Posted tagged ‘Islamic State – what’s next’

The terrorist diaspora: After the fall of the caliphate

July 14, 2017

The terrorist diaspora: After the fall of the caliphate, Long War Journal, July 13, 2017

The cult of martyrdom has grown. A disturbingly large number of people are willing to kill themselves for the Islamic State’s cause. The number of suicide bombings claimed by the so-called caliphate dwarfs all other jihadist groups, including al Qaeda. In 2016, for instance, the Islamic State claimed 1,112 “martyrdom operations” in Iraq and Syria alone. Through the first six months of 2017, the organization claimed another 527 such bombings (nearly three-fourths of them using vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices, or VBIEDs) in those two countries. These figures do not include suicide attacks in other nations where Abu Bakr al Baghdadi’s loyalists are known to operate.

To put the Islamic State’s current “martyrdom operations” in perspective, consider data published by the Washington Post in 2008. According to the Post, there were just 54 suicide attacks in all of 2001, when al Qaeda’s “martyrs” launched the most devastating terrorist airline hijackings in history. The Islamic State currently eclipses that figure every month in Iraq and Syria, averaging 93 suicide bombings per month in 2016 and 88 per month so far in 2017. Many of these operations are carried out by foreign fighters.

[I]t is reasonable to conclude that the number of people willing to die for the sake of the so-called caliphate is disturbingly high – much higher than the number of willing martyrs in 2001 or even much more recently. Even though most of these people have been deployed in war zones, it is possible that more will be used outside of Iraq and Syria if they survive the fight and are able to travel to other countries. The Islamic State has already had some success in instigating would-be recruits to die for its cause in the West after they failed to emigrate to the lands of the caliphate. It is certainly possible that more will be sent into Europe or the U.S. in the future.

***********************************

[Editor’s Note: Below is Thomas Joscelyn’s testimony before the House Homeland Security Committee’s Task Force on Denying Terrorists Entry into the United States. The hearing is titled, “The Terrorist Diaspora: After the Fall of the Caliphate.” A version with footnotes will also be posted.]

Chairman Gallagher, Ranking Member Watson Coleman, and other distinguished Committee Members, thank you for inviting me to testify today concerning foreign fighters and the threat some of them pose to the U.S. and Europe.

The fall of Mosul and the likely fall of Raqqa won’t be the end of the Islamic State. The group has already reverted to its insurgent roots in some of the areas that have been lost. It also still controls some territory. The Islamic State will continue to function as a guerrilla army, despite suffering significant losses. In May, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) assessed that even though it was losing significant ground, the Islamic State “will likely have enough resources and fighters to sustain insurgency operations and plan terrorists [sic] attacks in the region and internationally” going forward. Unfortunately, I think ODNI’s assessment is accurate for a number of reasons, some of which I outline below. I also discuss some hypothetical scenarios, especially with respect to returning foreign fighters or other supporters already living in Europe or the U.S.

Recent history. The Islamic State’s predecessor quickly recovered from its losses during the American-led “surge,” capitalizing on the war in Syria and a politically poisonous environment in Iraq to rebound. Indeed, Abu Bakr al Baghdadi’s organization grew into an international phenomenon by the end of 2014, just three years after the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq was completed. Baghdadi’s men did this while defying al Qaeda’s leaders and competing with rival jihadist groups. This recent history should give us pause any time we hear rhetoric that sounds too optimistic about the end of the Islamic State’s caliphate. The enterprise has had enough resources at its disposal to challenge multiple actors for more than three years. There is no question that the Islamic State’s finances, senior personnel, and other assets have been hit hard. But it is premature to say its losses amount to a deathblow.

Uncertainty regarding size of total membership. While it is no longer at the peak of its power, the Islamic State likely still has thousands of dedicated members. We don’t even really know how many members it has Iraq and Syria, let alone around the globe. Previous U.S. estimates almost certainly undercounted the group’s ranks. In September 2014, at the beginning of the US-led air campaign, the CIA reportedly estimated that the Islamic State could “muster” between 20,000 and 31,500 fighters. This figure was “more than three times the previous estimates,” CNN noted. By December 2016, the U.S. military was estimating that 50,000 Islamic State fighters had been killed. By February 2017, U.S. Special Operations command concluded that more than 60,000 jihadists had perished. Two months later, in April 2017, the Pentagon reportedly estimated that 70,000 Islamic State fighters had been killed.

Taken at face value, these figures (beginning with the September 2014 approximation) would suggest that Abu Bakr al Baghdadi’s enterprise was able to replace its entire force structure more than two times over, while fighting multiple enemies on numerous fronts. This is, of course, highly unlikely. Even with its prolific recruiting campaign, it would be impossible for any cohesive fighting organization, let alone one under the sustained pressure faced by the Islamic State, to train, equip and deploy fighters this quickly. It is far more likely that the U.S. never had a good handle on how many jihadists are in its ranks and the casualty figures are guesstimates. The purpose of citing these figures is not to re-litigate the past, but instead to sound a cautionary alarm regarding the near-future: We likely do not even know how many members the Islamic State has in Iraq and Syria today.

