Terrorism, 2013-2015: A Worldwide Chronology

Terrorism, 2013-2015: A Worldwide Chronology

This second comprehensive chronology of international terrorist attacks covers three eventful years during which the Islamic State supplanted al-Qaeda as the most active, well-financed and well-armed terrorist group worldwide.

Domestic and international incidents around the globe are covered, outlining several trends and exploding a number of media myths. The author examines the enigmas of contemporary terrorist behavior and offers indicators and predictions to watch for in the coming years.


“Exhaustively researched and documented compilation.”―ARBA

  • Title ‏ : ‎ Terrorism, 2013-2015: A Worldwide Chronology
  • Authors ‏ : ‎ Edward Mickolus
  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ McFarland
  • Publication Date ‏ : ‎ August 8, 2016
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 572 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1476664374
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1476664378
  • Item Weight ‏ : ‎ 2.2 pounds
  • Dimensions ‏ : ‎ 7 x 1.14 x 10 inches

Dedication page:
For Deborah M. Hixon, who gave her life for our country


This is my 20-somethingth volume of event chronologies and biographies of international terrorists issued in the past four decades.   Of particular concern is that the volumes are getting longer, as individuals and groups keep escalating their attacks.  On the plus side, the list of terrorists killed or incarcerated also substantially expanded.

          This book uses the same definition of terrorism as found in its predecessors, allowing comparability across decades.  Terrorism is the use or threat of use of violence by any individual or group for political purposes.  The perpetrators may be functioning for or in opposition to established governmental authority.  A key component of international terrorism is that its ramifications transcend national boundaries, and, in so doing, create an extended atmosphere of fear and anxiety.  The effects of terrorism reach national and worldwide cultures as well as the lives of the people directly hurt by the terrorist acts.  Violence becomes terrorism when the intention is to influence the attitudes and behavior of a target group beyond the immediate victims.  Violence becomes terrorism when its location, the victims, or the mechanics of its resolution result in consequences and implications beyond the act or threat itself.


          Recent terrorist activities have required a rethinking about what constitutes international versus domestic terrorism, and may in turn dramatically alter the conclusions that we can derive from quantitative analysis of terrorist attacks.  Is an individual who stays in his country and attacks fellow citizens, but announces his fealty to, say, the Islamic State and was inspired by IS websites and writings, an international or domestic terrorist?  Does IS taking credit after the event, but with no other apparent operational ties to the terrorist or terrorist team, put the attack into the international category?  We are seeing more and more of these home-grown lone wolves—and, alas, pairs and cells of such home-grown threats—with no indication that this trend will let up anytime soon.

          Most attacks continue to be low-level, unsophisticated bombings and shootings, with terrorists going after targets of opportunity rather than mounting complex operations that had typified the first generation of al Qaeda.  Those are not, however, the attacks that gain the most publicity.

Media attention flocks to the use of high-tech weapons that result in mass casualties.  Security organizations spend the bulk of their resources attempting to foil such depredations.  But withdrawal of a specific type of weapon does not stop terrorist attacks.  As was the case with the effective end of aerial hijackings, if a method is taken off the table, terrorists will move to another method, sometimes using appreciably simpler weapons.  In areas in which access to guns is limited, terrorists resorted to edged weapons.  This was particularly noteworthy in

  • China, where lone nuts and more organized groups used knives and swords
  • Bangladesh, which had a rash of slashings of secular bloggers
  • Iraq and Syria, where the Islamic State beheaded many alleged apostates, spies, and hostages
  • Israel and the occupied territories, where slashers abounded during an October 2015 intifada
  • The UK, where slashers killed and almost beheaded a soldier.

Even this simple method of operation allows attackers to inflict mass casualties—dozens—quickly.

The overarching trend during the period of 2013-2015 was the rise—in publicity, numbers of adherents, power over the jihadi movement, and extent of territory captured—of the Islamic State and its affiliates.  Also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, used in US government pronouncements), Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS, used by the Western news media), and Daesh (its Arabic acronym), the group has become arguably the most successful terrorist group in the world on a number of counts:

