Geopolitics

Losing On Battlefield, ISIS Spreads Terror Deep And Wide

One expert warns of a new "wolf pack" tactics for sowing terror with small, coordinated attacks like those seen this past week in Istanbul and Dhaka.

Aftermath of the car bomb attack in Baghdad
Aftermath of the car bomb attack in Baghdad
Carol Morello and Joby Warrick

WASHINGTON â€" Massacres attributed to the ­Islamic State have struck on four continents this year, reflecting how the appeal of the group’s ideology is growing even as the territory it controls in Iraq and Syria has receded, according to experts.

The slaughter of civilians in three large attacks in the past week alone â€" in Istanbul on Tuesday, in Dhaka, Bangladesh, on Friday, and in Baghdad on Sunday â€" suggests that militant actions beyond the caliphate’s borders are taking place more frequently and not necessarily with any overt direction from some caliphate headquarters. Even more alarmingly, a growing number of attacks, starting with those in Paris and Brussels, were conducted by gangs of assailants instead of by an individual gunman.

“What’s striking to me about the Istanbul and Dhaka attacks is that both weren’t done by lone wolves at all,” said Bruce Riedel, a former CIA counterterrorism official and Brookings Institution analyst of al-Qaeda and the Islamic State (ISIS). “These were done by teams of terrorists working with a very thought-through attack plan. I call them ‘wolf pack’ attacks. They are rapidly becoming the Islamic State’s signature.”

Last week, to mark the two-year anniversary of its self-declared caliphate, ISIS created a chart showing its influence, stretching from the moderate control it claims in the Philippines to a “covert” presence in France, with 15 other countries in between. Even countries not on the list are fearful. In India, the government says dozens of Indian Muslims are being monitored after they have undergone some kind of training with the Islamic State, but Indian officials acknowledge the actual number may be much higher.

While the core of the caliphate in Iraq and Syria has been pummeled by coalition airstrikes and by armies and militias fighting them on the ground, Islamic State soldiers have spread throughout the Middle East and far afield. Attacks in Turkey, Bangladesh, Nigeria, Afghanistan, Libya, Tunisia, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Kuwait and several European capitals, and the lone-wolf attacks in Orlando and San Bernardino, show the Islamic State’s potency as an ideology.

Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.), the ranking Democrat on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, said on CBS’s “Face the Nation” Sunday that the Islamic State is “vicious and adaptive” in what he called a “global terrorism campaign.”

“It’s very much losing territory, but at the same time, expanding its global presence,” he said.

U.S. intelligence officials say battlefield setbacks in Iraq and Syria appear to have driven the Islamic State’s leaders to speed up their timeline for attacks abroad. Many intelligence officials and terrorism experts think that recent terrorist strikes in Paris, Brussels, Turkey and Bangladesh are a reflection of that strategy.

“We judge that ISIS will intensify its global terror campaign to maintain its dominance of the global terrorism agenda,” CIA Director John Brennan said in testimony before the Senate last month.

While the Islamic State had been primarily focused on building and defending its caliphate, the group has long expressed ambitions for attacking targets outside the Middle East. The jihadists’ English-language magazine, Dabiq, regularly includes discussions of plans to conquer Rome and other cities of symbolic importance, in addition to capturing all lands that were once part of the Islamic empires of history. In Dhaka, foreign customers at the Holey Artisan Bakery who were from “Crusader countries” were singled out for death.

Candlelight vigil in Dhaka â€" Photo: Xinhua/ZUMA

A “news bulletin” radio broadcast that the Islamic State disseminates on social media recently provided a rapid-fire listing of attacks conducted by its fighters, which it characterizes as the “forces of the caliphate.”

The group’s aspirations date back to its earliest days, when it was called al-Qaeda in Iraq and led by Jordanian terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

“We perform jihad here while our eyes are upon al-Quds Jerusalem. We fight here, while our goal is Rome,” Zarqawi famously said, in a line frequently cited by the Islamic State’s leadership.

The group’s highly regimented structure includes a unit dedicated to facilitating attacks on foreign soil, U.S. and European officials say. Former ISIS fighters now in custody have told investigators that the unit, called EMNI or AMNI, has been active in Europe for more than a year.

One jailed French recruit named Nicholas Moreau recalled meeting some of the EMNI operatives in Syria and described them as part of the “secret service for the exterior of the Islamic State,” according to notes of the interview obtained by The Washington Post.

“The external mission is to send people all over the world to do violence, to kill or recruit young people, or to obtain cameras, or chemicals for weapons,” Moreau said, according to a translation of the French investigators’ notes. He identified as an EMNI operative the Belgian national Abdelhamid Abaaoud, the reported field commander of November’s terrorist strike in Paris, and said at least four others had traveled to northern Europe to make preparations. It is not clear whether the four have been identified and arrested.