The Islamic State is an international organization. Since November 2014, when Abu Bakr al Baghdadi first announced the establishment of “provinces” around the globe, the Islamic State’s membership grew outside of Iraq and Syria. This further complicates any effort to estimate its overall size. Some of these “provinces” were nothing more than small terror networks, while others evolved into capable insurgency organizations in their own right. The Libyan branch of the caliphate temporarily controlled the city of Sirte. Although the jihadists were ejected from their Mediterranean abode by the end of 2016, they still have some forces inside the country. Similarly, Wilayah Khorasan (or Khorasan province), which represents the “caliphate” in Afghanistan and Pakistan, seized upwards of ten districts in Afghanistan as of early 2016, but has since lost ground. More recently, jihadists in the Philippines seized much of Marawi, hoisting the Islamic State’s black banner over the city. Wilayah Sinai controls at least some turf, and is able launch spectacular attacks on security forces. It was responsible for downing a Russian airliner in October 2015. Other “provinces” exist in East Africa, West Africa, Yemen and elsewhere.

In May, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) reported that the so-called caliphate “is seeking to foster interconnectedness among its global branches and networks, align their efforts to ISIS’s strategy, and withstand counter-ISIS efforts.” Gen. John Nicholson, the commander of U.S. Forces-Afghanistan, has said that Wilayah Khorasan went through an “application process” and the Islamic State mothership provided it with “advice,” “publicity,” and “some financial support.” Although it is impossible to judge the extent of the Islamic State’s cohesion, as much of the data is not available, there is at least some connectivity between the group’s leadership and its “provinces” elsewhere. This is best seen on the media side, as the organization is particularly adept at disseminating messages from around the globe in multiple languages, despite some recent hiccups in this regard.

While their fortunes may rise or fall at any given time, this global network of Islamic State “provinces” will remain a formidable problem for the foreseeable future. Not only are they capable of killing large numbers of people in the countries they operate in, this structure also makes tracking international terrorist travel more difficult. For instance, counterterrorism officials have tied plots in Europe to operatives in Libya. This indicates that some of the Islamic State’s “external plotters,” who are responsible for targeting the West, are not stationed in Iraq and Syria. The U.S.-led air campaign has disrupted the Islamic State’s “external operations” capacity by killing a number of jihadists in this wing of the organization. But others live.

The cult of martyrdom has grown. A disturbingly large number of people are willing to kill themselves for the Islamic State’s cause. The number of suicide bombings claimed by the so-called caliphate dwarfs all other jihadist groups, including al Qaeda. In 2016, for instance, the Islamic State claimed 1,112 “martyrdom operations” in Iraq and Syria alone. Through the first six months of 2017, the organization claimed another 527 such bombings (nearly three-fourths of them using vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices, or VBIEDs) in those two countries. These figures do not include suicide attacks in other nations where Abu Bakr al Baghdadi’s loyalists are known to operate.

To put the Islamic State’s current “martyrdom operations” in perspective, consider data published by the Washington Post in 2008. According to the Post, there were just 54 suicide attacks in all of 2001, when al Qaeda’s “martyrs” launched the most devastating terrorist airline hijackings in history. The Islamic State currently eclipses that figure every month in Iraq and Syria, averaging 93 suicide bombings per month in 2016 and 88 per month so far in 2017. Many of these operations are carried out by foreign fighters.

These suicide bombers have been mainly used to defend Islamic State positions, including the city of Mosul, which was one of the self-declared caliphate’s two capitals. For instance, half of the “martyrdom operations” carried out in Iraq and Syria this year (265 of the 527 claimed) took place in the Nineveh province, which is home to Mosul. The “martyrs” were dispatched with increasing frequency after the campaign to retake the city began in October 2016, with 501 claimed suicide bombings in and around Mosul between then and the end of June 2017.

Some caveats are in order. It is impossible to verify the Islamic State’s figures with any precision. The fog of war makes all reporting spotty and not every suicide bombing attempt is recorded in published accounts. Some of the claimed “martyrdom operations” likely failed to hit their targets, but were counted by the Islamic State as attacks anyway. The U.S.-led coalition and Iraqi forces have routinely taken out VBIEDs before drivers could reach their mark. Not all “martyrs” are truly willing recruits. For instance, the Islamic State’s figures include numerous children who were pressed into service by Baghdadi’s goons.

Still, even taking into account these caveats, it is reasonable to conclude that the number of people willing to die for the sake of the so-called caliphate is disturbingly high – much higher than the number of willing martyrs in 2001 or even much more recently. Even though most of these people have been deployed in war zones, it is possible that more will be used outside of Iraq and Syria if they survive the fight and are able to travel to other countries. The Islamic State has already had some success in instigating would-be recruits to die for its cause in the West after they failed to emigrate to the lands of the caliphate. It is certainly possible that more will be sent into Europe or the U.S. in the future.