  • IS has attracted perhaps 30,000 fighters from at least 100 countries.  (These numbers are difficult to pin down, but dwarf the membership of the terrorist groups of earlier eras.)  Many of these recruits have traveled to Syria and Iraq to participate in the effort to create a return to the era of Muhammad.  Entire families—or sometimes teen members of families oblivious to their hidden radical sentiments—have left their homes and crossed into IS territory to join the cause.  By some accounts, 1,000 foreign fighters join IS ranks each month.  For those who cannot travel, at least 46,000 pro-IS Twitter accounts have been identified.  (As an aside, thousands of these sites have been taken down by the Anonymous hackers’ new anti-IS campaign.)
  • After beginning its life as the al Qaeda affiliate in Iraq with tentative feelers in Syria, IS has taken over and held nearly 1/3 of the territory of Iraq and Syria; stated differently, roughly the size of Indiana.  Within this territory, IS declared an Islamic caliphate, holding territory and establishing a proto-government, replete with coins, judicial and enforcement wings, and other trappings of governance, based upon its interpretation of sharia law.
  • IS has become the most financially well-heeled terrorist organization of its generation.  By some counts, its raiding of Iraqi oil wells alone generated up to $5 million per day.  It also receives monies from like-minded devotees, from sales of pilfered antiquities, and taxes on supporters and on Christians and minority religious groups stuck in IS-controlled territory.
  • IS has kept itself in the news through ever-ratcheting brutality, issuing threatening videos of Western and Japanese civilian hostages and captured soldiers who are later beheaded, immolated, or crucified on video.  The group has forced child soldiers to participate in propaganda videos that feature them killing hostages.  Other atrocities have entailed IS thugs sledgehammering and bulldozing ancient statues, churches and temples that have been pilfered of antiques for sale on the black market.  IS caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi reportedly repeatedly raped US hostage Kayla Mueller before she was killed and its Research and Fatwa department had justified running a burgeoning sexual slavery market and the rape of non-Muslim preteens.  IS has been suspected of using chemical weapons, principally mustard gas, in Iraq.  IS has not been without competition in gruesome cruelty, as Boko Haram’s Abubakar Shekau, or his mustache-twirling body doubles, delighted in issuing videos announcing the group’s kidnapping hundreds of young girls, selling them into sexual slavery, and deploying them as unwitting suicide bombers.
  • IS has given those who are inspired by its call carte blanche to conduct operations wherever convenient.  One no longer must join the formal IS or affiliate in order to participate in the caliphate.  This has led to attacks throughout the West, including the Charlie Hebdo attack in Paris that focused world attention on the lone wolf problem outside the US.
  • Numerous groups around the world that had earlier sworn allegiance to Usama bin Laden and felt adrift after his death have coalesced around what is essentially a new generation of al Qaeda, absent its original brand name.  While core al Qaeda still has some franchises, most significantly the Yemen-based al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, IS has poached most of the rest of the radical jihadis of the world.  Groups swearing fealty include the Algerian Jund al-Khalifa, Jordan’s Sons of the Call for Tawhid and Jihad, a Philippine Abu Sayyaf leader, many leaders of the Chechen Caucasus Emirate, many Libyan jihadi militia, a small Afghan chapter, Egypt’s Ansar Beit al-Maqdis, Yemeni Ansar al-Sharia dissidents, Boko Haram, and several Pakistani groups.

This growth of the jihadi terrorist movement has changed the character and functions carried out by at least some terrorist groups.  With the holding of territory, IS members do not need a clandestine cell structure employed by earlier terrorist groups.  IS is not hiding from the government—IS, in effect, is the government in the areas it controls.  Citizens hide from the (IS) government; IS does not hide itself and can operate in the open to establish its vision of the caliphate.  While its major leaders, particularly caliph al-Baghdadi, are still careful to avoid the watchful eyes of coalition drones, the average terrorist operates in the sunshine.

IS affiliates in Tunisia and Egypt branched out from attacks on government facilities and the military, key to the strategy of many IS franchises, and concentrated on destroying the economies of their host regimes by depredations against the foreign tourism industry.  Others, such as in Kuwait, attacked mosques of rival branches of Islam, causing multiple deaths.

IS has focused its formidable propaganda program on attracting faraway adherents, either to come for training and joining the fight in Syria and Iraq, or for those without frequent flyer miles, being inspired to conduct operations at home.  IS Dabiq videos were far more professionally produced and attractive to its youthful audiences than the talking-heads videos of core al-Qaeda’s as-Sahab media wing that feature an increasingly uncharismatic Ayman al-Zawahiri’s pronouncements.  Even at al Qaeda’s high point, its videos were predominantly talking head shots of bin Laden droning on about obscure points of sharia as he understood them.

The call to attack locally has the benefit of avoiding direct contact with identified IS members, making discovery of the “lone wolves” one degree more difficult than with more classic traveling terrorist cells.  Some of the Western recruits, including a disturbing number of American citizens, many of them Western-looking and American–accented radicals steeped in US culture, have been used as talking heads in propaganda videos.  These individuals have been especially effective at luring like-minded and like-looking individuals to the cause.  In turn, these new recruits can move more easily in the American environment.  IS even used a Western hostage as a local on-camera reporter on IS operations for a series of propaganda videos.

While excellent law enforcement work, particularly by the FBI in the US, has led to the arrests and imprisonment of dozens of these individuals, on occasion, the lone wolves succeed in attacks.  Core Al Qaeda’s initial forays into the Westernization of its operational cadre has been adopted by IS, which learned from its predecessor organization of the opportunities this strategy offers for attacks on the “far enemy”—the US homeland. 

