The Islamic State claimed responsibility for a bomb attack at a Shiite mosque that was packed for Ramadan on Friday in Kuwait. Sixteen people were killed and 179 were wounded in the attack, according to the Associated Press.
Ramadan, famous for its dawn-to-dusk fasting and evening feasting, is observed by millions of Muslims around the world. It's a time of intense religious importance in the Islamic world, with Muslims encouraged to regularly pray and help those less fortunate.
Yet, for those watching the Islamic State, the month of Ramadan has given them reason to worry. Ramadan is seen as time of action for the extremist group, which sees the month's religious importance as an added imperative for jihad, and its traditions as an opportunity to go on the offensive.
Just earlier this week, Islamic State spokesman Abu Mohammed al-Adnani called on the group's followers to turn Ramadan into a time of "calamity for the infidels ... Shiites and apostate Muslims." We may have witnessed this on Friday.
The Islamic State has a history of making dramatic moves during Ramadan. Last year, for example, the group declared its "caliphate" on the first day of Ramadan, with Adnani declaring "a new era of international jihad."
It was a clear escalation of the group's rhetoric, and its timing was unmistakable. Shortly after this announcement, the newly proclaimed caliph, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, made his first public appearance, and he was unequivocal about the importance of Ramadan to the Islamic State. “There is no deed in this virtuous month or in any other month better than jihad in the path of Allah, so take advantage of this opportunity and walk the path of your righteous predecessors,” Baghdadi told his supporters.
As the terrorism research firm Soufan Group has noted, it wasn't the first time that the Islamic State had made major moves that coincided with Ramadan. In 2013, the group, then known as the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, broke into Abu Ghraib, an infamous prison in Iraq. Many of the prisoners who escaped during this raid went on to join the group, bolstering its following in both numbers and fervor. "There's no underestimating the boost to morale," analyst Charles Lister told The Post at the time.
And in 2012, the group launched a bombing campaign targeting security forces and Shiite neighborhoods in Iraq that left many dead. At the time, the Guardian noted that the bombings appeared to be timed to cause maximum carnage around Ramadan's predawn meals. "We are starting a new stage," Baghdadi said in an audio recording released before the bombings.
Some analysts had predicted some kind of similar event in Ramadan in 2015. In its recently released forecast for the Islamic State, the Institute for the Study of War wrote that the Islamic State is "likely preparing a surge of operations to try to achieve important campaign objectives" during Ramadan. The report suggests that the Islamic State may try to seize a historic city or attack a Shiite holy site in a bid to further inflame sectarian tensions, though both would be ambitious tasks.
Some had also pointed out that this the first Ramadan in which the Islamic State's vast social media presence and international support are fully developed. The Soufan Group had noted that these social media supporters have called for so-called "lone wolf" attacks.
In its primary battlefield of Iraq and Syria, the Islamic State has suffered some major defeats recently, such as the loss of Tikrit in April, and its recent routing in Tal Abyad, a defeat that cuts the group off from a key border crossing with Turkey. Yet the group still seems far from collapse: This week Islamic State militants infiltrated Kobane and carried out suicide attacks that left scores dead. With attacks linked to Ramadan, the Islamic State may hope to remind the world that even if it is losing on the battlefield, it can still create pain.
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