Children used in suicide attacks, executions and other operations. The Islamic State has a robust program, named “Cubs of the Caliphate,” for indoctrinating children. It is one of the most disturbing aspects of the organization’s operations. Not only does the Islamic State’s propaganda frequently feature children attending classes, its videos have proudly displayed the jihadists’ use of children as executioners.

Earlier this month, for instance, the group’s Wilayah Jazirah disseminated a video entitled, “They Left Their Beds Empty.” Four children are shown beheading Islamic State captives. The same production is laced with footage of the terrorists responsible for the November 2015 Paris attacks, as well as other plots in Europe. Indeed, the children are made to reenact some of the same execution scenes that the Paris attackers carried out before being deployed. The Islamic State’s message is clear: A new generation of jihadists is being raised to replace those who have fallen, including those who have already struck inside Europe.

The “Cubs of the Caliphate” program is not confined to Iraq and Syria, but also operates in Afghanistan and elsewhere. This means that numerous children who have been indoctrinated in the Islamic State’s ways will pose a disturbing challenge for authorities going forward. As I noted above, some have already been used in “martyrdom operations” in Iraq and Syria. It is possible that others could be used in a similar fashion outside of the group’s battlefields, in Europe or the U.S. One purpose behind making children or adults commit heinous acts is to shock their conscience into thinking there is no way back, that they have crossed a threshold and there is no return. There are no easy answers for how to best deal with this problem.

Diversity of terrorist plots. There are legitimate concerns about the possibility of well-trained fighters leaving Iraq and Syria for the West now that the Islamic State is losing its grip on some of its most important locales. We saw the damage that a team of Islamic State operatives can do in November 2015, when multiple locations in Paris were assaulted. Trained operatives have had a hand in other plots as well. This concern was succinctly expressed by EUROPOL in a recent report. “The number of returnees is expected to rise, if IS [Islamic State], as seems likely, is defeated militarily or collapses. An increasing number of returnees will likely strengthen domestic jihadist movements and consequently magnify the threat they pose to the EU.” While a true military defeat will be elusive, the central point stated here has merit, even though the number of arrests of returnees across Europe has recently declined. According to EUROPOL, “[a]rrests for travelling to conflict zones for terrorist purposes…decreased: from 141 in 2015 to 77 in 2016.” And there was a similar “decrease in numbers of arrests of people returning from the conflict zones in Syria and Iraq: from 41 in 2015 to 22 in 2016.”

However, the overall number of arrests “related to jihadist terrorism” rose from 687 in 2015 to 718 in 2015, meaning that most of these terror-related arrests do not involve returnees.

Still, returnees and the logistical support networks that facilitate travel to Iraq and Syria were prominently represented in court cases tried by EUROPOL member states. “As evidenced in the past couple of years, the majority of the verdicts for jihadist terrorism concerned offences related to the conflict in Syria and Iraq,” EUROPOL reported in its statistical review for 2016. “They involved persons who had prepared to leave for or have returned from the conflict zone, as well as persons who have recruited, indoctrinated, financed or facilitated others to travel to Syria and/or Iraq to join the terrorist groups fighting there.” In addition, “[i]ndividuals and cells preparing attacks in Europe and beyond were also brought before courts.”

These data show that while the threat posed by returnees is real, it is just one part of the overall threat picture. The Islamic State has encouraged supporters in the West to lash out in their home countries instead of traveling abroad, directed plots via “remote-control” guides, and otherwise inspired individuals to act on their own. These tactics often don’t require professional terrorists to be dispatched from abroad. The Islamic State has also lowered the bar for what is considered a successful attack, amplifying concepts first espoused by others, especially al Qaeda. A crude knife or machete attack that kills few people is trumpeted as the work of an Islamic State “soldier” or “fighter.” On Bastille Day in Nice, France last year, an Islamic State supporter killed more than 80 people simply by running them over with a lorry. Other Islamic State supporters have utilized this simple technique, repeatedly advocated by Abu Bakr al Baghdadi’s propagandists, as well.

However, I would urge caution. While the amateurs or individual actors have become more lethal over time, the risk of professionally-trained jihadists carrying out a mass casualty attack remains distinct. On average, the professionals can still do more damage than their amateur counterparts – if they are not stopped beforehand. The threat to aviation demonstrates the point. In October 2015, the Islamic State’s Wilayah Sinai downed a Russian airliner, killing all 224 people on board. Although the jihadists claim to have used a crude improvised explosive device, the plot required that well-placed personnel implant it at an optimal location within the aircraft. U.S. officials are attempting to stop even more sophisticated devices, built by either the Islamic State or al Qaeda, from being placed on board flights bound for Europe or America. Other professionally-planned attacks could involve bombing commuter trains, Mumbai-style sieges, or multi-pronged assaults. Therefore, if the professionals are able to evade security measures, they could easily kill more people than the average amateur.

Counterterrorism services in Europe and the U.S. have stopped a number of professional plots through the years. Some of those foiled in the past year may have been more serious than realized at the time. However, there is a risk that as counterterrorism authorities deal with a large number of individual or amateur plots, the professional terrorists will be able to find another window of opportunity. The various threats posed by the Islamic State have placed great strains on our defenses.

