May 27, 2016

TSG IntelBrief: The Islamic State’s Strategy to Level the Playing Field

• On May 25, the French Interior Minister announced France would deploy a security force of more than 90,000 for the upcoming Euro 2016 soccer tournament

• On the same day, Belgian authorities arrested four suspected Islamic State recruiters in the country—none of whom were believed to be directly connected to the cell that conducted the March 2016 terror attacks in Brussels

• With the threat of terrorist attacks in Europe already at an unprecedented level—and the public perception of that threat inflated even beyond the reality—the unseen costs of terrorism are enormous

• By forcing European governments to devote such vast resources to combating what is perceived to be an imminent and unavoidable threat, the Islamic State achieves implicit, yet significant victories regardless of whether successful attacks occur.


Having experienced two of the deadliest terrorist attacks to strike Europe in recent history since November, European governments are understandably preoccupied with preventing the next attack. The so-called Islamic State is keenly aware of the depth of Europe’s fears, and continues to take advantage of the widespread anxiety wherever and however it can. Despite its increasingly fraught contention of a ‘caliphate,’ the Islamic State’s leadership understands its position is one of fundamental asymmetry compared to its international enemies, and the group seeks to level the playing field in any way it can. One of the group’s most effective means of doing this is playing to and intensifying European fears.

On May 21, an audio message from Islamic State spokesman Abu Mohammed al-Adnani repeated the group’s eternal call to terror, calling on its supporters across the globe to attack the group’s enemies in any way they are able. The Islamic State has long embraced the ‘new terror spectacular,’ instructing its members and sympathizers to utilize unsophisticated methods and techniques to conduct low-tech, high-impact terror attacks, rather than more sophisticated resource and planning intensive attacks. The effectiveness of such attacks, and the comparative difficulty to detect and disrupt them before they occur, has led to increased concerns about security for the upcoming Euro 2016 soccer tournament, to be held in France in June. France, which has seen at least 1,700 of its citizens travel to join the Islamic State, has already proven to be one of the group’s most popular targets. On May 25, in an effort to harden the inherently soft targets presented by the tournament—which is expected to draw 2.5 million spectators—French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve announced that more than 90,000 security personnel would be deployed to ensure the event’s safety.

The announcement came the same day Belgian authorities arrested four suspected Islamic State recruiters in the country. Belgium’s federal prosecutor said there were no signs of a link between the four arrested and the cell responsible for the March 2016 attacks in Brussels. Though details regarding the four suspects are sparse, the possible existence of yet another Islamic State-linked recruitment network in Belgium will only serve to increase the justifiable fears surrounding the Islamic State's infiltration of Europe. If the investigation into the suspects confirms the network was entirely independent of the network built by Abdelhamid Abaaoud, the threat facing Europe—both real and perceived—will be inflated even further.

The mounting evidence of the Islamic State’s entrenchment in Europe—demonstrated through the continued arrests of recruiters and sympathizers—allows the group to achieve some level of victory regardless of whether it is able to successfully mount another attack. EU governments are spending enormous sums of money on measures intended to increase security and prevent further attacks. Modern technology, intelligence collection, and law enforcement efforts give governments an incredible ability to detect and disrupt 9/11-style plots. However, as Europe has witnessed, plots involving small, tightly-knit groups employing low-tech tactics involving nothing more than automatic weapons or improvised explosives are nearly impossible to defend against once they are in motion. As a result, European governments have been forced to attempt to out-muscle the threat, as demonstrated by France’s Euro 2016 security plan. In order to protect against a potential threat, the French government must employ the services of 90,000 security officers to thwart what would likely be no more than a handful of attackers. Even as it faces mounting setbacks on the battlefields of Iraq and Syria, the Islamic State has instilled a feeling of pervasive insecurity throughout Europe, thus leveling the playing field.


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