The physical caliphate has been defeated, but what is the impact of ISIS over the world now? Check this overview to know more about the current situation.
After the defeat of the physical caliphate in Iraq and the important setbacks in Syria, ISIS is focused on external attacks, motivating individuals to fight and conduct terrorist attacks under the name of the organization. There is a potential new threat: the convergence of the ISIS and Al-Qaida networks in certain regions, members supporting each other in the preparation of a terrorist attack.
ISIS has changed: from a hierarchy to a network. In the past few years it was focused on conquering territory and now is focusing on plotting and committing terrorist attacks inside and outside conflict zones, out of Iraq and Syria. Equally the propaganda has changed: poorer quality, but still using social media wisely, encryption technology and the dark web.
The threat is not just coming like in the past few years from foreign fighters and radicalized individuals, the threat is coming from the ‘frustrated travellers’ and some radicalised individuals working in critical infrastructure (nuclear power plants, reservoirs and airports).
Arabian Peninsula: ISIS has no big connection in the Arabian Peninsula, but still claims responsibility for some terrorist attacks like the one targeting the Ministry of Finance in Aden (Yemen) on November 29th 2017. Al-Qaida remains strong in this part of the world. Plotting attacks outside like in Jordan. AQAP (Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula) is powerful in Yemen and members of the group are creating alliances in Yemen with tribes (through marriages and families).
Egypt: the country has limited cells of ISIS sympathizers operate on the Egyptian shore, mainly targeting the Coptic churches and venues.
Libya: ISIS is currently very weak but able to perpetrate deadly terrorist attacks. The group intends to restore its structure and incomes. ISIS fighters have been gathering in the Sirte Basin and trying to build networks with the tribes to increase their impact on the area. Some ISIS affiliates have moved to Libya in order to create more links with the organization and providing weapons and logistical support. ISIS is still receiving incomes by taxing: human trafficking and human smuggling, they do not control the networks but they tax the channels used (such as roads for the smugglers). A few members have moved across the Egypt dessert border in partnership with ISIS in Egypt.
Tunisia: several terrorist groups operate in Tunisia: Jund al-Khilafah and Uqba bin Nafi Battalion. The first groups is an ISIS affiliated terrorist group operating active cells. The second group is linked to AQIM (Al-Qaida in the Islamic Magreb) and they have also committed terrorist attacks in Tunisia. The improvement of the security situation in the country has led to the arrest of several members of these groups, but the Tunisian government is still concerned about the foreign fighters coming back home from Iraq and Syria.
West Africa: Mali is immersed in a critical situation. The present groups in West Africa have created new ties and/or affiliated with ISIS and Al-Qaida. The Al-Qaida coalition has managed to establish solid loyal relations with tribes in the country. Some attacks are focused on domestic and international military and security forces and the civilian population is more frequently the target, especially teachers, forcing them to close schools in the region. Boko Haram remains one big threat plotting suicide attacks (increasingly women), a different modus operandi than ISIS.
East Africa: in Somalia, ISIS-affiliated group Al Shabaab poses the greatest threat, even higher than ISIS. The group is operating now in Kenya, Ethiopia and Djibouti, enlarging its area of action. Al Shabaab usually recruit insiders to commit terrorist attacks, making them more lethal. There is a flow of terrorist between Somalia and Yemen to join AQAP, promoted by former Al-Shabaab members. Al-Shabaab has been also welcoming foreign fighters to trains their own members. The incomes of the group still are criminality, looting and taxing citizens (herdsmen, shop owners). ISIS is not very powerful in Somalia due to a rivalry between Al-Shabaab and ISIS. Some ISIS foreign fighters are leaving Iraq and Syria to move to other countries like Libya, less likely to get captured, using the routes created by human traffickers and smugglers.
Europe: the risk in Europe is still high and ISIS has set Europe as the main target. The threat is coming now from various groups:
Foreign fighters and returnees: transferring knowledge and skills to other individuals such as bomb-making skills.
Frustrated travellers: individuals connected to foreign fighters and being trained or encouraged by them to commit a terrorist attack.
Sympathisers: there is a network between them and foreign fighters in conflict zones, often very strong.
Internet and social media: still high numbers of individuals are radicalized on the Internet and social media, offering material to design devices likely to be used in a terrorist attack.
Authorities face the challenge of limited criminal evidence to prosecute returnees as well as a lack of legislation adapted to the current needs.
Central and South Asia
The number of foreign fighters has decreased, in part due to the incapability of ISIS to maintain and afford a big number of individuals travelling to conflict zones, but the returnees might increase the terrorist threat back home and even be involved in terrorist attacks in Europe, Turkey and even Russia.
ISIS is still strong in Afghanistan, in some areas sharing territory with the Taliban. ISIS has between 1.000-4.000 fighters, a part of this fighter are coming from Tehrik-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) and Taliban defectors. ISIS’s incomes in Afghanistan are mainly coming from urging the population and kidnapping but there are no incomes linked to drugs. The organization tends to be economically less dependent of the core of ISIS and it is involved in a process of searching new ways of funding its activities. The number of foreign terrorist fighters currently operating in Afghanistan is between 10,000 and 15,000, according to the UN. Al Qaida still cooperates with the Taliban.
South- East Asia: the region is suffering the effect of ISIS and Al-Qaida affiliates groups. The most dangerous effect comes from ISIS, the defeat of the physical caliphate in Iraq and part of Syria is having a negative effect in South-East Asia: foreign fighters are moving across the borders and pose a higher threat to the region. The majority of the 1.000 foreign fighters has not returned yet. ISIS linked groups in the region have been committing terrorist attacks, in Indonesia, the Jamaah Ansharut Daulah (JAD) and Jamaah Ansarul Khilafah (JAK) have a strong effect in some provinces. JAK’s influence is growing and JAD has committed a higher number of attacks. In Malaysia, the threat has decreased due to the death of Muhammad Wanndy, well-known foreign fighters and active terrorist. The country is affected by lone-actor attacks and attacks plotted from Syria.
The impact of ISIS and its affiliates continues to evolve and increasing numbers of groups are affiliating the organization or creating ties with it. Resilience, accurate and tailor-made policies for each country, region combined with a holistic approach it is necessary to adapt to the evolving threat.