History > 2016 > USA > International > Global terrorism (I)
March 25, 2016
Into a Nuclear-Free Reality
MAY 27, 2016
The Opinion Pages | Editorial
By THE EDITORIAL BOARD
“We come to ponder a terrible force,” President Obama said of his
purpose in going to the Hiroshima memorial on Friday, the only sitting American
president to do so in the 71 years since the United States dropped the first
atomic bomb, killing 140,000 people. He mourned the victims and called for a
global “moral awakening” on nuclear weapons. His message would have been all the
more powerful had he also announced concrete plans for bringing the world a step
closer to his nuclear-free vision.
Visits to war memorials are often fraught, and this one more than most. There
were debates about whether Mr. Obama should go at all, whether he should meet
survivors of the attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and whether he should
apologize for America’s decision to drop the bombs, which ended World War II in
Mr. Obama made no apology and affirmed that Japan was responsible for the war,
which “grew out of the same base instinct for domination or conquest that had
caused conflicts among the simplest tribes.” That was important, given that
Japan’s prime minister, Shinzo Abe, has often sought to rewrite the history,
portraying Japan as a victim of the war as well.
As for the future, Mr. Obama said it could be one in which “Hiroshima and
Nagasaki are known not as the dawn of atomic warfare, but as the start of our
own moral awakening.” Reprising the soaring words of his 2009 speech in Prague,
he declared, “We must have the courage to escape the logic of fear and pursue a
world without” nuclear weapons, while acknowledging that it is unlikely to
Mr. Obama made headway by concluding the 2010 New Start Treaty, which mandates
cuts in the strategic nuclear warheads deployed by America and Russia, and by
achieving the 2015 nuclear deal to keep Iran from gaining a nuclear weapon.
Beyond that, his vision has run aground. Much fault lies with Russia, which
opposes more arms reduction; the Senate, which refuses to ratify the
Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty; and Pakistan, which has blocked talks on a treaty
to halt production of fissile material.
Yet Mr. Obama has undercut his own record with a $1 trillion program to rebuild
the American nuclear arsenal over the next 30 years. A new Pentagon report shows
that he has eliminated fewer nuclear weapons than any president since the end of
the Cold War.
Neither Mr. Obama nor Mr. Abe addressed Japan’s 47 tons of separated plutonium
from its energy program. It could be used to make thousands of nuclear weapons,
is a tempting terrorist target and raises the risk of a wider race to stockpile
plutonium. South Korea and China, for instance, have expressed interest in
acquiring reprocessing plants. A plan to end Japan’s reprocessing would have
been a fitting achievement for the historic visit.
Other initiatives, like canceling America’s new air-launched, nuclear-armed
cruise missile, are still possible. Soaring words alone will not rid the world
of nuclear weapons.
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A version of this editorial appears in print on May 28, 2016, on page A16 of the
New York edition with the headline: Turning Words Into a Nuclear-Free Reality.
Turning Words Into a Nuclear-Free Reality,
May 27, 2016,
The World Reaps What the Saudis Sow
MAY 27, 2016
The New York Times
The Opinion Pages | Editorial
By THE EDITORIAL BOARD
Saudi Arabia has frustrated American policy makers for years.
Ostensibly a critical ally, sheltered from its enemies by American arms and aid,
the kingdom has spent untold millions promoting Wahhabism, the radical form of
Sunni Islam that inspired the 9/11 hijackers and that now inflames the Islamic
The latest chapter in this long, sorrowful history involves tiny Kosovo. With a
population of only 1.8 million people, Kosovo has sent more of its young people
per capita than any other country to fight and die in Iraq and Syria. Since
2012, some 314 Kosovars have joined the Islamic State, including two suicide
bombers, 44 women and 28 children. Even Belgium, widely seen as a hotbed of
extremism after the attacks on Paris and Brussels, lags behind it in the
As detailed by Carlotta Gall in a recent article in The Times, Kosovo is in this
position largely because Saudi Arabia and other Persian Gulf states have spent
years developing and funding a network of imams, mosques and secretive
associations there. And while there is no evidence that any group gave money
directly and explicitly to persuade Kosovars to go to Syria, senior officials in
Kosovo told Ms. Gall that extremist clerics and groups have spent heavily to
promote radical Islamic thinking among young and vulnerable people. “The issue
is they supported thinkers who promote violence and jihad in the name of
protecting Islam,” Fatos Makolli, head of Kosovo’s counterterrorism police, told
The United States and NATO invested heavily in helping Kosovo gain independence
from Serbia in 2008 and establish democracy. That Saudi Arabia should be using
Kosovo as a breeding ground for extremists, or allowing it to be used as a
breeding ground by any Saudi entity or citizen, is a cruel reminder of the
contradictory and even duplicitous behavior of America’s partners in the Persian
Gulf and helps to explain why its relationships with those countries have become
Kosovo, rescued from Serbian oppression after months of NATO bombing in 1999,
has been known as a tolerant society. For centuries, the Muslim majority has
followed the liberal Hanafi version of Islam, which is accepting of others.
Since the war, that tradition has been threatened by Saudi-trained imams, their
costs paid by Saudi-sponsored charities, preaching the primacy of Shariah law
and fostering violent jihad and takfirism, which authorizes the killing of
Muslims viewed as heretics.
Most Kosovars have resisted such proselytizing, and officials in Kosovo say that
support for the United States and the West remains strong. Yet experts point to
a number of reasons the country has been fertile ground for recruitment to
radical ideology: a large population of young people living in rural poverty
with little hope of jobs; corruption and an attendant lack of faith in
government; and, according to a 2015 report by the Kosovar Center for Security
Studies, an education system that does not encourage critical thinking.
It remains unclear why Kosovo’s government, as well as the United States and the
United Nations officials who administered postwar Kosovo, did not act sooner.
The Americans may have erred in assuming that Kosovo’s moderate religious
community would prevent extremism from flourishing.
The 9/11 attacks quickly clarified the dangers. Several Saudi organizations in
Kosovo were closed, and the Saudi government, which appears to have reduced its
aid to Kosovo, now insists that it has imposed strict controls on charities,
mosques and clerical teachings. Even so, Kuwait, Qatar and the United Arab
Emirates have increased funding for Islamic hard-liners in Kosovo.
The Sunni Arab states still do not seem to understand the extent to which
extreme versions of Islam imperil them as well. Although the Saudi royal family
relies on the Wahhabi clerics for their political legitimacy, the Islamic State
accuses the monarchy of corrupting the faith to preserve its power. Since 2014,
there have been 20 terrorist attacks in the kingdom, many staged by ISIS.
The Kosovo government, working with the United States, has acted to combat
extremism by adopting new antiterror laws, cracking down on the money laundering
that underwrites radical groups and stepping up police investigations. The flow
of Kosovo’s citizens heading to fight with the Islamic State apparently has
fallen to zero in the last seven months, while the number of Kosovars on the
battlefield is down to 140.
Yet at least two radical imams continue to preach in Kosovo’s capital, Pristina,
and draw crowds of young men. Much work is still to be done to protect the
independence and spirit of tolerance that Kosovo worked so hard to achieve.
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A version of this editorial appears in print on May 28, 2016, on page A16 of the
New York edition with the headline: The World Reaps What the Saudis Sow.
The World Reaps What the Saudis Sow,
NYT, May 27, 2016,
What Happens After the Drone Strike?
MAY 25, 2016
The Opinion Pages
By THE EDITORIAL BOARD
The United States has for years held off targeting senior Taliban
leaders while they were inside Pakistan’s Baluchistan Province, where Pakistan’s
powerful army has long protected them. But President Obama crossed that line by
authorizing the drone strike that killed the Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar
Muhammad Mansour on Saturday. Calling the killing “an important milestone,” Mr.
Obama said he had acted because Mullah Mansour was preparing attacks on American
targets in Afghanistan and had resisted peace talks.
The attack was a sign of American exasperation with Pakistan’s duplicitous game
of working with Washington to combat terrorism while sheltering the Taliban and
its even more hard-line partners in the Haqqani network. The Pakistanis have
relied on the Taliban and the Haqqanis to protect their interests in Afghanistan
and prevent India from increasing its influence there.
After Mullah Mansour replaced Mullah Muhammad Omar, the Taliban leader who died
in 2013, the Americans and Afghans expected that Pakistan’s security services
would persuade him to help negotiate a political agreement with Afghanistan,
which remains the only viable solution to the war. Mullah Mansour instead
rejected peace talks and stepped up attacks on Afghan and American targets,
enlarging the Taliban’s territorial control and further destabilizing Kabul’s
The fact that Mr. Obama has now ordered an attack in Baluchistan, rather than
the border region where Pakistan has tolerated previous American operations,
raises a big question: Does he intend to expand the American mission in
Afghanistan, now focused on training and advising Afghan forces and ensuring
that Al Qaeda cannot rebuild?
There are 10,000 American troops in Afghanistan, a number that is scheduled to
drop to 5,500 by the end of the year. Military commanders appear likely to
recommend against such a reduction. In Vietnam on Monday, Mr. Obama insisted
that “we are not re-entering the day-to-day combat operations” that he declared
an end to in 2014. But he is under pressure in Congress and elsewhere to
significantly step up the fight. That would be a questionable choice for which
he has not yet made a case.
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columnists, The Times editorial board and contributing writers from around the
Mullah Mansour’s taxi was obliterated from the sky as he returned to Pakistan
from Iran. News reports said he went there for medical treatment, but one expert
told The Times that Iran has been quietly helping the Taliban for several years,
as a hedge in case the militants regain power in Kabul.
Pakistan complained Monday that the strike had violated its sovereignty. But
much like the American raid that killed Osama bin Laden in 2011 in a Pakistani
garrison town, the attack might not have been necessary had Pakistan cooperated
in the first place and worked with the Americans to defeat the Taliban.
The killing is certain to worsen relations between Pakistan and America, which
are already frayed. Other effects are less predictable. One hopeful possibility
is that Taliban leaders will feel more threatened, making Mullah Mansour’s
successor amenable to peacemaking. Conversely, the Taliban, which now suffers
from internal divisions, could coalesce under a more ruthless leader. A third
possibility is that it could lose fighters to the Islamic State. In any case,
studies suggest that killing terrorist leaders usually does not mean an end to
The question to Mr. Obama is whether this killing is merely an end in itself or
part of a strategy to drive Pakistan, America’s supposed ally, and Taliban
leaders to the peace table.
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A version of this editorial appears in print on May 25, 2016, on page A20 of the
New York edition with the headline: What Happens After the Drone Strike?.
What Happens After the Drone Strike?,
NYT, May 25, 2016,
Scores Are Killed
as a Wave of Bombings
MAY 11, 2016
The New York Times
By FALIH HASSAN
and OMAR AL-JAWOSHY
BAGHDAD — In a burst of attacks recalling Iraq’s sectarian civil
war, three bombings in three different neighborhoods of Baghdad killed more than
90 people on Wednesday and wounded scores more, the Iraqi authorities said.
The Islamic State claimed responsibility for the biggest attack, in a crowded
food market in the Shiite neighborhood of Sadr City in northern Baghdad.
Explosives hidden in a parked pickup truck loaded with fruit and vegetables
detonated around 10 a.m., killing at least 66 people and wounding 87 others.
The other two bombings were reported at a police checkpoint in the Kadhmiya
neighborhood in northwest Baghdad, where 17 were killed, and at another police
checkpoint in the Jamiya neighborhood in central Baghdad, where nine died.
Blood covered the ground at the market in Sadr City, with clothing and slippers,
apparently from the victims, scattered throughout the market. At least 30 shops
were damaged and as many as 20 cars were burned or destroyed.
The death toll from the attack rose steadily through the day. In the late
afternoon, Hakim al-Zamili, the head of the Security and Defense Committee of
the Iraqi Parliament, said the number of dead in the Sadr City attack could be
as high as 95.
The market is especially busy in the morning. Witnesses said the man driving the
truck that exploded had waited in a line of vehicles to enter the market. After
parking, he left, and the vehicle exploded about five minutes later, according
to Murtadha Ali, 55, who was in the area at the time.
Another witness, Ahmed Ali, 26, criticized the response by emergency workers.
“The reaction of the ambulances was slow and weak,” he said.
Among the scores of victims were at least 14 women and 10 children, according to
The Islamic State quickly claimed responsibility for the attack in a statement
circulated on social media accounts. The Sunni terrorist group, also known as
ISIS, , ISIL or Daesh, has often aimed at Shiite communities — Sadr City is one
of Iraq’s largest.
The office of Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi denounced the attack, saying in a
statement that “the latest explosions will not stop us from fighting Daesh.”
Iraqi forces, backed by airstrikes from the American-led coalition fighting the
Islamic State and by Shiite-dominated paramilitary forces, have regained some
territory seized by the Islamic State in 2014. Those forces have been unable to
stop the terrorist group from mounting attacks in the heart of Baghdad, however.
In February, Iraqi security forces announced plans to build a wall around
Baghdad in an effort to prevent further attacks.
Iraq has been in a political crisis in recent months. On April 30, demonstrators
stormed the heavily fortified Green Zone and occupied Parliament, demanding an
end to sectarian quotas in politics, a fight against corruption and improved
The protesters were mostly supporters of the powerful Shiite cleric Moktada
al-Sadr. Sadr City is named after his father, Ayatollah Muhammad Sadiq al-Sadr.
