March 28, 2016
TSG IntelBrief: A Week of Terrorism
The so-called Islamic State exists in three forms: a terrorist organization holding territory in Iraq and Syria; a violent ideology that inspires and directs terrorist attacks across the planet; and a latent threat to failing states in which its rise may be inevitable. As difficult as the issue of countering terrorism may seem in light of Brussels, the first two manifestations of the Islamic State—the physical group and its ideology of hatred and violence—are easier to deal with than the systemic rot in so many failed or failing states. Last week exhibited all three forms of the rising tide of international extremism, where progress in one area is counterbalanced by regression in another.
The Islamic State proved last week that, despite gradually losing territory in Iraq and Syria, it is still quite capable of carrying out massive terror attacks. In both Iraq and Syria, the Islamic State is losing ground; it cannot hope to hold out against capable and sustained military pressure involving airstrikes, close air support, artillery, and ground troops. This week, the group lost territory around Hit, Iraq and pressure built with the offensive against Mosul.
The Islamic State suffered an undeniable loss in Syria on March 26, when the Syrian Army, backed by Hizballah and Russian air forces, retook the city of Palmyra. The world was shocked last May when the Islamic State took the historic and logistically significant area despite a run of losses, beginning with Kobani in December 2014. While the group maintains the ability to seize minor towns in both Iraq and Syria, it is facing a larger tactical defeat. The devastating March 26 suicide attack in Iskandariyah, Iraq that killed 30 will likely be a more common occurrence as the group reverts from proto-terror-state into terrorist group.
On March 22, the Islamic State executed the long-feared follow-up to the November 2015 Paris attacks. The suicide bombings in Brussels left 31 people dead and more than 300 injured. The manhunt not just for those responsible for the Brussels and Paris attacks, but for plots heretofore unknown, is ongoing and will continue for the foreseeable future. There are a lot of counterterrorism raids in Western Europe’s near-term future, as the EU struggles to battle a threat that is more engrained and insidious than previously believed.
As bad as the security situation is in Europe, it pales to the terror threat in places such as Yemen, in the crosshairs of the Islamic State’s ambitions. On March 25, three bombings in Aden killed at least 22 people, including civilians and government officials. The same weekend, two more people were arrested in the investigation of the March 13 attacks in Ivory Coast that killed at least 19. Those attacks were not related to the Islamic State—they were undertaken by individuals affiliated with al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb—but they are a symptom of the spreading ideology of the Islamic State and other like-minded groups.
The underlying and endemic factors of poor governance, corruption, sectarianism and social division, economic collapse, and worsening ecological plights serve as preconditions for weeks such as the one just passed. These factors do not cause terrorism, but serve as its fuel. These conditions exist in countries such as Pakistan, where on March 27, a group aligned with the Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for an attack that killed at least 69 people enjoying Easter celebrations in a Lahore park. They also exist in Bangladesh, where on March 22, the Islamic State took credit for killing a convert to Christianity as a ‘warning’ to others to obey its dictates or suffer similar fates. All countries experience hate crimes; however, those with frayed socio-economic-political fabric are fertile ground for extremism and terrorism to take root.
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