Islamic State Attacks in France and Indonesia, and Canada’s Returned Islamic State Member
The information, data and findings from the below brief was collected by and sourced from TRAC: Terrorism Research & Analysis Consortium, in partnership with the Mackenzie Institute. Please click here to visit TRAC.
Islamic State (IS) Knife Attack Near Opera District, Central Paris, France (05/12/18)
On 12 May 2018, at 09:00pm local time, a lone attacker armed with a knife stabbed at least six people in a small street between the old Opera house and Le Louvre museum in the Second Arrondissement of central Paris; killing one and injuring five others. Police opened fire on the suspect and shot him dead at the scene.
The attacker was identified as a French citizen born in 1997 in Argyn, Chechnya, the Russian Federation. Naturalized in 2010, the suspect has been on the “S List” since 2016. He studied in Strasbourg. Islamic State’s Amaq News Agency released a video identifying him as Hamzat Azimov.
IS claimed credit for the attack. According to the claim, the attack was carried out by “a soldier of the Islamic State in response to appeals targeting the coalition countries.”
Paris itself is a very popular subject for IS posters and propaganda. Since the beginning of 2018, there have been no less than thirteen posters issued on the topic of Paris, not counting recycled posters that have been in circulation from the year prior. The popular IS mantra “Paris before Rome” is used in both IS video and poster production. As expected, Islamic State supporters on Telegram were quick to celebrate the attack.
When asked about the attacks, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said: “Canada stands strongly with our French friends and cousins through this terrible attack. We know how important it is for all of us to stand strongly and firmly against threats of international terrorism and support each other as we try to create a world filled with safety, security, and economic opportunity for all of our citizens.”
Islamic State East Asia (ISEA) Suicide Attacks on Three Churches in Surabaya, East Java, Indonesia (05/13/18)
On 13 May 2018, three individual churches were attacked in coordination with suicide bombers in Surabaya, East Java, Indonesia. The first attack occurred at 07:30am local time, and the other two attacks happened within five minutes of the first. The three combined bombings, thus far, have killed fourteen people and wounded at least 45 more (attackers excluded). IS’s Amaq Agency immediately claimed responsibility for the Surabaya Centre Pentecostal Church attack, and later issued a longer claim for all three “martyrdom” attacks and reinforced that there were three modes of attack: a car bomb, a suicide vest, and a motorcycle-borne bomb.
- Santa Maria Catholic Church: The first bomb went off in Santa Maria Catholic Church, when the two brothers, aged 16 and 18, detonated their VBIEDs on motorcycles after the earlier mass was over while the church was preparing to hold a second service.
- Surabaya Centre Pentecostal Church: The Father drove a VBIED into the church’s parking lot triggering the vehicles inside to catch fire. Additionally, SWAT teams found an undetonated IED inside the church and successfully disarmed it. ISEA issued claim of credit within hours of the attack.
- Diponegoro Indonesian Christian Church: The Mother and her two daughters, aged 9 and 12, detonated their suicide vests inside the church.
The attackers were identified as Dita Oepriarto (46) and his wife Puji (42) and their four children—two sons, Yusuf, 18, Firman, 16, and two daughters, Fadhila 12, and Famela, 9. Oepriarto reportedly was the head of the local chapter of Jemaah Ansharut Daulah (JAD).
Puji Kuswati was born in Banyuwangi, East Java. With 268 friends on Facebook, she listed her employer as Azzam Corp and her supervisor as Rohim Binjai, who previously claimed to have worked for the Islamic State. Indonesian police reported that the family was connected to the sleeper cell of Oman Rochman (better known as Aman Abdurrahman). Abdurrahman has directed multiple attacks from inside of his prison cell, and TRAC suspected that Abdurrahman was behind the Depok prison break and deadly riot earlier this month.