“They are dangerous and know the background about weapons,” Moreau was quoted as saying. “I think they are in Europe. I do not know where they are exactly.”

Secretary of State John F. Kerry has frequently said that attacks, whether conducted by or inspired by ISIS, are a sign of the group’s desperation as the territory it controls in Iraq and Syria is chipped away. Nevertheless, the group apparently remains rooted enough that it recently issued its own caliphate dinar currency, embossed with the words Islamic State.

But increasingly, it’s the idea of the Islamic State, rather than the group’s control of any territory, that has taken on greater significance.

“As Dhaka and Istanbul demonstrate, the idea is being translated into a tactic that is much more dangerous than inspiring a single individual to go out and carry out an attack,” Riedel said. “As horrific as Orlando was, had it been four guys in the bar, think how much more complicated it would have been.

“It’s making the challenge of defeating it more and more urgent, as well as more and more difficult.”

Souad Mekhennet in Frankfurt, Germany, and Rama Lakshmi in New Delhi contributed to this report.

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Society

What It Means When The Jews Of Germany No Longer Feel Safe

A neo-Nazi has been buried in the former grave of a Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender – not an oversight, but a deliberate provocation. This is just one more example of antisemitism on the rise in Germany, and society's inability to respond.

At a protest against antisemitism in Berlin

Eva Marie Kogel

-Essay-

BERLIN — If you want to check the state of your society, there's a simple test: as the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, John Jay McCloy, said in 1949, the touchstone for a democracy is the well-being of Jews. This litmus test is still relevant today. And it seems Germany would not pass.


Incidents are piling up. Most recently, groups of neo-Nazis from across the country traveled to a church near Berlin for the funeral of a well-known far-right figure. He was buried in the former grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender, a gravesite chosen deliberately by the right-wing extremists.

The incident at the cemetery

They intentionally chose a Jewish grave as an act of provocation, trying to gain maximum publicity for this act of desecration. And the cemetery authorities at the graveyard in Stahnsdorf fell for it. The church issued an immediate apology, calling it a "terrible mistake" and saying they "must immediately see whether and what we can undo."

There are so many incidents that get little to no media attention.

It's unfathomable that this burial was allowed to take place at all, but now the cemetery authorities need to make a decision quickly about how to put things right. Otherwise, the grave may well become a pilgrimage site for Holocaust deniers and antisemites.

The incident has garnered attention in the international press and it will live long in the memory. Like the case of singer-songwriter Gil Ofarim, who recently claimed he was subjected to antisemitic abuse at a hotel in Leipzig. Details of the crime are still being investigated. But there are so many other incidents that get little to no media attention.

Photo of the grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

Jens Kalaene/dpa/ZUMA

Crimes against Jews are rising

Across all parts of society, antisemitism is on the rise. Until a few years ago, Jewish life was seen as an accepted part of German society. Since the attack on the synagogue in Halle in 2019, the picture has changed: it was a bitter reminder that right-wing terror against Jewish people has a long, unbroken history in Germany.

Stories have abounded about the coronavirus crisis being a Jewish conspiracy; meanwhile, Muslim antisemitism is becoming louder and more forceful. The anti-Israel boycott movement BDS rears its head in every debate on antisemitism, just as left-wing or post-colonial thinking are part of every discussion.

Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

Since 2015, the number of antisemitic crimes recorded has risen by about a third, to 2,350. But victims only report around 20% of cases. Some choose not to because they've had bad experiences with the police, others because they're afraid of the perpetrators, and still others because they just want to put it behind them. Victims clearly hold out little hope of useful reaction from the state – so crimes go unreported.

And the reality of Jewish life in Germany is a dark one. Sociologists say that Jewish children are living out their "identity under siege." What impact does it have on them when they can only go to nursery under police protection? Or when they hear Holocaust jokes at school?

Germany needs to take its antisemitism seriously

This shows that the country of commemorative services and "stumbling blocks" placed in sidewalks as a memorial to victims of the Nazis has lost its moral compass. To make it point true north again, antisemitism needs to be documented from the perspective of those affected, making it visible to the non-Jewish population. And Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

That is the first thing. The second is that we need to talk about specifically German forms of antisemitism. For example, the fact that in no other EU country are Jewish people so often confronted about the Israeli government's policies (according to a survey, 41% of German Jews have experienced this, while the EU average is 28%). Projecting the old antisemitism onto the state of Israel offers people a more comfortable target for their arguments.

Our society needs to have more conversations about antisemitism. The test of German democracy, as McCloy called it, starts with taking these concerns seriously and talking about them. We need to have these conversations because it affects all of us. It's about saving our democracy. Before it's too late.

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