Islamic State influence grows as territory shrinks

July 5, 2016 2:30 am

Families were left waiting for of loved ones missing after the attack in Baghdad left at least 142 people dead. Photo / AP

Massacres attributed to Isis (Islamic State) have struck on four
continents this year, reflecting how the appeal of the group’s ideology
is growing even as the territory it controls in and Syria has
receded, according to experts.
The slaughter of civilians in
three large attacks in the past week alone – in Istanbul on Wednesday,
in Dhaka, Bangladesh, on Saturday, and in Baghdad on Sunday – suggests
that militant actions beyond the caliphate’s borders are taking place
more frequently and not necessarily with any overt direction from some
caliphate headquarters. Even more alarmingly, a growing number of
attacks, starting with those in Paris and Brussels, were conducted by
gangs of assailants instead of by an individual gunman.
“What’s
striking to me about the Istanbul and Dhaka attacks is that both weren’t
done by lone wolves at all,” said Bruce Riedel, a former CIA
counterterrorism official and analyst of al-Qaeda and Isis who is at the
Brookings Institution. “These were done by teams of working
with a very thought-through attack plan. I call them wolf-pack attacks.
They are rapidly becoming the Islamic State’s signature.”

Last week, to mark the two-year anniversary of its
self-declared caliphate, Isis created a chart showing its influence,
stretching from the moderate control it claims in the Philippines to a
“covert” presence in France, with 15 other countries in between.
Even
countries not on the list are fearful. In India, the Government says
dozens of Indian Muslims are being monitored after they have undergone
some kind of training with Isis, but Indian officials acknowledge the
actual number may be much higher.
While the core of the caliphate
in Iraq and Syria has been pummelled by coalition airstrikes and by
armies and militias fighting them on the ground, Isis soldiers have
spread throughout the and far afield. Attacks in Turkey,
Bangladesh, Nigeria, Afghanistan, Libya, Tunisia, Saudi Arabia, Egypt,
Kuwait and several European capitals, and the lone-wolf attacks in
Orlando, Florida, and San Bernardino, California, show Isis’ potency as
an ideology.
California Representative Adam Schiff, the ranking
Democrat on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, said
on CBS’s Face the Nation yesterday that Isis is “vicious and adaptive”
in what he called a “global campaign”. “It’s very much losing
territory but at the same time expanding its global presence,” he said.
US intelligence officials say battlefield setbacks
in Iraq and Syria appear to have driven Isis leaders to speed up their
timeline for attacks abroad. Many intelligence officials and terrorism
experts think that recent terrorist strikes in Paris, Brussels, Turkey
and Bangladesh are a reflection of that strategy.
“We judge that
[Isis] will intensify its global terror campaign to maintain its
dominance of the global terrorism agenda,” CIA Director John Brennan
said in testimony before the Senate last month.
While Isis had
been primarily focused on building and defending its caliphate, the
group has long expressed ambitions for attacking targets outside the
Middle East. The jihadists’ English-language magazine, Dabiq, regularly
includes discussions of plans to conquer Rome and other cities of
symbolic importance, in addition to capturing all lands that were once
part of the Islamic empires of history. In Dhaka, foreign customers at
the Holey Artisan Bakery who were from “Crusader countries” were singled
out for death.

