Terrorism sans frontières, countering it sans frontières
The nature of terrorist attacks changed when al-Qaeda used civilian planes with passengers on board as weapons to attack civilian targets in the U.S. on Sept. 11, 2001. 9/11 marked the beginning of global guerilla warfare.
Al-Qaeda had nothing to do with its predecessors. It promoted a kind of “Islamist international,” rejecting the validity of nation states and using extensive terror against the masses with signature attacks.
Its organization had nothing to do with known illegal networks either, opening new franchises for jihadist groups across the world.
The answer to al-Qaeda proved to be not as successful. The fight against al-Qaeda could not be confined to Afghanistan, where it was based, as if it was a one-country (or even one-region)-based organization using violence for its political goals. It is true that its founding leader, Osama bin Laden, was killed in Pakistan on May 2, 2011, but proof of the ultimate failure of the U.S.-led Western strategy against al-Qaeda was the subsequent birth and rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL).
ISIL was born under the circumstances of the Syria civil war in early 2013. Its rise followed Bashar al-Assad’s release of al-Qaeda prisoners in late 2011, in his attempt to show the West that he was the lesser - or even preferable - evil.
It was soon understood that ISIL was not “al-Qaeda 2.0,” but something of an entirely different kind. It raised the bar of violence to mind-blowing levels: Around 70,000 mostly Shiite Iraqi soldiers fled the country’s second biggest city Mosul in one day when faced with around 1,000 ISIL militants seizing the city in June 2014. It also negated national borders like al-Qaeda, but at the same time aimed to set up its own states superimposed over existing ones, exemplified by ISIL’s control over an area covering both Syria and Iraq.
When ISIL felt that it had trained and exported enough militants carrying European and other Western passports, it started aiming blows elsewhere. The first example was in Suruç, Turkey, on July 20, 2015.
Ankara, Paris, Beirut, Istanbul and Brussels also became targets for ISIL suicide bombing attacks.
Essentially, what ISIL is doing is “terrorism sans frontière,” enabled by the willingness of suicide attackers with no need for exit plans after carrying out their bloody missions.
To counter the threat of these attacks, a “sans frontière” strategy is needed. Leaving problems behind and leaving behind mistakes made in the past (since no one anywhere had the right diagnosis of ISIL when it first emerged), countries currently suffering from ISIL attacks must set up an effective political-military coordination mechanism to overcome the purely military dimension of the problem. They need to find for a longer term, a political-economic mechanism to find and solve its root causes.
But first, a combined and coordinated strategy is needed in order to counter the immediate threat of ISIL, which could set an example in countering security threats against other organizations using terror - including the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), another group that Turkey is fighting against in its two-front terrorism war.