June 15, 2016

TSG IntelBrief: Answering the Islamic State’s Call to Terror

• In the last several weeks, the Islamic State has suffered significant losses on the ground in Libya, Iraq, and Syria

• However, recent attacks in Orlando and outside Paris demonstrate once again that territorial losses do not translate into lessened external threats

• The June 14 murder of a French police officer and police administrator in Magnanville, France was carried out by a known extremist who live-streamed his confession and motivations on Facebook 

• The Islamic State will continue to suffer devastating military defeats in Iraq, Syria, and Libya, while continuing to encourage devastating terror attacks in the West.


As a proto-terror-state, the so-called Islamic State has just experienced two of its worst weeks in the two years since it proclaimed itself a caliphate. The group is encircled in Manbij, a town vital to its supply and foreign fighter lines from Turkey into Raqqa. The U.S.-supported Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) are retaking villages surrounding Manbij, while Russian, Iranian, and regime forces pressure the Islamic State near Aleppo. In Iraq, the campaign to retake Fallujah is making progress, though sectarian tensions and violence will continue to frustrate Iraqi efforts. In Libya, Libyan forces have effectively retaken Sirte, the Islamic State’s Libyan strongholdThe Islamic State is not going to disappear, but it is losing territory across the board.

In military terms, the Islamic State is in worse shape now than it was last week, and will likely continue to suffer losses in the coming weeks. The military progress against the Islamic State has been painfully slow and has come at tremendous cost to Iraqi, Syrian, and Libyan forces, as well as the coalition forces standing next to them. The battles ahead will likely be more difficult, but the trend lines are positive, even if long-term prospects for stable, effective governance are not.

Yet, in the same week that the Islamic State experienced devastating defeats, it was still able to inspire or encourage several external attacks—one of which was the worst terrorist attack in the United States since September 11, 2001. The external capabilities of the Islamic State, both in terms of trained cells and anonymous actors, do not rise or fall in parallel with the group’s military and territorial defeats. The group’s call for terrorist attacks, in such brutally simple terms, will continue to be answered by many, regardless of what happens in Mosul or Raqqa. Indeed, at least in the near-term, the threat of inspired external attacks will rise as the group’s fortunes fall.

On June 14, two people were murdered in Magnanville, near Paris, by a violent extremist who was well known to security officials—an all too familiar scenario in Europe. Jean-Baptiste Salvaing, a police captain, and his partner, Jessica Schneider, a police administrator, were murdered at their home by Larossi Abballa, who, despite a terrorism conviction in 2013, was free and able to continue down the path of violence. Abballa, a French citizen, live-streamed his murder confession on Facebook Live from the scene of the crime. As online messenger applications advance, the occurrence of murders broadcast in real time will likely become an issue of great concern.

Abballa's confession left no doubt as to why he acted; he specifically stated that he was answering the May 21 call by Islamic State spokesman Abu Mohammad al-Adnani to conduct attacks during Ramadan. This case further demonstrated the widespread threat of a message calling for deliberate murder of innocents across the world. The shooter in the June 12 massacre in Orlando, Omar Mateen, also declared last-minute allegiance to the Islamic State. This trend will continue, with variations in attacks, but consistency in pronounced motivations.


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