The success of the FBI is likely to be tested as IS in late 2015 appeared to shift its strategy from adding territory and quasi-governing back to an al-Qaeda-like focus on the “far enemy” outside its area, including attacks in Egypt, Turkey, and France that each claimed hundreds of lives.  IS threatened to extend its operational reach into the US and Russia.  Perhaps the first shot across the bow was seen in December 2015 in the San Bernardino attack by a radicalized couple inspired—but apparently not directed—by IS.

Countering terrorist operations continued to generate tactical successes but did not eliminate the strategic, and in some cases existential, threat.  Media coverage and commentariat treatment of issues regarding interrogation methods and incarceration procedures abandoned years ago continued to vex government policy. 

As had been the case in the post-9/11 years, law enforcement and intelligence officers continued their stunning record of successes against terrorist threats.  While there were some successes by terrorists, on the whole, the period was one of few actual attacks on the US homeland. 

The discipline of terrorism analysis—at least within governments if not academe—has continued its shift from classical macro analysis (typified by this essay) of strategic issues to more micro-focused analysis.  When I was a young analyst and academic in the 1970s, we were examining changes in terrorist methodologies, sources of state support for their attacks, their selection of targets—often Americans, usually diplomats and diplomatic facilities—and other meta-level trends.  While these areas of inquiry are still of use, much of applied terrorism analysis now concentrates on force protection and finding individual terrorists’ pattern of life so that defensive forces can find, fix, frustrate, foil, and finish their careers.  These latter areas, by the way, require such a micro level of granularity that such research tends to not attract classically trained academic researchers whose sources of data are unclassified.  These sources generally are not precise enough in informing law enforcement arrest teams and military airstrike forces to conduct operations to remove individuals from membership rolls.

Such kinetic responses—mostly airstrikes—led to the deaths of many major terrorist leaders, although the whack-a-mole policy led to the rise of new leaders and secular canonization of new martyrs, rather than the diminution of terrorist operational aspirations and abilities.  The airstrikes evoked changes in terrorist operations, forcing many leaders to spend more time on personal security than planning and conducting attacks.  Among the major terrorist leaders killed—either at the hands of the coalition or colleagues—during 2013-2015 were: 

  • Nasir Abdel Karim al-Wuhayshi, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) leader
  • Ahmed Abdi Godane, alias Mukhtar Abu Zubeyr, Somali al-Shabaab leader
  • Muhsin al-Fadhli, Khorasan (a group of senior al Qaeda leaders in Syria) leader
  • Mohktar Belmokhtar, Algerian former head of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Mahgreb (AQIM) and al-Mourabitoun faction leader (reports of his death were disputed)
  • Abu Khalil al-Sudani, Afghanistan-based senior shura member and head of al-Qaeda suicide and explosive operations
  • Ahmed Farouq, an American who was deputy emir of al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent
  • Fadhil Ahmad al-Hayali, deputy chief of the Islamic State
  • Adam Gadahn, an American who was a senior al-Qaeda spokesman
  • Hakimullah Mehsud, head of the Pakistani Taliban
  • Mohammed al-Zahawi, leader of Libya’s Ansar al-Shariah
  • Wisam al-Zubaidi, alias Abu Nabil al-Anbari, believed to be the leader of the Islamic State’s Libya branch
  • Zulkifli bin Hir, alias Marwan, Malaysian Jemaah Islamiyah terrorist bomb maker
  • Magomed Suleimanov, leader of the Caucasus Emirate in Russia

Second-tier terrorists who were reported killed included:

Khorasan Group

  • Sanafi al-Nasr, true name Abdul Mohsen Adballah Ibrahim al Charekh, a Saudi believed to be the seniormost Khorasan member
  • David Drugeon, a French bombmaker for the Khorasan Group who was linked to core al-Qaeda in Pakistan

Nusra Front

  • Abu Hommam al-Shami, Nusra Front military commander

Islamic State

  • Abu Muslim al-Turkmani, deputy IS chief for Iraq
  • Mohammed Emwazi, alias Jihadi John, British IS spokesman and beheader of several Western hostages
  • Abu Salah, true name Muafaq Mustafa Mohammed al- Karmoush, finance minister
  • Ali Awni al-Harzi, a Tunisian IS intermediary across the Middle East and North Africa who was believed involved in the September 11, 2012 attacks in Benghazi, Libya
  • Tariq Bin al-Tahar Bin al-Falih al-Awni al-Harzi, a senior IS leader who was one of its first members and was involved in fundraising, recruiting, and shipping weapons from Libya to Syria
  • Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, Algerian senior IS leader in Iraq
  • Hafiz Saeed Khan, IS senior regional leader for Afghanistan and Pakistan
  • Abd al-Rahman Mustafa al-Qaduli, alias Abdul Rahman Mustafa Mohammed, alias Abu Alaa al-Afari, deputy IS commander in Iraq (reports of his death were disputed)
  • Abu Hafsa, self-proclaimed IS governor of Tikrit, Iraq
  • Haji Mutazz, a deputy of IS caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi
  • Abu Hajar al-Sufi, an aide to IS caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi
  • Auf Abdul Rahman al-Efery, an aide to IS caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi
  • Abu Muhannad al-Sweidawi, the IS ruler (wali) of Iraq’s Anbar Province who had served in Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi Army and later joined al-Qaeda. 
  • Abu Zahra al-Mahamdi, IS’s head of Deir al-Zour Province in Syria
  • Abd al Basit, a senior IS military emir in Iraq
  • Hassan Hassan Saeed al-Jabouri, alias Abu Taluut, IS governor of Mosul, Iraq
  • Radwan Taleb al-Hamdouni, IS governor of Mosul, Iraq
  • Abdul Rauf, IS’s senior recruiter in Afghanistan and former Taliban commander
  • Abdul Rauf Khadim, a former Taliban commander who had pledged fealty to the IS
  • Hafiz Wahidi, a jihadi commander in Afghanistan

