Iraq, July 23: al-Qaeda claimed responsibility for the escape of 500 inmates from two prisons in Baghdad. The militant Salafist fighters used mortars, rocket propelled grenades and machine-guns in the attack.
Libya, July 26: More than 1, 200 inmates escape from the prison in the eastern city of Benghazi. At the time, it was reported that local residents in Benghazi had assisted in the attack on the prison, although this was strongly denied by Libyan authorities.
Pakistan, July 30: Taliban gunmen wearing Afghan police uniforms attack a prison in the north-central city of Dera Ismail Khan and free more than 250 inmates. The Taliban fighters cut off the power supply to the prison, and attacked it from all sides. Taliban forces used megaphones to call out the names of the prisoners that were to be freed prior to releasing them.
Interpol states that August is the anniversary of violent militant Salafist attacks in Mumbai, India; Gluboky, Russia; and in Jakarta, Indonesia. The month of August also marks the 15th anniversary of the U.S. Embassy bombings in Nairobi, Kenya and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, in which more than 200, mainly African, people were killed and 4,000 injured.
The prison attacks conducted by militant Salafist fighters throughout the greater Middle East all occurred within a week of each other. These types of operations, occurring so close to one another, would be a huge logistical challenge that would have necessitated months of planning in order to coordinate a world-wide operation linking various militant Salafist groups. One possible explanation for the effort that would have been put into this type of coordinated operation would be that al-Qaeda and the Taliban have problems in recruiting soldiers and developing new leadership, and would thus turn to freeing their incarcerated fighters in order to replenish their ranks. Also critical for these militant Salafist movements, some of the freed prisoners may have had specialist skills that take years of dangerous practice to develop, such as bomb making.
These attacks could have great propaganda value in order to boost morale within these groups. The threat against diplomats from Western countries in the greater Middle East could be part of a larger operation supplemented by newly freed militant Salafists. Certain of the newly freed fighters, including experienced militant Salafist operatives who have knowledge of how to execute operations against high-value and heavily guarded targets such as embassies, could be integrated very quickly into al-Qaeda’s near-term attacks.
Paul Ashley is the Senior Counter-Terrorist Analyst