Terrorism and extremism weekly summary: 13 – 19 March

Europe

39-year-old Ziyed Ben Belgacem was shot at Paris Orly airport on Saturday 18 March after grabbing a weapon of a patrolling soldier. Belgacem initially shot and wounded a soldier during a regular police control in northern Paris before driving to the airport in the morning hours local time. Belgacem has previously been on trial for armed robbery and drug trafficking, and during the attack he was under the influence of alcohol, marijuana and cocaine. He was most likely radicalised in prison while serving a five-year sentence. Despite strong security measures, as well as continuing state of emergency, it is difficult for security services to anticipate and prevent similar cases, such as one man’s attempt to enter the Louvre museum with a machete in February 2017.

On Wednesday 15 March an IMF officer in Paris sustained injuries when a letter containing explosives detonated in her hands. This happened only a day after a similar home-made explosive package detonated at the German Ministry of Finance in Berlin. The Paris attack was also prefaced by telephone threats. Responsibility for the Berlin attack has been claimed by Greek anarchist group the Conspiracy of Cells of Fire (SPF), who also stated they will continue to attack Europe in retaliation for arrests of several of the group members. This makes the SPF also the most probable instigator of the attack on IMF.

According to a spokesman for the French government, an Algerian man suspected of connections to Salafist radicals has been arrested in the city of Verviers on 13 March. The man will likely be deported back to Algeria, stated French immigration officers.

On 14 March, police units have carried out raids in eight private residences, a mosque and several business buildings in the German city of Hildesheim, Lower Saxony. These locations were singled out as places associated with the illegal group Islamic Circle in Hildesheim that is also connected to Anis Anri, the man responsible for the Berlin Christmas market attack. Similar raids became common in Germany after the Berlin attack and dozens of people suspected of connections to Islamic radicals have already been arrested.

On 17 March, the Basque separatist group ETA has announced its resolve to fully disarm by 8 April, a French activist tied to the organisation said. There has been a ceasefire between the ETA and the French and Spanish governments since 2011, however, the countries have rejected a disarmament agreement so far due to the ETA demanding the release of its currently arrested members in exchange for a ceasefire. The disarmament will be monitored by a special international committee.

Middle East

A suicide bomber has killed 32 people and injured 45 more in an attack on a court building in Damascus, Syria, on 15 March. This was closely followed by another suicide attack at a restaurant in the Al-Rabweh area, also injuring dozens. According to a local police chief, the first attacker arrived at the court building armed with grenades and a shotgun, which were then seized by a police patrol. While the patrol was preparing to further search the man, he ran into the building and detonated his suicide vest. No one has claimed responsibility for the attack yet. Bombings are not uncommon in Damascus, even despite the Syrian army’s successes in expelling radical Islamists from their strongholds. On Saturday March 11, for example, a suicide bombing followed by another detonation killed 74 Shia pilgrims.

Africa

At least 13 people were killed and 15 injured during two suicide bombings carried out using cars loaded with explosives in the Somalian capital Mogadishu on March 13. The first attack, killing five people, occurred in front of Hotel Wehliye in the city centre, while the second one was aimed at a local military base. Local militant group Al-Shabaab has claimed responsibility for both attacks. The group has increased its activity in the last four years and intensified attacks against both civilians as well as the Somalian government, which is currently not able to effectively prevent such activities. A training mission, EUTM Somalia, is active in the country, focusing on strengthening local security forces.  

About author: Nikola Blokešová

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