Al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent

  • Dr. ‎Sarbaland, alias Abu Khalid, a Pakistani member of the group
  • Major Sheikh Adil Abdul Qadus, a former Pakistani army major and AQIS member
  • Hidayatullah, alias Qari Imran, in charge of AQIS’s Afghan affairs

Al-Qaeda in Iraq

  • Abu Malik, alias Salih Jasim Muhammed Falah al-Sabawi, a chemical weapons engineer at the Muthana chemical weapons production facility during Saddam Hussein’s rule who was believed to have joined al Qaeda in Iraq

Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula

  • Nasr Ibn Ali al-Ansi, an AQAP commander in Yemen
  • Ibrahim al-Rubaish, a Saudi who was AQAP’s senior cleric and sharia official
  • Sheik Harith al-Nadhari, a senior AQAP cleric
  • Shawki al-Badani, whom the US State Department named a “specially designated global terrorist” who was reportedly assigned to target the US Embassy in Yemen
  • Muhannad Ghalab, an AQAP media specialist in Yemen
  • Saleh Jouti, a senior AQAP member in Yemen
  • Qaid el-Zahab, believed to be the head of AQAP in Bayda, Yemen
  • Munnaser al-Anbouri, a senior AQAP leader in Yemen
  • Saleh Jouti, a senior AQAP member
  • Musaad al-Habashi, a suspected senior AQAP leader
  • Khaled Atef, a cousin of the Shabwa Province’s AQAP chief in Yemen
  • Maamoun Hatem, AQAP member and reportedly an IS sympathizer
  • Abu Anwar al-Kutheiri, AQAP member
  • Mohammed Saleh al-Ghorabi, AQAP member
  • Mabkhout Waqash al-Sayeri, AQAP member

Pakistani Taliban

  • Wali-ur Rehman Mehsud, deputy chief and chief military strategist of the Pakistani Taliban, who was wanted in the US for the December 30, 2009 bombing in Khost, Afghanistan that killed 7 CIA employees
  • Fakhar-ul-Islam, aide to Wali-ur Rehman Mehsud, Pakistani Taliban deputy chief
  • Faisal Khan, a senior Pakistani Taliban commander
  • Toofani Mehsud, alias Wali Muhammad, a senior Pakistani Taliban commander
  • Asmatullah Shaheen Bitani, a Pakistani Taliban Executive Council member
  • Abdullah Babar, commander of the Pakistani Taliban-affiliated Shehryar Mehsud group

Lashkar-e-Jhangvi group

  • Malik Ishaq, operations director in Pakistan

Afghan Taliban

  • Sangeen Zadran, senior Taliban commander (his death was disputed by the Haqqani Network)
  • Ahmad Jan, a deputy of the Haqqani network’s leader, Sirajuddin Haqqani
  • Gul Sher, leader of the Afghan Taliban in Paktia Province
  • Maulvi Hamidullah, leader of the Afghan Taliban in Khost Province


  • Ibrahim Ali Abdi, alias Anta, al-Shabaab explosives expert who coordinated suicide bombings
  • Adan Garar, variant Garaar, alias Adan Ahmed Issaq, a senior member of al-Shabaab who helped plan the September 2013 Westgate Mall attack in Nairobi
  • Abdirahman Sandhere, alias Ukash, a senior al-Shabaab leader
  • Omar Hammami, a rapping American from Alabama who was on the FBI’s Most Wanted list with a $5 million reward for his capture. He was killed in an ambush ordered by al-Shabaab leader Ahmed Abdi Godane.

