Western Focus on “Lone Wolves” Risks Missing Sophisticated Terror Networks
The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant celebrated the first anniversary of the caliphate founded by the emir Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi by kicking off a second year of jihadist terror with at least three or even four major terrorist operations – all on Friday, June 26.
Yassin Salhi, 35, a truck driver, murdered his boss Hervé Cornara and hung the severed head draped with the black ISIS flag on the railings of the US-owned Air Products factory at Saint-Quentin-Fallavier, southeast of Lyon. He then tried to blow the factory up with small gas canisters brought in his vehicle.
At first, horrified French officials were intent on depicting Salhi as a lone wolf terrorist, who had been under surveillance only up to 2008. They were soon forced to abandon this line. The killer was discovered to have texted a picture of himself with severed head to a fellow Islamist in Syria through WhatsApp. The message was sent to a Canadian cell phone number. The recipient was partially identified as Sébastien-Younes, a fellow Frenchman, said to have left the Lyon region last year. His last known location was ISIS Syrian headquarters at Raqqa.
Jean-Christophe de Le Rue, Canada’s Public Safety Minister’s spokesman, disclosed that Canadian authorities were investigating the Canadian cell phone connection to the crime as a possible link in the jihadist communication chain.
At all events, Salhi was clearly no lone wolf.
Sophisticated terror network, clandestine sleeper cells
An hour later, in Kuwait, a Saudi ISIS operative, identified as Fahad Suleiman Abdulmoshen al-Gabbaa, blew himself up at a Shiite mosque, killing 35 worshippers and injuring another 220.
On his arrival in Kuwait that morning, he was met at the airport by two accomplices who led him to the target.
ISIS turns out to be running a sophisticated terrorist network from Saudi Arabia with multiple branches reaching into all seven Gulf Cooperation Council emirates.
Neither Salhi nor Al-Gabbaa was evidently a lone player – any more than the student Seifeddine Rezgui, who murdered 39 mostly British tourists on two Tunisian hotel beaches near the resort town of Sousse, landing there by speedboat.
By Tuesday, June 30, four days after the outrage, the Tunisian authorities had discovered that Rezgui and four other university students had belonged to a clandestine Islamist sleeper cell based in Kairouan. Two members had fought and trained in Syria. British and Tunisian investigators reported that Rezgui had been trained for the beach attack at a four-month course in Libya. His orders to strike also came from Libya, where the local Islamist militia Ansar al-Sharia acts as the ISIS command center.
Ansar al-Sharia gained notoriety for perpetrating the 2012 attack on the US Benghazi consulate and the murder of the US ambassador and three other Americans.
On Thursday, July 2, Police in Tunis charged eight suspects, among them a woman, with “direct links” to last Friday’s Islamist attack on the hotel beach. They said they had rolled up a major terrorist ring, whose members were trained at ISIS camps in Libya, along with the two terrorists who killed 19 tourists at the Tunis Bardo Museum in the last week of March before they were shot.
Western intelligence start heeding ISIS spokesman
Those terror atrocities took place on the second Friday of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. All three made big headlines in the Western media. But two additional ISIS outrages that same day went practically unnoticed. In the Syrian Kurdish town of Kobani ISIS executioners put 146 Kurdish prisoners to death. And in southern Somalia, Al Shaab, which recently pledged loyalty to ISIS, sent a suicide bomber to attack an African Union military base, killing at least 30 people. He drove a vehicle on the main road from the capital Mogadishu to Baidoa and crashed it into the main entrance of the AU base in Leego.
A second Al Shabaab attack was staged against a United Arab Emirates humanitarian convoy in Mogadishu. The number of casualties is unknown
All in all, the Islamic State accounted for at least 244 fatalities and injured many hundreds more on a date close to its first anniversary.
Strangely enough, the first lesson Western intelligence and counter-terror agencies drew from this terror rampage was to sit up and start paying attention to ISIS spokesman Mohammed al-Adnani. All of a sudden, they noticed that each time Al-Adnani mentioned an attack of some kind, it actually happened.
On June 18, the first day of Ramadan, he announced that “jihad is ten times more obligatory during Ramadan and those who die in jihad will be rewarded by Allah ten times more than during the rest of the year.”
Since bloody Friday, June 26, Western security officials no longer wave away his communiqués.
Gen. Allen’s five-point strategy for fighting ISIS remained on paper
What else have the United States, Britain, France and the rest of Europe and the Middle East learned and done about a strategy to stop the wildly spreading infection of ISIS-orchestrated jihadist terror?
The answer regrettably is not much.
When the Islamic State first raised its head in Syria and Iraq last year, the US established a coalition against the Islamic State joined by 60 governments. US Gen. John Allen was appointed top coalition envoy. He compiled a five-point strategy for fighting ISIS.
Although his plan seemed sensible at the time and made impressive reading, in retrospect it turns out that no part of it was relevant to the actual events in the field or proved at all feasible.
debkafile sums up and comments on the outcome of Gen. Allen’s recommendations:
1. Military operations for reducing the area under ISIS control in order to sever its territorial contiguity between Iraq and Syria. Coalition air strikes, led by the US Air Force, were assigned the lead role in achieving this objective.
Comment: It was missed because US air strikes were – and still are – too sparse to make any strategic or even psychological impact. Indeed, aerial operations did not stop the Islamic State consolidating its positions in the past year. Its grip on hijacked territory is more solid than ever.
2. Cutting off the Islamic State from economic, financial and natural resources and access to the global financial system.
Comment: ISIS has steadily built up a stable source of revenue by exploiting natural resources, especially oil, in captured areas and flogging them on the international black market.
ISIS ranks swelled by radicalized Muslims and split in Al Qaeda
3. The creation of protected areas and safe havens for local endangered populations to enable them to lead regular lives.
Comment: Such zones never materialized in Iraq or Syria. As matters stand today, no Middle East community or minority can count itself safe from Islamic State violence.
4. A halt to the flow of foreign fighters joining up with ISIS. Most of them reach Syria through Turkey.
Comment: Not only has this route remained unblocked, but the rush of foreigners to join the Islamist State has swelled. The first graduates of the thousands of radicalized young Muslims joining ISIS are being turned out by the group’s training camps outside Syria and Iraq and being sent onto the battlefields.
5. Concerted activity, both physical and rhetorical, against the dissemination of the Islamic State message and propaganda around the world. This campaign must be carried out by a broad international coalition that includes Muslim elements.
Comment: This program never started getting off the ground.
ISIS ranks are also being constantly swelled by the split in the global Islamic jihadi movement. Ayman al-Zawahiri, who succeeded Osama bin Laden, is a declining force in the classical al Qaeda movement – even at its home base in Afghanistan.
The only place it has any real clout is in Yemen. Other former Al Qaeda affiliates and franchises are flocking to the ranks of the Islamic State. In the past year, Al Qaeda in Arabia (AQAP), Al Qaeda in the Maghreb (AQIM), the Somali Al Shabaab, the Syrian Jabhat al Nusra, the Ansar Beit al-Maqdis of Egyptian Sinai, and Boko Haram in Nigeria, have all pledged oaths of loyalty to the ISIS caliph Al Baghdadi.
Other new adherents are jihadi groups in Afghanistan, the Caucasus, and the Philippines.