After the explosion in Sadr City on Wednesday, protesters gathered there,
chanting that they would not back down from their demands for change.
Mr. Zamili, the member of Parliament, lamented the government’s failure to
protect citizens from terrorist attacks, saying it showed far more concern for
protecting the Green Zone than for protecting innocent civilians in
neighborhoods like Sadr City. The Green Zone is the government stronghold that
is off limits to ordinary Iraqis.
An officer at the Kadhmiya police checkpoint, Ali Ahmed, said his shift had just
ended and he and his fellow officers were heading to their barracks when he
heard a loud explosion and saw a big fire at the checkpoint.
He said some of his colleagues had been killed and he saw the dead bodies of
several civilians who were trapped in their cars at the checkpoint when the
“Me and my colleagues began to carry the killed and injured, and the ambulances
arrived to carry the killed and injured,” Mr. Ahmed said. “It was a terrible,
shocking view, and I’m shocked and psychologically broken because of what
There have been two huge and deadly explosions in Sadr City since last summer.
On Aug. 13, a truck bomb devastated a food market in the district. On Feb. 28, a
pair of bombers attacked another market there. In both cases, dozens of people
died and the Islamic State claimed responsibility.
A version of this article appears in print on May 12, 2016, on
page A8 of the New York edition with the headline: Scores Killed as Bombings
Bloody 3 Parts of Baghdad.
Scores Are Killed as a Wave of Bombings Bloodies Baghdad,
NYT, May 11, 2016,
15 Ambulances and Hundreds of Victims:
Kabul Attack Gives Service Grim Test
APRIL 20, 2016
The New York Times
By MUJIB MASHAL
and JAWAD SUKHANYAR
KABUL, Afghanistan — Seven minutes after a truck bomb went off in
the Afghan capital on Tuesday, the first teams from Kabul Ambulance Service
reached the scene of devastation.
Right away, they knew the attack was bad, but not that it would turn out to be
the deadliest in the Afghan capital in 15 years of war.
The teams radioed in the extent of the carnage, activating the small
department’s contingency plan: All of its 15 vehicles and staff from across the
city were dispatched to the bomb scene, behind the compound of an elite security
force along the Kabul River.
Mechanics got behind the wheel and clerks took on nursing duties, ferrying the
wounded to the city’s hospitals for hours.
“The doors of two ambulances came off the hinges because they were packed with
too many wounded,” said Dr. Alem Asem, the ambulance service’s director.
On Wednesday, the Afghan government confirmed that the death toll was double
what was initially reported. Sediq Sediqqi, a spokesman for the Interior
Ministry, said that 64 people had been killed and 347 were wounded.
The Afghan intelligence agency blamed the Haqqani network, a lethal arm of the
Taliban behind some of the most complex urban attacks, for the bombing.
But questions have been raised about how the insurgents managed to take large
amounts of explosives into the city, detonating a bomb behind the walls of an
elite force that is supposed to protect the government’s top officials.
On Wednesday, the police had cordoned off the site of the bombing, which
destroyed a large parking lot and the windows of Kabul’s largest mosque, as well
as homes and shops. Not even military personnel were allowed through.
The assault has put more pressure on the dysfunctional coalition government,
brokered by the United States after the 2014 election ended in a stalemate. The
infighting between two former rivals, President Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah
Abdullah, the chief executive, has created stagnation on almost every front.
Even as insurgents have increased their attacks, the government still doesn’t
have a confirmed intelligence chief and minister of defense, because Mr. Ghani
and Mr. Abdullah cannot agree.
“This attack isn’t the first, and it won’t be the last one either,” said
Mohammad Omar Azizi, the Kabul provincial head for the Afghan spy agency, the
National Directorate of Security.
To the 108 people who work for Kabul Ambulance Service, that is a warning to be
prepared for the worst.
The department, created by the Norwegian Red Cross in 2003, was transferred to
the Afghan government a few years ago. It runs a 24-hour call center,
coordinating with five small substations across the crowded capital. On Tuesday,
the entire Kabul Ambulance Service staff that was present rushed to the scene of
the explosion, which occurred before 9 a.m., except for Dr. Asem, the director,
as well as two guards and two workers who staffed the call center.
Even as the firefight between the security forces and militants holed up in the
compound continued after the explosion, the service rushed victims — as many as
12 in a vehicle meant for one or two — to city hospitals.
“I swear bullets were landing, and we had to duck and rush a body to the
ambulance,” said Muhammed Farooq, who has been a mechanic with the service for
eight years. “The cars were full of blood.”
Altogether, Kabul Ambulance Service made 83 trips. (Police ambulances also
arrived at the scene, underscoring the gravity of the situation.) The last of
the wounded was taken to a hospital at 2 p.m., but several ambulances remained
at the site until 4 p.m. in case more victims were pulled from the rubble.
For most of the day, “routine callers” from across the city were told no
ambulances were available, Dr. Asem said.
By 4 p.m., all 15 ambulances were back at headquarters, and staff members were
able to eat lunch, a humble bowl of rice topped with potato and chickpea curry.
The ambulances were scrubbed down, the first-aid kits restocked, the fuel tanks
By 7:30 p.m., the vehicles returned to their substations across the city, ready
for another day.
Follow Mujib Mashal on Twitter @MujMash
Ahmad Shakib contributed reporting.
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A version of this article appears in print on April 21, 2016,
on page A4 of the New York edition with the headline:
Deadly Blast in Kabul Sternly Tests Responders.
15 Ambulances and Hundreds of Victims:
Kabul Attack Gives Service Grim Test,
NYT, April 20, 2016,
Taliban Send Message
With Deadly Kabul Attack
as Fighting Season Begins
APRIL 19, 2016
The New York Times
By MUJIB MASHAL
and AHMAD SHAKIB
KABUL, Afghanistan — Even in a year when violence across
Afghanistan did not relent over the winter months, the Taliban marked the
official start of the spring fighting season with a huge truck bomb in the heart
of Kabul on Tuesday.
Beyond the all-too-familiar carnage — at least 30 dead and more than 300 wounded
— it also sent a message: The Taliban can attack the capital at will, and they
have no intention of engaging in peace talks despite reports of internal rifts.
The location of the bombing, near the compound of an elite force that provides
protection to senior Afghan officials, also demonstrated how vulnerable the
The Taliban have stretched Afghan security forces thin throughout the country,
with fighting raging across multiple provinces. But complex urban attacks remain
crucial to the insurgency because they bring what even major battlefield gains
in remote areas of the country cannot: headlines, and a disruption of daily life
that increases pressure on a coalition government already struggling with
infighting and stagnation.
Security forces in Kabul have been on high alert since the Taliban announced
their annual spring offensive last week, amid reports that suicide bombers had
entered the city and were planning attacks.
Site of Tuesday’s Blast
A car bomb exploded outside the offices of an elite security force that provides
protection to senior government officials.
Directorate of Security for Dignitaries
As is often the case, most of the casualties in Tuesday’s assault were
civilians, Afghan officials said. The United Nations, which recently said
civilians had continued to suffer at record levels in the first quarter of this
year, issued a strong denunciation of the attack.
“The use of high explosives in civilian populated areas, in circumstances almost
certain to cause immense suffering to civilians, may amount to war crimes,” said
Tadamichi Yamamoto, the secretary general’s deputy special representative for
The Taliban’s urban attacks follow a similar pattern: After a vehicle-borne
explosion creates chaos, militants with weapons and suicide vests storm their
target and engage the police or special forces.
Sediq Sediqqi, a spokesman for the Afghan Interior Ministry, said that on
Tuesday a truck full of “probably hundreds of kilograms of explosives” had been
detonated in a parking lot behind the compound of the Directorate of Security
for Dignitaries. Mr. Sediqqi described the area destroyed as “vast.” (The
explosion was so strong that it rattled windows across the city, including those
at the presidential palace.)
Police officials said that a number of militants then entered the compound,
engaging the guards and the police special forces who arrived to clear the area.
But Gen. Abdul Rahman Rahimi, Kabul’s police chief, said that just one militant
had entered the compound, and that he had been gunned down in less than half an
Mr. Sediqqi said that 30 people, mostly civilians, were killed in the explosion,
while health officials reported that 327 wounded had arrived at city hospitals.
The number of casualties was expected to rise, Mr. Sediqqi said.
A spokesman for the Taliban, Zabihullah Mujahid, issued a statement claiming
responsibility for the attack.
President Ashraf Ghani, who visited the wounded in hospitals on Tuesday, accused
the Taliban of working for the enemies of his country. “Afghanistan remembers
the day you had whips in your hands, killing people,” he said. “We will avenge
every drop of the Afghan blood that is shed.”
Eyewitnesses described the mayhem after the attack, which took place during the
early morning rush. One of the wounded, Sadiqullah, 25, said more than a dozen
vehicles near him had been badly damaged, and their drivers and passengers
injured or killed.
“I saw people lying on the road hopelessly — some screaming, others silently
giving out their last breath and some already dead,” he said.
Mr. Sadiqullah, who runs a tea shop and who like many Afghans goes by one name,
said the blast was “so strong that I felt it struck me or my shop personally.”
On a visit to the site of the attack, Abdullah Abdullah, the chief executive of
the Afghan government, said it showed “the depth of barbarity and terror of
Afghanistan’s enemies.” He said the country’s defense and security forces had
remained on alert because the Taliban had clearly rejected “our calls for
For much of the winter, the struggling coalition government tried to get the
Taliban to participate in peace talks, in the hopes of avoiding another bloody
year. At the heart of the effort was reaching out to the government and powerful
military of Pakistan, elements of which are believed to be aiding the Taliban
and providing its leadership with sanctuaries on Pakistani soil.
The outreach, which also involved the United States and China, created early
optimism. A date for face-to-face talks was set for early March, with Pakistan
promising to deliver Taliban leaders to the table.
But the Taliban rejected the talks, instead starting the spring offensive and
intensifying attacks across the country. It became clear that the new leader of
the insurgent movement, Mullah Akhtar Muhammad Mansour, had no interest in
discussions. He had used the winter months to consolidate his ranks, through a
mix of brutal crackdowns on dissent and doling out new posts to discontented
members of the group.
To protest Tuesday’s attack, Mr. Abdullah’s office said he would postpone a trip
to Pakistan, believing that the attack was planned on its soil.
Follow Mujib Mashal on Twitter @MujMash.
Jawad Sukhanyar contributed reporting.
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A version of this article appears in print on April 20, 2016,
on page A6 of the New York edition with the headline:
Taliban Begin Fighting Season With an Attack in Kabul.
Taliban Send Message With Deadly Kabul Attack as Fighting Season
NYT, April 19, 2016,
The Day Horror Invaded the Park
MARCH 30, 2016
The New York Times
By SARAH ELEAZAR
Lahore, Pakistan — A POLICE officer standing guard in front of
Gulshan-e-Iqbal Park on Tuesday morning glared when I asked him to recount
Sunday’s events. Ushering me into the park, he said to see for myself.
On Sunday, hundreds of people — mostly families with children — had gathered at
Gulshan-e-Iqbal, one of the city’s largest parks, to enjoy the Easter day and
the temperate weather. Griffin Iqbal, his wife, Samia, and their sons,
6-year-old Max and 4-year-old Adan, headed over after their church service. The
boys spent their pocket money on popcorn and ice cream from a stall near the
blue fountain and a ride called Hilly Gilly.
Around 6:15 p.m., Mr. Iqbal told the children it was time to leave. Adan dropped
to the ground and kicked his legs in protest. His father scooped him up, took
Max’s hand and walked to the gate. They had barely stepped out of the park when
their ears rang with a deafening explosion and the ground shook.
Fearing a stampede, Mr. Iqbal told people running toward the park that the
machinery of one of the rides must have malfunctioned. “But my words were
drowned by screams that issued from the park,” he said.
A splinter group of the Pakistani Taliban called Jamaat-e-Ahrar claimed
responsibility for the attack, which killed at least 72 people, including dozens
of children, and injured hundreds. The group said the target of its suicide
bomber was the Christian minority, celebrating Easter. But when the city’s
hospitals counted the dead, they found that more Muslims than Christians had
That terrible night, thousands thronged the corridors of four city hospitals
seeking to donate blood to the victims. Some taxi services announced free rides
for those who wanted to give blood, and a blood bank in Karachi offered to ship
its supplies without charge. Anthony Permal, a Pakistani Christian blogger and
marketing professional based in Dubai, tweeted: “Every drop of blood donated
will mix with the blood of the injured. Muslims and Christians will share their
As grieving families walked to the Christian cemetery, Gora Kabristan, on
Monday, bystanders stood in reverential silence. The general sentiment was that
this was not an attack on Christians alone, but on all the residents of Lahore.
In a show of solidarity, Pakistan’s prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, issued a
ritual denunciation of terrorism in a nationally televised address. The army
also began an offensive against the Taliban in the province of Punjab, of which
Lahore is the capital.
Yet the psychological imprint of this attack will be etched deeply into the
consciousness of the Christian minority, which makes up about 1.6 percent of the
population. Over the years, Christians have been cowed into silence by their
extremist persecutors — abetted by a government that has failed to protect them.