Ansar al-Sharia in Yemen

  • Nabil al-Dahab, a senior member of the Salafist group

Ansar Beit al-Maqdis of Egypt

  • Khaled el-Menaei, brother of the group’s leader Shadi el-Menaei
  • Ashraf Ali Hassanein al-Gharabali, a leader of the Islamic State-affiliated group

Hamas/al-Qassam Brigades

  • Mohammed Abu Shamala, member of 15-member military council and commander of the al-Qassam Brigades in Rafah
  • Raed al-Attar, member of the 15-member military council
  • Mohammed Barhoum, member of the 15-member military council


  • Jihad Mughniyeh, Hizballah member and son of slain top military commander Imad Mughniyeh

These leadership decapitations were soon followed by succession announcements.  As several former Directors of Central Intelligence observed in ShowTime’s 2015 Spymasters documentary, we have not yet been able to and probably cannot kill our way out of the terrorist problem, however comforting to think otherwise and satisfying to savor each fleeting tactical victory.

In addition, longtime Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Muhammad Omar was pronounced dead by the Afghan intelligence service in late July 2015, which said he had died of hepatitis in 2013.  Despite the violence of their profession, on occasion, terrorists really do die from natural causes (PFLP leader George Habash and PFLP Special Operations leader Wadi Haddad are other prominent examples.).

Kinetic operations are not limited to manned and unmanned airstrikes.  African coalitions, sometimes bolstered by Western assistance, have conducted operations against al-Shabaab in Somalia, Boko Haram in Nigeria and its regional neighbors, and al Qaeda in the Islamic Mahgreb in Mali.  Saudi airstrikes in Yemen have hampered al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

Other erstwhile terrorists, sidelined for years, were released from Guantanamo Bay military prison, some to return to the battlefield.  And as of this writing, the “high value targets” incarcerated at Gitmo for 9/11 and other depredations continued their legal strategies of drawing out the judicial process.


This leads us to several popular beliefs, which upon careful reflection and empirical testing can be demonstrated to be myths.

First, despite buckets of ink devoted to the proposition, terrorist groups do not celebrate previous attacks by conducting follow-up attacks on incident anniversaries.  There have been tens of thousands of terrorist incidents over the years, and it is simple to draw after-the-fact parallels to previous calendar entries.  Terrorists attack when they’re ready to attack.  They can always find a date on a calendar to celebrate something important to them.  The feted date does not need to be that of a previous attack—they often cite feastdays of dead colleagues, religious holidays, periods in their group’s history, and the like.

          “Just connect the dots” is one of the most fatuous nostrums heard on the airwaves.  Every day, intelligence officers are awash in millions of new data points.  “Dot connecting” advice oversimplifies the complexity of tracking terrorists and thereby demeans the hard work of our dedicated analytic cadre.

          Despite legacy conventional wisdom decades out of date regarding interagency cooperation, intelligence and law enforcement agencies share information all the time.  Efforts by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence to “integrate” the efforts of the members of the Intelligence Community and its customers at the national, state, local, and tribal levels have contributed to the safety of American citizens in countless instances.

          Well-meaning but ultimately feckless gestures do not do any good, and might be counterproductive.  No Chibok girls were freed as a result of the #bringbackourgirls campaign of pleading.  No IS terrorists were impressed by people superimposing the French flag on their social media sites.  Terrorists are not impressed that you have unfriended them.  It might make us feel good, but the terrorists are not paying attention.  Such initiatives ultimately take our eyes off more useful antiterrorist activities.


          We can thus consider several unresolved mysteries, which tend to be in the realm of Sherlock Holmes’s question in “Silver Blaze” on why the dog did not bark.  While most of these questions focus on Islamic State behavior, they can also be asked of the strategies, tactics, and motivations of other terrorist groups.

Our first set of mysteries revolves around the question of why haven’t terrorists engaged in several types of attacks, or used several types of techniques?  While one can run to the annals of thrillers, much like Robert Redford’s character did in 3 Days of the Condor (by the way, novelist James Grady’s original character needed six days), or tap the imagination of screenwriters, to ask “why haven’t they tried this?” we can instead look at what they have considered, but for whatever reason, have so far not done.

  • Why has al Qaeda not employed al-Mubtakkar, a crude hydrogen cyanide dispersal device that appeared in its training manuals in the mid-2000s?
  • Why did Ayman al-Zawahiri, then-deputy to Osama Bin Laden, call off the planned al Qaeda strike against the New York City subway system in favor of a so-far-unidentified more spectacular attack?
  • Why haven’t they tried low-level CBRN to a greater extent than we’ve seen on the Syrian battlefield?  Many terrorist groups have recruited chemists, biologists, and other scientists with advanced capabilities, and the equipment and material for some at least rudimentary weapons is available.
  • Why haven’t they tried cyber attacks?  Even script kiddies have the tools needed for some types of attacks.
  • Why haven’t they spiked the cocaine supply, an easy method of quickly killing off thousands of hedonists of special irritation to them, and likely causing mass panic?
  • Why haven’t they tried to shut down Christmas by attacking malls?  Was the San Bernardino attack by two married jihadi immigrants against a Christmas party a dry run for such a campaign?

          A second group of mysteries revolves around people and the Where’s Waldo question.