Bangladeshis light candles and sing songs as
they pay tribute to those killed in the attack at the Holey Artisan
Bakery in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Photo / AP
A “news bulletin” radio broadcast that Isis disseminates on
social media recently provided a rapid-fire listing of attacks
conducted by its fighters, who it characterises as the “forces of the
caliphate”. The group’s aspirations date back to its earliest days, when
it was called al-Qaeda in Iraq and led by Jordanian terrorist Abu Musab
Zarqawi.
“We perform jihad here while our eyes are upon al-Quds
[Jerusalem]. We fight here, while our goal is Rome,” Zarqawi famously
said, in a line frequently cited by Isis’ leadership.
The group’s
highly regimented structure includes a unit dedicated to facilitating
attacks on foreign soil, US and European officials say. Former Isis
fighters now in custody have told investigators that the unit, called
EMNI or AMNI, has been active in Europe for more than a year.
One
jailed French recruit named Nicholas Moreau recalled meeting some of
the EMNI operatives in Syria and described them as part of the “secret
service for the exterior of the Islamic State”, according to notes of
the interview obtained by the Washington Post.
“The external
mission is to send people all over the world to do violence, to kill or
recruit young people, or to obtain cameras, or chemicals for weapons,”
Moreau said, according to a translation of the French investigators’
notes. He identified as an EMNI operative the Belgian national
Abdelhamid Abaaoud, the reported field commander of November’s terrorist
strike in Paris, and said at least four others had travelled to
northern Europe to make preparations. It is not clear whether the four
have been identified and arrested.
“They are dangerous and know
the background about weapons,” Moreau was quoted as saying. “I think
they are in Europe. I do not know where they are exactly.”
US
Secretary of State John Kerry has frequently said that attacks, whether
conducted by or inspired by Isis, are a sign of the group’s desperation
as the territory it controls in Iraq and Syria is chipped away.
Nevertheless, the group apparently remains rooted enough that it
recently issued its own caliphate dinar currency, embossed with the
words Islamic State.
But increasingly, it’s the idea of Isis,
rather than the group’s control of any territory, that has taken on
greater significance.
“As Dhaka and Istanbul demonstrate, the
idea is being translated into a tactic that is much more dangerous than
inspiring a single individual to go out and carry out an attack,” Riedel
said. “As horrific as Orlando was, had it been four guys in the bar,
think how much more complicated it would have been.
“It’s making the challenge of defeating it more and more urgent, as well as more and more difficult.”

Mourners carry the coffin of Muhammed Eymen Demirci, killed at the blasts in Istanbul’s Ataturk airport. Photo / AP
Iraq
Isis (Islamic State) claimed
responsibility for the suicide bombing in the Shia neighbourhood of
Karrada in Baghdad on Sunday that by last night had claimed at least 142
lives and wounded about 185 people. It issued a statement saying it was
carried out by an Iraqi as part of “ongoing security operations”. Iraqi
Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi ordered changes to Baghdad security
measures in response to the bombing, the most deadly in Iraq this year.
Bangladesh
The
slaughter of foreign hostages in Dhaka on Saturday has put Bangladesh
firmly on the frontline of the global war on terror despite government
efforts to portray a campaign of attacks as the work of domestic
opponents, according to analysts. The Government has denied Isis’ claim
of responsibility for the attack, which began as a hostage-taking on an
upscale restaurant and left 28 dead, including six attackers and 20 of
the hostages. “By hacking people to death … they wanted to show the
world that they can go to any extent for jihad,” said K G Suresh, a
senior fellow at New Delhi’s Vivekananda International Foundation
thinktank. “Once they attack a restaurant popular with foreigners …
their message is clear who they want to go after. By sparing Muslims,
they wanted to send out the message that they are only against
Westerners.” The hostage-takers tortured and killed those who couldn’t
recite verses of the Koran.
Turkey
Thirteen
suspects, including 10 Turks, have been charged over the Istanbul
airport suicide bombings, the deadliest of several attacks to strike
Turkey’s biggest city this year, the Dogan news agency reported. Turkish
officials have pointed blame at Isis for Tuesday’s gun and bomb spree
at Ataturk International Airport, which left 45 people dead including 19
foreigners. The suspects, who are in police custody, were charged with
belonging to a terror group, homicide and endangering the unity of the
state, Dogan reported, without providing the foreigners’ nationalities.
Saudi Arabia
A
suicide bomber blew himself up near the United States consulate in
Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea city of Jeddah yesterday, the Interior Ministry
said. Two security officers were lightly injured. There was no immediate
word on who was responsible, but since late 2014 Saudi Arabian security
officers and members of the Shia minority have been hit by deadly
violence claimed by Isis.

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