There is grief, yes, but where is the outrage? Aside from an official period of
mourning, there will be no public display of grief, no collective act of
commemoration by the city’s main churches. The Christian leadership’s statements
of condemnation and consolation have come through government-approved channels
like Pakistan’s Muslim Ulema Council. The Christians in Lahore are advised by
the government to lie low and let the unwanted attention pass.
Rana Tanveer, a Lahore-based journalist who covers human rights, recalled his
conversations with church leaders, most of whom generally refuse comment or
won’t answer his calls. When they take you into their confidence, he told me, it
is obvious that the community does not think it belongs here.
The only demonstration the churches have organized in recent years was to join
the protests by Muslims against the American pastor Terry Jones, of Burn the
Quran Day infamy. They did so in an effort to safeguard their community, Mr.
“Can we blame them? The entire system works to exclude them from every aspect of
nationhood,” he said.
On Sunday, just hours before the bombing in Lahore, the streets of Islamabad,
the capital, provided another frightening illustration of his point. An
estimated 25,000 protesters gathered for the end of the period of mourning for
Mumtaz Qadri, who was executed in February for the 2011 murder of Salman Taseer.
Mr. Taseer was the governor of Punjab who had criticized Pakistan’s blasphemy
law and spoke out against the conviction of a Christian woman named Asia Bibi
for violating it. For this, Mr. Taseer was shot to death by his own bodyguard,
Demanding, among other things, the execution of Ms. Bibi, the Qadri supporters
left a trail of destruction as they stormed the “red zone,” a secure area
supposed to protect government and embassy buildings. They burned a bus,
ransacked a bus station, destroyed vehicles and surrounded the Parliament
building before the army was called in. Such unimpeded violent expression of
hatred shows how ineffective the government’s resolve to stamp out extremism has
Over the last decade, the government has promised many times to crack down on
the extremists. But Sunday’s attack proves that safety, especially for
minorities, is a luxury the state is failing to provide. The security at
Gulshan-e-Iqbal Park was nearly nonexistent.
On Tuesday, the site of the attack was cordoned off, but the blackened metal
barrier of the Hilly Gilly ride and the scorched tiles of the fountain explained
it all. The policeman guarding the park told me it was the ball bearings in the
attacker’s vest that did the most damage, ripping though victims’ bodies.
“I cried later at home,” he said, now glaring at the ground. “This is the death
Sarah Eleazar is a writer and editor for The Express Tribune.
Follow The New York Times Opinion section on Facebook and Twitter, and sign up
for the Opinion Today newsletter.
A version of this op-ed appears in print on March 30, 2016,
on page A21 of the New York edition with the headline:
The Day Horror Invaded the Park.
The Day Horror Invaded the Park,
NYT, March 30, 2016,
How ISIS Built
the Machinery of Terror
Under Europe’s Gaze
MARCH 29, 2016
The New York Times
By RUKMINI CALLIMACHI
The day he left Syria with instructions to carry out a terrorist
attack in France, Reda Hame, a 29-year-old computer technician from Paris, had
been a member of the Islamic State for just over a week.
His French passport and his background in information technology made him an
ideal recruit for a rapidly expanding group within ISIS that was dedicated to
terrorizing Europe. Over just a few days, he was rushed to a park, shown how to
fire an assault rifle, handed a grenade and told to hurl it at a human
silhouette. His accelerated course included how to use an encryption program
called TrueCrypt, the first step in a process intended to mask communications
with his ISIS handler back in Syria.
The handler, code-named Dad, drove Mr. Hame to the Turkish border and sent him
off with advice to pick an easy target, shoot as many civilians as possible and
hold hostages until the security forces made a martyr of him.
“Be brave,” Dad said, embracing him.
Mr. Hame was sent out by a body inside the Islamic State that was obsessed with
striking Europe for at least two years before the deadly assaults in Paris last
November and in Brussels this month. In that time, the group dispatched a string
of operatives trained in Syria, aiming to carry out small attacks meant to test
and stretch Europe’s security apparatus even as the most deadly assaults were in
the works, according to court proceedings, interrogation transcripts and records
of European wiretaps obtained by The New York Times.
Officials now say the signs of this focused terrorist machine were readable in
Europe as far back as early 2014. Yet local authorities repeatedly discounted
each successive plot, describing them as isolated or random acts, the connection
to the Islamic State either overlooked or played down.
“This didn’t all of a sudden pop up in the last six months,” said Michael T.
Flynn, a retired Army lieutenant general who ran the Defense Intelligence Agency
from 2012 to 2014. “They have been contemplating external attacks ever since the
group moved into Syria in 2012.”
Mr. Hame was arrested in Paris last August, before he could strike, one of at
least 21 trained operatives who succeeded in slipping back into Europe. Their
interrogation records offer a window into the origins and evolution of an
Islamic State branch responsible for killing hundreds of people in Paris,
Brussels and beyond.
European officials now know that Dad, Mr. Hame’s handler, was none other than
Abdelhamid Abaaoud, the Belgian operative who selected and trained fighters for
plots in Europe and who returned himself to oversee the Paris attack, the
deadliest terrorist strike on European soil in over a decade.
The people in Mr. Abaaoud’s external operations branch were also behind the
Brussels attacks, as well as a foiled attack in a suburb of Paris last week, and
others are urgently being sought, Belgian and French officials say.
“It’s a factory over there,” Mr. Hame warned his interlocutors from France’s
intelligence service after his arrest. “They are doing everything possible to
strike France, or else Europe.”
Missing the Connections
For much of 2012 and 2013, the jihadist group that eventually
became the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, was putting down roots in
Syria. Even as the group began aggressively recruiting foreigners, especially
Europeans, policy makers in the United States and Europe continued to see it as
a lower-profile branch of Al Qaeda that was mostly interested in gaining and
One of the first clues that the Islamic State was getting into the business of
international terrorism came at 12:10 p.m. on Jan. 3, 2014, when the Greek
police pulled over a taxi in the town of Orestiada, less than four miles from
the Turkish border. Inside was a 23-year-old French citizen named Ibrahim
Boudina, who was returning from Syria. In his luggage, the officers found 1,500
euros, or almost $1,700, and a French document titled “How to Make Artisanal
Bombs in the Name of Allah.”
But there was no warrant for his arrest in Europe, so the Greeks let him go,
according to court records detailing the French investigation.
Mr. Boudina was already on France’s watch list, part of a cell of 22 men
radicalized at a mosque in the resort city of Cannes. When French officials were
notified about the Greek traffic stop, they were already wiretapping his friends
and relatives. Several weeks later, Mr. Boudina’s mother received a call from a
number in Syria. Before hanging up, the unknown caller informed her that her son
had been “sent on a mission,” according to a partial transcript of the call.
The police set up a perimeter around the family’s apartment near Cannes,
arresting Mr. Boudina on Feb. 11, 2014.
In a utility closet in the same building, they found three Red Bull soda cans
filled with 600 grams of TATP, the temperamental peroxide-based explosive that
would later be used to deadly effect in Paris and Brussels.
It was not until nearly two years later, on Page 278 of a 359-page sealed court
filing, that investigators revealed an important detail: Mr. Boudina’s Facebook
chats placed him in Syria in late 2013, at the scene of a major battle fought by
a group calling itself the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.
According to a brief by France’s domestic intelligence agency, he was the first
European citizen known to have traveled to Syria, joined the Islamic State and
returned with the aim of committing terrorism. Yet his ties to the group were
buried in French paperwork and went unconnected to later cases.
Including Mr. Boudina, at least 21 fighters trained by the Islamic State in
Syria have been dispatched back to Europe with the intention of causing mass
murder, according to a Times count based on records from France’s domestic
intelligence agency. The fighters arrived in a steady trickle, returning alone
or in pairs at the rate of one every two to three months throughout 2014 and the
first part of 2015.
Like the killers in Paris and Brussels, all of these earlier operatives were
French speakers — mostly French and Belgian citizens, alongside a handful of
immigrants from former French colonies, including Morocco.
They were arrested in Italy, Spain, Belgium, France, Greece, Turkey and Lebanon
with plans to attack Jewish businesses, police stations and a carnival parade.
They tried to open fire on packed train cars and on church congregations. In
their possession were box cutters and automatic weapons, walkie-talkies and
disposable cellphones, as well as the chemicals to make TATP.
Most of them failed. And in each instance, officials failed to catch — or at
least to flag to colleagues — the men’s ties to the nascent Islamic State.
In one of the highest-profile instances, Mehdi Nemmouche returned from Syria via
Frankfurt and made his way by car to Brussels, where on May 24, 2014, he opened
fire inside the Jewish Museum of Belgium, killing four people. Even when the
police found a video in his possession, in which he claimed responsibility for
the attack next to a flag bearing the words “Islamic State of Iraq and Syria,”
Belgium’s deputy prosecutor, Ine Van Wymersch, dismissed any connection.
“He probably acted alone,” she told reporters at the time.
Though the degree to which the operatives were being directed by the Islamic
State might have been unclear at first, a name began to appear in each
successive investigation: Abdelhamid Abaaoud, a Belgian citizen who
counterterrorism officials say rose through the ranks to become a lieutenant of
the Islamic State’s external operations efforts.
In the months before the Jewish museum attack, Mr. Nemmouche’s phone records
reveal that he made a 24-minute call to Mr. Abaaoud, according to a 55-page
report by the French National Police’s antiterror unit in the aftermath of the
“All of the signals were there,” said Michael S. Smith II, a counterterrorism
analyst whose firm, Kronos Advisory, began briefing the United States government
in 2013 on ISIS’ aspirations to strike Europe. “For anyone paying attention,
these signals became deafening by mid-2014.”
It was in the summer of 2014 that the link to the terrorist organization’s
hierarchy became explicit.
On June 22 of that year, a 24-year-old French citizen named Faiz Bouchrane, who
had trained in Syria, was smuggled into neighboring Lebanon. He was planning to
blow himself up at a Shiite target, and during interrogation, he let slip the
name of the man who had ordered him to carry out the operation: Abu Muhammad
Mr. Adnani is the spokesman for ISIS and is considered one of its most senior
members. Just a few days after Mr. Bouchrane checked into a budget hotel in
Beirut, Mr. Adnani released an audio recording announcing the establishment of
“Adnani reportedly leads the external operations planning of the Islamic State,”
said Matthew G. Olsen, the former director of the National Counterterrorism
Intelligence officials in the United States and Europe have
confirmed the broad outlines of the external operations unit: It is a distinct
body inside ISIS, with its command-and-control structure answering to Mr.
Adnani, who reports to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the self-proclaimed caliph of the
The unit identifies recruits, provides training, hands out cash and arranges for
the delivery of weapons once fighters are in position. Although the unit’s main
focus has been Europe, external attacks directed by ISIS or those acting in its
name have been even more deadly beyond Europe’s shores. At least 650 people have
been killed in the group’s attacks on sites popular with Westerners, including
in Turkey, Egypt and Tunisia, according to a Times analysis.
Within the hierarchy, Mr. Abaaoud was specifically tasked with mounting attacks
in Europe, according to the French police report and intelligence brief.
“Abaaoud, known as Abou Omar, was the principal commander of future attacks in
Europe,” Nicolas Moreau, a French jihadist who was arrested last year, told his
French interrogators, according to the report by France’s antiterror police. “He
was in charge of vetting the applications of future candidates.”
In a 2014 audio recording, Abu Muhammad al-Adnani, a spokesman
for the Islamic State, called on Muslims everywhere to kill Europeans,
“especially the spiteful and filthy French.”
In an audio recording released on Sept. 22, 2014, Mr. Adnani, the ISIS spokesman
and chief of the external operations wing, addressed the West.
“We will strike you in your homeland,” he promised, calling on Muslims
everywhere to kill Europeans, “especially the spiteful and filthy French.” And
he urged them to do it in any manner they could: “Smash his head with a rock, or
slaughter him with a knife, or run him over with your car,” he said, according
to a translation provided by the SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors
In the months that followed, a man decapitated his employer near the French city
of Lyon, sending a snapshot of the severed head to the Islamic State. Another
man stormed a police station in Paris, carrying a butcher’s knife and a
photocopy of the Islamic State’s flag.
These are among around two dozen plots linked to the Islamic State that were
documented in the year after Mr. Adnani’s speech. In most, there were no direct
operational ties back to Syria, but there were clear signs that the attacker had
consumed the terrorist group’s propaganda online.
The low potency of these attacks, with single-digit death tolls, combined with
the fact that many of the perpetrators had a history of mental illness, prompted
analysts and officials to conclude that the Islamic State remained a distant
second to Al Qaeda in its ability to carry out attacks on Western soil.
Experts now believe that the Islamic State was actually adopting a strategy
first put forward by an earlier operations leader for Al Qaeda, who argued that
the group would become obsolete if it worked only on 9/11-size plots that took
months or years to mount. He instead called for Al Qaeda to also carry out a
patter of small- and medium-size plots, and to use propaganda to inspire
self-directed attacks by supporters overseas.
In a recent issue of its online magazine in French, Dar al-Islam, the Islamic
State explained the approach, citing a study first published on the French
security blog, kurultay.fr. “The Islamic State has deployed its resources to
generate three types of terrorist attacks,” the study states, specifying that
they include large-scale plots coordinated by the group’s leaders, down to
“isolated actions of self-radicalized people, who have absolutely no direct
contact with ISIS, and yet who will consciously act in its name.”
