U.S., Latin al­lies fear Is­lamic State threat af­ter Mo­sul

The Washington Times Weekly - - Geopolitics - BY CARLO MUNOZ

PORT OF SPAIN, TRINIDAD | As Is­lamic State’s ter­ri­to­rial base shrinks in Syria and Iraq, U.S. and Latin Amer­i­can de­fense lead­ers half a world away are brac­ing for the fall­out amid fears the group will re­turn to more tra­di­tional acts of ter­ror­ism.

The se­cu­rity en­vi­ron­ment af­ter the ex­pected re­cap­ture of the Is­lamic State’s strong­hold in Mo­sul, Iraq in the com­ing weeks dom­i­nated re­gional se­cu­rity talks held here last week be­tween the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion and coun­tries across Cen­tral and South Amer­ica.

“The pas­sage of time has in­deed drawn us ... into new the­aters of war which de­mand re­sponses to a plethora of un­prece­dented and in­sid­i­ous threats,” said Keith Row­ley, prime min­is­ter of Trinidad and Tobago, in open­ing re­marks for the re­gional se­cu­rity con­fer­ence. “This is a re­flec­tion of the in­creas­ingly volatile glob­al­ized world in which we live.”

U.S. South­ern Com­mand chief Adm. Kurt Tidd un­der­scored the need for height­ened vig­i­lance over the Is­lamic State’s vir­u­lent ide­ol­ogy gain­ing ground in Latin Amer­ica at the Pen­tagon.

As the Is­lamic State, also known as ISIS and ISIL, “con­tin­ues to morph and metas­ta­size, I think all around the world we must all be mind­ful of where might it pop up,” he told re­porters af­ter par­tic­i­pat­ing in a meet­ing of anti-Is­lamic State coali­tion de­fense chiefs at An­drews Air Force Base ear­lier this week.

As the Is­lamic State faces mount­ing mil­i­tary pres­sure by the Amer­i­can-led coali­tion in Iraq and Syria, the group has be­gun a dan­ger­ous tran­si­tion from a de facto state able to hold ter­ri­tory to an amor­phous, transna­tional ter­ror group — more akin to al Qaeda, the ter­ror net­work that spawned and has been largely sur­passed by the Is­lamic State.

“I don’t think it’s safe for any­body to now say that, ‘Well, it would never hap­pen here,’” said Adm. Tidd. “We’ve seen that it’s a phe­nom­ena that we’re just go­ing to have to wres­tle with” long af­ter the fall of Mo­sul, he added.

While Is­lamic State splin­ter op­er­a­tions have ham­mered European coun­tries the hard­est to date, the group has made ef­forts to ex­pand into new “mar­kets,” in­clud­ing Latin Amer­ica and the Caribbean.

In July, the Brazil­ian ex­trem­ist group An­sar al-Khi­lafah pledged al­le­giance to the Is­lamic State, days be­fore the open­ing cer­e­monies for the Sum­mer Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.

The Is­lamic State’s for­mi­da­ble on­line pro­pa­ganda wing has be­gun trans­lat­ing its edicts and mes­sages into Span­ish and Por­tuguese.

Prior to the rise of the Is­lamic State, Cen­tral and South Amer­i­can na­tions had pri­mar­ily been tar­geted by Iran. Tehran ex­ploited the re­gion’s vast il­licit smug­gling and nar­cotics traf­fick­ing net­works to raise funds for Shi­ite ter­ror groups such as Ha­mas and Hezbol­lah.

Adm. Tidd said ear­lier this year that the num­ber of Is­lamic State fight­ers and af­fil­i­ated ex­trem­ists is now “in the hun­dreds” across Cen­tral and South Amer­ica. “Rad­i­cal­iza­tion within our re­gion is oc­cur­ring,” he said in March.

The four-star ad­mi­ral de­clined to com­ment on the Is­lamic State’s ties to groups in Brazil or else­where in the re­gion, but did note that the flow of for­eign fight­ers from bat­tle­fields in Iraq and Syria into Latin Amer­ica has dropped sig­nif­i­cantly.

“As the coali­tion has had sig­nif­i­cant suc­cess in Iraq and Syria, I think the out­flow has been sig­nif­i­cantly cur­tailed,” he said. “But as we’ve seen ... they are ad­vo­cat­ing, if you can’t come over [to the Mid­dle East], con­duct at­tacks at home,” Adm. Tidd added.

That mes­sage to Is­lamic State af­fil­i­ates and sym­pa­thiz­ers struck a nerve among Cen­tral and South Amer­i­can de­fense lead­ers at the Trinidad and Tobago de­fense sym­po­sium here.

“ISIS will be de­feated ... in Iraq and Syria, and that will mean this evil move­ment can­not claim to have a phys­i­cal home” in ei­ther coun­try, said De­fense Sec­re­tary Ash­ton Carter.

How­ever, “there are some [Is­lamic State] cells around the world ... [and] coun­tries in this re­gion, which in­cluded the United States, are go­ing to be on the watch for anyone who tries to come back who has been rad­i­cal­ized,” he added.

As the Is­lamic State con­tin­ues to head fur­ther un­der­ground, in­tel­li­gence­shar­ing be­tween the coun­tries in the hemi­sphere is in­creas­ingly crit­i­cal, said Mr. Carter.

“Each of us [needs] all the aware­ness that we can pos­si­bly have,” he added.

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