Recent reports by a United Kingdom newspaper, The Sun, that leaders of the terrorist group, Islamic State, are sneaking battle-hardened jihadists from Syria into Nigeria to train terrorists for possible attacks in Britain, should be a source of great concern to all well-meaning Nigerians. According to The Sun, “fanatics including Boko Haram insurgents were also being sent to the Middle East for training in a chilling “exchange programme”. The report further claimed that there were fears that strong links between Nigeria and the UK would make it easier for ISIS to send its killers to Britain to orchestrate terror attacks, death and destruction. It is feared ISIS would exploit regular flights between Lagos and London to export more evil to the UK.
A thorough understanding of ISIS bloody profile would reveal that any threat whatsoever from the organization should not be treated with kid gloves. The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria or Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham, popularly referred to as ISIS, is a Salafi jihadist terrorist organisation and former unrecognized proto-state that follows a fundamentalist, Salafi/Wahhabi doctrine of Sunni Islam. The organization gained international prominence in early 2014 when it drove Iraqi government forces out of key cities in its Western Iraq offensive, followed by its capture of Mosul and the Sinjar massacre.
The group has been designated a terrorist organisation by the United Nations and numerous other countries. ISIS is broadly known for its history of beheadings and other types of gruesome executions of both soldiers and civilians, including journalists and aid workers, as well as its destruction of cultural heritage sites. ISIS also committed ethnic cleansing on an historic scale in northern Iraq.
ISIL originated as Jama’at al-Tawhid wal-Jihad in 1999, which pledged allegiance to al-Qaeda and participated in the Iraqi insurgency following the 2003 invasion of Iraq by Western forces at the behest of the United States. The group declared itself a global caliphate and began referring to itself as the Islamic State (IS) in June 2014. As a caliphate, it claims religious, political and military authority over all Muslims worldwide. Its adoption of the name Islamic State and its idea of a caliphate have been extensively criticized, with the United Nations, various governments and mainstream Muslim groups rejecting its statehood.
ISIS is believed to be operational in 18 countries across the world, including Afghanistan and Pakistan, with thriving camps in Mali, Egypt, Somalia, Bangladesh, Indonesia and the Philippines. In 2015, ISIS was estimated to have an annual budget of more than US$1 billion and a force of more than 30,000 fighters. In 2015, 2016 and 2017, ISIS claimed responsibility over a number of high-profile terrorist attacks outside Iraq and Syria, including a mass shooting at a Tunisian tourist resort (38 European tourists killed), the Suruç bombing in Turkey (33 leftist and pro-Kurdish activists killed), the Tunisian National Museum attack (24 foreign tourists and Tunisians killed), the Sana’a mosque bombings (142 Shia civilians killed), the crash of Metrojet Flight 9268 (224 killed, mostly Russian tourists) and the bombings in Ankara (102 pro-Kurdish and leftist activists killed).
Others include the bombings in Beirut (43 Shia civilians killed), the November 2015 Paris attacks (130 civilians killed), the killing of Jaafar Mohammed Saad, the governor of Aden, the January 2016 Istanbul bombing (11 foreign tourists killed), the 2016 Brussels bombings (32 civilians killed), the 2016 Nice attack (86 civilians killed), the July 2016 Kabul bombing (at least 80 civilians killed, mostly Shia Hazaras), the 2016 Berlin attack (12 civilians killed), the 2017 Istanbul nightclub shooting (39 foreigners and Turks killed), the 2017 Saint Petersburg Metro bombing (15 civilians killed), the 2017 Manchester Arena bombing (22 civilians killed) and the 2017 Tehran attacks (18 civilians killed).
Without a doubt, ISIS is a vicious organization that has audacious capacity to carry out high profile cruel attacks in any part of the world. It is, thus, crucial that concerned authorities in the country take any threat from this organization very sincerely. It is commendable that the federal government has ordered an intensified screening of passengers and luggage on commercial flights across the country. This must be complemented with rigorous vetting of airline personnel and screening of passengers as well as increased vigilance on restricted areas at all airports in the country. Relevant security agencies must do all it takes to strengthen our borders to ensure that no evil group is given the latitude to gain undue access into the country and perpetrate wickedness. Security operatives should be more proactive in dealing with the alleged ISIS threat and other such dangers that could threaten the country’s peace and security. In as much as it is true that terrorism is becoming a global challenge, our security agencies need to exhibit more decisiveness and professionalism in dealing with any threat against the country. Special attention must especially be given to some of the nation’s ever busy airports in Lagos, Abuja, Kano, Enugu and Port Harcourt, which are major gateways into the country. Since terrorist groups have perfected the art of networking among themselves to carry out dastardly acts, security agencies in the country must also work together as a unit to thwart every evil plot against our country’s corporate existence.
Thus, all security agencies must work together to maintain surveillance on the perimeter fence, the cargo area, the runway and other restricted areas in all our international airports. Aviation security at the airports must ensure that they improve on security, especially as it bothers on screening of passengers to make sure unauthorised persons don’t gain access into our terminals. Airside patrol must be done round the clock. Modern technology must be deployed to screen passengers and baggage before entering the terminal. Airports’ authorities must ensure that Closed Circuit Television (CCTV) Cameras in the terminals and the airside are all functional.
Similarly, the anti-bomb squad must be deployed behind the screening machines at the terminal to carry out further checks on any suspicious baggage. Also, regular simulation exercises to sensitize passengers and other airport users on how to manage emergency situations at the airports should be conducted. A major primary duty of government all over the world is the protection of the citizenry. The present trend that exposes Nigerians to horrid attacks and premature deaths is, to say the least, painful. We have had more than enough of bloodletting in the country, that has led to the death of more than 20,000 people in the North-East in the past four years. Therefore, we must do all it takes to make our nation inaccessible to ISIS and other similar terrorist groups across the world.
Ogunbiyi writes from Lagos