Ramadan ends with more terror, this time in Iraq, Saudi Arabia

Photo courtesy of United States Air Force

The death toll rests at approximately 215 after a suicide bomber detonated a refrigerator truck filled with explosives in Baghdad, Iraq, the night of Saturday, July 2. This attack marks one of the latest in a string of similar violent incidents throughout the Middle East preceding the end of the holy month of Ramadan on July 5 with the celebration of Eid al-Fitr.

Before it exploded, the truck had been parked in Karrada, a shopping district in the city where many were out celebrating the holy month’s conclusion. Wounded from the attack currently number roughly 200, but rubble is still being cleared from the blast zone. Islamic State (IS) has since claimed responsibility for the bombing.

A second attack was carried out on Monday in Medina, Saudi Arabia,  mere feet away from Prophet’s Mosque which was built in part by the Prophet Muhammad and houses his tomb. A suicide bomber encountered security officers in the public parking lot of the mosque before reaching the thousands of visitors and pilgrims inside. The attacker detonated an explosive vest and killed at least four security officers. Five other people were wounded in the attack.

Earlier that same day, suicide bombers attacked a Shi’ite mosque in Qatif and a mosque near the U.S. consulate in Jeddah. However, neither of these attacks yielded deaths beyond those of the attackers themselves. Officials in Saudi Arabia believe the three attacks were coordinated efforts, though as of Tuesday morning, July 5, no organization has claimed responsibility for them.

These attacks occurred just days after two students from Emory and one from U.C. Berkeley were killed in Bangladesh, in which gunmen killed 20 civilians and two police officers at an upscale restaurant following a twelve-hour standoff with authorities. Thirteen hostages were recovered alive, along with one of the five or six attackers. IS retroactively claimed responsibility for the attack with an announcement on its media network. These attacks match a pattern of terrorism during the month of Ramadan, with incidents in Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and Yemen among others.

IS has issued multiple statements encouraging radical acts of terror during the holy month of Ramadan, which is typically commemorated with daytime fasting and increased prayer as a practice of atonement. Radical groups, such as the Islamic State and Al-Qaeda, have called for their followers to utilize the month as a time to ramp up violent activities; an IS spokesperson told followers to “be ready to make it a month of calamity everywhere for the non-believers” as Ramadan approached in June.

Yet those killed in the recent attacks have predominantly been Muslims themselves, a fact that contrasts with common western notions of IS’s primary target being the United States and Europe. The ideologies that feed IS are not truly about propagating Islam, nor are they a legitimate form of Islam itself. This is most easily seen in their wanton destruction in majority-Muslim countries and attacks on sacred places during times holy to the Islamic faith.

Instead, IS relies upon the growing Islamophobia throughout the western world to attract ostracized and stigmatized Muslims to its cause. Politicians must come to accept this in order to truly understand the path to constructively and effectively combating IS and related groups. The solution is not, as some in the U.S. have come to believe, banning Muslims or limiting their ability to practice their religion; rather, these strategies will only further the initiatives that IS has taken on its own.