The Islamic State could seek to exploit refugee flows once again. “The influx of refugees and migrants to Europe from existing and new conflict zones is expected to continue,” EUROPOL reported in its review of 2016. The Islamic State “has already exploited the flow of refugees and migrants to send individuals to Europe to commit acts of terrorism, which became evident in the 2015 Paris attacks.” The so-called caliphate and “possibly other jihadist terrorist organizations may continue to do so.” While the overwhelming majority of migrants are seeking to better their lives, some will continue to pose a terrorist threat. European nations are dealing with this, in part, by deploying more “investigators” to “migration hotspots in Greece and soon also to Italy.” These “guest officers” will rotate “at key points on the external borders of the EU to strengthen security checks on the inward flows of migrants, in order to identify suspected terrorists and criminals, establishing a second line of defense.”

This makes it imperative that U.S. authorities share intelligence with their European counterparts and receive information in return to better track potential threats. The U.S. has led efforts to disrupt the Islamic State’s “external attack” arm and probably has the best intelligence available on its activities. But European nations have vital intelligence as well, and only by combining data can officials get a better sense of the overall picture. Recent setbacks with respect to this intelligence sharing, after details of British investigations were leaked in the American press, are troubling. But we can hope that these relationships have been repaired, or will be soon.

It should be noted that would-be jihadists who are already citizens of European countries could have an easier route into the U.S. than migrants fleeing the battlefields. It is much easier for a British citizen to get on a plane headed for the U.S. than for an Islamic State operative posing as a Syrian refugee to enter the U.S. clandestinely through Europe. Given recent events in the UK, and the overall scale of the jihadist threat inside Britain, this makes intelligence sharing on potential terrorists all the more crucial. British officials have said that they are investigating 500 possible plots involving 3,000 people on the “top list” of suspects at any given time. In addition, 20,000 people have been on the counterterrorism radar for one reason or another and are still considered potentially problematic.

Exporting terror know-how. It is possible that more of the Islamic State’s terrorist inventions will be exported from abroad into Europe or the U.S. As the self-declared caliphate sought to defend its lands, it devised all sorts of new means for waging war. It modified drones with small explosives and built its own small arms, rockets, bombs and the like. Al Qaeda first started to publish ideas for backpack bombs and other IEDs in its online manuals. The Islamic State has done this as well, but we shouldn’t be surprised if some of its other inventions migrate out of the war zones. The group could do this by publishing technical details in its propaganda, or in-person, with experienced operatives carrying this knowledge with them.

In Syria, Trump’s Red Line May be Holding

June 29, 2017

In Syria, Trump’s Red Line May be Holding, Front Page MagazineJoseph Klein, June 29, 2017

It is not only what Assad has been doing in unleashing his ghastly chemical weapons on his own people, causing horrible suffering in their wake, which demands our attention. After all, Assad has been causing such suffering with conventional weapons as well, including his use of barrel bombs, which we have repeatedly condemned but have not taken specific military action to stop. To do so would almost inevitably draw us into a wider war. What makes chemical and other weapons of mass destruction different is their potential proliferation to the very Islamic terrorists we are trying to defeat.

**************************

Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis claimed Wednesday that the Syrian regime has drawn back from plans to conduct another chemical attack, following a warning by the Trump administration of serious consequences if Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces followed through with their plans. 

U.S. intelligence detected “active preparations for chemical weapons use” at the same air base from which the regime allegedly had launched its prior chemical attack last April that caused mass casualties. President Trump had responded to the April chemical attack with a barrage of cruise missiles targeting that air base. The White House issued its public warning to the Assad regime on Monday in unambiguous terms, declaring that Assad and his military would pay a “heavy price” if his regime conducted another chemical attack.

“It appears that they took the warning seriously. They didn’t do it,” Mattis told reporters.

Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, went even further in crediting the Trump administration for stopping Assad at least for now. “I can tell you that due to the President’s actions, we did not see an incident,” Ambassador Haley claimed at a House of Representatives foreign affairs committee hearing. “I would like to think that the President saved many innocent men, women and children.”

It is difficult to prove what may have actually motivated Assad. In any case, whether Assad holds back for good remains to be seen. But we do know the Trump administration is watching constantly for any moves by the Assad regime that could signal an imminent chemical attack and has military assets in place to swiftly respond to such an attack, if not prevent one in the first place.

President Trump not only demonstrated last April that he would follow through on his threats if certain red lines of his were crossed, unlike our previous president. In addition to its warning, the Trump administration may have sent some concrete signals to the Assad regime that it means business this time as well. According to Debkafile, “Signs were gathering in Washington and the Middle East Tuesday, June 26 that the Trump administration was preparing a substantial military operation against the Syrian army and Bashar Assad’s allies, such as the foreign pro-Iranian Shiite militias and Hizballah. Some US military sources suggested that an American preemptive strike was in store in the coming hours to prevent Assad’s army from again resorting to chemical warfare against his people.”

