Analysts expect ISIS terror to expand, intensify

US and European analysts say recent attacks reflect ISIS shift from 'caliphate' to diffuse terror group as it rapidly loses territory.

Shai Landesman,

Islamic State (ISIS) flag
Islamic State (ISIS) flag
Photo: Dado Ruvic / Reuters

After continued strategic setbacks, including losing 12 percent of its territory in the first six months of 2016, ISIS is preparing for life after the "caliphate".

The recent mass casualty terror attacks in Istanbul and Baghdad are actually signs of ISIS' weakened hold on its territory, US counter-terrorism experts say.

According to a Washington Post report, analysts warn that such mass attacks are likely to continue and even intensify, as the organization changes from a state with large territory in which it can implement its Islamist policies, to a decentralized shadowy terror group with cell on at least three continents, bent on simply bringing chaos and destruction to cultures and regimes of which it disapproves - including Muslim countries.

The recent spate of attacks comes as ISIS leaders try to signal to supporters and potential supporters that the organization can remain viable and relevant even should it lose most or all of its territory.

While the loss of the "caliphate" would be a major blow to ISIS' capabilities and prestige - much of their recruiting success has been attributed to the attraction of an actual bona fide Islamist country, a throwback to the "glorious" caliphate days - the emerging structure would be extremely difficult to combat.

“Where al-Qaeda was hierarchical and somewhat controlled, these guys are not. They have all the energy and unpredictability of a populist movement,” said Michael Hayden, head of the CIA from 2006 to 2009.

The difficulties in fighting a decentralized organization, with cells and even individuals acting on their own accord without the need to report to any central planning body, are already becoming evident in Europe, with the Brussels attacks and others, and in the US with the Orlando night club shooting by "lone wolf" Omar Mateen, who called 911 to declare allegiance to ISIS as he was massacring 49 people.

These difficulties have also been mirrored in Israel with the advent of the "stabbing Intifada" starting in October of last year, characterized by terrorists acting alone without any orders from established terror groups, as the Shin Bet has reported.

European security officials are preparing for the next phase in combating ISIS; thwarting terror plots and locating and capturing potential terrorists at home, in Europe.

“They are . . . challenged as we adapt our strategy to their initial one, in order to start ‘de-sanctuarizing’ them,” a senior French security official has said, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss counter-terrorism strategy, and referring to the west coalition forces' strategy of degrading ISIS in their Iraq and Syria territory. “But they will now expand to other tactics and start executing much more insidious and covert ops, in big cities.

“The next step,” he said, “has begun.”




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