The attack is unprecedented for many reasons. First, not only is it the only documented case of a female suicide bomber in Indonesia, but more importantly, it is the first documented case of an entire family—including two very young daughters—being a part of a coordinated series of attacks in separate areas. Though it is typical that attackers will recruit relatives, it has never been an entire family involved in a coordinated suicide assault. Moreover, having a mother and her four children die in suicide attacks, let alone on Mother’s Day, has a strategic and psychological effect well beyond the nature of the attacks themselves.
Second, authorities reported that all members of the family were returning “foreign fighters” from Syria—a likely sign they were trained and sent back to Indonesia to carry out these attacks by the Islamic State’s external operations branch, Emni, or Amn al-Kharji. Given that IS’s claim of responsibility came quickly after the attacks and was so accurately described, the group may have had prior knowledge that the attacks were set to take place.
Lastly, the attacks came two days before Ramadan 2018, a highly anticipated event for IS supporters. Dubbed as the “month of battles and conquering,” it is based on the historical events of Islam, starting from Islam’s first battle, “Ghazwa Badr.” This battle happened on the 17th day of the Hijric month of Ramadan, under the command of the Holy Prophet Muhammad.
Canada’s Returned Islamic State Member
A returned Canadian “foreign fighter” who travelled to Syria in 2014 to join the Islamic State appeared on a New York Times podcast called “Caliphate” late last week (though the interview was recorded in October 2016). Known by the jihadi nom de guerre, Abu Huzaifa al-Kanadi (Abu Huzaifa the Canadian), Huzaifa gave a detailed account of two execution-style killings of Sunni men that he had carried out while assigned to Diwan al-Hisba—an IS quasi-police force tasked with enforcing Shariah law and public morality. “One shot. Clean to the head. Just finish them off,” Huzaifa said on the podcast to describe one of the killings. Such apparent confessions, however, come at direct contradiction with an interview he conducted with the CBC in September 2017, and again just last week following the podcast’s publication, where he denied ever killing or harming anyone while in Syria.
Huzaifa left for Syria when he was 17 and spent five months in the northern city of Manbij before escaping IS and surrendering himself to Turkey. After being detained and interrogated by Turkish officials, Huzaifa lived in Pakistan for two years before returning to Canada where he was then interviewed extensively by both CSIS and the RCMP, though no criminal charges were ever laid.
Now 23 years old and employed at a suburban Toronto-based business, Huzaifa’s confession has prompted a strong response from Conservative Members of Parliament over his whereabouts and the suspected threat he poses to Canadian national security. In response to such concerns, Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale was unwilling to give any details about Huzaifa’s status, stating that “the security agencies and police agencies of the government of Canada are making sure that they know all of the facts that they need to know. And that they are taking all of the measures that are necessary to keep Canadians safe.” Goodale later added that “the last thing that would ensure the safety of Canadians is to have a play-by-play commentary on security operations on the floor of the House of Commons.”
The case of Abu Huzaifa does indeed highlight the difficulties in investigating, building a case, and ultimately pressing charges against suspected foreign fighters or “extremist travelers” who have since returned to Canada, a number that CSIS approximates to be around 60 as of August 2017. Establishing a concrete case to prosecute an individual suspected of committing crimes in a war-torn country such as Syria can be an extremely difficult or oftentimes infeasible task for federal agencies due to resource constraints and the operational and logistical barriers of collecting sound and legally permissible evidence. The Canadian government must continue to work interagency between the proper legal, intelligence, and public safety authorities to improve its holistic took-kit for dealing with foreign fighters and “extremist travelers” who return to Canada.
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The above has been compiled by Ryan J. Anderson, an MA student at the Norman Paterson School of International Affairs, Carleton University, specializing in Intelligence and International Affairs. He is a Junior Research Affiliate with the Canadian Network for Research on Terrorism, Security, and Society (TSAS), a research analyst at the International Counter-Terrorism Youth Network (ICTYN), and was previously a Research Fellow at the Centre for International and Defence Policy (CIDP), Queen’s University. You can follow Ryan on Twitter @ryanandrson.