Assad may still decide to launch another chemical attack, figuring that his key allies, particularly Russia, will continue to back him. No doubt, he took note of Russia’s stern response to the U.S.’s downing of a Syrian warplane earlier this month, including a warning from the Russian Defense Ministry that “All kinds of airborne vehicles, including aircraft and UAVs of the international coalition detected to the west of the Euphrates River will be tracked by the Russian SAM systems as air targets.” The Syrian regime had also already taken some precautions by moving most of its operational aircraft to a Russian airbase in Syria after the April missile strike. The Russian airbase is protected by fairly advanced air defense systems. An American missile strike on Syrian aircraft located at a Russian air base would in all likelihood be seen as a major escalation of the war by the Russian government, risking a direct military confrontation between U.S. and Russia that the Trump administration may be loath to risk. As if to thumb his nose at the Trump administration’s latest threats by demonstrating the strength of his military alliance with Russia, Assad was seen strutting around a Russian air baseinspecting its aircraft and defense systems. He was even photographed sitting in the cockpit of a Russian fighter jet.

Indeed, Russia appears ready to raise the stakes to bolster the Syrian dictator’s regime. Debkafile reports that Russia is “building a new base in southeastern Syria,” which would “provide Russia with a lever of control over the volatile Syrian southeast and its borders, where US-backed and Iranian-backed forces are fighting for dominance.”

As Russia raises the stakes, the U.S. must be clearer than ever as to its strategic objectives in Syria, which it is willing to back up with military force even in the face of Russian threats.  We must do all we can to prevent getting sucked into Syria’s civil war, including by undertaking any military efforts at regime change. That said, we must repel any military action by the Syrian regime or its allies that would prevent us from prosecuting the war against ISIS, which remains our number one objective until the ISIS sanctuaries, infrastructure and leadership are for all intents and purposes destroyed.

However, we also cannot ignore the threat that Assad’s chemical weapons program continues to pose. The Obama administration had thought that it had largely eliminated the threat “diplomatically,” when it reached a phony deal with Russia to oversee the removal and destruction of the Syrian regime’s declared chemical weapons. The opportunity for cheating was all too plain to see, except by Obama and his clueless Secretary of State John Kerry. We are now seeing the consequences. According to Secretary of Defense Mattis, Syria’s chemical program remains intact.

It is not only what Assad has been doing in unleashing his ghastly chemical weapons on his own people, causing horrible suffering in their wake, which demands our attention. After all, Assad has been causing such suffering with conventional weapons as well, including his use of barrel bombs, which we have repeatedly condemned but have not taken specific military action to stop. To do so would almost inevitably draw us into a wider war. What makes chemical and other weapons of mass destruction different is their potential proliferation to the very Islamic terrorists we are trying to defeat. The transfer of chemical or biological weapons to terrorist hands would represent the most dangerous outcome of the Syrian conflict to the rest of the world, including to the United States. That is why we must monitor where we believe Assad’s remaining chemical weapons and production facilities are located, prevent them from being used or even moved from known locations, do all that we can to keep them out of the hands of the terrorists and destroy the chemical weapons and production facilities when the opportunity presents itself.

US on alert for terror strikes around elections

November 4, 2016

US on alert for terror strikes around elections, DEBKAfile, November 4, 2016

baghdadi_call480-1

Following threats from Al Qaeda and ISIS, US security authorities have warned officials in New York, Texas and Virginia about possible attacks by al Qaeda or ISIS in the run-up to Election Day on Nov. 8. No specific locations were mentioned. However, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which operates airports, tunnels and bridges around New York City said they will continue with “high level of patrols” in the four days leading up to and after Tuesday’s vote. “The FBI, working with our federal, state and local counterparts, shares and assesses intelligence on a daily basis and will continue to work closely with law enforcement and intelligence community partners to identify and disrupt any potential threat to public safety” the Bureau said Friday.

The terror alert came a day after DEBKAfile’s intelligence and counterterrorism sources reported that Islamists may be planning terrorist attacks to occur around the time of the presidential election. After checking out the information, the FBI and Homeland Security Department decided to alert the public to a possible Al Qaeda/ISIS terrorist threat.

DEBKAfile reported Thursday, Nov. 3:

As Iraqi troops entered Mosul, Wednesday night, Nov. 2, Islamic State’s leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi called on his suicide bombers all over the world “to destroy the cities of the unbelievers.”

In a rare, audio-taped speech from an unknown location, he rallied jihadists from across the world to rise up against “God’s enemies from the Jews, Christians, atheists, Shiites, apostates and all of the world’s infidels.”

This was interpreted as a coded signal to the Islamist State’s dormant cells in key Western and Middle Eastern cities to go into action for a new, multiple outburst of suicide terror.

