developments in the degradation of Islamic State (ISIS), from the loss of the
territory it controlled to the death of its leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, has
substantially impacted the capabilities
of the group to carry out terrorist attacks globally. However, it remains clear
that ISIS continues to exert significant influence through its ideology that is
influencing a variety of individuals to sustain the extremist ideology and to
consider terrorist attacks.
reports from international organizations, one from the European Union Agency
for Law Enforcement Cooperation (Europol) and the other from the United Nations
Security Council, provide assessments that while terrorist attacks are
diminishing, the ideas and ideology that ISIS inspires continue to pose a
threat globally, and in particular, to the security of the EU.
The 2019 EU
Terrorism and Situation Trend Report published by Europol provides evidence
that the total number of terrorist attacks taking place in the EU have reached
a four-year low. The report does indicate an increase in attacks and arrests in
relation to terrorism motivated by ethno-nationalist/separatism or right- and
left-wing ideologies, and makes clear the threat from jihadist violence
continues to be a strong concern.
Security Council report, part of the ongoing monitoring of ISIS and al-Qaeda,
says that while the geographical caliphate is gone, Islamic State is
consolidating and seeking to reinvent external capabilities for carrying out
attacks around the world.
reports indicate a number of areas where the threat from ISIS-inspired ideology
remains potent – violence by lone actors, the situation of returning terrorist
fighters, and individuals in prisons.
point, of individuals in prisons being susceptible to ISIS ideology, will pose
a significant issue for the EU to address. There are a number of elements to
this, such as the increase in arrests and convictions for terrorism offenses,
and the issue of returning fighters from Syria who may be facing jail sentences
for their time fighting for ISIS. The Europol report indicates there are
growing trends in prisons where ISIS-inspired inmates are maintaining the
ideology and influencing others.
be an important point of attention going forward. The end of the physical
existence of the ISIS caliphate has had a substantial impact on reducing the
group’s ability to be an active threat. The group no longer has the capability
to organize directly or carry out attacks in Europe effectively. Its ability to
influence through online propaganda is also diminished, but not completely, as both
reports make clear.
of the caliphate also works to minimize the lure of ISIS, as there is no
opportunity for individuals to join something tangible. There remain a number
of ISIS-affiliated groups, al-Qaeda-linked groups, and other jihadist terrorist
groups around the world, but none have the appeal that the ISIS caliphate in
Iraq and Syria held. For Europe, however, there is an increased threat of
individuals carrying out attacks on European territory.
this can lead to a belief that the overall security threat posed by ISIS and
other jihadi-affiliated groups is going away. The ideology and worldview of
ISIS continues to attract. This ideology is grounded in the belief that society
needs to be organized around a particular interpretation of Islam that
glorifies the past, emphasizes the most austere interpretations, and offers no
space for discussion or debate.
ideology is not exclusive to ISIS, as variations have been embraced by a wide
range of terrorist groups and their supporters. Equally the core ideas of the
ideology – the embrace of a particular interpretation of Islam – are also held
by non-violent extremist groups who seek to achieve the objective of a
caliphate-like system but through means other than violence. It is important
for the EU to maintain cognizance of the core ideas in the ISIS ideology, which
have significant influence across a spectrum of supporters.
influence or embrace of the ideology does not lead to violence in all cases but
it does feed into ideas, attitudes and practices that challenge understandings
of security in the EU. It has been shown how the embrace of certain Islamist
ideologies has divided communities in the EU and have contributed to violent
attacks. The Europol and UN reports emphasize that ISIS ideology continues to
have resonance across Europe in relation to vulnerable individuals, returnees,
and those in prison. The EU report also speaks of the challenges posed by
overseas groups that embrace the ISIS ideology and make use of it to sow discord
globally and that also influences jihadi affiliates in Europe.
