On Friday, May 26, coinciding with the eve of Ramadan, Islamic State-affiliated gunmen opened fire on a bus carrying a number of Coptic Christians who were on their way to the monastery of Samuel the Confessor in the Minya governorate of Egypt, killing 26 people and injuring 25. The incident shocked the regional and international community, prompting many to question why such incidents occur during religious occasions that are meant to be observed with respect.
However, rather than respect the sanctity of the Holy Month, what occurred was the opposite. The extremist organization celebrated its act in a statement claiming responsibility for the attack: "The soldiers of the caliphate have set up a critical ambush against dozens of Christians."
Indeed, a large number of terrorist attacks carried out by Islamic State over the past years have taken place during Islamic religious events, such as Ramadan, Eid al-Adha, and al-Mawlid al-Nabawi (the celebration of the Prophet’s birth). The organization has sought to commemorate these events with bombings, killing those whom they consider to be "infidels", and claiming to reap “double the reward” during these holidays.
According to the researcher on political Islam and jihadist organizations, Ahmed Ban, the tendency for terrorist organizations to carry out attacks on religious holidays is an attempt to recreate Islamic history, in particular the invasions and conquests carried out by the Prophet Muhammad. Their aim is to enact their own vows and beliefs, Ban notes, recalling that "the Battle of Badr and the conquest of Mecca took place during the month of Ramadan."
"It is necessary to revise Islamic history and the Prophet's biography to eliminate the incorrect facts, which these terrorists exploit to justify their actions," Ban tells Raseef22. "They promote warmongering instead of compassion, sadism instead of tolerance, and use Islam to justify their psychological illnesses."
The Islamic State organization’s commitment to undertaking terrorist attacks in conjunction with religious events comes in response to the orders of their leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. The militant leader published a voice recording in 2014, entitled "A Message to the Mujahideen and the Muslim Ummah in the Month of Ramadan", in which he incited the fighters to carry out terrorist attacks during the month of Ramadan, claiming that doing so would earn them a greater reward.
Al-Baghdadi said: "And there is no deed in this virtuous month or in any other month better than jihad in the path of Allah, so take advantage of this opportunity and walk the path of you righteous predecessors. Support the religion of Allah through jihad in the path of Allah. Go forth, O mujahidin in the path of Allah. Terrify the enemies of Allah and seek death in the places where you expect to find it, for the dunya (worldly life) will come to an end, and the hereafter will last forever."
Islamic State spokesperson Abu Daoud al-Adnani repeated the call in a voice recording on May 21, 2016, in which he called on the organization's supporters to launch more terrorist attacks against Western countries during Ramadan.
The audio recording said: "Ramadan, the month of conquest and jihad. Get prepared, be ready ... to make it a month of calamity everywhere for the non-believers." The statement called for attacks on both military and civilian targets.
Commemorating Ramadan and Eid with bombings: the legacy of Islamic State.
Every holiday, every religious occasion, every feast is marked with the blood of the innocent.
Many incidents affirm the organization's efforts to intensify terrorist attacks during religious holidays. In just the past days, there have been numerous attacks, most notably in Iraq and Afghanistan. The most prominent of the attacks carried out in recent years include:
The 17th of Ramadan 2012: The First Rafah Massacre
On the 17th of Ramadan 2012, the Islamic State affiliates in North Sinai—at the time known as Ansar Beit al-Maqdis before pledging allegiance to the group in November 2014—committed a suicide attack, known as "the first Rafah massacre”. A total of 16 Egyptian armed forces soldiers were killed while having Iftar at a checkpoint near the Rafah border crossing, which leads to the Gaza Strip.
Eid al-Adha 2015: Bombing of Sana’a Mosque
On September 24, 2015, which marked the first day of Eid al-Adha, the Yemeni capital awoke to the sound of the bombing of the Shi'ite mosque of al-Balili. The attack was executed close to the police academy in the center of Sana'a, which had fallen under the control of the Houthi rebels. Two suicide bombers blew themselves up in the mosque, leaving more than 20 dead.
In their declaration claiming responsibility for the attack, Islamic State said it came in retaliation against the Houthis.
Ramadan 2016: Bombing of Al-Masjid al-Nabawi
On the 29th of Ramadan 2016, Saudi Arabia was struck by several suicide attacks carried out by Islamic State, most notably those targeting Medina, at the time of the maghrib (sunset) prayers, as people were breaking their fast. The attack took place in the parking lot of the emergency forces center near Al-Masjid al-Nabawi in Medina.
The Saudi Interior Ministry later issued a statement saying that, with the arrival of the maghrib prayer in Medina, security forces suspected an individual who was approaching Al-Masjid al-Nabawi in an empty area used as a parking lot for visitors. Upon attempting to apprehend him, he detonated himself with an explosive belt, killing four security officers and wounding five others.
Eid al-Adha 2016: Slaughter of 19 Syrians for 'Spying'
On September 12, 2016, in the city of Deir al-Zour in Syria, Islamic State celebrated Eid al-Adha by killing 19 young Syrians whom they accused of espionage on behalf of the US and the international coalition that carries out air raids against the organization's strongholds in Syria and Iraq.
The group then broadcast a video in which one of its members appears wearing white clothes and hanging a group of young men in red prison-like garb from their legs, before slaughtering them, as butchers slaughter the sacrifices of Eid al-Adha.
One of the members in the video says: "May God accept your sacrifice; we sacrifice the agents of the Cross.”
Al-Mawlid al-Nabawi 2016: St. Peter and St. Paul’s Church Bombing
Coinciding with the Muslim celebration of the birth of the Prophet Muhammad in Egypt, on December 11, 2016, a suicide bomber affiliated with Islamic State bombed St. Peter and St. Paul’s Church in Abbasia, Cairo. The church is located in the premises of Saint Mark’s Coptic Orthodox Cathedral, the seat of the Coptic Orthodox Pope. A total of 29 people were killed during prayers, and 31 were injured.
Al-Azhar, Egypt’s foremost Sunni institution, decided to cancel the celebrations of al-Mawlid al-Nabawi at the time, as a result of the terrorist attack.