Recently, we’ve been witnessing a great number of American and Middle Eastern politicians making their best to produce an impression on the general public that the ongoing struggle against ISIS is nearing its end. To confirm this notion, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has recently proclaimed a major victory in Mosul, once the city was finally liberated from terrorists. Additionally, Iraq’s military brass has announced a recapture of the city of Tal Afar. At the same time, Lebanese forces are conducting a range of pretty successful military operations against ISIS on very the border with Syria.
However, there should be no misunderstanding of the fact that the Islamic State terrorist group has not been defeated yet. It still holds under its control a sizable chunk of land that can be effectively defended, while carrying on all sorts of terrorist attacks across the Middle East that are aimed at both sowing fear and attracting new recruits into its ranks. What’s even more important, ISIS hasn’t lost its ability to infiltrate the territory of the states that share a common border with Iraq and Syria, so its militants have an escape route in case things go south. Additionally, after suffering a military defeat ISIS militants may try to mingle with local population, thus avoiding the attention of law enforcement agencies, both in Syria, Iraq and in the states of their origin.
For instance, last July, Interpol presented a list of individuals who can potentially commit terrorist attacks in Europe that consists of 173 potential suicide bombers.
The Italian media source L’Espresso stresses that ISIS, with its ability to recruit people on the Internet, can carry on finding new members across the Western world. In order to organize a terrorist attack, the ISIS seeks ways to create a chain, stretching from the so-called sheikh, through a mastermind of an attack that must be beyond suspicion, to an instructor that must be pretty proficient with all sorts of weapons and explosives that will contact a bewildered soul that is willing to sacrifice his life through some sort of a safe channel.
As follows from the results of an international investigation into the recent most bloody terrorist attacks committed by ISIS, the Islamic State changes its tactics on the fly. They are trying to move away from the use of only single wolves by assembling potential suicide bombers into tightly connected cells that can be found everywhere from the Mediterranean, to North Africa, Europe and the US that are waiting for a command to strike. A series of training camps is being created for jihadists these days, which experts describe as “terrorist factories” that remind of the infamous base that Al-Qaeda had in Afghanistan. One of such camps, for instance, can be found in the coastal Libyan city of Sabratha.
It’s hardly a secret that ISIS has managed to replace Al-Qaeda at the top of radical terrorism food chain largely due to the fact that unlike the latter the Islamic State didn’t try to overthrow or destabilize moderate Arab governments. Instead, it went much further. By becoming a new phenomenon in the world of radical Islam, the terrorist group has managed to build an incredibly effective propaganda machine that would rely heavily on the use of social networks. This allowed ISIS to secure a constant stream of extremists coming from across the world to join its ranks. This resulted in ISIS’ ability to rapidly expand its territorial claims in a bid to establish a caliphate. Radical Muslims around the world would trust ISIS propagandists by assuming that the future caliphate is the place where an Islamic utopia could be built, which would allow them to keep their faith “in its purest form.”
With the fall of the caliphate, one should expect a rapid transformation of ISIS, we will see an ever growing number of radicals heading home, which will result in the ever growing of terrorist attacks, and the recent events in Europe only confirm this notion.
Upon realizing the imminent fall of the caliphate under the onslaught of the anti-terrorist operations, ISIS would establish a wide network of related groups across the Muslim world. This process was facilitated by the fact that there’s a lot of countries in the world that do not have an effective government that could counter the growing terrorist threat, where large detachments of ISIS militants could survive without much effort. Among such countries one can find Afghanistan, Libya, Yemen and a number of West African states.
Additionally, and the ongoing civil war in Syria, too, gives ISIS to find refuge in such areas where there’s no forces capable of opposing the group. Just recently, a total of seventy bandit groups consisting of more than 25,000 extremists have recently gathered around the Jabhat al-Nusra core, thus creating a new terrorist group – Hayyat Tahrir al-Sham. The new organization was quickly joined by the militants of the so-called moderate opposition. Now they are struggling to capture Idlib. This new formation has already demonstrated even greater radicalization than the one that could be found in ISIS, and it’s planning to establish a radical state in Syria, rather than creating a mythical Islamic caliphate from Morocco to Malaysia.
It is also important to remember that as the positions of ISIS get weaker, the regional inter-ethnic and inter-confessional conflicts will only get worse, so there’s going to be even more challenges to face across Syria, Iraq, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Turkey.
Valeriy Kulikov, expert politologist, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook.”