Since the taking down of the Islamic State caliphate in Syria and Iraq, too many have assumed that the Islamic State (ISIS) has been defeated and no longer poses a threat.
Recent reports indicate that the threat from the Islamic State continues to persist and could even be growing.
The reports range from estimates of their intentions and capabilities to arrests of sympathizers in the West.
- A United Nations report has warned that the Islamic State is plotting to launch attacks in the West—Europe in particular—designed to capitalize on existing “domestic divisions…and dissent and unrest.”
The report also warned that the Islamic State could be set for a resurgence in Iraq and Syria, from where their jihadi fighters were vanquished some 6 months ago. The report was based on intelligence estimates of UN member states and warned that the group could be preparing “complex international attacks” by the end of 2019.
- A Pentagon inspector general report released this month also warned of a resurgence by the Islamic State, though there appears to be some debate as to how great the threat is.
The Pentagon report states that the Islamic State is transforming from a territory-holding entity to an insurgency in both Iraq and Syria with between 14,000 and 18,000 jihadi fighters. The report also mentions that the Islamic State is once again back to raising money through extortion, kidnapping and other criminal activities.
A Rand report estimates that the Islamic State has $400 million at its disposal, while the UN report says that they have $300 million in assets. Either way, that kind of money can go a long way in plotting terrorist attacks.
- While much of the world’s attention has been focused on the Islamic State’s activities in Iraq and Syria at the site of its caliphate, the organization has used the internet and social media to demonstrate that it continues to enjoy support from violent jihadists in West Africa, East Africa, East Asia and the Caucuses. In addition, its branch in Afghanistan, Islamic State Khorasan, has been ramping up activities there, even while the U.S. engages in peace negotiations with the Taliban.
The Islamic State’s online presence is sophisticated, slick and high-profile. Much of their online communications direct their followers to strike at America. Over the past year, Islamic State online propagandists have called for striking targets in New York, Washington, D.C., Maryland, Virginia, California, Pennsylvania, Florida, Texas and Ohio.
Fortunately, none of the calls have resulted in attacks thus far, though Islamic State sympathizers continue to surface here in America.
For example, a Wisconsin pair who met in prison pledged allegiance to the Islamic State, only to be apprehended by the FBI while traveling to Texas to cross the southern border and eventually make their way to Syria.
Ruslan Maratovich Asainov of Brooklyn, NY was apprehended by Syrian Democratic Forces while fighting for the Islamic State as a sniper. He was turned over to the FBI and has been charged with material support for terrorism
- Meanwhile, one of the most effective coalition forces in the battle against the Islamic State over the past year or more, the Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) is under military and other pressure from all sides in Syria: the Syrian regime, Turkey and the Islamic State. Only direct intervention by President Trump headed off a Turkish military offensive against the Kurds and it’s uncertain as to how long Erdogan will hold back from attacking them.
This disunity can only benefit the Islamic State since the SDF was one of the most well-trained and efficient fighting forces in rolling up its jihadis fighters as the caliphate collapsed.
- For their part, the Islamic State seems to be preparing for the future, including naming a successor to their caliph, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, an Iraqi named Abdullah Qardash.
- The Islamic State’s ideology persists, particularly in the Al Hol refugee camp in Syria, where jihadi fighters and their families live and enforce the same sharia that the Islamic State imposed in its now defunct caliphate. Al Hol is now believed to be a fertile recruiting center for the Islamic State jihad.
Now is not the time to ignore the threat posed by the Islamic State and its allies around the world. The West—led by the U.S.—must recognize the sharia doctrine that animates its actions so as to understand why it continues to persist in the face of military pressure and how it continues to garner support across the world.