ISIS’ Global Terror Is Resistant to Losses in Syria, Iraq
The tempo of terrorist strikes in many places demonstrates how little ISIS’ global campaign is affected by its setbacks on the battlefields of Syria and Iraq. This dichotomy was grimly demonstrated in the past ten days in Brussels, Paris, Jerusalem, Tehran and London. There, Islamist caliphate “soldiers” struck hard at highly sensitive targets, notwithstanding the ground lost by their beleaguered chiefs in Syria and Iraq – or even the possible death last month of their leader, the self-styled caliph Ibrahim Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi.
On Tuesday night, June 20, a 36-year old Moroccan, known to the police, caused a small explosion at Brussels central train station by detonating a nail bomb. While shouting “Allahu Akbar. This is for Syria!” he was shot dead by armed soldiers on the spot.
That was the second Islamic State attack in West Europe in two days.
Monday, Adam Dzaziri, 31, who had been on the French watch list of radical Islamists, rammed his vehicle into a police van on the Champs Elysees of Paris. Nine assorted weapons, including two pistols and a Kalashnikov-type assault rifle, as well gas canisters, were found in the vehicle and a large cache in his apartment. He left a note saying he had sworn allegiance to ISIS leader Al-Baghdadi shortly before his suicide attack.
The victim toll was zero in both places due to the armed police and troops on the spot who were fast enough on the draw to drop the perpetrators. This high level of armed policing and security is not available in Europe outside main cities.
On June 7, ISIS showed its paces in a coordinated dual operation against Iran’s parliament, the Majlis, and the Ayatollah Khomeini Mausoleum, a national shrine. It also brought out in the open an undetected sleeper cell, which had waited for years in the Kurdish region of Iran for the order to go into action.
Catching Iranian intelligence off-guard, these terrorists displayed impressive capabilities. They got as far as the Majlis chamber and claimed seven lives before the incident was cut short.
Ten days later, those capabilities were again on display at the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem.
Israel’s security authorities tried hard to paper over the Islamic State’s role behind the coordinated attack although it bore a strong ISIS signature. While two of the three Palestinians from the village of Deir al-Meshaal in the Ramallah district engaged the police patrol, a third crept up behind a policewoman nearby and fatally slashed her throat. All three were then shot dead.
After the incident, the Israeli army spokesman vehemently denied the ISIS was running a network on the West Bank or in Jerusalem. DEBKA Weekly’s counterterrorism sources say this claim flies in the face of all the evidence. No less than 60 detainees have been thrown into Palestinian jails as members of ISIS cells.
Israel has therefore not yet caught up with the West, where security authorities, after initial reluctance, are finally leveling with the public and identifying the Islamic extremist terrorists lurking at famous landmarks, crowd centers, holiday resources and unexpected sites.
Europeans are also getting used to finding out after atrocities in such places as Paris, Brussels, Berlin, Nice, London and Manchester, that their intelligence had had knowledge of many jihadi perpetrators but were too slow to use their knowledge to prevent attacks.
A glaring intelligence gap has always beset the war on Islamist terror.
In 2016, experts in many countries, including the United States, decided that the Islamic State was operating its global terror campaign out of Raqqa in northern Syria, although intelligence offered no concrete evidence to confirm this. Yet no major power, whether the United States or Russia, ever seriously targeted the town they called “ISIS de facto capital in Syria” with direct aerial bombardments or commando raids.
That omission surely suggests that Raqqa, far from being a target worth taking out, was in fact served up as a propaganda tool.
The Russian Defense Ministry’s qualified claim Friday, June 16, that the “caliph” Al-Baghdadi may have been taken out by a Russian air strike over Raqqa on May 28 was an attempt to use that tool. The Russians hoped no one would notice they were avoiding ground engagements with the Islamic State, when they were shown to have cut off the snake’s head in its presumed lair.
On Tuesday, June 20, Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov admitted in Moscow that Al- Baghdad’s death “could not be verified.” Two days later, on Thursday, sources in the Russian foreign ministry said: “We can say with a high degree of certainty that Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is dead.”
By the same token, the many published reports over months claiming large-scale American forces were on the point of an offensive to capture Raqqa built up anticipation, without taking place. As of this week, the only military force moving against Raqqa is the Syrian Defense Force (SDF), whose 6,000 fighters are fighting on the fringes of this widely spread-out town with America’s blessing. But they lack the equipment and the firepower needed for a final push. In any case, a calculated exodus has left no more than 300-500 ISIS fighters in Raqqa.
The Syrian Kurdish YPG militia alone has the capacity to finish the job, but, just like in the Mosul campaign, its leaders prefer to dodge the lead role in capturing a Sunni-dominated Syrian town, certainly as American tools.
Current events point to the coming trend: The terrorist rampage in many countries will continue unabated even after the fall of Raqqa and the ISIS bastions of Abu Kamal and Al-Mayadin – home to the bulk of the ISIS military command after Raqqa – and its leaders are felled.
The Islamic State had always known it would eventually be dislodged from its bastions in the broad swathes of territory it seized in Syria and Iraq in 2014, and never compromised on its primary mission of worldwide terror. ISIS may change its shape or even disperse, but its global attack network continues to displaying muscle, resilience and ubiquity as never before, with no less dedication to “jihad.”