Mosul’s fall won’t stop Islamic State spreading fear

It is clear that ISIS is adopting the methods of a leaderless jihad, a strategy that al-Qaeda tried.


2017/07/02 Issue: 113 Page: 5


The Arab Weekly
Mohamad Bazzi



Iraqi officials have declared that the Islamic State’s caliphate is finished. After months of urban warfare and US air strikes, Iraqi forces said they are on the verge of expelling the militants from their last holdouts in Mosul.

“Their fictitious state has fall­en,” an Iraqi general told state TV after troops captured a symboli­cally important mosque in Mosul’s old city. In Syria, US-backed rebels are moving quickly through the eastern city of Raqqa, the capital of the self-proclaimed caliphate.

With the imminent fall of the last two urban centres under ISIS’s control in Syria and Iraq, the group has lost much of its territory. ISIS militants on June 21 destroyed the historic Grand Mosque of al-Nuri, where three years ago, as ISIS swept across northern Iraq, ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi declared a caliphate.

The ruined mosque’s capture by Iraqi forces is the most public symbol of the caliphate’s fall but it does not mean the end of ISIS or its reign of violence.

The severe loss of territory in Syria and Iraq means that routes for foreign jihadists to reach the self-declared caliphate have con­tracted but the group still has the capability to attract recruits, se­cure weapons, raise funds through theft and extortion and dispatch sympathisers to carry out attacks abroad.

As it gets weaker on the ground, ISIS has less to lose by unleashing attacks outside of Syria and Iraq. The jihadist group has quickly claimed responsibility for a spate of attacks on civilians in Europe, especially in Britain and France.

ISIS has adjusted to the immi­nent loss of its physical caliphate in Syria and Iraq and to the poten­tial loss of its top leaders. In June, Russian officials said they believed they had killed Baghdadi in an air strike that targeted a gathering of senior jihadists outside Raqqa. The claim has not been confirmed and Baghdadi was erroneously reported killed in the past. How­ever, continued fighting and new attacks underscore that the group must have contingency plans in place to deal with the loss of its senior leadership.

Indeed, it is clear that ISIS is adopting the methods of a leader­less jihad, a strategy that al-Qaeda tried. For more than a year, ISIS has inspired lone-wolf attack­ers to act in its name, especially in the West. These radicalised individuals are heeding the call of ISIS leaders to use whatever methods they have at their dis­posal — trucks, cars, knives and axes — to carry out attacks that amplify the group’s reach.

These attacks allow ISIS’s leaders to create an illusion of strength to make up for their bat­tlefield losses. They also signal that the group would revert to its roots as a jihadist insurgency, bent on large- and small-scale attacks that instil fear but do little to help the militants keep control of territory in Syria and Iraq.

That is not to say the loss of territory has not weakened the group and caused some of its operations to fail. On June 19, a 31-year-old man rammed into a French police van on the Champs-Élysées in Paris with an improvised car bomb. The explo­sives failed to detonate and the assailant was killed. A day later, a Moroccan national tried to set off a suitcase bomb packed with nails and gas canisters inside the central train station in Brussels. Security forces killed the man.

During Ramadan in 2016, ISIS urged its sympathisers to carry out bombings, mass shootings and stabbings across Europe, the Middle East and Asia. The group called for a similar campaign dur­ing Ramadan this year but there were far fewer successful attacks.

Despite the amateurish nature of some recent attempts, cadres of militants who trained and fought with ISIS in Iraq and Syria have returned to Europe and are able to train and radicalise others. By relying on lone-wolf attacks by individuals who are self-radicalised — and, in some cases, mentally unstable — ISIS projects a greater reach than it ac­tually has and it can continue to spread fear, even as its caliphate crumbles.


Mohamad Bazzi is an associate professor of journalism at New York University and former Middle East bureau chief at Newsday.


As Printed
MENA Now
Editors' Picks

The Arab Weekly Newspaper reaches Western & Arabic audience that are influential as well as being affluent.

From Europe to the Middle East,and North America, The Arab Weekly talks to opinion formers and influential figures, providing insight and comment on national, international and regional news through the focus of Arabic countries and community.

Published by Al Arab Publishing House

Publisher and Group Executive Editor: Haitham El-Zobaidi, PhD

Editor-in-Chief: Oussama Romdhani

Managing Editor: Iman Zayat

Deputy Managing Editor and Online Editor: Mamoon Alabbasi

Senior Editor: John Hendel

Chief Copy Editor: Richard Pretorius

Copy Editor: Stephen Quillen

Analysis Section Editor: Ed Blanche

East/West Section Editor: Mark Habeeb

Gulf Section Editor: Mohammed Alkhereiji

Society and Travel Sections Editor: Samar Kadi

Syria and Lebanon Sections Editor: Simon Speakman Cordall

Contributing Editor: Rashmee Roshan Lall

Senior Correspondents: Mahmud el-Shafey (London) & Lamine Ghanmi (Tunis)

Regular Columnists

Claude Salhani

Yavuz Baydar

Correspondents

Saad Guerraoui (Casablanca)

Dunia El-Zobaidi (London)

Roua Khlifi (Tunis)

Thomas Seibert (Washington)

Chief Designer: Marwen Hmedi

Designers

Ibrahim Ben Bechir

Hanen Jebali

Published by Al Arab Publishing House

Contact editor at:editor@thearabweekly.com

Subscription & Advertising: Ads@alarab.co.uk

Tel 020 3667 7249

Mohamed Al Mufti

Marketing & Advertising Manager

Tel (Main) +44 20 6702 3999

Direct: +44 20 8742 9262

www.alarab.co.uk

Al Arab Publishing House

Kensington Centre

177-179 Hammersmith Road

London W6 8BS , UK

Tel: (+44) 20 7602 3999

Fax: (+44) 20 7602 8778

Follow Us
© The Arab Weekly, All rights reserved