  • Where’s British journalist hostage John Henry Cantlie?  Why did the Islamic State stop producing the videos in which he served as the roving reporter?  Why did they only use him?
  • Where’s Ayman al-Zawahiri?  Although he has frittered away almost all of the goodwill built up by Osama Bin Laden amongst a certain sector of the jihadi movement, his demise would still have symbolic value.
  • Where’s Islamic State caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi?  Numerous IS leaders have been removed from the battlefield, but he remains the key symbol of the IS movement.  While there will be others, probably including Abu Muhammad al-Adnani al-Shami, who would rush to replace him, his death would still give his followers pause, and his victims hope.

A few other considerations constitute our third set of mysteries.

  • What were the San Bernardino killers thinking?  What set them off?  Extensive evidence of planning and obtaining weapons, along with a pattern of radicalization that extended back several years, does not suggest that this was merely another instance of workplace violence, yet the target selection was dissonant with all that we know—or think we know—about jihadi lone wolf behavior.
  • Where does IS get its video equipment and production expertise?  They are light-years beyond any other terrorist group.
  • Terrorism can still come from the minds of hostile nation-state leaders, perhaps seeking revenge, or just attention.  What will be the next provocation from Pyongyang?  Will it involve terrorism?
  • How do we get suicide bombers to take out just themselves?  Monks have conducted self-immolation campaigns to make political points.  What is different about their choice of death and what drives suicide bombers?


Finally, a few predictions for what we might see in the next period covered by the next volume of my chronologies:

  • Technology changes will change methods of attacks.  Of particular worry are mobile explosive delivery techniques that do not require direct terrorist presence—unmanned aerial vehicles and self-driving ground transportation. 
  • Self-driving cars and drones will augment suicide foot-soldiers.  No longer will the defense have to simply kill the driver of a car bomb; now they have to kill the car.  While suicide infantry will still have the advantage of penetrating deeply into a target building, remotely-directed vehicles will be able to go further than manually-driven vehicles.
  • Lightweight drones are tough to spot and tough to shoot down.  Payload problems will balance out these operational advantages of smaller drones.
  • As has always been the case, we face a battle of ideas, not just arms.  How do you kill an idea?
  • Terrorism will continue incorporate the Internet, as a method of propaganda dispersal, operational communication, and perhaps attack strategies.  The hacker group Anonymous has offered its services to battle cyber terrorists, and claims that it has shut down 6,000 Twitter accounts.  Successor accounts, however, will pop up, like whack-a-mole.  Can hackers deface and/or erase the message?  Permanently?
  • The response of fearful polities bears watching.  The European Union may be fraying with the ease of crossing borders under the Schengen Agreement now being questioned.  Presidential electoral politics have raised questions about religious tolerance, gun control, and immigration standards.

Where should we concentrate our resources?  The bulk of media coverage of terrorism centers around the depredations of the Islamic State and its affiliates—if it bleeds, it leads—with second place going to the remaining al-Qaeda franchises still loyal to the original al-Qaeda leadership clustered around Ayman al-Zawahiri, successor to Osama bin Laden.  The world’s terrorist attacks are not strictly limited to these two coalitions, with numerous other groups of varying nationality and motivation active in several locations.   The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia announced on-again, off-again ceasefires and resumptions of operations during their protracted peace negotiations with the Colombian government.  Irish Republican Army die-hards attempted to resurrect “the Troubles” in conducting bombings and selective assassinations.  Maoist and separatist rebels plagued the Indian subcontinent.  Lone nuts spouting racist rhetoric and firing automatic weapons plagued American churches and theaters.

          Who are the key terrorist groups meriting continuing attention?  The answer depends upon whom you ask.  The United Nations, various US government organizations, including the Department of State and National Counterterrorist Center, the European Union, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Canada, Australia, India, Russia, Iran, Kazakhstan, China, Tunisia, Turkey, Ukraine, private research organizations and academic groups all maintain very extensive lists of terrorist groups, sometimes based upon their history rather than current operational status.  Mention on some lists can trigger various sanctions, often economic and financial. 

The US Department of State maintains a list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations (FTOs) designated by the Secretary of State in accordance with section 219 of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA).  Section 219 requires that the group be a foreign organization which engages in in terrorist activity, as defined in section 212 (a)(3)(B) of the INA (8 U.S.C. § 1182(a)(3)(B)), or terrorism, as defined in section 140(d)(2) of the Foreign Relations Authorization Act, Fiscal Years 1988 and 1989 (22 U.S.C. § 2656f(d)(2)), or retain the capability and intent to engage in terrorist activity or terrorism.  These activities must also threaten the security of U.S. nationals or the national security (national defense, foreign relations, or the economic interests) of the United States.  The State Department keeps a separate list of state sponsors of terrorism.  Groups (and governments) can be dropped from the list when certain criteria are met.  The most recent list of US Government Designated Foreign Terrorist Organizations includes:

U.S. Government-Designated Foreign Terrorist Organizations

Abdallah Azzam Brigades (AAB)
Abu Nidal Organization (ANO)
Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG)
Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade (AAMB)
Ansar al-Dine (AAD)
Ansar al-Islam (AAI)
Ansar al-Shari’a in Benghazi (AAS-B)
Ansar al-Shari’a in Darnah (AAS-D)
Ansar al-Shari’a in Tunisia (AAS-T)
Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis (ABM)
Army of Islam (AOI)
Asbat al-Ansar (AAA)
Aum Shinrikyo (AUM)
Basque Fatherland and Liberty (ETA)
Boko Haram (BH) (commonly translated as Western Education is Sinful, although the official Arabic name is jama’atu ahlis sunna lidda’awati wal-jihad—People Committed to the Propagation of the Prophet’s Teachings and Jihad)
Communist Party of Philippines/New People’s Army (CPP/NPA)
Continuity Irish Republican Army (CIRA)
Gama’a al-Islamiyya (IG)
Haqqani Network (HQN)
Harakat ul-Jihad-i-Islami (HUJI)
Harakat ul-Jihad-i-Islami/Bangladesh (HUJI-B)
Harakat ul-Mujahideen (HUM)
Indian Mujahedeen (IM)
Islamic Jihad Union (IJU)
Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU)
Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL)
Jama’atu Ansarul Muslimina Fi Biladis-Sudan (Ansaru)
Jaish-e-Mohammed (JEM)
Jemaah Ansharut Tauhid (JAT)
Jemaah Islamiya (JI)
Kahane Chai
Kata’ib Hizballah (KH)
Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK)
Lashkar e-Tayyiba
Lashkar i Jhangvi (LJ)
Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE)
Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG)
Mujahidin Shura Council in the Environs of Jerusalem (MSC)
Al-Mulathamun Battalion (AMB)
National Liberation Army (ELN)
Palestine Islamic Jihad – Shaqaqi Faction (PIJ)
Palestine Liberation Front – Abu Abbas Faction (PLF)
Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP)
Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command (PFLP-GC)
Al-Nusrah Front (ANF)
Al-Qa’ida (AQ)
Al-Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP)
Al-Qa’ida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM)
Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC)
Revolutionary Organization 17 November (17N)
Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party/Front (DHKP/C)
Revolutionary Struggle (RS)
Al-Shabaab (AS)
Shining Path (SL)
Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP)

This list, while lengthy, is dwarfed by the 1,600 names offered by groups claiming credit for attacks, or believed responsible for attacks, that occurred in 1960-2015 as compiled by Vinyard Software’s ITERATE (International Terrorism: Attributes of Terrorist Events) project.  Many of these names are throwaway “one-time” monikers, or aliases used by established groups to divert attention from correct attribution of the attackers’ identities, and/or to give the impression that the adherents to an overall cause are more numerous than the members of just one group.

                We thus still have unfinished business.  In addition to macro-level anti-terrorist initiatives, we can expect to see continuing efforts to stop individual terrorists, which leads us to the question: Who are the most dangerous terrorists?

Again, it depends upon whom you ask.  With the successes of various antiterrorist efforts around the world in taking terrorists off the battlefield, the answer to this question must be fleeting, and it is likely that certain individuals appearing on the list below may have been arrested, killed, or otherwise removed from operational effectiveness by the time this book is published.  Key ones I worry about, however, include:

  • Abu Ali al-Anbari, IS deputy leader for Syria and in the succession conversation
  • Ibrahim Hassan al-Asiri, a Saudi citizen and chief bomb maker of AQAP.
  • Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, also known as Abu Du’a, called Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi al-Husseini al-Qurashi, Amir al-Mu’minin, and Caliph Ibrahim, leader of the Islamic State 
  • Samantha Louise Lewthwaite, also known as Sherafiyah Lewthwaite, and the White Widow, believed to have been involved in planning al-Shabaab attacks
  • Abubakar Shekau, also known as Darul Akeem wa Zamunda Tawheed, and Darul Tawheed, the leader of Boko Haram.  Some pundits have suggested that Shekau is a name used by several individuals chosen to serve as the spokesperson for the group.  Most confessor videos show the same individual, usually appearing with an AK-47 and surrounded by his troops.  His messages include threatening to sell off hundreds of kidnapped girls to his adherents, and predicting that his group will continue conducting brutal attacks against those who do not follow his brand of jihad.  During this period, his group extended operations outside the confines of the self-proclaimed caliphate in Nigeria, hitting sites in Chad, Cameroon, and Niger, but sparking a region-wide military response to the group.  Some Boko Haram members swore fealty to al-Qaeda, others to its rival, the Islamic State.  Some of the kidnapped girls were believed to be have been forced to conduct suicide bombings around the region.
  • Ayman Mohammed Rabie al-Zawahiri, founder of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad and successor to Usama bin Laden as head of the al-Qaeda senior leadership (often called AQSL in counterterrorism circles) believed hiding in South Asia.  He issues frequent commentaries on numerous issues in the hopes of staying relevant in a world in which he, and the remnants of his organization, have been overtaken by the Islamic State.  His personal style and lack of charisma turned off many would-be adherents.  As-Sahab’s (AQSL’s media wing) talking-head Internet audio and video postings pale in comparison with IS’s flashy multiple jump cuts and testimonials by relatable individuals from across the world.  He has been unable to establish primacy among the world’s jihadis, and frequent removal of his deputies and senior advisors via air strikes and other attacks have limited the group’s ability to conduct local, much less overseas, operations.  Nonetheless, he remains a symbol of the bin Laden era, and his demise would bring some closure to victims of AQ’s depredations.  
  • Returning jihadis from Islamic State-controlled territory in Syria and Iraq
  • Lone wolves and small groups of like-minded individuals inspired by the Islamic State and/or al Qaeda’s affiliates and remnants