report shows that the majority of EU states did not report jihadist terrorist
attacks in 2018. At the same time, across the member states reporting terrorist
crimes, jihadist-inspired terrorism is the most prevalent. In looking at the
foiled, failed ad completed attacks in 2018, jihadist terrorism accounted for
24 instances, while ethno-nationalist/separatist constituted 83 of the
instances. However, nine member states experienced jihadist terrorism, whereas
only three experienced ethno-nationalist/separatists attacks.
holds for the number of reported court cases dealing with jihadist terrorism,
where 15 member states had such trials, while ethno-nationalist/separatists trials
took place in only five member states. The report holds that the “vast
majority” of verdicts across the EU concerned jihadist terrorism, confirming a
trend starting in 2015 where the bulk of security operations and subsequent
court cases deal with jihadi-affiliated terrorism.
important figures to keep an eye on, as they mean that more member states have
ISIS-inspired jihadis in the prison system. Both reports explain how
individuals are motivated to act, and the arrest figures and court verdicts
provided in the Europol report demonstrate extensive planning being undertaken
across the EU. This has strong implications for security in the EU, as
individuals supportive of ISIS ideology no longer have the physical
manifestation of the caliphate to travel to, resulting in their actions being
applied locally. The decline in Jihadi-inspired attacks is due more to the lack
of competence and capabilities of the perpetrators and not a diminution of the
ideological influence of ISIS.
reports speak of the influence of ISIS ideology on vulnerable individuals who
are indoctrinated easily and then motivated to pursue terrorist acts. Even the
returnees from the physical caliphate who realized the project had failings
remain tied to the extremist ideas ISIS epitomized. The Europol report speaks
of an increasing number of adherents to ISIS ideology across the EU, in
particular in relation to prisons and returnees.
influence of ISIS ideology in prisons is going to be prove difficult to
address. The reports speak of more individuals being arrested and convicted in
the past years, putting them in contact with experienced jihadis already in
prison. Returnees who have been arrested and sentenced are adding to the prison
population holding on to ISIS ideology, and this number is likely to increase
with the destruction of the caliphate and more individuals returning to Europe.
report suggests states are concerned about the current situation being only a
lull in activity, not a proper reduction in the threat posed by ISIS-inspired
violence. The executive director of Europol says that overall the level of
terrorist threat across the EU is not diminished, rather “the situation has
become more complex.” The complexity is heightened further by the situation where
reciprocal extremism is becoming more prevalent in the EU.
explains: “Within the jihadist milieu, multiple actors of diverging motivation
and allegiance are plotting alone or conspiring with others; and right-wing
extremists, in a bid to justify violence, prey on the perception of a threat
from Islam.…” This circle of reinforcing extremist narratives is prominent in
prisons and regularly used by jihadis, as they can claim the entire criminal
justice system shows how their beliefs are hardened. The ideology of ISIS will
continue to fuel extremist views in complex ways.
degradation of ISIS we cannot be complacent that the threat of jihadi terrorism
is subsiding. In many ways the reports for Europol and the UN show a more
complex threat is now present. Both reports make clear that even though ISIS is
clearly no longer the organized entity it once was, its beliefs, its worldview
and the project it was pursuing continue to have influence. This influence is
particularly pronounced in European prison systems, as we have already
experienced attacks in France and Belgium led by individuals with a record of
being influenced in prisons.
situation in Europe is proving that terrorist attacks are motivated by a range
of factors and simplistic explanations claiming that crime or other factors
alone explain actions are not holding up. The strength of ISIS ideology is
being held up by those already in prison and is being used to influence a wide
range of vulnerable individuals.
unfortunate that greater effectiveness by the European police and security
services in preventing terrorist attacks is going to result in a larger pool of
individuals potentially influenced by ISIS ideology and susceptible to carrying
out or influencing attacks in the future. The security situation in the
post-ISIS landscape is undoubtedly becoming more complex.
Richard Burchill is the director of studies for the Defence and Security Forum
Headline: ISIS is down but not out
Source: The Asia Times