In an apparent response to military pressure, Al Baghdadi followed his rallying to ISIS-affiliated fighters across the globe by urging ISIS members to defend Mosul since “holding our ground in honor is a thousand times better than retreating…”

International intelligence and counterterrorism agencies in the US, Western Europe and the Middle East had widely expected Al-Baghdadi’s call for widespread terror to come at the outset of the US-led coalition offensive on Oct. 15 to retake Mosul. When it was not forthcoming, they speculated that the “caliph” was either unwilling or unable to issue the call for action in the early stages of the battle.

According to one conjecture, the advance of the Iraqi army and allies into Mosul Wednesday may have been  the trigger for the ISIS leaders first taped speech since December 2015.

So too might the proximity of the US presidential election next Tuesday with the intention of causing maximum disruption on America’s voting day.

The possible response to the ISIS leaders rallying call is seen as cause for alarm, according to DEBKAfile’s counterterrorism sources. It is feared that the Mosul operation against ISIS will spawn new and more devastating forms of terror, such as, for instance, mass-hostage taking in order to extort the coalition forces’ withdrawal from Mosul.

So far, ISIS has not managed to unleash terrorist attacks in response to the Mosul operation in America or against US targets in the Middle East and Europe. The Islamist terror attacks on Sept. 18 and 19 in New Jersey and Manhattan that were perpetrated by Ahmad Khan Rahami were instigated by Al Qaeda, not ISIS. Our sources foresee that al-Baghdadi, under pressure to show his jihadists are still active terror players, may pull off a dramatic strike at a prominent American location – possibly even on election-day.

His explicit call for terrorist attacks in Saudi Arabia and Turkey show his sights have not been removed from the Middle East either.

ISIS chief looses suicide bombers at W. cities

November 3, 2016

ISIS chief looses suicide bombers at W. cities, DEBKAfile, November 3, 2016

baghdadi_call480

Our sources foresee that al-Baghdadi, under pressure to show his jihadists are still active terror players, may pull off a dramatic strike at a prominent American location – possibly even on election-day.

***********************

As Iraqi troops entered Mosul, Wednesday night, Nov. 2, Islamic State’s leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi called on his suicide bombers all over the world “to destroy the cities of the unbelievers.”

In a rare, audio-taped speech from an unknown location, he rallied jihadists from across the world to rise up against “God’s enemies from the Jews, Christians, atheists, Shiites, apostates and all of the world’s infidels.”

This was interpreted as a coded signal to the Islamist State’s dormant cells in key Western and Middle Eastern cities to go into action for a new, multiple outburst of suicide terror.

In an apparent response to military pressure, Al Baghdadi followed his rallying to ISIS-affiliated fighters across the globe by urging ISIS members to defend Mosul since “holding our ground in honor is a thousand times better than retreating…”

International intelligence and counterterrorism agencies in the US, Western Europe and the Middle East had widely expected Al-Baghdadi’s call for widespread terror to come at the outset of the US-led coalition offensive on Oct. 15 to retake Mosul. When it was not forthcoming, they speculated that the “caliph” was either unwilling or unable to issue the call for action in the early stages of the battle.

According to one conjecture, the advance of the Iraqi army and allies into Mosul Wednesday may have been  the trigger for the ISIS leaders first taped speech since December 2015.

So too might the proximity of the US presidential election next Tuesday with the intention of causing maximum disruption on America’s voting day.

The possible response to the ISIS leaders rallying call is seen as cause for alarm, according to DEBKAfile’s counterterrorism sources. It is feared that the Mosul operation against ISIS will spawn new and more devastating forms of terror, such as, for instance, mass-hostage taking in order to extort the coalition forces’ withdrawal from Mosul.

So far, ISIS has not managed to unleash terrorist attacks in response to the Mosul operation in America or against US targets in the Middle East and Europe. The Islamist terror attacks on Sept. 18 and 19 in New Jersey and Manhattan that were perpetrated by Ahmad Khan Rahami were instigated by Al Qaeda, not ISIS. Our sources foresee that al-Baghdadi, under pressure to show his jihadists are still active terror players, may pull off a dramatic strike at a prominent American location – possibly even on election-day.

His explicit call for terrorist attacks in Saudi Arabia and Turkey show his sights have not been removed from the Middle East either.

ISIS will survive Mosul and Raqqa

November 2, 2016

ISIS will survive Mosul and Raqqa, Israel Hayom, Dr. Ori Goldberg, November 2, 2016

The American administration recently announced that it is planning an offensive to take the city of Raqqa, the Syrian “capital” of Islamic State. The American announcement illustrates the overarching logic behind the current campaign against Islamic State. According to this logic, Islamic State is, in fact, a state. And one state defeats another if it conquers its capital. Such a conquest forces the enemy’s administrative institutions to crumble, along with its remaining forces and defenses, while the conquering country can effectively “take control” of the vanquished country.

Reality, however, does not necessarily abide logic, as we will see when Raqqa is taken, because Islamic State is not a state. Even its expected defeat in Mosul, along with the future downfall of Raqqa, cannot dissolve the “Islamic State,” because it is just one expression, or one phase, of an ongoing struggle. The purpose of this struggle is to prepare the world for the day of judgment, and a ready world is a world that realizes the weakness and fallacy inherent to the human political order.

