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From Raqqa To Rome, Only Clarity Of Purpose Can Defeat ISIS

In Brussels, the jihadists have again shown they have a plan, which extends from the Middle East to the heart of Europe. The West must urgently get one of its own.

Italian military on high alert in Rome
Italian military on high alert in Rome
Maurizio Molinari*


TURIN — In Brussels, just like in Paris before — Europe is under attack. A well-trained commando of followers of the caliphate of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, leader of the Islamic State (ISIS), developed a minutely detailed plan to strike and cause the greatest possible number of civilian casualties, unleashing chaos and pointedly revealing the inability of local security forces to defend their territory. It's a guerrilla tactic that originates in the jihadist training camps of the caliphate, in Syrian and Iraqi territories, and it reveals the creation of a kind of "Ministry of Foreign Operations" in Raqqa, capable of issuing orders and following operations at a distance. It also suggests that a campaign of attacks against European cities is already well underway.

ISIS is a bloodthirsty, adaptable adversary, because it's capable of adjusting its combat methods to different battlegrounds. In the desert, it relies on small groups of fighters to control resources and communication channels, eluding enemy raids. In the West, it goes after major cities with assault groups capable of using various types of arms, because in these cities they have an abundance of targets — namely, civilians.

The jihadist campaign against our cities has three goals.

First: to incite ISIS followers and thereby multiply the number of recruits in Europe; that is, to reinforce the terrorist cells operating within Europe's Muslim community, which by and large has not been contaminated by the caliphate's totalitarian ideology.

Second: to demonstrate in the Middle East and North Africa that ISIS is the most powerful jihadist organization, and so convince rivals and adversaries from within the fundamentalist galaxy to submit to its authority, over that of organizations such as al-Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood.

Third: to terrify Europeans, governments and citizens alike, pushing them into a feeling of helplessness and weakness that will pave the way for the scenario the jihadists so fervently desire — that is, the economic and human sacking of the Old Continent.

If on Sept. 11, 2001, Osama bin Laden attacked America to try to force the West to leave Islamic territories, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is pursuing the apolitical project of a jihadist caliphate that can ultimately subjugate Europe — Rome included — to avenge the fall of Constantinople.

ISIS documents, videos and testimonies offer a treasure of information, almost always accessible online, that allows us to see the shocking clarity of the caliphate's terror project. Such clarity of intent clashes with the confusion that rules our democracies as a group.

For nearly two years, Europe and the United States have been fighting a listless and disorganized war against ISIS in Syria and Iraq. In Africa, they've left the initiative to jihadists in Libya and Mali. And on the home front, they're divided over security policies that in the best of cases are uncoordinated, and in the worst of cases are directly in contrast with one another. This allows the jihadists to have more means and opportunities to strike in a borderless battleground. That's why democracies need a new coalition to face and fight the singular totalitarian adversary of the 21st century.

The precedents from the last century hint at the right path to follow: We must come to an agreement over the definition of our enemy, to understand it inside and out and then adopt a security doctrine capable of defeating it.

To fight against the caliphate with last century's arsenal of ideas, strategies and arms would only condemn us to enduring other massacres. Right now, our united democracies seem devoid of politicians capable of taking on such a challenge, but history teaches us that it is often crises and wars that shape the next generations of leaders.

*Maurizio Molinari is La Stampa"s editor-in-chief

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Life On "Mars": With The Teams Simulating Space Missions Under A Dome

A niche research community plays out what existence might be like on, or en route to, another planet.

Photo of a person in a space suit walking toward the ​Mars Desert Research Station near Hanksville, Utah

At the Mars Desert Research Station near Hanksville, Utah

Sarah Scoles

In November 2022, Tara Sweeney’s plane landed on Thwaites Glacier, a 74,000-square-mile mass of frozen water in West Antarctica. She arrived with an international research team to study the glacier’s geology and ice fabric, and how its ice melt might contribute to sea level rise. But while near Earth’s southernmost point, Sweeney kept thinking about the moon.

“It felt every bit of what I think it will feel like being a space explorer,” said Sweeney, a former Air Force officer who’s now working on a doctorate in lunar geology at the University of Texas at El Paso. “You have all of these resources, and you get to be the one to go out and do the exploring and do the science. And that was really spectacular.”

That similarity is why space scientists study the physiology and psychology of people living in Antarctic and other remote outposts: For around 25 years, people have played out what existence might be like on, or en route to, another world. Polar explorers are, in a way, analogous to astronauts who land on alien planets. And while Sweeney wasn’t technically on an “analog astronaut” mission — her primary objective being the geological exploration of Earth — her days played out much the same as a space explorer’s might.

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