In its annual report, “Index of Terrorism in the Arab Region,” Maat reveals the high rate of terrorist operations in 2021, and the Houthis are second only to ISIS in the number of terrorist operations
Okeil: The ongoing armed conflicts and political turmoil contributed to the rise in terrorist operations during 2021
Sherif Abdul-Hamid: ISIS adopted the concept of "economic terrorism" to inflame the population's anger against Arab governments
Ali Muhammad: The slowdown in returning foreign fighters to Al-Hol camp threatens of the emergence of other generations of extremists
Maat for Peace, Development and Human Rights has issued its annual report on terrorism in the Arab region. In its report entitled "Index of Terrorism in the Arab Region 2021", Maat showed an increase in the rate of terrorist operations in 2021, compared to the same number of operations in 2020. As a consequence, the rate of terrorist operations, deaths and injuries resulting from these attacks have also increased. Civilians have become vulnerable to indiscriminate attacks that lead to their killing, displacement, and internal migration, which, in turn, undermines a range of basic human rights. Maat stated that terrorist groups have carried about 904 terrorist attacks in 2021, killing 1,799 and injuring 1,912 others.
Terrorist operations in 2021 caused the death of about 356 civilians, based on indiscriminate and sometimes deliberate attacks, making up about 19.8% of the total number of deaths from terrorist operations. Iraq came in the highest index of terrorism in the Arab region. According to Maat, ISIS and pro-Iranian militias claimed responsibility for about 248 operations in Iraq in 2021. The report noted that the Maghreb and North Africa are the least geographical areas affected by terrorism in the Arab region, followed by the Gulf region, which recorded a decline in the rate of terrorist operations in 2021, except for the terrorist operations carried out by the Houthis against infrastructure and civilian objects in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and inside Yemen. Maat documented that the Houthis claimed responsibility for 188 terrorist operations in 2021, and that all countries of the Gulf region kept their record free of terrorist operations.
The report further indicated that ISIS in Iraq and Syria and its affiliates, Al-Shabab in Somalia, the Houthis in Yemen, and Hay’at Tahrir Al-Sham in Syria were the most active terrorist group in 2021 in the Arab region. These groups claimed responsibility for 651 terrorist operations, which is 72% of the total terrorist operations and they are also responsible for the largest percentage of deaths in Arab countries as a result of terrorism in 2021.
In its annual report, Maat drew attention to the factors leading to the spread of terrorism in the Arab region during 2021, which included the inability of national armies in conflict areas to resolve the conflict in their favor, vis-à-vis non-state actors, in addition to the absence of political consensus among all the actors in the countries in transition, in addition to external interventions in Arab countries and support for armed militias operating outside the state.
The report did not overlook the efforts made by security services and institutions in a number of countries in the region to combat the terrorist phenomenon, as well as the preemptive strikes to ward off terrorism and the tight policies to combat its financing. Finally, the report urged the countries that have not yet ratified the Arab Convention on Combating Terrorism to ratify it, and the Arab countries that are not members of the Global Coalition against Daesh to join it to exchange good practices and lessons learned and benefit from advice, as well as adopting unified Arab positions to expel all mercenaries and foreign forces from Arab countries, especially countries in conflict situations.
Commenting on the high rate of terrorist operations in 2021, Ayman Okeil, the international human rights expert and president of Maat, explained that the sustainability of armed conflicts, political unrest, foreign interventions, and the national armies’ loss of their control over territory in favor of armed non-state actors, contributed to the high rate of these operations during this year. Okeil added that despite the measures to combat terrorist financing, terrorist groups still maintain financial capacity and diversified sources of income that enable them to plan and carry out operations and recruit other individuals to fight and pay the salaries of mercenaries, despite its recent losses, which were the loss of a wide range of lands it controlled, and the losses that affected the leaders of the first row, especially in ISIS in Iraq.
Okeil explained that these groups used the Internet as an effective tool to attract new members. However, the ability of terrorist groups in the Arab region to recruit new fighters remained limited in 2021, except for the Houthis, who began to recruit more individuals in Yemen using the policy of intimidation and economic destitution of the majority of the population in the regions under their control in northern Yemen.
Okeil stressed that ISIS remained the most active terrorist group in the Arab region during 2021, by adopting about 206 terrorist operations, which is 23.7% of the total terrorist operations in the Arab region in 2021. Okeil added that ISIS is responsible for 35% of the total deaths due to terrorism during 2021, and warned that stimulating hate speech and promoting sectarianism as an alternative to citizenship in some Arab countries made it an environment conducive to carrying out terrorist operations. He called for working to promote religious tolerance and combating hate speech, as well as investing in programs for the rights of women and religious minorities, in addition to providing social services to deserving groups, all of which are solutions that reduce the conditions that promote terrorism.
In the same context, Sherif Abdul-Hamid, director of the Research and Studies Unit at Maat, said that the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) began in 2021 to target the infrastructure in the areas in which it is active. Abdel Hamid considered that ISIS’s targeting of power transmission towers, oil and gas fields, and water stations is a new form of terrorism, called “economic terrorism” and aims to inflame the anger of the population against Arab governments, especially in Syria and Iraq. It is likely that ISIS will continue in 2022 to use the guerrilla tactic to exhaust the national armies and security forces.
Abdul Hamid called on the Arab countries to participate in the global forums to combat terrorism in a way that allows the exchange of expertise, information, and good experiences, and in a manner that enhances the ability of countries to curb terrorism. He stressed the need not to use measures to prevent and confront terrorism as a tool to silence dissent and impose restrictions on civil society and human rights defenders.
For his part, Ali Muhammad, a senior researcher at Maat, said that the slowdown in returning foreign fighters living in the Al-Hol camp in northeastern Syria to their countries makes the situation in the camp potentially explosive, given the extremist ideology that has been disseminated in the camp, which threatens of the emergence of other generations of extremists. Muhammad added that terrorism has a fatal impact on the realization of human rights and fundamental freedoms, as it undermines the stability of governments, exposes peace and security to various and asymmetric risks, threatens social and economic development, and delays the achievement of sustainable development goals.