The state of Islamic State is a mirror intended to demonstrate to the entire world the tenuous nature of the “Arab” states in the Middle East. The role of this state is to rise, and after it has risen to make a laughing stock of the countries around it. It melts away borders and nullifies national identity; it rejects the laws of the state and the international community, and scorns such ideas as “human rights.”

ISIS, however, does not portend to be a complete or sufficient alternative to the Western model or to any other model. The Islamic State is part of a path whose ending is already known — judgment day will come, the final battle will be decided and the Muslims will win. Therefore, when Raqqa falls Islamic State will not simply vanish into thin air. If the tangible Islamic State can no longer fulfil its grand purpose, another means of fulfilling it will be found. When the physical state finally collapses, after much blood is spilled, the citizens who lived under its boot will surely breathe a sigh of relief. The soldiers of the Islamic State will disperse; some will join any of the numerous terrorist groups out there, others will go back home to their worried parents, from Tunisia to Kosovo. The idea of Islamic State, however, will not dissipate in the slightest. Quite the opposite, it can be expected to grow stronger.

The creation of the Islamic State marked a significant escalation for global jihad. Many talked about a caliphate while waging jihad over the years, from the mid-1980s in Afghanistan until today, but no one felt secure enough to implement the idea. Islamic State took the step and was successful, specifically because it never believed that having a state was the end all and be all.

The memory of the Islamic State will encourage new believers, in groups or on their own, to continue undermining the stability and unity in their host countries. Violence will continue to be, to an even higher degree, the most readily accessible and effective way to expand Islamic State’s jihadi doctrine and religious struggle. There is no reason to necessarily expect grandiose terrorist attacks in the style of al-Qaida.

The purpose of Islamic State does not lie in the spectacle, the widespread destruction or in the unfathomable number of casualties. We can, however, expect a dogged response unrestrained by time or distance. The current and soon-to-be martyrdom in Mosul and Raqqa is not the result of loyalty to the state, rather a devotion to the unceasing advance forward, toward the assured end.

Europe Braces for Post-Mosul Jihadi Onslaught

October 19, 2016

Europe Braces for Post-Mosul Jihadi Onslaught, Investigative Project on Terrorism, John Rossomando, October 18, 2016

(But please see, A ‘lasting defeat’ of the Islamic State will be elusive. — DM)

European leaders fear onslaught of jihadists fleeing from Mosul after Iraq’s government and its allies kick ISIS out of the city.

Last year’s Paris attacks and the Brussels attacks in March brought heightened awareness that ISIS established an underground network to move jihadis in and out of Europe at will. Thousands of European nationals traveled to Syria and Iraq to wage jihad for ISIS. An estimated 2,500 Europeans still belong to ISIS’s fighting force.

“The retaking of (the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant’s) northern Iraq stronghold, Mosul, may lead to the return to Europe of violent (ISIS) fighters,” European Union Security Commissioner Julian King told The (London) Telegraph. “This is a very serious threat and we must be prepared to face it.”

Iraqi forces, together with Iranian-backed Shiite militia and Kurdish pershmerga, aim to deal a deathblow to ISIS’s caliphate in Mosul.

It is a day ISIS anticipated. In an online publication last December called Black Flags From the Islamic State, ISIS vowed to continue its fight.

“If they win this battle, they will capture a lot (sic) of weapons, and their soldiers morale will be boosted. Now they will have control over land and will be able to train more people to fight the enemy. If they continue the fight, they will keep winning, but if they start to lose and give up, their leadership will hide in the deserts and mountains again, only to start the: Lone wolf -> Clandestine Cells -> Insurgency -> Army technique, all over again,” Black Flags From the Islamic State promised.

Jihadis without a home base pose a direct threat to Europe and menace security officials around the world, warned Raffaello Pantucci, director of the International Security studies at the Royal United Services Institute.

This especially concerns France, which suffered the Paris attacks last November that claimed 130 lives at the hands of ISIS jihadis who fought in Syria. An estimated 400 French nationals are still fighting jihad in warzones.

The number of returnees on watch lists has overstretched European security services, just as ISIS hoped. More than 10 officers try to monitor each returnee around the clock.

“We’ve had hundreds returned to our country [UK.] Some estimates say it’s a thousand. We can’t monitor the people that are here. So, it is really important that they sit round the table, because there are potentially 9,000 ISIS jihadists sitting in Mosul at the moment, who are also looking to move across,” European Parliament member Janice Atkinson told Russia Today.

The conflict against ISIS is moving into a new, unpredictable phase that has Europe on edge worrying about what comes next.

Analysis: Iran, ISIS Likely to Unite for WWIII

February 28, 2016

Analysis: Iran, ISIS Likely to Unite for WWIII, The Jewish PressHana Levi Julian, February 28, 2016

Iran-ISIS-flagPhoto Credit: JP.com graphic

Israeli military analysts are now beginning to prepare top officials, who are in turn beginning to prepare the nation, for what eventually may become the start of World War III.