The same study says the group’s method for carrying out jihad in Europe involves
an adaptation of Auftragstaktik, a combat doctrine within the German Army in the
19th century. Those tactical guidelines call for commanders to give subordinates
a goal and a time frame in which to accomplish it, but otherwise to give them
the freedom to execute it.
The Islamic State quotes the blog, explaining that the terror group adopted the
system to give recruits “complete tactical autonomy,” with few fingerprints that
could be tracked back to the group, and “no micromanaging.”
The Recruit Pipeline
By early 2015, the Islamic State’s external operations branch had personnel
dedicated to spending their days in Internet cafes in Syria pumping out
propaganda, aimed both at inciting lone-wolf attacks and at luring new recruits.
Among the people who took the bait was Reda Hame, the young technology
professional from Paris, who later told investigators that he had joined in hope
of fighting to bring down President Bashar al-Assad of Syria. Instead, upon
arriving in Syria in June 2015, he walked directly into the Islamic State’s
pipeline for foreign attacks.
During his intake interview in Raqqa, Syria, in June 2015, the Islamic State
administrator taking notes on a computer across from him expressed satisfaction
when he learned that Mr. Hame was from Paris and had a background in technology,
according to his lengthy account to France’s domestic intelligence agency, the
Direction Générale de la Sécurité Intérieure, or D.G.S.I. The details were
recorded in more than 16 hours of questioning, according to a transcript
obtained by The Times and first reported on by the French newspaper Le Monde.
Days later, a man wearing a mask called Mr. Hame outside, told him to lie down
in the bed of a pickup truck and covered him with a tarp. He was warned to keep
his eyes lowered and not to look out.
They drove at high speed, and when the truck stopped, a fighter speaking Arabic
directed him to a sport utility vehicle idling nearby, its tinted windows
obscuring its occupants. When Mr. Hame opened the door to the back seat, the
driver said, “Monte devant,” French for “Get in the front.”
The driver, Mr. Hame said, was Mr. Abaaoud, by then considered the most wanted
terrorist in Europe. As they drove through the Syrian countryside, the future
architect of the Paris attacks explained to Mr. Hame that if he faced the
enemies of Islam alone, he would receive double the reward in heaven.
“He asked me if I was interested in going abroad,” Mr. Hame told investigators.
“He said to imagine a rock concert in a European country — if you were given a
weapon, would you be ready to open fire on the crowd?”
When Mr. Hame reiterated that he wanted to fight the Assad government instead,
Mr. Abaaoud became terse. “He said he would show me those wounded in the war and
buildings that had been destroyed, so that I would realize how lucky I was to be
sent back to France rather than stay to fight here,” Mr. Hame recounted.
Videos released by the Islamic State after the Paris attacks in November
included footage of eight of the 10 attackers while they were still in territory
the terrorist group controlled in Iraq and Syria. They announced that they were
acting on the orders of Mr. Baghdadi, the caliph of the Islamic State, and then
proceeded to shoot or behead a captive, most of them in grotesquely
choreographed scenes shot against a desert backdrop, according to the footage
archived by the SITE Intelligence Group.
Officials have deduced that the footage was filmed between February and
September 2015, suggesting the Paris attacks were being planned months before
they took place. It is now known that at the same time Mr. Abaaoud was laying
the groundwork for the devastating plot, he was recruiting, cajoling and
training Mr. Hame and others for smaller, quick-hit attacks.
The night they met, Mr. Abaaoud dropped off Mr. Hame at a house in Raqqa with a
white gate, according to the transcript. He said he would come for Mr. Hame the
next morning, and warned him that if he did not agree to the mission, his
passport, which was about to expire, would be given to another recruit who would
go to Europe in his place.
When Mr. Abaaoud returned the next day, his face was covered with a brown scarf
with slits for his eyes. He wore a holstered handgun. “He told me that he was
now going to explain the mission to me,” Mr. Hame said after his arrest,
describing how the discussion occurred in the senior operative’s speeding
vehicle. “He told me I didn’t have a lot of time; he said he was just waiting
for the confirmation of his emir. I told him that I would go.”
Mr. Hame said his training began about a 30-minute drive from
Raqqa, in a villa that acted as Mr. Abaaoud’s classroom. There, the senior
operative demonstrated how to load a Kalashnikov rifle. When Mr. Hame tried, he
jammed his thumb in the metal, hurting himself. Mr. Abaaoud made him repeat the
exercise again and again.
The next day, Mr. Abaaoud drove Mr. Hame to a park covered in dry grass for
target practice. Throughout the lesson, Mr. Abaaoud repeatedly lost his temper,
annoyed by his recruit’s lack of skill.
“He yelled at me because when I was shooting in volleys, it went into the air,”
Mr. Hame recounted. “He made me practice a lot, to the point that the grass
The instructor appeared even more on edge during the third and final day of Mr.
Hame’s military training, when he drew a silhouette on the wall of an abandoned
building and demonstrated how to throw a grenade. Inexperienced and struggling
in the suffocating heat, Mr. Hame did not throw it far enough and was cut by
shrapnel. Only when Mr. Abaaoud saw him bleeding did he relent, driving his
student to a nearby clinic to be bandaged.
At night, Mr. Hame was dropped off at an apartment in Raqqa that appeared to be
a dormitory for members of the external operations branch. One room served as an
arsenal, with stacks of suicide belts, jugs of explosives, body armor and combat
boots. The other recruits were also French speakers, including a man who said he
had been training for eight months. He and Mr. Hame were told to team up by Mr.
Abaaoud, who decided to send them back to Europe the same day.
They were among the many pawns that Mr. Abaaoud was positioning across the
If Mr. Hame was not handy with weapons, he had other qualities that were
attractive to the Islamic State: He had a French passport and had worked as a
computer technician for Astrium, a subsidiary of the French aeronautics giant
Airbus. It was at least the second time that Mr. Abaaoud had chosen a fighter
with information technology credentials: Sid Ahmed Ghlam, who was dispatched
last April to attack churches in France, was in the second year of a five-year
computer science program, according to news reports.
The final phase of Mr. Hame’s training took place at an Internet cafe in Raqqa,
where an Islamic State computer specialist handed him a USB key. It contained
CCleaner, a program used to erase a user’s online history on a given computer,
as well as TrueCrypt, an encryption program that was widely available at the
time and that experts say has not yet been cracked.
The external operations unit was on a drive to improve its operational security
after months of embarrassing failures.
Working on Security
More than a year and a half earlier, the would-be Cannes bomber, Ibrahim
Boudina, had tried to erase the previous three days of his search history,
according to details in his court record, but the police were still able to
recover it. They found that Mr. Boudina had been researching how to connect to
the Internet via a secure tunnel and how to change his I.P. address.
Though he may have been aware of the risk of discovery, perhaps he was not
Mr. Boudina had been sloppy enough to keep using his Facebook account, and his
voluminous chat history allowed French officials to determine his allegiance to
the Islamic State. Wiretaps of his friends and relatives, later detailed in
French court records obtained by The Times and confirmed by security officials,
further outlined his plot, which officials believe was going to target the
annual carnival on the French Riviera.
Mr. Hame, in contrast, was given strict instructions on how to communicate.
After he used TrueCrypt, he was to upload the encrypted message folder onto a
Turkish commercial data storage site, from where it would be downloaded by his
handler in Syria. He was told not to send it by email, most likely to avoid
generating the metadata that records details like the point of origin and
destination, even if the content of the missive is illegible. Mr. Hame described
the website as “basically a dead inbox.”
The ISIS technician told Mr. Hame one more thing: As soon as he made it back to
Europe, he needed to buy a second USB key, and transfer the encryption program
to it. USB keys are encoded with serial numbers, so the process was not unlike a
robber switching getaway cars.
“He told me to copy what was on the key and then throw it away,” Mr. Hame
explained. “That’s what I did when I reached Prague.”
Mr. Abaaoud was also fixated on cellphone security. He jotted down the number of
a Turkish phone that he said would be left in a building in Syria, but close
enough to the border to catch the Turkish cell network, according to Mr. Hame’s
account. Mr. Abaaoud apparently figured investigators would be more likely to
track calls from Europe to Syrian phone numbers, and might overlook calls to a
Next to the number, Mr. Abaaoud scribbled “Dad.”
Mr. Hame was instructed to make his way back to Paris, employing an itinerary
that mimicked the journey of a backpacker on a summer holiday: He was to travel
to Istanbul and spend a few days wandering the streets of the tourist district
around Taksim Square.
Then he was to fly to Prague and buy a Czech SIM card. He would again check into
a hotel, pretend to be a tourist and leave quick missed calls on Mr. Abaaoud’s
Turkish phone number. The record of the call would be Mr. Abaaoud’s notification
of his trainee’s progress. Mr. Hame was expected to repeat the procedure for
each leg of his journey, including in Amsterdam and then Brussels, before
returning by train to Paris.
Once Islamic State leaders knew that Mr. Hame had made it home, they would use
the encryption and the Turkish drop box to coordinate further instructions, he
The mission began on the morning of June 12, when Mr. Abaaoud drove Mr. Hame and
a second recruit to the Turkish border. Both had USB keys with TrueCrypt, and
each was handed €2,000, in €500 bills, Mr. Hame said. Both had the same general
agenda — to hit a soft target in Europe — but they were instructed to take
separate paths, with Mr. Hame returning to France while the second recruit was
headed to Spain.
But Mr. Hame’s comrade was picked up after he flew to Spain, and under
interrogation, he divulged Mr. Hame’s plan as well. After being notified, the
French police tracked Mr. Hame to his mother’s apartment in Paris. Behind a
couch, they found his USB stick from the Islamic State, and in his bag a piece
of paper showing his login credentials for TrueCrypt. They arrested and began
interrogating him last August, almost three months to the day before the worst
terrorist attack in French history.
In many ways, it was another clear failure for the Islamic State’s operational
security. Mr. Hame agreed to cooperate with investigators, and confirmed that
the group was bent on attacking in Europe and was already interested in picking
out a concert hall to strike.
Yet many aspects of the group’s security protocol were working. In the end, Mr.
Hame had few specifics he could share with the authorities. He did not know the
names or even the nationalities of the other operatives he had met; they had
been introduced to him only by their aliases.
Two of Mr. Abaaoud’s other small plots around the same time did not go any
better. Sid Ahmed Ghlam was ordered by Mr. Abaaoud to open fire on a church in
Villejuif, south of Paris, according to the report by France’s antiterrorism
police. Instead, he shot himself in the leg. Ayoub El Khazzani, the other
attacker sent by Mr. Abaaoud, was tackled by passengers after his weapon jammed
while he tried to open fire inside a high-speed Thalys train last August,
Though they failed, the thwarted plots kept counterterrorism officials stretched
thin in the months before the November attacks in Paris.
“It served to put all of our agencies on edge,” said France’s chief
antiterrorism judge, Marc Trévidic, who debriefed Mr. Hame, Mr. Ghlam and Mr.
Khazzani before retiring last summer. “Just like a smoke screen, it allowed them
to calmly prepare.”
A Signature Explosive
Among the clearest signs of the Islamic State’s growing capacity for terrorist
attacks is its progress in making and deploying bombs containing triacetone
triperoxide, or TATP.
The white explosive powder was found in the suicide belts of the Paris attackers
and in the suitcases of the Brussels bombers, as well as in two other ISIS-led
plots in 2014 and 2015.
Before ISIS, Al Qaeda repeatedly tried, but mostly failed, to deploy TATP bombs,
starting in 2001 when Richard Reid tried to destroy an American Airlines flight
by sneaking TATP onboard in the sole of his shoe. He was thwarted when the fuse
failed to ignite.
TATP has become terrorists’ go-to explosive in Europe because the main
ingredients, acetone and hydrogen peroxide, can be found in common household
goods like nail polish remover and hair bleach, experts say.
But while the building blocks are easy to come by, TATP is difficult to make,
because the ingredients are unstable once combined and can easily detonate if
they are mishandled. Over at least two years, Islamic State operatives were
working to get it right.
The three bombs found in Mr. Boudina’s building near Cannes in 2014 were
beverage cans filled with the explosive powder and wrapped in black tape,
according to the French court filing in the case.
Though he had successfully cooked the explosive, Mr. Boudina was still
struggling to set it off. He had jammed a filament into a cavity in the body of
each can, most likely to use as a crude fuse, investigators concluded. However,
the online searches he had conducted on his laptop just before his arrest
indicated that he did not know how to make the final component. He searched “how
to make a remote detonator,” “detonation by cellphone,” and finally “where to
By comparison, the team sent from Syria to carry out the Paris assaults in
November had ironed out the final details.
Two months before those attacks, the man suspected of handling logistics for the
assailants, Salah Abdeslam, stopped by a fireworks shop northeast of Paris to
buy a mechanism used to detonate fireworks from a distance, according to the
French prosecutor. The Firework Magician shop’s in-house lawyer, Frédéric Zajac,
remembered little about the young man with a Belgian accent, except that “unlike
other clients, he didn’t ask questions about how it all worked.”
