The World Today for April 12, 2024

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Pointillistic Terror

WORLD

Russian officials continue to blame the March 24 terrorist attack on Crocus City Hall in Moscow on Ukraine, PBS News Hour wrote. But American intelligence officials say they told the Russians that the Islamic State terrorist group planned to carry out the massacre. Russian police have since arrested four men from Tajikistan who allegedly carried out the attack.

These developments highlight how the Islamic State, instead of disappearing after being routed in Syria and Iraq, is still a force in the world. A coalition of forces ousted the terror group about three years after it took control over massive swaths of those two countries in 2014 and tried to build a “caliphate.” But the Islamic State adapted and found new places to metastasize.

The Afghanistan-based Islamic State Khorasan, for example, has taken credit for the Moscow attack, the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace wrote. The group has deep roots in Tajikistan, an impoverished and deeply corrupt former Soviet republic whose leaders have turned to Russian, American, and Chinese help to combat terror – with little progress to show for it.

In the aftermath of the Moscow attack, wrote the UAE’s The National, Western Europe is bracing for more casualties, especially Sweden, the Netherlands and France: The latter has especially experienced smaller, “lone-wolf” attacks claimed by alleged members of Islamic State for years.

Now, analysts say, the Moscow attack is raising threat levels because it is likely going to attract more funds and recruits to the terror group. At the same time, Islamic State will probably launch more assaults to demonstrate that it is no longer a spent force, analyst Antonio Giustozzi of the UK’s Rusi think tank told the National.

“They realized that they are in terminal decline, they have no ‘caliphate,’ and an image problem of defeats and losses so they are trying to change the narrative … to show that ‘we are still relevant,’” he said.

After the defeat in Syria and Iraq, many Islamic State commanders began shoring up their presence in Africa and allying with terror groups already operating in countries such as Somalia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Mali, Niger, and Burkina Faso.

“They are exploiting the political instability and expanding their radius of influence, their operations and territorial control in the Sahel, with growing concerns for coastal West Africa,” Natalia Gherman, executive director of the United Nations’ Counter-Terrorism Office, told the Arab Weekly. “The African continent now accounts for almost half of terrorist acts worldwide, with central Sahel accounting for about 25 percent of such attacks.”

Part of the reason the group Islamic State-Sahel Province is “surging” in strength in the region, and controlling more territory than ever, is because of the security vacuum created by a drawdown of Western military assistance in the wake of military coups in Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger and elsewhere, the Washington Post wrote. Meanwhile, its rival, al-Qaeda-affiliated Jamaat Nusrat al-Islam wal-Muslimin, ceded much of its territory to Islamic State. Now, Islamic State is in such firm control, it is turning away from terror attacks toward governance and education of the young.

Meanwhile, the terror group is also entrenched in parts of East Asia, especially in the Philippines, Malaysia, and Indonesia, wrote the Hudson Institute: “Radical groups across Southeast Asia are likely to continue to exploit social, economic, and political disenfranchisement in their societies to appeal to new potential recruits.”

The Islamic State, at the same time, continues to operate in Iraq and Syria, seeing it as its most meaningful location, analysts say. Terrorists with the group recently killed a senior Iraqi militant leader, Abu Maria al-Qahtani, in a suicide bombing, Middle East Eye reported. Al-Qahtani was a leader in Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), a former affiliate of al-Qaeda.

The Islamic State, furthermore, retains power in places like the Al-Hawl refugee camp in Syria near the Iraq border. The camp is a tent city, reported the Jerusalem Post, that houses 43,000 people. Around 40,000 are women and children who are family members of Islamic State militants.

“The ISIS system and way of ruling is implemented in the camp,” said Al-Hawl administrator Jihan Hanan, referring to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. “They are openly carrying weapons in the camp. In the last week, they attacked a tent of the International Red Cross. They cover their faces and just go out and attack. They say that Al-Hawl is one of their bases and an important part of their infrastructure.”

And analysts add, orders for the attack on Moscow almost certainly came from Islamic State commanders currently taking refuge in Syria or Iraq.

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