The Current

What's behind Ramadan terror attacks?

More people died in Baghdad this week than in the attacks on Paris and Orlando combined. And that wasn't all — in the past week, there were attacks in Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Bangladesh. We're asking: Why these targets? Why this much blood during Ramadan?
An Iraqi woman grieves at the scene after a truck bomb attack in Baghdad, Iraq, July 3, 2016. More than 200 were killed - the biggest to strike the Iraqi capital in years. (Hadi Mizban/Associated Press)

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More people died in Baghdad this week than in the attacks on Paris and Orlando combined. And that wasn't all — in the past week, there were attacks in Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Bangladesh.

The Current asks: Why these targets? Why this much blood during Ramadan?

People attend a candlelight vigil for the victims of the attack on the Holey Artisan Bakery and the O'Kitchen Restaurant, in Dhaka, Bangladesh, July 3, 2016. (Adnan Abidi/Reuters)

Millions of Muslims prepare to celebrate Eid, after a Ramadan marred by a string of recent violent attacks.
  • On June 28, more than 40 people died in Istanbul's Ataturk airport in Turkey.
  • On the night of July 1, an attack on a cafe in Dhaka, Bangladesh, killed more than 20. 
  • On July 2, more than 250 people in Baghdad were killed after a massive truck bomb — the biggest to strike the Iraqi capital in years.
  • On July 4, a handful of security guards were killed as they broke their fast at sundown near the Prophet's Mosque in Medina — one of the holiest sites in Saudi Arabia.
'When I was searching for my son, I found that many of the boys are missing. Well-educated boys from good educated families — children of professionals, garment offices. We do not know how this is happening.' - Father of one of the men behind Bangladesh attack 

ISIS is suspected to be behind these string of attacks but have not claimed responsibility for all of them. So is this sheer amount of violence an emboldened move or desperately reacting to the loss of territory inside Syria and Iraq?

Bessma Momani, a senior fellow at the Centre for International Governance Innovation, sees a link to the recent attacks and ISIS territory.

"I think in trying to analyze what ISIS is doing seems to be related to the fact that it is losing territory," Momani tells The Current's host Mike Finnerty.  

"What we're seeing here is a shifting in ISIS ... from what we saw in the early days of consolidating territory, building a positive message, really kind of distinguishing it from al-Qaeda and now to one where it is lashing out against enemies," Momani explains.

Prior to the holy month of Ramadan, the chief ISIS spokesman said jihadists should "make it a month of calamity for the infidels everywhere," suggesting attacks on military and civilian targets.

Iraqi women light candles during Eid al-Fitr as they mark the end of the fasting month of Ramadan, at the site of a suicide car bomb attack in the area of Karrada, Baghdad, July 6, 2016. (Thaier Al-Sudani/Reuters)

New York Times foreign correspondent Rukmini Callimachi feels the attacks in Baghdad, Turkey, Bangladesh, Jordan and possibly even Saudi Arabia "is a response to the ISIS spokesman's call for Ramadan violence that was just the most catastrophic of explosions we've seen in the past month."

However Callimachi says the target  is not as clear to surmise.

"If you take ISIS at their word, what they claim is that this was an attack on a Shia target. Of course, either they're misinformed or they're lying because that area did include other groups of people,"  Callimachi tells Finnerty.

Amarnath Amarasingam, a fellow at the George Washington University, agrees the recent attack in Iraq included more than just the Shia population.

"These attacks from the Islamic State perspective do focus just on Shia targets who they consider to be non-Muslim and they did come out and say this is a Shia area… It is a large Shia population but also a whole bunch of Christians," Amarasingam says.

Amarasingam tells Finnerty while the threat of attack during Ramadan is no surprise, he says the massive bombing in Baghdad on a day when people were shopping for Eid was "an unbelievable attack to kill that many people on the eve of such an important day."

A woman grieves during the funeral procession of a bomb victim in the Karada neighborhood, Baghdad, Iraq, July 5, 2016. (Hadi Mizban/Associated Press)

Momani believes the Baghdad attack sends more than one message.

"It's a message to the Iraqi government and the Iraqi army who went to Fallujah to liberate it."

She adds, "I think it's also a message about Mosul which is the city that really many talk about because it is the second most populated city in Iraq."

"It's a message to say if you continue to come after us we're going to hit you hard."

Listen to our full conversation as The Current's panellists explore the unique dynamics of devastation in the recent Ramadan attacks.

This segment was produced by The Current's Ines Colabrese, Pacinthe Mattar and Julian Uzielli.