Mr. Abdeslam is believed to be the only direct participant in the assaults to
have survived, and he was arrested last week in Belgium after a continentwide
The attackers he had been helping successfully detonated their suicide belts in
seven locations in Paris, indicating that the group had mastered both how to mix
the compound and how to set it off.
“To be able to assemble it safely, and to detonate it repeatedly, suggests a
more organized effort,” said Michael Marks, a retired Naval Criminal
Investigative Service special agent who was the post-blast investigator on the
Navy destroyer Cole. “It suggests a network.”
That network stretched like a web across Europe to at least a dozen other
accomplices, including a cell holed up in an apartment in the Brussels
neighborhood of Schaerbeek, where two other teams of Islamic State fighters
prepared the bombs detonated last week in Brussels Airport and a metro station.
The overpowering odor that comes with refining and storing TATP was noticed by
the building’s owner weeks before the bombings, Belgian officials said, but he
did not report it until after the attacks.
While each of the explosive vests used in Paris in November had about a pound of
finished TATP, the bombs used at the departure terminal of the airport and
inside a subway car in Brussels are estimated to have weighed 30 to 60 pounds
each, according to Claude Moniquet, a veteran of France’s intelligence service
who now heads the European Strategic Intelligence and Security Center.
That marked another level of achievement in making the explosive: The higher the
volume of TATP, the more volatile it becomes.
The attacks last week could have been worse: Inside the attackers’ apartment
were more of the precursor ingredients used to make the explosive — nearly 40
gallons of acetone and eight gallons of hydrogen peroxide — as well as a
suitcase containing over 30 pounds of ready-to-go TATP, according to the Belgian
The one thing the attackers had not thought of was that the taxi they called to
take them to the airport had room for only three suitcases, so they abandoned
the fourth upstairs, Mr. Moniquet said.
Their taxi driver told the Belgian newspaper DH that the customers had refused
to let him help them load the heavy bags, and that during the drive to the
airport, they sat in tense silence.
The driver could not help but notice a strong odor wafting into the taxi from
the sealed trunk.
Correction: April 5, 2016
An article last Tuesday about the ways in which the Islamic State built its
terrorist machine to attack Europe referred incorrectly to information about its
planning that the group posted on Dar al-Islam, its online French magazine. As
the Islamic State noted in its post, the information came from a study first
published on the French security blog kurultay.fr; it was not the Islamic
State’s original explanation about its tactics in planning terrorist attacks.
Reporting was contributed by David E. Sanger and Eric Schmitt from Washington,
Laure Fourquet and Aurelien Breeden from Paris, Katrin Bennhold from London,
Andrew Higgins from Brussels, and Runa Sandvik from New York. Alain Delaquérière
and Karen Yourish contributed research.
A version of this article appears in print on March 29, 2016,
on page A1 of the New York edition with the headline: Long Before Brussels, ISIS
Sent Terror Operatives to Europe.
How ISIS Built the Machinery of Terror Under Europe’s Gaze,
NYT, March 29, 2016,
Blast at a Crowded Park
in Lahore, Pakistan, Kills Dozens
MARCH 27, 2016
The New York Times
By SALMAN MASOOD
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — A suicide bomber set off a powerful blast
close to a children’s swing set in a public park on Sunday evening in the
eastern city of Lahore, killing at least 69 people and wounding around 300,
rescue workers and officials said.
The blast occurred in a parking lot at Gulshan-e-Iqbal Park, one of the largest
parks in Lahore, said Haider Ashraf, a senior police official in the city. The
bomb was detonated within several feet of the swings in a park crowded with
families on Easter.
Jamaat-e-Ahrar, a splinter faction of the Pakistani Taliban, claimed
responsibility for the blast. Its spokesman, Ehsanullah Ehsan, said in a
statement that Christians were the target.
It was the third bombing in Pakistan in this month alone, a reminder that even
as the military has cracked down on extremists over the past two years, Islamist
groups remain a potent threat.
The bombing came as large protests were held in other parts of the country to
protest the execution in February of the man who murdered a secular politician
five years ago. While public opinion has largely been galvanized by attacks on
civilians by jihadists, particularly the killing of 150 people at a school in
Peshawar in 2014, the protests are a sign that widespread sympathy remains for
extremist groups in Pakistan.
The Jamaat-e-Ahrar spokesman, Mr. Ehsan, said the bombing “was also to give a
message to government that it cannot deter us even in their stronghold, Lahore.”
Lahore, the capital of Punjab Province, is the hometown of Pakistan’s prime
minister, Nawaz Sharif; his younger brother, Shahbaz Sharif, is the chief
minister of the province.
Even though Pakistani officials rebutted the claim that Christians were the
target, a large number of Christian families were in the park because of the
Easter holiday, the local news media reported. The 67-acre park has walking
paths, as well as rides for children.
As the country reeled from this latest spasm of violence, the civilian and
military leadership huddled separately to deal with the precipitating sense of
crisis. Prime Minister Sharif held a four-hour meeting with his top ministers
while Gen. Raheel Sharif, the army chief, who is not related to the prime
minister or his brother, directed intelligence agencies to investigate the
attack and bring the perpetrators to justice.
Victims described a scene of chaos and devastation soon after the blast.
“I was standing near the roller coaster when the blast occurred,” said a
10-year-old boy who gave his name as Usman Ghani, and who was being treated for
minor injuries at Shaikh Zayed Hospital. “I saw fire afterward. There were a lot
of people in the park. It was so crowded that people had to break the boundary
wall near the gate to cross over and run away.”
“I wish I hadn’t brought my daughter to the park today,” said Kamran Bhatti, 34,
a frequent visitor to the park. “This is the only recreation we can afford for
her. What is her fault?”
He continued: “While we were running out of the park, my daughter slipped and
rolled over. She’s injured, but I thank my God that we are not crying for a lost
His daughter, 7, was being treated for an injury to her leg at Jinnah Hospital
on Sunday night.
Yousaf Masih, 50, who said he is Christian, said: “We came to the park after the
Easter church services. We brought our food basket along with us, and like the
usual outing on our festivals, we were spending our day.”
“There was a lot of rush due to Easter,” Mr. Masih said, adding that “a
majority” of the people in that area of the park were Christian. “My children
were playing cricket when we heard a huge blast on the main gate of the park. It
was mayhem. Everyone was running for their lives. On our way out, we saw the
body of the suicide bomber in the parking area.”
Others said security at the park was lax.
“There was no security, as such, at the gates,” said Azhar Shah, 23, a student.
“The guard sitting at the main gate was not checking anyone.”
Mr. Ashraf, the police official, said of the park: “It was a soft target.
Innocent women and children and visitors from other cities have been targeted.”
The State Department condemned the attack. “Attacks like these only deepen our
shared resolve to defeat terrorism around the world, and we will continue to
work with our partners in Pakistan and across the region to combat the threat of
terrorism,” it said in a statement.
The explosion coincided with violence in other parts of the country as hundreds
of protesters took to the streets to condemn the Feb. 29 execution of Malik
Mumtaz Hussain Qadri for the 2011 killing of a governor, Salmaan Taseer. Mr.
Taseer had campaigned for changes in the country’s blasphemy laws, saying they
were used to persecute religious minorities, but to many in Pakistan, the idea
of altering the country’s blasphemy laws is itself criminal, and Mr. Qadri has
become a revered figure to his supporters.
Protesters clashed throughout the day with police officers in Islamabad, the
country’s capital, marching on the main avenues of the city and trying to force
their way into the city’s “red zone,” a high-security area that includes the
Parliament, the Supreme Court and many diplomatic missions. They set several
vehicles, including a fire truck, on fire and damaged public property. The
police used tear gas to disperse the protesters, but appeared to be overwhelmed
by their numbers. Army troops were called in to secure government buildings.
Pakistan has been shaken by a series of attacks this year. A suicide attack on a
court in Peshawar was carried out early this month in retribution for Mr.
Qadri’s execution, killing 16. The attack was also claimed by Jamaat-e-Ahrar.
Also this month, a bomb left on a bus carrying government employees in Peshawar
A state of emergency was imposed on hospitals in Lahore after Sunday’s blast.
Private television networks broadcast images of rescue workers and ambulances
rushing to the park and ferrying victims to hospitals. Distraught relatives
milled about in hospital corridors as the wounded were treated.
“There was no prior intelligence report about the attack,” Muhammad Usman, the
district coordination officer in Lahore, told reporters.
Mr. Usman also rebutted early reports that Christians had been targeted in the
blast. “The park belongs to all,” he was quoted as saying.
Mr. Sharif, the chief minister of Punjab, announced a three-day period of
mourning in the province.
Ihsanullah Tipu Mehsud contributed reporting from Islamabad, and
Daniyal Hassan and Naila Inayat from Lahore, Pakistan.
A version of this article appears in print on March 28, 2016,
on page A1 of the New York edition with the headline:
Blast Kills Scores at Crowded Park in Pakistan.
Blast at a Crowded Park in Lahore, Pakistan, Kills Dozens,
NYT, March 27, 2016,
Strikes Claimed by ISIS Shut Brussels
and Shake European Security
MARCH 22, 2016
By ALISSA J. RUBIN,
and ANITA RAGHAVAN
BRUSSELS — Bombs packed with nails terrorized Brussels on Tuesday
in the deadliest assault on the European heartland since the Islamic State’s
attacks on Paris four months ago, hitting the airport and subway system in
coordinated strikes that were also claimed by the militant extremist group.
The bombings paralyzed Brussels, the headquarters of the European Union and
NATO, prompted international travel warnings to avoid Belgium and reverberated
across the Atlantic to the United States, where New York and other major cities
raised terrorism threat levels. Anxieties intensified about the inability to
prevent mass killings at relatively unprotected places.
At least 30 people were killed by two blasts at the Brussels airport departure
area around 8 a.m. and one in a subway station shortly after 9. The police found
at least one other unexploded bomb in a search of a Brussels house hours later.
And Europe’s most wanted person suddenly became an unidentified man in a white
coat and dark hat seen pushing a luggage cart in an airport surveillance photo
taken just before the bombings. Two other men in the photo, each wearing a black
glove on his left hand, were identified by Belgian prosecutors as suspected
suicide bombers who appeared to have died in the explosions.
“To those who have chosen to be the barbaric enemies of liberty, of democracy,
of fundamental values, I want to say with the greatest strength that we will
remain assembled and united,” the Belgium prime minister, Charles Michel, said
at a news conference Tuesday evening, declaring a three-day mourning period.
Francis Vermeiren , the mayor of Zaventem, the Brussels suburb
where the airport is located, was quoted by Agence France-Presse late Tuesday as
saying all three men had arrived in a taxi, putting suitcases that contained the
bombs on luggage carts.
CNN reported on Tuesday night that the police removed bags of evidence from an
apartment in the northeast Brussels neighborhood of Schaerbeek, after a taxi
driver who saw the photograph of the men told the authorities that he had taken
them from the building to the airport that morning, with many large bags.
Passengers who had been in line at airport departure counters described sudden
panic and mayhem as the explosions turned the area into a death trap with
flames, smoke, flying glass, nails and shrapnel, leaving at least 10 people
“We heard a big noise and saw a big flash,” said one passenger, Ilaria Ruggiano,
who had been traveling with six others, including her mother. “My mother went to
the floor — she was hit. I just dropped my luggage and went to the floor. A kid
came out, bleeding a lot. I tried to help him with a tissue, but it was not
enough. There were two bombs.”
The airport was closed, disrupting and diverting dozens of flights and leaving
hundreds of passengers stranded, and the Belgian authorities placed the entire
metropolitan area on emergency lockdown. It was not clear when the airport would
reopen; the Belgian authorities said it was certain to remain closed Wednesday
because of the investigation.
Then at 9:11 a.m. — the timing may just have been an eerie coincidence — a bomb
tore through a car in the rear part of a subway train pulling out of the busy
Maelbeek station at the height of the morning rush, killing at least 20 people.
“We felt a boom; we felt the building tremble,” said Henk Stuten, 50, who works
for the European Commission in an office above the station. “We saw through the
windows that people were rushing out of the metro exit.”
More than 230 people, including people from around the world, were wounded in
the three blasts.
In the afternoon, Amaq, a news agency affiliated with the Islamic State, issued
a bulletin claiming responsibility for the attacks, calling them the work of
Frédéric Van Leeuw, the Belgian federal prosecutor, said at a news conference on
Tuesday night that “at this stage, it is not possible to draw a formal link with
the Paris attacks.” A cell of 10 operatives, a number of them from the Brussels
district of Molenbeek, were implicated in the Paris attacks on Nov. 13, which
left 130 people dead. The Brussels strikes came only a few days after the
Belgian police captured Salah Abdeslam, the only suspect in the Paris assaults
believed to have survived, who is considered a potential trove of information.
The State Department on Tuesday warned Americans traveling in Europe to
“exercise vigilance when in public places or using mass transportation.”
Terrorist groups, the department travel alert said, “continue to plan near-term
attacks throughout Europe, targeting sporting events, tourist sites, restaurants
The threat of further bombings was underscored by the official warnings for
people in Brussels to remain indoors, as an intensive search was underway by the
police in the Brussels area into Tuesday evening. The federal prosecutor’s
office said in a statement that one of the searches, in Brussels’s Schaerbeek
district, led to the discovery of “an explosive device containing nails, among
other things.” The statement said “chemical products and a flag of the Islamic
State” also had been found there.