Most analysts still believe the Syrian crisis is a sectarian conflict between the Sunni, Shi’a and Alawite Muslims. But that time is long gone.

A cataclysmic clash of civilizations is taking place in Syria, one that a number of nations have patiently awaited for decades.

Turkey, so deeply invested in the glorious history of its Ottoman Empire period, would find great satisfaction in stretching its influence with a modern-day “Turkish Islamic Union” that might embrace like-minded nations in the region and perhaps also beyond.

Da’esh, as it is known in the Middle East and which in English calls itself the “Islamic State” (known by others as ISIS or ISIL) is rapidly stretching its influence to build a worldwide Sunni caliphate. It began as a splinter group from the Al Qaeda terrorist organization, and then morphed into the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (hence “ISIS”) — but at last count had successfully recruited more than 41 other regional Muslim terrorist organizations to its cause from around the world on nearly every continent.

And then there is the Islamic Republic of Iran, a Shi’ite Muslim nation, which is extending its tentacles as rapidly throughout the world as Da’esh, but far more insidiously and certainly more dangerously. If in this world one might define any nation today as Amalek, that ice-cold, black-hearted evil that first picks off the weakest of the Jewish nation, it is Iran, which has quietly extended its influence and control farther and more deeply than any other enemy Israel has ever had. Wealthy, patient, smiling and calculating, Iran acquires new allies each year, even among those Israel once counted as friends. Meanwhile, Iranian officials never forget to keep the home fires burning, to stir the pot and keep it simmering, and always to nurture the various conflicts at home in the Middle East.

This past week, Iran announced the money it donates to families of Arab “martyrs” who murder Israelis will be paid via its own special charity organization, and not through the Palestinian Authority government.

But Tehran has yet to reveal the details of exactly how it intends to pay.

Instead, a high-ranked government official simply made an announcement this weekend saying Iran did not trust the Ramallah government, driving a deeper wedge already dividing the PA’s ruling Fatah faction from Gaza’s ruling Hamas terror organization — Iran’s proxy group.

Hamas has been planting sleeper cells and budding regional headquarters, however, throughout the PA-controlled areas of Judea and Samaria, and it is clear the group’s next goal is an attempt to wrest control of those two regions from the PA, thus completing Iran’s takeover of the PLO — the PA’s umbrella organization and liaison to the United Nations.

Money is always helpful in such an enterprise, and Iran has recently enjoyed a massive infusion of cash that came courtesy of the United States and five other world powers after sanctions were lifted last month as part of last July’s nuclear deal.

Iranian Ambassador to Lebanon Mohammed Fath’ali announced last Wednesday that Iran would pay Arab families for each “martyr” who died attacking Israelis in Jerusalem and each Arab family whose home was demolished by Israel after one of its occupants murdered Israelis in a terror attack.

Iranian Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani last week underlined Tehran’s continued strong support for the wave of terror against Israel.

“The Islamic Republic supports the Palestinian Intifada and all Palestinian groups in their fight against the Zionist regime. We should turn this into the main issue in the Muslim world,” Larijani said in a meeting with a number of “resistance” groups in Tehran,FARS reported Sunday (Feb 28).

But it is clear that Iran is not content solely with a takeover of the PLO.

Tehran has its eye on a much wider goal, now more clearly than ever the resurrection of an updated Persian Empire — in modern parlance military analysts refer to it as an “Axis of Evil” — in much the same manner that Sunni Da’esh (ISIS) is single-mindedly pursuing its goal of rebuilding a worldwide caliphate.

Iranian forces via proxies have already managed to involve themselves in what once were domestic affairs in Yemen, Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Israel, Cuba, Mexico, the United States, Afghanistan, Venezuela, Brazil, Argentina, Qatar, Turkey and numerous other nations.

Larijani has at last proclaimed officially that Iran doesn’t differentiate between Shiites and Sunnis since they share many commonalities, adding that Tehran “has supported the Palestinian nation (although they are Sunnis) for the past 37 years.”

The remark is significant in that Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps and Lebanese Shi’ite Hezbollah guerrillas – another Iranian proxy – are fighting Sunni opposition forces in Syria on behalf of President Bashar al-Assad. Iranian forces are fighting the Sunni Muslim Da’esh (ISIS) terror organization that seized a significant percentage of territory in Syria.

But south of Israel, Iran’s proxy Hamas, a Sunni Muslim group, has been providing material and technical support to the same Da’esh — but its “Sinai Province” terror group in the Sinai Peninsula.

Here we finally see that Iran is willing to adapt and support terror wherever it can be found, as long as it meets two of three criteria: (1) it furthers its goal to destabilize the region, (2) in the process it works towards the annihilation of Israel, and/or (3) will contribute towards conquest and influence to reach the goal of an ultimate renewed, updated Persian Empire.

How long then until Iran connects the two dots and simply arranges a meeting between its own Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and the leader of Da’esh, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi? Hezbollah’s Hassan Nasrallah and Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal will likely be invited for dessert …

The other question is how long until someone strikes the spark that ignites the conflagration — the region is already in chaos.