Christmas terror: How does the global community prevent an 'ISIL 2.0'?



Two suicide bombers killed at least eight people and injured 45 others at a packed church in the Pakistani city of Quetta on Sunday before one blew himself up and the other was shot dead by police, said officials.

The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) has claimed responsibility for this attack.

Sarfraz Bugti, Interior Minister of Balochistan Province, said hundreds of worshipers were attending services at the church ahead of Christmas. There were nearly 400 people inside the church when the incident occurred, though the two men were met by police before they were able to enter the service.

The gunmen wearing vests filled with explosives stormed the church as the Sunday service opened, exploding their garments and shooting at those inside.

Policemen guide people after two gunmen attacked the Bethel Memorial Methodist Church in Quetta, Pakistan.

Provincial Police Chief Moazzam Jah said Bethel Memorial Methodist Church, where the attacks took place, was on high alert as Christian places of worship were often targeted by Islamist extremists near Christmas.

Terror attack ahead of Christmas

The United States State Department has warned American tourists that ISIL and self-radicalized extremists are capable of planning atrocities across the continent and warned those celebrating the holiday to be on alert over the coming weeks.

Christmas and New Year's Eve are significant holidays for many families in Europe and the Americas, with millions of people planning to enjoy what the holiday season can offer, including Christmas markets and countdown events – many of which take place in public locations.

However, these events can be targets for perpetrators looking to carry out attacks, as the events see highly concentrated gatherings of people, which gives extremist groups massive impact.

The scene of last year's shocking attack at Christmas market in Breitscheidplatz, Germany

"For ISIL, Christmas is the gift that keeps on giving," Chris Meserole, a Middle East expert at the Brookings Institution explained in an interview with Newsweek.

"By calling for attacks against prominent places of worship, they’re mainly trying to say something outrageous enough to generate a lot of public attention – which they then hope will inspire supporters to carry out holiday attacks wherever they happen to live," Meserole said.

Many are still haunted by the terrorist attack carried out at a German Christmas market around the same time last year, leaving 12 dead and 56 others injured.

Akayed Ullah, the suspect who is accused of carrying out a recent attack at the New York City Port Authority told authorities he exploded the bomb in the name of ISIL. The detonation of this bomb injured four, including the suspect, though none of the injuries were life-threatening.

Police officers standing guard outside the New York Port Authority Bus Terminal

Battling ISIL

Iraqi and Syrian leaders both declared they had defeated ISIL in their two countries in late November.

ISIL had been fighting desperately to keep hold of the cities Mosul and Raqqa to achieve their ambitions of building a Caliphate based on the two urban centers, roughly the size of Great Britain.

The two cities were financial and political hubs for the jihadist group since the summer of 2014, when the group seized the city of Mosul and the Iraqi military fled the city.

Liberated from the hands of ISIL and securing the entire Iraqi-Syrian border, the two countries boosted confidence among the international community in fighting ISIL globally, but many are worried about an "ISIL 2.0".

Syria's President Bashar al-Assad visits a Russian air base at Hmeymim, in western Syria in this handout picture posted on SANA on June 27, 2017, Syria.

"While today's announcement by the Iraqi government is an historic moment, Iraq's liberation does not mean the fight against terrorism and ISIS (ISIL) in Iraq is over," Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said in a joint statement with Foreign Minister Julie Bishop and Defense Minister Marise Payne.

Experts stress that securing peace will be harder than winning the war, as hundreds of thousands of people have been caught in the crossfire. The escaped civilians, who have lived in fear or in hiding, are still facing vulnerable conditions.

Preventing an 'ISIL 2.0'

The challenge today is to rebuild a city after years under ISIL's governance.

Michael O’Hanlon, a senior foreign policy fellow at Brookings Institution, said the key danger of terrorist groups is the extremism combined with sectarianism building on each other in a vicious spiral. Foreign meddling in the region gave the group opportunities to breed resentment and paranoia, helping groups like ISIL and al-Qaida gain followers.

Charred vehicles are seen at the site of a suicide bomb attack in the Syrian capital's eastern Tahrir Square district, on July 2, 2017.

Conflicts also have roots in Iraq's religious divisions: Shia, Sunni and Kurdish.

Under Saddam Hussein, Iraq was led by the Sunni Arab elite, suppressing the Shiite Arab majority and the Kurdish minority. With the toppling of Hussein, the power shift has been altered among these groups.

ISIL's roots are in Iraq's Sunni al-Qaida group, which was a major player in the insurgency against the US-led forces that toppled Saddam Hussein in 2003.

"The unity government must convey a shared sense of responsibility and fairness among the city’s Shia, Sunni and Kurdish populations, as well as smaller groups like the Yazidis. It must operate effectively in the realms of security, economic rebuilding and recovery, and political decision making," said O'Hanlon.

The operation to retake the ISIL-held city of Mosul was launched in October.

America should not immediately reduce aid to the country, while shifting its focus on military training mission towards more economic assistance to ensure the reconstruction of the country's economy, he said.

Though ISIL has lost the self-proclaimed Caliphate, experts see there are still challenges to maintain peace, while countries continue to take out ISIL globally.

"Defeating the physical caliphate so it's no longer on a map has to be a good thing, it's the right thing to do," Jane Marriott, director of the UK's Joint International Counter-Terrorism Unit, said.

"But you then have to get the follow-up right and if we, the international community, don't get the politics right, the reconstruction, the economic and the governing solutions in the right place then it will lead to Daesh (ISIL) 2.0 or al-Qaeda 3.0," Marriott warned.