Late Tuesday, the Belgian Federal Police released new photographs of the
suspected suicide bombers and asked people to contact the agency if they
recognized them. The public call suggested that whatever information
investigators had gathered at the scene, such as DNA, had not yet yielded
information allowing them to identify the men or they were unknown to the
The heightened security in Belgium extended to two nuclear plants, Doel and
Tihange, where nonessential workers were sent home, although the plants remained
operational. Ine Wenmaekers, a spokesman for the Belgian nuclear regulatory
agency, said that the step was precautionary and that “there was no direct
threat to the power plants.”
World leaders reacted with horror and calls for solidarity,
though the attacks also spotlighted the fractious debate over terrorism and
Islam in Europe and in the American political campaign. The Eiffel Tower and the
Burj Khalifa in Dubai were among the world landmarks lit up in the black, red
and yellow of Belgium’s flag as night fell.
Light Display on Trade Center, Intended as Brussels Tribute,
World leaders reacted with horror and calls for solidarity, though the attacks
also spotlighted the fractious debate over terrorism and Islam in Europe and in
the American political campaign. The Eiffel Tower and the Burj Khalifa in Dubai
were among the world landmarks lit up in the black, red and yellow of Belgium’s
flag as night fell.
“Through the Brussels attacks, it is the whole of Europe that is hit,” President
François Hollande of France declared. He vowed “to relentlessly fight terrorism,
both internationally and internally.”
The French government ordered 1,600 extra police officers to patrol the nation’s
borders, including at train stations, airports and ports. Prime Minister David
Cameron of Britain called an emergency meeting of ministers. Foreign Minister
Frank-Walter Steinmeier of Germany said the attacks “aim at the heart of
Europe.” Pope Francis expressed condolences.
President Obama, speaking in Havana, called the Brussels attacks “yet another
reminder that the world must unite, we must be together, regardless of
nationality or race or faith, in fighting against the scourge of terrorism.”
But a Russian official tempered sympathy with a scolding of his European
colleagues over their policies on migration and terrorism. “It is time for
Europe to understand where the real threat is coming from, and to unite its
efforts with Russia,” Aleksei K. Pushkov, the chairman of the foreign affairs
committee in Parliament, wrote on Twitter.
Since the Paris attacks, security experts have warned that Europe was likely to
face additional assaults by the Islamic State and by other militant groups.
The Paris attacks showed that the scale and sophistication of the Islamic
State’s efforts to carry out operations in Europe were greater than first
believed, and analysts have pointed to Europe’s particular vulnerabilities. They
include the huge flow of undocumented migrants from the Middle East last year;
the unimpeded movement of European citizens between their home countries,
neighboring countries and Syria to fight with the Islamic State; and persistent
problems with intelligence-sharing among European countries and even between
competing security agencies in some nations.
Few countries have been more vulnerable than Belgium. Among European countries,
Belgium has the highest proportion of citizens and residents who have traveled
to Syria or Iraq, insular Muslim communities that have helped shield jihadists,
and security services that have had persistent problems conducting effective
counterterrorism operations, not least in their four-month effort to capture Mr.
Photographs and amateur video posted online showed the Brussels airport
passengers covered in blood and soot, looking stunned but conscious. Some
passengers were seen being taken away on luggage carts.
Jérôme Delanois said he was at an Internet cafe near the Delta Air Lines counter
when he heard a thunderous noise. “There were two explosions — one big one and
one little one,” he said. “The first one blew all the walls and everything.
There were burning flames. The first one was bigger. It blew out all the
Most of the wounded in the subway blast were evacuated to the Rue de la Loi,
outside the station, which serves the area that hosts most of the European
Union’s core institutions.
Brian Carroll, 31, a communications consultant from Washington, said he was on a
subway car near Maelbeek en route to a conference in downtown Brussels when he
heard a loud blast.
“As we were pulling into the station, there was suddenly a loud explosion,” he
said in a phone interview. “There was smoke everywhere. Everyone dropped to the
ground. People were screaming and crying.”
Mr. Carroll said he had remained on the ground for one or two minutes, then got
up, pried open a door of the subway car with his hands and fled.
“I thought to myself, ‘I’ve got to get out of here,’ ” he said. “I headed toward
an exit. There was smoke and soot everywhere. There was glass everywhere. It was
like running through a cloud of dust. I saw the exit of the station was
destroyed. I ran out of the station; I ran as far as I could.”
Reporting was contributed by Dan Bilefsky and James Kanter from
Brussels; Prashant Rao from London; Lilia Blaise, Nicola Clark, Benoît Morenne
and Milan Schreuer from Paris; Rukmini Callimachi and Rick Gladstone from New
York; and Julie Hirschfeld Davis from Havana.
A version of this article appears in print on March 23, 2016,
on page A1 of the New York edition with the headline: Brussels Attacks Shake
Strikes Claimed by ISIS Shut Brussels and Shake European
NYT, MARCH 22, 2016,
16 Killed in Terrorist Attack
on Resort Hotels
in Ivory Coast
MARCH 13, 2016
The New York Times
By LOUCOUMANE COULIBALY
and DIONNE SEARCEY
ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast — Gunmen opened fire on picnickers and
swimmers enjoying a perfect day at three beach resort hotels near the Ivory
Coast’s capital on Sunday, killing 16 people and leaving bodies strewn across
the bloodstained sand. It was the third major attack in West Africa since
November, and verified fears that the spread of terrorism across the region was
far from over.
The attack, on the first sunny Sunday in weeks, took place in Grand-Bassam, a
popular palm tree-lined getaway for Ivorians and foreigners. Fourteen civilians
and two members of the country’s special forces were killed, as well as six
gunmen, according to a spokeswoman for the president.
The authorities in Ivory Coast appealed for calm.
“The situation is under control,” President Alassane Ouattara told reporters on
a visit to the scene of the shootings.
The North African affiliate of Al Qaeda, Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb,
claimed responsibility for the attack in a statement released on Sunday evening
that praised three “knights” who had carried it out. There was no immediate
explanation for the discrepancy in the number of attackers.
The French authorities warned weeks ago that Ivory Coast, as well as Senegal,
could be targeted.
Groups with ties to Al Qaeda have led an increasing number of deadly attacks on
destinations popular with expatriates in West Africa, launching assaults far
from what is thought to be its regional base, in the deserts of northern Mali.
In January, militants attacked the Hotel Splendid and Cappuccino Cafe in
Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso. Gunmen also attacked the Radisson Blu
hotel in Bamako, Mali, in November. In all, dozens have been killed and many
The region is nervous. In many countries, officials have set up new checkpoints
along highways. Metal detectors are in place outside hotels and even small
coffee shops. Drivers visiting restaurants are often subjected to thorough
searches of their vehicles.
But thwarting this type of relatively simple attack, carried out by a handful of
gunmen, is proving difficult.
The identities of the victims in Grand-Bassam had yet to be released, but both
locals and foreigners were among the dead. The French government said one of its
citizens had been killed. An official at the Grand-Bassam morgue said a German
woman had been among the victims. Ivory Coast’s interior minister listed the
victims’ nationalities as Ivorian, Burkinabe, Malian, Cameroonian, French and
German, without offering more details.
An American trade delegation of university representatives was in Grand-Bassam
at the time of the attacks, but not at any of the targeted hotels, according to
a United States Embassy official. The official said there was no evidence that
American citizens had been harmed in the assault.
Part of the town of Grand-Bassam, with its 19th- and 20th-century colonial
architecture, is a Unesco World Heritage Site. The onetime French trading post
“bears witness to the complex social relations between Europeans and Africans,
and to the subsequent independence movement,” according to the Unesco website.
Swimmers and sunbathers had gathered Sunday along the seaside beaches and pools
at the cluster of three hotels — L’Etoile du Sud, the Wharf Hotel and Koral
Beach — at the start of a hot afternoon. Grand-Bassam, a former French colonial
capital, is about 30 miles east of Abidjan, the capital.
It was unclear how the gunmen had arrived, but some witnesses said the
assailants had concentrated their attacks on the beachside areas.
Thierry Cusset, a French commercial agent who has lived in Abidjan for 15 years,
said he and his wife had been among a mostly local crowd relaxing in lounge
chairs at the Wharf.
The couple ordered food, then parted ways for swimming — Mr. Cusset in the ocean
and his wife in the pool.
“That’s when they started shooting in every direction,” he said.
Bullets rained down, and the sound was deafening, he said. Wounded people
crawled toward the kitchen to take shelter. One had been shot in the leg.
“It was total panic,” he said. “Everyone was screaming.”
He found his wife, unharmed, in the pool, and the couple raced for their car. As
they drove off, they encountered police cars speeding toward the scene.
At L’Etoile du Sud, five gunmen descended on beachgoers around 1 p.m., witnesses
said. A gunmen shot a child, then started spraying bullets at people in the
“Everyone panicked and started to run away,” said one witness, Firmin Atte.
The attack was a setback for a nation that had been trying to move beyond the
civil unrest of the early 2000s to reclaim a spot among the economic leaders of
the region. Mr. Ouattara, its newly re-elected president, has built up major
infrastructure around the capital, and had been trying to lure more
multinational companies to set up regional headquarters in Ivory Coast.
Loucoumane Coulibaly reported from Abidjan, and Dionne Searcey from Dakar,
Senegal. Saskia de Rothschild contributed reporting from Paris.
A version of this article appears in print on March 14, 2016, on page A4 of the
New York edition with the headline: 16 Killed in Attack at Ivory Coast Beach
16 Killed in Terrorist Attack on Resort Hotels in Ivory Coast,
NYT, MARCH 13, 2016,
Egypt Says Terrorists
Downed Russian Jet Over Sinai
FEB. 24, 2016
The New York Times
By NOUR YOUSSEF
After months of cautious silence, Egypt acknowledged for the
first time on Wednesday that terrorists had downed the Russian jetliner that
broke up over the Sinai Peninsula in the fall.
The authorities made the unexpected admission after strongly urging Egyptians
and the world for months to await the results of an international investigation
Egypt is leading. The crash dealt a serious blow to Egypt’s vital tourism
industry: an important source of hard currency for the country, which relies
heavily on imports.
“Those who downed the flight, what were they hoping for? Just to hit tourism?”
President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi asked, almost casually, while on the subject of
terrorism near the end of a long speech about the country’s development plans
for 2030, which was broadcast live. “No, but also to hit relations. To hit
relations with Russia.”
Hours after the October downing of the Airbus A321-200, which killed 224 people,
Egypt’s local Islamic State affiliate claimed responsibility. The group said it
had brought down the plane with a bomb concealed in a soda can.
In the following weeks, Russian and Western officials quickly concluded that a
bomb had indeed exploded on board and that terrorism was the cause of the crash.
But Egypt, apparently unwilling to publicly concede that terrorists could have
penetrated its powerful security apparatus, continued to rule out a bombing. In
the most recent update on the Egyptian investigation, on Dec. 14, the
government’s chief investigator, Ayman al-Muqaddam, said he had not received
“any evidence of unlawful interference or terrorist activity” in connection with
The Russian aircraft disintegrated in the air over the Sinai Desert 23 minutes
after taking off from the popular Red Sea resort city of Sharm el Sheikh on Oct.
31. The flight was a charter operation by Metrojet, a Russian airline taking its
passengers, nearly all of them Russian tourists, to St. Petersburg.
Egypt, the Arab world’s most populous country, has been fighting an Islamic
insurgency that mostly targets security posts in the volatile northern parts of
the Sinai Peninsula. The militants gained momentum after the 2013 military
overthrow of the Islamist president, Mohamed Morsi, and have struck mainland
Egypt several times over the past year.
Mr. Sisi seemed unusually ill-tempered during much of his speech — a sharp
contrast to the calm, sweet-talking paternal persona he had carved for himself
during and after Mr. Morsi’s ouster, which he led with popular and media
support. Mr. Sisi, a former field marshal, warned enemies against exploiting his
“patience and good manners to bring down the state” and vowed to remove those
who did “off the face of the Earth.”
“Please, don’t listen to anyone but me,” he told the public, wagging a finger.
“I am dead serious. I am not a man who lies or beats around the bush.”
Visibly angry, the president went on to painstakingly list the country’s
economic woes to his audience, before suggesting that Egyptians donate a pound,
about 10 cents, to the government each day to help ease the crisis.
At one point, he said he would put himself up for sale to help the economy. “If
it were possible for me to be sold, I would sell myself,” he said.
The president’s offer brought mass ridicule on social media and prompted Ahmed
Ghanim, an Egyptian political activist living in the United States, to list Mr.
Sisi for sale on the online auction website eBay.
The offer for a “slightly used” former field marshal garnered over $100,000 in
bids within a few hours before eBay took down the posting Wednesday afternoon.
Correction: February 24, 2016
Because of an editing error, an earlier version of this article omitted part of
a quotation from President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. The complete quotation is as
follows: “Those who downed the flight, what were they hoping for? Just to hit
tourism? No, but also to hit relations. To hit relations with Russia, to hit
relations with Italy. And if they could with the whole world, they would. So we
would be alone and isolated.”
A version of this article appears in print on February 25, 2016,
on page A8 of the New York edition with the headline: In Reversal, Egypt Says
Terrorists Downed Jet.