     One last question for consideration:  Would treating IS like a state, which they want, allow the anti-IS coalition opportunities which it does not have by treating it as a terrorist group?

This book is divided into three sections: Incidents, Updates, and Bibliography.  The Incidents section provides a chronology and description of international terrorist activity for a given time period, based solely on publicly available sources.  This series of chronologies is not intended to be analytical, but rather comprehensive in scope.  As such, the Incidents section also includes descriptions of non-international attacks that provide the security and political context in which international attacks take place.  In some cases, the international terrorists mimic the tactics of their stay-at-homecohorts.  Often, these are the same terrorists working on their home soil against domestic, rather than foreign, targets.  Domestic attacks often serve as proving grounds for techniques later adopted for international use.  I have therefore included material on major technological, philosophical, or security advances, such as: the use of letter bombs; food tampering; major assassinations; attempts to develop, acquire, smuggled, or use precursors for an actual chemical, biological, radiological, or nuclear weapon; key domestic and international legislation and new security procedures; key arrests and trials of major figures; and incidents involving mass casualties.  Non-international entries do not receive an eight-digit code.

          The Updates section provides follow-up material to incidents first reported prior to January 1, 2013.  For example, updates include information about the outcome of trials for terrorist acts occurring prior to 2013 and “where are they now” information about terrorists and their victims.  The update is identified by the original incident date, and I have included enough prefatory material to give some context and to identify the original incident in the earlier volumes.

          The current volume follows that same format and method as the previous ones.  As in earlier volumes, the international terrorist incidents and airline hijackings are identified by an eight-digit code.  The first six digits identify the date on which the incident became known as a terrorist attack to someone other than the terrorists themselves (e.g., the date the letter bomb finally arrived at the recipient’s office, even though terrorists had mailed it weeks earlier; or the date on which investigators determined that an anomalous situation was terrorist in nature).  The final two digits ratchet the number of attacks that took place on that date.  In instances in which either the day of the month or the month itself is unknown, “99” is used in that field.

The information cutoff date for this volume is December 31, 2015. 

          The Bibliography section includes references drawn from the same public sources that provide the incidents, literature searches, and contributions sent by readers of previous volumes.  It does not purport to be comprehensive.  The citations are grouped into topic areas that were chosen to make the bibliography more accessible, and includes print and web-based material.  The Bibliography gives citations on key events and may be referenced for more detail on specific attacks described in the Incidents section. 

          For those who prefer to run textual searches for specific groups, individuals, or incidents, a computer version of the 1960-2007 ITERATE (International Terrorism: Attributes of Terrorist Events) textual chronology is available from Vinyard Software, Inc., 502 Wandering Woods Way, Ponte Vedra, Florida 32081-0621, or e-mail via [email protected]  The data set comes in a WordPerfect and Word textual version and looks remarkably like the volumes in this series of hardcopy chronologies.  A numeric version offers circa 150 numeric variables describing the international attacks from 1968-2015.  The data sets can be purchased by specific year of interest.  See www.vinyardsoftware.com for further details.

          Vinyard also offers the Data on Terrorist Suspects (DOTS) project, where you will find a detailed biographical index of every terrorist suspect named in the previous volumes of this chronology.

          Comments about this volume’s utility and suggestions for improvements for its likely successors are welcome and can be sent to me via [email protected].  Please send your terrorism publication citations to me at Vinyard to ensure inclusion in the next edition of the bibliography.

          Once again, there are many individuals who have contributed to this research effort.  Of particular note are the staff at McFarland, who have a well-earned reputation for quality and for being exceptionally easy to work with; and my family.

                I also thank the organizers of the University of Texas at El Paso colloquium on Next Generation Terrorism that took place on February 24-25, 2016.  Their providing me an opportunity to keynote the convention allowed me to try out some of the ideas you see above.  An earlier version of this introduction appeared in their conference proceedings as “Contemporary Terrorism: Trends, Myths, Mysteries, and Predictions”, paper prepared for the Annual National Security Colloquium on the Nature and Character of Next Generation Terrorism, hosted by the National Security Studies Institute of the University of Texas at El Paso.

Further reading