Pictured: Police stand at the site of a truck-ramming terrorist attack at a Christmas market on December 19, 2016 in Berlin, Germany. (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)
This month, Islamic State terrorists released a "religious" song for Christmas, "Coldly Kill Them With Hate and Rage". Taking the form of Islamic religious chant, the song, according to a report by the Middle East Media Research Institute, exhorts jihadists everywhere to murder non-Muslims, "pagans, atheists and polytheists", from "West Africa all the way to east Asia... through air, land and sea". Published on Telegram, the post includes the hashtag #MerryChristmas and a photograph of a Christmas tree with dynamite attached.
Christmas is an attractive time for jihadists for three unattractive reasons. First and foremost, they are fighting a religious war and by far their numerically greatest enemies are Christians whose most prominent festival is Christmas. Second, large crowds joining festive events and filling shopping centres present a target-rich environment. Third, publicity: mass murder at this time of year guarantees additional outrage among Western countries and Christian communities everywhere. The Islamic State song enjoins its followers to "make their media cry and broadcast". The propaganda value is particularly powerful for jihadists intent on recruiting and motivating fighters and funders for their cause and creating division between communities aimed at inciting vengeance attacks against their fellow Muslims.
It would be a mistake, however, to dismiss such overt jihadist threats merely as an effort to instil terror among their targets around the world, especially in the West. They mean what they say and their past actions conclusively prove it. This week, mourners gathered to pay their respects to the 12 people killed and 56 wounded when an Islamic State terrorist drove a truck into crowds at a Christmas market in Berlin on December 19, 2016. This followed a series of jihadist terror attacks in Europe that year, including a nail-bomb planted by a 12-year-old Iraqi boy at a Christmas market in Ludwigshafen, Germany, that failed to detonate. On the first anniversary of the Berlin rammings, police in the north of England seized bomb-making equipment and arrested Islamic State terrorists believed to be planning an attack in the UK at Christmas, and Russian intelligence services reportedly disrupted a Christmas attack planned for the city of St Petersburg.
On December 22, 2014, an Islamic State-inspired terrorist drove his van into the Christmas market in Nantes, France, killing one and wounding nine. The day before, a man of Algerian-Moroccan descent wounded 13 people by driving his vehicle into them in the French city of Dijon. The day before that, on December 20, a French Muslim convert stabbed three people near Tours. These three Christmas attacks were the first of many Islamic State terrorist atrocities in France. In December 2018, a man of Algerian descent killed five people and wounded 11 with a revolver and a knife, in an Islamic State-inspired attack at the Strasbourg Christmas market. In 2017 German police prevented an Islamic State attack aimed at a Christmas market in the city of Essen, arresting six Syrian men. In December 2000, an Al Qaida-linked plot to bomb the Christmas market in Strasbourg was disrupted by British and German security authorities.
Many other jihadist Christmas plots have been prevented by police and intelligence services in Europe and Britain, including a large-scale vehicle bomb and suicide vest attack in the Netherlands in 2019 and a 2011 Christmas bomb attack on the London Stock Exchange, the London Mayor's home and the US Embassy. Several Christmas terrorist attacks have also been planned against the US. These include a 2009 Al Qaida attempt to blow up a passenger airliner over US territory using a suicide bomb that failed when the explosives malfunctioned. In 2010 an Al Qaida terrorist attempted to bomb a Christmas tree lighting event in Portland. In 2017 a Muslim convert and former US Marine planned a Christmas shooting attack in San Francisco and was arrested by the FBI.
The pattern is global. In Australia, among other Christmas period plots, intelligence services prevented an attack in 2016 using guns, bombs and knives, aimed at a number of landmarks in Melbourne, including St Paul's Cathedral, planned for Christmas Day. By far the highest death-toll at Christmas occurs in Muslim-majority countries. In Indonesia, Al Qaida and their affiliates Jemaah Islamiyah murdered 18 and wounded 118 others in a series of coordinated bombings of churches on Christmas Eve 2000. In Nigeria and Egypt alone, almost 150 Christians were killed in targeted attacks at Christmas in 2017. Last year an Egyptian policeman was killed attempting to defuze a bomb at a Coptic Christian church days before their Christmas services. Also last Christmas, the Islamic State affiliate Boko Haram executed 11 Christian hostages, murdered seven others and burnt down a church on Christmas Eve. These examples are far from exhaustive.
This month Aimen Dean, a former Al Qaida chemical weapons expert who became an agent of the British intelligence service MI6, and was subsequently exposed, warned of Islamic State plans for a Christmas bombing campaign in Europe. He suggested they would try to exploit the easing of coronavirus restrictions over Christmas in several countries. Previously, a UN Security Council report, asserting that travel restrictions and reduced gatherings had constrained jihadist violence outside conflict zones, warned of a resurgence of attacks as lockdowns are reduced.
Attacks targeting non-Muslims are not of course restricted to Christmas. They take place all year round, including at the other great Christian festival of Easter. Last year over 25 people were killed and more than 500 wounded in a series of bomb attacks by an Islamic State affiliate against churches and hotels in Sri Lanka at Easter. Nor are Christians the only religious group targeted in the jihadists' holy war which could "wipe out" Christianity from parts of the Middle East according to a report last year commissioned by the British Foreign Secretary. In 2002 the terrorist group Hamas murdered 30 and wounded 140 Jews during a Passover seder in Netanya, Israel and on the eve of the Purim festival a few years before, the same group murdered 13 Israelis and wounded 130 in Tel Aviv. In 2005, Islamic jihadists killed 67 people and wounded many more in a bomb attack in Delhi as Hindus prepared for Diwali, a festival that has been targeted for attack many times.
It is politically incorrect to ascribe religious motives to jihadists, with Western authorities and media preferring to blame mental disorder, so-called "lone wolves" or "unknown motives" for their mass killings. The reality is different. Destruction of religious enemies, in particular Christians and Jews, is central to jihadist doctrine. Islamic State videos of beheading and execution of Egyptian and Ethiopian Christians carried the title: "A Message in Blood Written to the Nation of the Cross". Their now-eliminated leader, Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, frequently proclaimed his movement's intent to march all the way to Rome, breaking Christian crosses and trading and selling their women on the way. He frequently railed against Jews and the Jewish State. Former Al Qaida leader Usama Bin Laden often threatened Israel in his messages to the world and his supporters. His infamous 1998 rallying call to the Sunni Islamic world was entitled "Declaration for Jihad against the Jews and the Crusaders [Christians]".
Christmas attack warnings by jihadists as well as warnings from our own authorities over this festive period will be with us for generations. Many of the examples of failed terrorist plots show that Western security authorities have had considerable success in protecting us all, including the numerous Muslim potential victims of Islamic jihad. We might have even greater confidence in government officials and security officials if they and the media told us the truth about the religious doctrine that really lies behind these attempts to murder us and destroy our way of life, no better illustrated than by their obsession with Christmas.
The danger is not just the misleading message to the public about mental disorder and lone wolves. It is also the reality that many of those responsible for our security have themselves been indoctrinated with politically correct falsehoods which can only obstruct their efforts to prevent innocent people from being coldly killed with hate and rage at Christmas or anytime else.
Colonel Richard Kemp is a former British Army Commander. He was also head of the international terrorism team in the U.K. Cabinet Office and is now a writer and speaker on international and military affairs.