In Reversal, Egypt Says Terrorists Downed Russian Jet Over Sinai,
NYT, FEB. 24, 2015,
Car Bomb Strikes Military Convoy
in Ankara, Killing 28, Officials Say
FEB. 17, 2016
The New York Times
By CEYLAN YEGINSU
ISTANBUL — Turkey reeled on Wednesday from a deadly bombing of a
military convoy in the capital, plunging its leaders deeper into crisis mode and
underscoring the country’s vulnerability to the Syrian war and revitalized
The bombing in the capital, Ankara, made President Recep Tayyip Erdogan even
more combative; he vowed to strike at enemies in Syria or anywhere else.
The blast hit a convoy of buses filled with soldiers as it was stopped for a
traffic light near the Parliament building. Officials said the explosion killed
at least 28 people and wounded more than 60. No group took responsibility
immediately, but some officials said Kurdish militants might have been
“Our determination to respond in kind to attacks taking place inside and outside
our borders is getting stronger with such acts,” Mr. Erdogan said in a
statement. “It must be known that Turkey will not shy away from using its right
to self-defense at any time, any place or any occasion.”
Hours later and more than 2,000 miles away in what may have been a sympathy
attack, an explosion severely damaged a Turkish cultural association building in
a Stockholm suburb. Swedish police officials said there were no suspects.
Mr. Erdogan is growing increasingly exasperated over changes wrought by the war
in Syria, where Kurdish rebels, whom he considers terrorists, have gained
territory along the Turkish border in the chaos created by advancing Syrian
forces backed by Russian airstrikes.
The Turkish armed forces have been shelling Kurdish positions in Syria since
last weekend, and Mr. Erdogan’s aides have said a ground invasion of Syria is
the only way to stop the war, but the message is not resonating with Turkey’s
NATO allies — especially the United States, which has angered Mr. Erdogan.
He and Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu canceled foreign trips after the bombing.
Televised images showed smoke and a large fire near the site. As many as 30
ambulances were dispatched, the Health Ministry said.
Four months ago, the capital was rocked by the deadliest terrorist attack in the
country’s modern history, when two suicide bombers believed to be linked to the
Islamic State struck a peace rally, killing more than 100 people.
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every day in the European morning.
In recent months, Turkey has stepped up cooperation with the American-led
coalition fighting the Islamic State in Syria, and has been attacked. Last
month, a suicide bomber killed at least 10 tourists in Istanbul.
The Kurdish insurgency is a separate conflict, but it has become increasingly
intertwined with the Syrian war.
The Turkish military has been waging a counterinsurgency against Kurdish
militants in the southeast, after the breakdown of a fragile peace process in
July. Since December, many towns have been under round-the-clock curfews as
Turkish forces have clashed with militants from the Kurdistan Workers’ Party,
known as the P.K.K., who have been fighting for autonomy and more rights for
“The chosen target for this attack, which is our military, suggests the P.K.K is
behind this attack,” a Turkish government official said, speaking on the
condition of anonymity in line with government protocol.
Analysts also said the assault echoed past P.K.K. attacks on off-duty officers.
“This attack demonstrates the growing linkage between Turkey’s own Kurdish
problem and the Syrian war, and vice versa,” said Soner Cagaptay, a senior
fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. As Turkey shells
Kurdish fighters in Syria, he said, they may be responding in part by
effectively opening a second front against Ankara.
Christina Anderson contributed reporting from Halmstad, Sweden,
and Rick Gladstone from New York.
A version of this article appears in print on February 18, 2016, on page A4 of
the New York edition with the headline: Turkey Vows to Respond After Attack on
Car Bomb Strikes Military Convoy in Ankara, Killing 28, Officials
NYT, FEB. 17, 2016,
in the Rise of International Jihad
FEB. 6, 2016
The New York Times
By CARLOTTA GALL
TUNIS — PRESIDENT ASHRAF GHANI of Afghanistan has warned in
several recent interviews that unless peace talks with Pakistan and the Taliban
produce results in the next few months, his country may not survive 2016.
Afghanistan is barely standing, he says, after the Taliban onslaught last year,
which led to the highest casualties among civilians and security forces since
“How much worse will it get?” Mr. Ghani asked in a recent television interview.
“It depends on how much regional cooperation we can secure, and how much
international mediation and pressure can be exerted to create rules of the game
What he means is it depends on how much international pressure can be brought to
bear on Pakistan to cease its aggression.
Critics of the Afghan leadership say it’s not Pakistan’s fault that its neighbor
is falling apart. They point to the many internal failings of the Afghan
government: political divisions, weak institutions, warlords and corruption.
But experts have found a lot of evidence that Pakistan facilitated the Taliban
offensive. The United States and China have been asking Pakistan to persuade the
Taliban to make peace, but Afghanistan argues that Islamabad has done nothing to
rein in the Taliban, and if anything has encouraged it to raise the stakes in
hopes of gaining influence in any power-sharing agreement.
This behavior is not just an issue for Afghanistan. Pakistan is intervening in a
number of foreign conflicts. Its intelligence service has long acted as the
manager of international mujahedeen forces, many of them Sunni extremists, and
there is even speculation that it may have been involved in the rise of the
The latest Taliban offensive began in 2014. United States and NATO forces were
winding down their operations in Afghanistan and preparing to withdraw when
Pakistan decided, after years of prevarication, to clear Taliban and Al Qaeda
fighters from their sanctuary in Pakistan’s tribal area of North Waziristan.
The operation was certainly a serious endeavor — Taliban bases, torture chambers
and ammunition dumps were busted, town bazaars were razed and over one million
civilians were displaced.
But the militants were tipped off early, and hundreds escaped, tribesmen and
Taliban fighters said. Many fled over the border to Afghanistan, just at the
vulnerable moment when Afghanistan was assuming responsibility for its own
security. Ninety foreign fighters with their families arrived in Paktika
Province that summer, to the alarm of Afghan officials.
Further along the border in Paktika Province, Taliban fighters occupied
abandoned C.I.A. bases and outposts. A legislator from the region warned me that
they would use the positions to project attacks deeper into Afghanistan and even
up to Kabul. Some of the most devastating suicide bomb attacks occurred in that
province in the months that followed.
Meanwhile, in Pakistan, the Haqqani network, the most potent branch of the
Taliban, moved from North Waziristan into the adjacent district of Kurram. From
there it continues to enjoy safe haven and conduct its insurgency against
American, international and Afghan targets.
Pakistan regards Afghanistan as its backyard. Determined not to let its
archrival, India, gain influence there, and to ensure that Afghanistan remains
in the Sunni Islamist camp, Pakistan has used the Taliban selectively, promoting
those who further its agenda and cracking down on those who don’t. The same goes
for Al Qaeda and other foreign fighters.
Even knowing this, it might come as a surprise that the region’s triumvirate of
violent jihad is living openly in Pakistan.
First, there’s Sirajuddin Haqqani, the leader of the Haqqani network, and second
in command of the Taliban. He moves freely around Pakistan, and has even visited
the Pakistani intelligence headquarters of the Afghan campaign in Rawalpindi.
Then there is the new leader of the Taliban, Mullah Akhtar Muhammad Mansour, who
has openly assembled meetings of his military and leadership council near the
Pakistani town of Quetta. Since he came to power last year, the Taliban has
mounted some of its most ambitious offensives into Afghanistan, overrunning the
northern town of Kunduz, and pushing to seize control of the opium-rich province
Finally, Al Qaeda’s leader, Ayman al-Zawahri, enjoys sanctuary in Pakistan — one
recent report placed him in the southwestern corner of Baluchistan. He has been
working to establish training camps in southern Afghanistan. In October, it took
United States Special Operations forces several days of fighting and airstrikes
to clear those camps. American commanders say the group they were fighting was
Al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent, a new franchise announced by Mr. Zawahri
that has claimed responsibility for the killings of bloggers and activists in
Karachi and Bangladesh, among other attacks.
Pakistan denies harboring the Taliban and Al Qaeda, and points out that it, too,
is a victim of terrorism. But many analysts have detailed how the military has
nurtured Islamist militant groups as an instrument to suppress nationalist
movements, in particular among the Pashtun minority, at home and abroad.
Perhaps most troubling, there are reports that Pakistan had a role in the rise
of the Islamic State.
Ahead of Pakistan’s 2014 operation in North Waziristan, scores, even hundreds,
of foreign fighters left the tribal areas to fight against President Bashar
al-Assad in Syria. Tribesmen and Taliban members from the area say fighters
traveled to Quetta, and then flew to Qatar. There they received new passports
and passage to Turkey, from where they could cross into Syria. Others traveled
overland along well-worn smuggling routes from Pakistan through Iran and Iraq.
The fighters arrived just in time to boost the sweeping offensive by ISIS into
Iraq and the creation of the Islamic State in the summer of 2014.
If these accounts are correct, Pakistan was cooperating with Qatar, and perhaps
others, to move international Sunni jihadists (including 300 Pakistanis) from
Pakistan’s tribal areas, where they were no longer needed, to new battlefields
in Syria. It is just another reminder of Pakistan’s central involvement in
creating and managing violent jihadist groups, one Pakistani politician, who
spoke on the condition of anonymity when talking about intelligence affairs,
This has been going on for more than 30 years. In 1990, I shared a bus ride with
young Chinese Uighurs, Muslims from China’s restive northwest, who had spent
months training in Pakistani madrasas, including a brief foray into Afghanistan
to get a taste of battle. They were returning home, furnished with brand-new
Pakistani passports, a gift of citizenship often offered to those who join the
Years later, just after Osama bin Laden was found and killed in Pakistan, I
interviewed a guerrilla commander from the disputed region of Kashmir who had
spent 15 years on the Pakistani military payroll, traveling to train and assist
insurgents in Bosnia, Chechnya, Kashmir and Afghanistan.
In 2012 I came across several cases where young clerics, fresh graduates from
the Haqqania madrasa in Pakistan, returned to their home villages in
Afghanistan, flush with cash, and set about running mosques and recruiting and
organizing a band of Taliban followers.
I visited that madrasa in 2013. It is the alma mater of the Afghan Taliban,
where many of the leaders of the movement were trained. The clerics there
remained adamant in their support for the Taliban. “It is a political fact that
one day the Taliban will take power,” Syed Yousuf Shah, the madrasa spokesman,
told me. “We are experts on the Taliban,” he said, and a majority of the Afghan
people “still support them.”
The madrasa, a longtime instrument of Pakistani intelligence, has been training
people from the ethnic minorities of northern Afghanistan alongside its standard
clientele of Pashtuns. The aim is still to win control of northern Afghanistan
through these young graduates. From there they have their eyes on Central Asia
and western China. Pakistani clerics are educating and radicalizing Chinese
Uighurs as well, along with Central Asians from the former Soviet republics.
No one has held Pakistan to account for this behavior. Why would Pakistan give
it up now?
Carlotta Gall is the author of “The Wrong Enemy: America in
Afghanistan 2001-2014” and currently the North Africa correspondent for The New
A version of this news analysis appears in print on February 7, 2016, on Page
SR6 of the National edition with the headline: Pakistan’s Hand in the Rise of
Pakistan’s Hand in the Rise of International Jihad,
NYT, FEB. 6, 2016,
at Bacha Khan University in Pakistan
JAN. 20, 2016
By DECLAN WALSH,
IHSANULLAH TIPU MEHSUD
and ISMAIL KHAN
CAIRO — Attacks on education have long been a signature atrocity
of the Pakistani Taliban, whose militants have set schools on fire, banished
girls from classrooms and gunned down students at their desks in a quest to
impose an extremist ideology on Pakistani society.
The height of the attacks seemed to come in December 2014 when gunmen swarmed
through a school in Peshawar, massacring dozens of schoolchildren in an assault
that prompted widespread revulsion and a fierce military crackdown on militants.
But on Wednesday, Pakistanis were drawn back into their national nightmare. At
least four Taliban attackers stormed a university campus in another northwestern
town, gunning down at least 20 people, most of them students and teachers.
After a year in which the Pakistani Taliban had finally seemed to be pushed to
the margin, with attacks at their lowest pace in a decade, the new school
assault renewed worries that the insurgency, even if diminished, has survived
and retained its capacity for brutality.
The attack, at the Bacha Khan University in Charsadda, 20 miles from Peshawar,
began just before 9 a.m. when the militants, using winter fog as cover, slipped
through nearby fields and scaled a rear wall. Gunfire and explosions rang out
across the campus as the attackers, some apparently teenagers themselves, rushed
through classrooms and dormitories shouting “Allahu akbar!” as they fired.
Witnesses described scenes of carnage as gunmen sprayed bullets at students, one
of whom leapt through a window while others cowered in bathrooms. Many staff
members locked themselves in their offices. But one junior chemistry lecturer,
armed with a pistol, was reported to have returned fire; witnesses said his
actions helped several students escape before he, too, was killed.
The assault ended after hours of pitched combat when the security forces
cornered the attackers into two university buildings. The attackers were killed
before they could explode their suicide vests, officials said.
For the Taliban movements in Pakistan and Afghanistan, attacks on education were
an early marker of their extremist ideology and ruthless methods. Schools, as
all-in-one symbols of government authority and a modernist view of the future
that jihadists loathe, provided easy targets and maximal shock value.
