October 26, 2015

TSG IntelBrief: The Global Disruptions of the Islamic State

• As the coalition air campaign against the Islamic State falters and the ground campaign slowly takes shape, countries across the globe continue to arrest supporters of the group

• Security agencies are still detecting scores of individuals planning to travel or facilitate travel to the Islamic State, and those planning to conduct attacks at home

• The virus of extremism continues to spread and will likely inspire more lone wolf or cluster attacks in Europe and the West, despite the best efforts of authorities

• The Islamic State still maintains vast social media messaging capabilities,  which it will use to call for more lone-wolf attacks to counter the effects of its besiegement.


Just as the flow of people joining the so-called Islamic State in Syria has been a multiyear global phenomenon, the security effort to not just prevent more people from joining the group, but to disrupt potential threats, is an ongoing international challenge. While the group remains in place in Mosul and Raqqa— among other places in Iraq and Syria—it is facing more pressure more than it ever has, begging the question of what the group’s many supporters across the world may do in response.

Law enforcement and intelligence agencies are not waiting to receive the answer to that question. The pace of arrests, detentions, and additional charges in cases related to the Islamic State has continued at a high rate and in a wide range of countries. Since the beginning of this month, high-profile cases involving the Islamic State have soared, to include:

Spanish and Moroccan authorities arrested ten people on suspicion of recruiting fighters for the Islamic State in Syria. Both countries have been battling with this threat for a while; those who not only prey on the disaffected but also facilitate their travel are exceedingly dangerous.

German officials announced the arrest in Berlin of a radical cleric from Dagestan on charges that he was recruiting for the Islamic State, as well as shipping equipment such as night-vision goggles to the group in Syria. Murat A., also known as Gadzhimurad K, had previously given an interview in which he was described as one of the 'leading Russian-speaking preachers for the Islamic State.'

Russia arrested up to 15 people in an alleged plot to bomb the Moscow metro rail system or an unidentified airport; the arrests come on the heels of Russia’s military escalation in Syria that officials say is being driven by the need to combat extremists in Syria, lest they eventually seek to fight in Russia. Russian officials have recently highlighted the threat of Russian-speaking nationals traveling to Syria.

Turkey arrested 36 people for various Islamic State-related activities in the crackdown following the October 10 bombings in Ankara that killed over 100. The terrorist attack—the worst in recent Turkish history—has exacerbated ethnic and political tensions in the country in the lead-up to the November 1 elections. Given its position as the main transit point for people entering and leaving Syria, Turkey faces a critical security challenge for the foreseeable future.

Malaysia arrested 20-year-old Ardit Ferizi from Kosovo, who is suspected of hacking U.S. databases to access the personal details of over 1,300 military and federal officials between April and August 2015. Ferizi allegedly gave this data to members of the Islamic State, which then posted it online and exhorted its supporters to strike out at those listed. Ferizi will be extradited to the United States.

FBI Director James Comey testified in front of the U.S. House Homeland Security Committee that six people from the U.S. had attempted to travel to Syria for the purpose of joining the Islamic State since mid-July, a drop-off from the estimated nine a month who tried over the last year or so.

In California, authorities brought additional charges of financial fraud against Muhanad Badawi and Nader Elhuzayel, residents of Anaheim. The two were arrested in May 2015 for trying to join the Islamic State; the financial charges are related to how the two men intended to finance their travel and support for the group.

There is global attention on the rapidly shifting battlefield in Syria, given the Russian escalation on behalf of the Assad regime and the increased rebel support from countries such as the United States, Saudi Arabia, and others. While Syria and Iraq are the main battlefields in the fight against the Islamic State, over 100 countries have their own battles against the group—a fight that will continue as long as the Islamic State’s viral ideology finds vulnerable or willing hosts.


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