While IS has lost its ge­o­graph­i­cal grounds, it con­tin­ues to pig­gy­back on any­thing to claim that it has made a come­back

New Straits Times - - Opinion -

AN ap­par­ent ter­ror­ist at­tack out­side the Bri­tish Par­lia­ment last week shook Europe again. The Lon­don at­tack is the lat­est in a se­ries of ter­ror­ist atroc­i­ties in­volv­ing a ve­hi­cle be­ing driven at speed into pedes­tri­ans, a tac­tic in­tro­duced in the ter­ror at­tack in Nice.

No so­phis­ti­cated weapon was in­volved, but the at­tack was still in­tensely fright­en­ing and sym­bolic at the same time, hit­ting the very area that sig­ni­fies the demo­cratic val­ues of the West.

This time, it came al­most one year after sui­cide bomb­ings at the Brus­sels air­port and a Metro sta­tion in Bel­gium, which, on March 22, 2016, left 32 peo­ple dead and more than 300 in­jured. In ad­di­tion to Lon­don and Brus­sels, there were deadly at­tacks in Ber­lin on Dec 19, 2016 (killing 12 peo­ple), Nice on July 14, 2016 (killing more than 80 peo­ple), and Paris on Nov 13, 2015 (killing more than 130 peo­ple).

The last ma­jor Lon­don at­tack was more than a decade ago, in July 2005, when a co­or­di­nated se­ries of bomb blasts tar­geted its pub­lic trans­porta­tion sys­tem dur­ing rush hour. It killed 52 peo­ple and wounded more than 700 oth­ers.

Bri­tish po­lice named the as­sailant as Khalid Ma­sood, 52. He was born in Kent, to the south­east of Lon­don. More wor­ry­ingly, Ma­sood was once in­ves­ti­gated by in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cers over con­cerns of “vi­o­lent ex­trem­ism”.

The Is­lamic State claimed re­spon­si­bil­ity for the at­tack. Although IS is likely to ride on this atroc­ity, there is no di­rect ev­i­dence to sug­gest that the mil­i­tant group di­rectly com­mis­sioned or fa­cil­i­tated the at­tack.

Ex­perts claimed in an event “when IS has not di­rectly or­dered an at­tack, it per­forms a vet­ting process which in­cludes a back­ground check to see if the per­son in­volved has been in con­tact with IS mem­bers in one way or an­other”.

Nor­mally, IS atroc­i­ties are car­ried out in “re­sponse to calls to tar­get cit­i­zens of coali­tion coun­tries”, such as those in Europe, the United States, Aus­tralia and other coun­tries sup­port­ing mil­i­tary op­er­a­tions against its fight­ers.

One of its aims is to “hit the head­lines”, pro­voke an over­re­ac­tion di­rected against Mus­lim com­mu­ni­ties and states, and blaze anti-Is­lam sen­ti­ments that will iso­late more Mus­lims to join the group.

The US-led coali­tion has con­ducted more than 19,000 air strikes on IS tar­gets, with of­fi­cials say­ing the bomb­ings had killed tens of thou­sands of fight­ers and about 180 lead­ers, as well as dis­abling oil fields, de­stroy­ing am­mu­ni­tion, fac­to­ries, weapons fa­cil­i­ties, com­mand posts and cash stores. Most of those who fight to the death are likely to be for­eign fight­ers, in­clud­ing Mus­lim Moroc­cans, Tu­nisians and Chechens.

While the bat­tle against IS is far from over, the lines of this hard bat­tle are slowly be­ing re­drawn.

As the mil­i­tant group is driven away from key cities and vil­lages in what was once a self-pro­claimed caliphate, IS is evolv­ing slowly but surely from a ter­ri­to­rial threat to an ide­o­log­i­cal threat.

How­ever, a threat re­mains a threat even with­out ge­o­graph­i­cal in­flu­ence. While IS is be­ing chal­lenged in Syria and Iraq, the group’s strat­egy has switched to in­sur­gency mode.

Large-scale bombs and gun at­tacks seen in Paris and Brus­sels had been made far more dif­fi­cult by se­cu­rity crack­downs across Europe.

IS is likely to strike back by ex­ploit­ing re­turn­ing for­eign fight­ers to carry out or or­gan­ise fur­ther at­tacks, with at least 400 ji­hadis be­lieved to have trav­elled back to the UK from IS ter­ri­tory. The group will try to use mi­grant routes and of­ten will travel alone. The travel pat­terns of those in­volved in the Paris and Brus­sels at­tacks un­cov­ered deep flaws in the track­ing sys­tem of such in­di­vid­u­als among Euro­pean se­cu­rity ser­vices.

Th­ese for­eign fight­ers who re­turn home might carry out lonewolf style at­tacks as well as re­cruit new mem­bers and re­vive un­der­ground net­works.

The Lon­don at­tack sug­gests a lim­ited IS net­work in Bri­tain. Ji­hadis are us­ing ve­hi­cles to com­mit atroc­i­ties as mil­i­tary de­feats de­grade their abil­ity to mount any­thing more am­bi­tious. Ve­hi­cles, axes and home knives are po­ten­tial weapons in which noth­ing is too hum­ble for the group as long as ter­ror re­mains a head­line.

More­over, th­ese at­tacks might be car­ried out by in­di­vid­u­als with lit­tle un­der­stand­ing of IS ide­ol­ogy and deep per­sonal grudges with no di­rect con­tact with the group’s hi­er­ar­chy. How­ever, a “strike” that makes head­lines would not pre­vent IS from declar­ing the per­pe­tra­tors as “sol­diers of the Caliphate”.

While IS has lost its ge­o­graph­i­cal grounds, it con­tin­ues to pig­gy­back on any­thing that is mildly in­spir­ing to claim that it has made a come­back and is ready to strike again. The writer, a Ful­bright scholar and Ja­pan In­sti­tute of In­ter­na­tional Af­fairs fel­low, is a for­mer lec­turer of UiTM (Shah Alam) and In­ter­na­tional Is­lamic Uni­ver­sity Malaysia (Gom­bak)

One of its aims is to ‘hit the head­lines’, pro­voke an over­re­ac­tion di­rected against Mus­lim com­mu­ni­ties and states, and blaze anti-Is­lam sen­ti­ments that will iso­late more Mus­lims to join the group.


The shad­ows of on­look­ers are cast on flo­ral trib­utes to the vic­tims of the March 22 ter­ror at­tack in cen­tral Lon­don on Satur­day.

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