But those tactics have become something of a liability over the years, winnowing
the extremists’ support even among conservatives who might otherwise support
their goal of harsh Islamic rule.
One turning point was the Taliban attempt on the life of the schoolgirl activist
Malala Yousafzai in 2012, transforming her into a global icon of courage and
energizing other education campaigners in Pakistan.
The 2014 assault in Peshawar, in particular, seemed to galvanize fragmented
public opinion about how to deal with jihadist militancy. And it set the
conditions for a harsh army crackdown on the group in which more than 300
prisoners have been hanged in the past year, some under a new network of
military courts. Since then, Taliban attacks in Pakistan have become relatively
Some militants, however, remain undeterred. In a phone interview, Khalifa Omar
Mansoor, the commander of the Taliban faction that orchestrated the Peshawar
attack, said he had also ordered the bloodshed in Charsadda on Wednesday.
Mr. Mansoor, who commands a faction based in a nearby tribal district, described
the violence as retribution for the army’s harsh crackdown over the past year,
calling it a “lesson to the military leadership of Pakistan.”
He released a photo that showed him sitting with four armed men, mostly
teenagers, whom he described as the attackers — a surreal image that juxtaposed
the five militants against a beautiful vista of verdant meadows and mountain
But Pakistan’s main Taliban group quickly distanced itself from the attack. In a
statement, a spokesman for the group, the Tehrik-e-Taliban — which despite years
of internal conflict and splintering still claims to represent the country’s
main Taliban factions, including Mr. Mansoor’s — threatened to bring its
organizers before a Shariah court.
“Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan condemns this un-Islamic act in strongest terms and
disassociates itself from this entirely,” the spokesman said.
The attack also had an unmistakable political dimension for its targeting of
peaceful political elements inside ethnic Pashtun society.
The Charsadda university is named after Abdul Ghaffar Khan, a celebrated
pre-independence leader known as “the frontier Gandhi” for advocating nonviolent
resistance to British colonial rule. The political party that carries Khan’s
legacy, the Awami National Party, sustained huge political losses in the last
general election in 2013 after a concerted Taliban campaign of violence against
its supporters and candidates.
The assault Wednesday occurred on the anniversary of Mr. Ghaffar Khan’s death,
and hours before the university was to host a poetry recital in his honor to
which hundreds had been invited.
Sajjad Ahmed, a professor of sociology and gender studies, said he was in his
office when he heard the first shots, then saw a young attacker shouting “Allahu
akbar” and running toward the student dormitories. He said he saw several people
“I will not forget this terrible scene for the rest of my life,” he said in a
phone interview. “Students fell as if they were newly blossomed flowers.”
As the shooting erupted, staff members at the university administration complex
locked themselves in their offices, switched off the lights and lay on the
floor, said Salma Khan, a university official. “We have some security staff, but
they were not enough to face the Taliban,” she said.
Others praised the actions of Syed Hamid Hussain, the chemistry teacher who
tried to hold off the rampaging gunmen with his pistol before he was killed.
Teachers and lecturers in northwestern Pakistan have been allowed to carry
weapons since the Peshawar school attack.
“They fired directly at the professor,” Muhammad Daud, a sociology student, told
Agence France-Presse, describing Mr. Hussain as “a real gentleman and a
After the attack, the army chief, Gen. Raheel Sharif, visited the stricken
campus and some of the wounded at a nearby hospital. Prime Minister Nawaz
Sharif, in Switzerland at the World Economic Forum, vowed to step up the fight
against the Taliban.
“We are determined and resolved in our commitment to wipe out the menace of
terrorism from our homeland,” Mr. Sharif said in a statement.
The Taliban’s logic in attacking a school, other than that it presented a
relatively soft target, was not entirely clear. While attacks on army bases,
five-star hotels and political leaders once appeared to cow Pakistanis,
particularly in the early years after the insurgency erupted in 2007, the
Peshawar massacre in 2014 outraged much of the country’s leadership and public.
Arguments about the merits of negotiating with the Taliban instead of fighting
them were brushed aside as much of the country’s political class threw its
weight behind a harsh military and judicial campaign.
Taliban violence diminished as the authorities closed radical madrasas and
carried out assaults on militant hide-outs in tribal areas. Many militants were
hanged under a new military judicial system that drew criticism from human
Still, the military continues to turn a blind eye to certain militant groups,
particularly those that target India. And while the wider Taliban movement
appears weak and divided, some factions have in recent weeks renewed their
violent campaign against targets in Peshawar, the capital of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa
Province. On Tuesday, a Taliban suicide bombing at a police checkpoint in the
city killed 11 people.
Declan Walsh reported from Cairo, Ihsanullah Tipu Mehsud from
Islamabad, Pakistan, and Ismail Khan from Peshawar, Pakistan. Hari Kumar
contributed reporting from New Delhi, Austin Ramzy from Hong Kong, and Salman
Masood from Islamabad.
A version of this article appears in print on January 21, 2016,
on Page A1 of the New York edition with the headline:
Taliban Attack Pakistan School, Renewing Fears.
Taliban Attack at Bacha Khan University in Pakistan Renews Fears,
NYT, JAN. 20, 2016,
Said to Be Suicide Bombing,
Kills 8 in Northwest Pakistan
JAN. 19, 2016
The New York Times
By ISMAIL KHAN
PESHAWAR, Pakistan — An explosion, said to be a suicide bombing,
at a militia checkpoint just outside this Pakistani city killed eight people and
wounded at least 11 on Tuesday morning, a senior official of the Khyber tribal
“Based on eyewitness accounts, this was a suicide bombing,” Shahab Ali Shah, the
administrator of the region, said by telephone. He said the bomber had moved
toward the checkpoint of the Khyber Khasadar Force and detonated his vest.
The checkpoint is on the border with Peshawar, the capital of the northern
Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Province. It is also near the crowded Karkhano market, known
for selling smuggled foreign goods. Among the dead were a Khasadar Force officer
and a senior member of the Tribal Union of Journalists, Mehboob Shah, who had
been sitting with the militia force, Mr. Shah said.
“The target appeared to be the check post and not the journalist,” he added.
Police officers and a bomb disposal squad were sent to the scene to help the
tribal authorities in collecting forensic evidence.
A version of this article appears in print on January 20, 2016,
on Page A11 of the New York edition with the headline: World Briefing | Asia;
Pakistan: Explosion Kills 8 People at Checkpoint in Khyber Region.
Explosion, Said to Be Suicide Bombing, Kills 8 in Northwest
NYT, JAN. 19, 2016,
At Least 20 Killed
in Siege by Militants
in Burkina Faso
JAN. 15, 2016
The New York Times
By THIBAULT BLUY,
and RUKMINI CALLIMACHI
OUAGADOUGOU, Burkina Faso — Gunmen from Al Qaeda stormed a luxury
hotel frequented by foreigners in Burkina Faso’s capital on Friday night,
seizing hostages and killing others while fighting with dozens of security
forces who began a counterattack hours later. It was Al Qaeda’s first major
attack in this landlocked sub-Saharan country, a former French colony.
Burkina Faso’s interior minister, Simon Compaoré, said Saturday morning that
after an overnight battle, security forces had regained control of the Splendid
Hotel in the capital, Ouagadougou (pronounced waga-DOO-goo), having killed at
least three assailants and freed 126 people. A spokesman for the interior
ministry, Abi Ouattara, said 22 people had been killed, not counting the
militants killed by security forces.
The attack, claimed by the Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb
affiliate along with an allied militant group, was at least the fifth time in
recent days that armed militants had ambushed unprotected civilians in cities
around the world, hitting sites in Turkey, Egypt, Indonesia and Iraq with deadly
assaults that underscored the vulnerabilities of soft targets that are difficult
Witnesses said the attack began when gunmen set off at least one explosion
outside the hotel, leaving cars ablaze, and then moved inside and began taking
hostages. Hours later in a statement released online, Al Qaeda in the Islamic
Maghreb said its fighters inside the hotel had killed 30 people, calling their
operation “revenge against France and the disbelieving West,” according to a
translation by the SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors jihadist media.
France, which maintains a military garrison in Burkina Faso, scrambled to
respond to the siege, sending 30 of its soldiers to assist at least 40 from
Burkina Faso’s military who massed outside the hotel. Witnesses reported that
the forces began a counterassault to retake the hotel early Saturday. One
witness, Olympia de Maismont, said that “several hostages had been freed” and
that intermittent gunfire could be heard. Later, Rémis Dandjinou, Burkina Faso’s
minister of communication, said that 63 people had been freed, 33 of whom had
A Defense Department official in Washington said the French had requested
surveillance and reconnaissance help from the American military, which has 75
personnel in Burkina Faso, mostly involved in training and advising as well as
maintaining a drone base. The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity,
said one American military member was “providing advice and assistance” to
French forces outside the hotel. No other American military personnel were
believed to be directly involved.
Salif Ouedraogo, 28, an agent at the country’s international airport, who lives
in an apartment above a nearby restaurant, said he saw the attack begin around 8
p.m. “I heard the first gunshots and so I went to the balcony,” he said. “I saw
people who were shooting, and so I quickly got down and put myself on my stomach
on the floor.”
“They set off an explosion and they opened fire on the people,” he added. “Then
they began taking hostages.”
This is the second major attack on a hotel by Al Qaeda’s regional affiliate,
known by the acronym AQIM, and another group led by the international terrorist
Mokhtar Belmokhtar in less than two months. In November, the same jihadist
organizations claimed responsibility for the attack on the Radisson Blu Hotel in
Bamako, Mali’s capital.
Witnesses said members of the security forces arrived en masse later, prompting
a gun battle. Witnesses said that three bodies could be seen in the Cafe
Cappuccino, connected to the hotel. Some of the wounded were evacuated to
Yalgado Ouédraogo hospita.
Tahirou Barry, the culture minister, said in a telephone
interview that the security forces had surrounded the hotel, and that witnesses
said that four to six attackers were inside with hostages.
“There is a perimeter of at least 500 meters around it; no one can approach,” he
said. “They are trying to help the hostages.”
“Once in a while we can hear shooting,” Mr. Barry added. “For the moment, we
have no more details on the identity of the shooters, except for the fact that
one witness affirmed that one of the assailants proclaimed the name of God — the
name of Allah.”
An African airline safety group was holding a meeting at the hotel, and members
of the organization, the Agency for Aerial Navigation Safety in Africa and
Madagascar, were in the hotel when the attack began, said Moumouni Barro, a
delegate to the meeting.
The nation’s security ministry declared an extended curfew for the night, and a
nearby theater was evacuated in the middle of a performance, officials said.
The culture minister said that he could not confirm whether American or French
forces were helping with the operation at the hotel, but he added, “It’s clear
that we could not do this without our friends from abroad.”
The attack marked an expansion for Al Qaeda’s regional affiliate, which is
mostly focused in Mali and Algeria and had staged only minor attacks along
Burkina Faso’s border until now.
In a speech in December, an AQIM official addressed Muslims in the nation of
Burkina Faso, calling upon them to participate in jihad. And on Friday, the
group announced that it conducted the strike in cooperation with the group led
by Mr. Belmokhtar, according to the SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors
Andrew Lebovich, a specialist on political and security issues in the region,
said the attack in Burkina Faso showed an evolution in the group’s tactical
ability. In the hotel attack in Mali, he said, the attack was carried out only
with automatic weapons and grenades. But initial reports said the attackers in
Ouagadougou were more sophisticated.
“Their approach is somewhat evolving. If initial reports prove to be true, the
Burkina attack involved at least two car bombs,” he said. “It shows a more
sophisticated operational plan involving more serious weaponry.”
For years, Burkina Faso had seemed largely immune to the jihadist violence that
plagued two of its neighbors, Mali and Niger. That changed in April last year,
when a group that later pledged allegiance to the Islamic State burst into a
manganese mine in the remote countryside and abducted a Romanian employee. A
month later, an Islamic State affiliate based in the Sahara issued a statement
saying it was holding the hostage and warning the Romanian government that it
would be accountable if it failed to meet demands for his release.
In November, security forces in Burkina Faso arrested 13 people and seized
bomb-making materials in the safe house the group was using in the western part
of the country, near the border with Mali. Officials said the suspects were
planning a “large-scale attack.”
Earlier on Friday, armed men attacked a police command post in the northern
village of Tin Abao, killing an officer and a civilian and wounding two
policemen, officials said. It was unclear whether the attacks were linked.
The violence struck after months of political turmoil in Burkina Faso.
The presidential vote in November was the country’s first competitive election
in decades. About three million people cast ballots, many of them celebrating as
they crowded into polling stations to choose Roch Marc Christian Kaboré, a
former prime minister, as their leader.
Thibault Bluy reported from Ouagadougou, Dionne Searcey from
Dakar, Senegal, and Rukmini Callimachi from New York. Hervé Taoko contributed
reporting from Ouagadougou, Helene Cooper from Washington, and Rick Gladstone
from New York.
A version of this article appears in print on January 16, 2016, on page A1 of
the New York edition with the headline: Jihadists Strike Another Tourist Site,
This Time in West Africa.
At Least 20 Killed in Siege by Militants in Burkina Faso,
NYT, JAN. 15, 2016,