There has been much speculation as to whether or not Friday’s three terrorist attacks were coordinated in advance or not and whether they were perpetrated by the same group.
An article in Time magazine ran the headline “Friday’s Three Terrorist Attacks might not be connected – and that’s even scarier.”
The article misrepresents the issue by implying that what connects terrorist attacks are organizational networks. In fact these attacks are connected because they are driven by the same ideology – namely Islamism.
The Islamic State has claimed responsibility for the attack in Kuwait which killed 25 people in a Shiite mosque. It also claimed responsibility for the attack in Tunisia in which a militant killed 38 holiday-makers in Tunisia. According to the Tunisian Prime Minister Habib Essid, most of those killed were British.
It is also thought that the attack in France was inspired by Islamic State propaganda, since the Islamic State has called on any and all of its supporters to make the Muslim holy month of Ramadan as bloody as possible.
Yet, the focus on which group carried out the attack is misguided, since is primarily an academic question.
Any one of the plethora of Islamist groups that now litter the globe could conceivable have carried out Fridays massacres, with or without coordination.
Ideologically, the Islamic State, Nusra, Al-Qaeda Central or the Taliban and non-violent Islamist groups like the Muslim Brotherhood, Jamaat-e-Islami and Hizb ut-Tahrir all want the same thing – a universal caliphate which imposes their puritanical strain of sharia law onto everyone on earth.
The only differences are tactical, like Hizb-ut-Tahrir and the Muslim Brotherhood’s temporary rejection of violence as strategically unsound, or the Islamic State’s focus on creating a caliphate immediately rather than defeating Assad first. Personal disputes between individual leaders may very well play a role in the fractured nature of international Islamism.
It is important to remember that jihadist groups and individuals frequently switch allegiances between flags and form splinter groups or merge groups. Just as the Islamic State used to be an Al-Qaeda affiliate, Al-Qaeda itself was formed by more extreme members of the Muslim Brotherhood. During the dispute between the Islamic State and Jabhat al-Nusra, senior Salafist-jihadist sheikhs conducted a mediation process agreed to by both sides, who (initially) regarded each other with a modicum of mutual respect.
They may differ on specifics but they are part of the same philosophical world.
On the ground, ordinary jihadists may see the disputes between their leaders as pointless quibbling. Cherif and Said Couachy, the two gunmen who murdered 12 journalists in the Charlie Hebdo attacks this January, were trained members of Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, yet they were perfectly content to work with Amedy Coulibaly, an Islamic State supporter who killed five people in a kosher supermarket shortly afterwards.
The jihadist imperative to slaughter infidels overrode organizational disharmony.
It simply does not matter which terrorist group carried out these attacks and whether or not they were coordinated in advance. It is the ideology that connects them and that drove the perpetrators to carry them out.
It is that ideology — and no single group — that is to blame and which must be defeated.
Elliot Friedland is a research fellow at Clarion Project.