The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has recently issued a series of threats against Christians corresponding to the upcoming Christmas holiday season.
The group published a propaganda poster calling upon its followers to attack the Vatican on Christmas. The poster reads “Christmas Blood” and features a jihadist driving a car towards St. Peter’s Basilica. Last week ISIS issued an additional threat to attack Christmas markets in Europe, with some of their disturbing imagery depicting Santa Claus with his hands bound and a jihadist standing behind him.
The recent succession of terror threats has led the Department of State to issue a travel warning for American citizens traveling to Europe during the upcoming holiday season. However, this is certainly not the first time that ISIS has threatened the Vatican or European sites. For the past several years ISIS has threatened to take their fight to Rome, and even publishes an online magazine Rumiyah (Rome) which is based on the hadith or statement attributed to Muhammad that Muslims would conquer Rome.
ISIS has a long track record of striking during the Christmas holidays. Indeed, last year Anis Amri, a Tunisian asylum seeker with an established criminal record, drove a truck into a crowded Berlin Christmas market killing 12 bystanders. But authorities have also disrupted several attempted plots. Last year counterterrorism agencies halted two separate plans to bomb Christmas events in both Britain and Belgium.
Even last week German authorities arrested six Syrian men suspected of planning a terror attack on a Christmas market. Although details of the arrest have yet to be released, German officials have already bolstered security surrounding Christmas markets this season.
The United States is certainly not immune from the Islamic State’s goal of orchestrating holiday attacks. Last year the group released a hit list of thousands of prospective churches it urged its followers to attack in order to “turn the Christian New Year into a bloody horror movie.”
Holidays are an especially attractive time for terrorists to strike. First off, the multitude of crowded markets and religious gatherings increases the likelihood that an attack will yield a high casualty rate. Christmas festivities often draw large crowds that constitute a soft civilian target. Both the CIA and experts at RAND have long recognized that terrorist groups attempt to coordinate their attacks with holidays and key anniversary dates. It is therefore not surprising that Tom Ridge, the first U.S. secretary of Homeland Security, once emphasized the importance of bolstering counterterror measures during the Christmas holidays.
Islamist terrorists also seek to strike during the Christmas holiday because they recognize the emotional and symbolic impact that a terrorist attack would have on a public’s psyche. Indeed, in the aftermath of the failed Christmas day airline bombing in 2009 the Yemen-based al Qaeda cleric, Anwar al-Awlaki, justified the attack on the American people by recognizing that Christmas is “the holiest and most sacred days to you.”
Attacks that occur during the holiday season also tend to generate a great deal of media attention. Obtaining publicity is a critical goal of terrorists who seek to highlight their political grievances and objectives. But perhaps more importantly in the case of ISIS, media attention bestows a degree of legitimacy upon terrorists.
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SOURCE: The Hill, Jeffrey Treistman