patryk Pawlak,
Graphics by Christian Dietrich,
While the investigation into the causes of the crash of the Russian airliner with 224 people on-board continues – with a number of versions indicating an explosion – there is growing evidence to suggest that this was not an accident but rather an act of terror. Meanwhile, several countries have issued travel warnings discouraging their citizens from travelling to Sharm El Sheikh or Egypt altogether.
Attacks against transportation systems: not a new phenomenon
Even though, as we argue, the international community remains divided over a universally acceptable definition of terrorism, the Convention on Offences and Certain Other Acts Committed on Board Aircraft signed in Tokyo on 14 September 1963 was the first multilateral convention addressing acts of terror in the air. According to the Global Terrorism Database (GTD), between 1970 and 2014, there have been 409 attacks against aircraft, with 259 cases of hijacking and 100 cases with the use of explosives or bombs. However, acts of terror against airports and airlines have so far been 5 times less frequent than attacks committed against other transportation infrastructure (buses, subway, trains, etc.).
Why Egypt, why now?
Our briefing on trends in global terrorism, clearly demonstrates that the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region continues to register the highest number of attacks in the world (6913 attacks out of 16818 total attacks in 2014). Political instability and weak governance across the MENA region – but also in Sub‐Saharan Africa and southern Asia in particular – allowed these three regions to become the main theatres for terrorist operations. The Sinai Province – a group affiliated to ISIL/Da’esh who has targeted foreigners in the past – already claimed the responsibility for the attack (although this has still to be proven).
Since taking office in 2014, Egyptian President Sisi has approved new counter-terrorism legislation to fight jihadist insurgency. With regard to the Sinai Peninsula, successive Egyptian governments have, for a long time, neglected this least developed region, with high rates of unemployment and poverty. Tapping into the discontent of the local population, radical Islamist group Ansar Beit al-Maqdis was established in 2011 with the goal to create an Islamic caliphate in the Sinai. In November 2014, the group pledged allegiance to the so-called Islamic State Group (ISIL/Da’esh). In 2014, the group was responsible for nearly 60 terrorist attacks in Egypt and Israel, mostly with the use of explosives.
This attack (if proven) clearly confirms some of the trends that we have identified in our briefing, in particular:
- Increasing rivalry between Al‐Qaeda and ISIL/Da’esh and competition for resources (e.g. manpower, funding) increases a risk of more frequent attacks on highly publicised Western targets.
- Terrorist strategies and tactics are evolving towards attacks on civilian targets which have adverse effects on tourism and hence risk further destabilisation of a country in question.
- Military response to terrorism contributes to further escalation. The military operations in Syria conducted by the United States and Russia also seem to have influenced a shift in ISIL/Da’esh strategy, from one traditionally focused on ‘the near enemy’ (i.e. apostates and the Arab countries cooperating with the United States) to arbitrary attacks against Westerners.