by Abdellatif El-Menawy
For the past four decades, the phenomenon of militant extremists returning from wars and terrorist campaigns in Afghanistan, Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Iraq and Yemen has posed a serious threat to their societies because a significant number of them bring their terrorism home with them.
Many Arab countries faced a wave of terrorist attacks when the war in Afghanistan ended in 1989. Large numbers of militants returned to their home countries and carried out violent attacks there. Egypt was at the forefront of the countries that suffered, especially in the mid-1990s. When the Soviet troops left Afghanistan and the Egyptian militant leaders returned home, they formed what was called Al-Qaeda Jihad Organization, the earliest seed of Al-Qaeda.
After that, many young men went to war in the Balkans under the banner of defending the Muslims of Bosnia. When that war ended in 1995, the same post-Afghanistan scenario happened again. Is it likely to recur when the war in Syria ends?
The region’s future is in grave danger with the return of terrorists from Syria and Iraq. We are looking at tens of thousands of militant individuals blinded by extremist ideology, most of them completely unknown to Arab security bodies. The world can expect to face a new wave of violence.
Sixteen Egyptian police officers were killed in a shoot-out with Islamist militants last week at El-Bahariya Oasis in the Western Desert. The incident will naturally lead Egypt to insist on continuing its war on terror: Combining decisive, strong and continuous military and security action and partnering with other countries that are serious about combating militants. Waging the real war on terrorism means developing a strategy for besieging and exposing terrorist ideologies, fighting them at an intellectual level and protecting society, especially younger generations, from them. I must remind you here of the importance of calling for the renewal of religious discourse in a scientific manner and with serious continuity.
Meanwhile, two important questions need to be answered, and they are inextricably linked. First, we must ask the international and regional forces who are allegedly fighting terrorism how serious they are, or is the war against Daesh a hoax? Second, where will the militants of terrorist groups – Daesh above all – go after they have been driven out of the territories and cities they have controlled for the past few years?
In the search for answers, let us review reliable reports that track the actions of Daesh militants in the past few months, where there was no longer any need for its existence. There has been a series of victories against it on all fronts; Assad regime, opposition, Russians, Americans, Turks … everyone started to win. Even those who in the past handed their cities over to Daesh and retreated in a disgraceful and surprising manner are today winning one victory after the next and raising one flag after another.
These battles were supposed to be zero-sum games, in which the fighting parties do not stop until one of them eliminates the other. The forces that fought Daesh were not only expected to regain control over cities and villages, but also to eliminate the organization and ensure it would never be able to rise again. In their battles, Daesh’s goal was to completely eliminate those they considered enemies, a policy they have acted on before.
“World powers must fight a real war on Daesh, not a hoax one — and that means taking tough decisions about what happens to defeated extremists. “
Instead, a new trend has emerged. Countries that were fighting Daesh began seeking safe shelters for the organization’s militants. Not only that, but they also transferred them in air-conditioned buses by protected routes. In emergencies, and for speed, they used helicopters – perhaps the same helicopters used to attack the militants not long ago.
Almost three years ago, a US intelligence official said up to 40,000 Daesh militants from 104 countries controlled an area larger than the United Kingdom. Today, the battles against Daesh are almost over, but the corpses of those militants are not on the roads, and there are few prisoners either. The arrest of a Daesh militant with a US passport was actually important news at the time – one out of 40,000! Where are the rest?
US-led coalition aircraft transferred militants from Raqqa to unknown destinations in July. I also believe many of you followed the controversial deal between Hezbollah and Daesh in which, in exchange for the safe passage of Daesh militants and their families from the Lebanese border to eastern Syria, Daesh agreed to reveal the fate of nine Lebanese soldiers captured by the organization in 2014.
The message that we must pressure authorities to turn into action, and on which we must insist, is that terrorism is a global threat, and allowing terrorists to move from one place to another for someone else to deal with is not the solution. What Egypt has experienced in the past, and is still experiencing, is more proof that real efforts are necessary to establish serious cooperation between international parties to eliminate terrorism.
But where will those militants go? That is a different matter.