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Europe Braces for More Attacks From Islamic State

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Police stand next to terraced housing in Harlesden Road
Police stand next to terraced housing in Harlesden Road, north London, April 28, 2017. British counterterrorism police said they had thwarted an active plot in an armed raid, the second major security operation in the British capital in the space of a few hours. VOA
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European counterterror officials say they are taking no solace in the liberation of Raqqa from Islamic State, with some warning that the terror group’s communication and planning units remain “very active.”

The fall of IS’s Syrian capital this month has been heralded as a crushing blow to the group’s aspirations, with U.S. President Donald Trump calling it a “critical breakthrough.”

But counterterrorism officials say there is broad consensus that IS still has a considerable reach, especially in the near term.

“We all share the same opinion. The military defeat, the so-called caliphate being scattered, does not mean that the terrorist organization ISIS is defeated,” Dick Schoof, the Dutch national counterterrorism coordinator, told reporters Wednesday, using an acronym for the group.

Ability to communicate

A key concern is that a loss of territory in Iraq and Syria has yet to have a considerable impact on the terror organization’s ability to communicate, both with its operatives in Europe and potential recruits.

IS has also been able to leverage relationships with organized crime syndicates, which officials describe as especially worrisome.

“We know that ISIS’s planning unit is still functioning. Also, its communications unit is still functioning,” said Schoof.

The European assessment mirrors that of counterterror officials in the United States, who have repeatedly warned that, at best, there would be a lag between the fall of the terror group’s self-declared caliphate in Iraq and Syria and any impact on its external operations.

“We do not think battlefield losses alone will be sufficient to degrade its terrorism capabilities,” Nick Rasmussen, head of the U.S. National Counterterrorism Center, warned in written testimony to U.S. lawmakers in September. He called IS’s reach on social media “unprecedented.”

Also, one of the most anticipated consequences of the collapse of the so-called caliphate has failed to materialize: a substantial flow of foreign fighters to their home countries.

Schoof, the Dutch counterterror coordinator, said that of the Netherlands’ approximately 300 foreign fighters, slightly more than 50 have returned, with only a handful trying to make their way back as IS’s fortunes have waned.

French police and anti-crime brigade members
French police and anti-crime brigade members secure a street during a counterterrorism swoop at different locations in Argenteuil, a suburb north of Paris. VOA

Complex terror threat

Friedrich Grommes, head of the international terrorism and organized crime directorate for Germany’s Federal Intelligence Service, has also said that “there is no hard evidence” for a rising tide of returning foreign fighters.

Instead, officials say, Europe is facing a more complex and variable threat picture, even as they have worked to take down, through multiple raids and a series of arrests, most of the IS network thought to be behind the terror attacks in Paris and Brussels.

At the same time, officials warn al-Qaida operatives have become more active, stepping up their planning for potential attacks on the West.

In particular, there has been growing concern about IS and al-Qaida activity in northern Africa.

“We are very cautious,” Schoof said. “ISIS and al-Qaida are still not very strong but do have footprints.”

Like the U.S., which has sent troops to Niger to track IS operatives and officials, European militaries have also been active in the region.

So far, at least, Western officials have yet to track any significant flow of foreign fighters or top officials from the Middle East to Africa.

But Islamic State, at least, is turning to a familiar strategy.

“What ISIS is absolutely trying to do is leverage local insurgencies now to rebrand themselves,” Joint Chiefs Chairman General Joe Dunford, the top U.S. military officer, said Tuesday following a meeting of the global coalition to defeat IS. “They’re trying to maintain relevance.”(VOA)

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The Son Of The Islamic State leader al-Baghdadi Dies: IS

Al-Baghdadi's fate is still unknown

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This image from video posted in July purports to show Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi delivering a sermon in Iraq, July 5, 2014. Islamic State media has announced the death of the leader's son.
This image from video posted in July purports to show Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi delivering a sermon in Iraq, July 5, 2014. Islamic State media has announced the death of the leader's son. VOA

The son of the Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has died in a suicide attack mission in the city of Homs in western Syria, according to the IS media al-Nashir News.

Posting the photograph of a young boy, purportedly Hudhayfah al-Badri, al-Baghdadi’s son, the outlet said he lost his life in an operation against the Russian forces deployed in Homs and the Syrian government forces, referred to as Nusayriyyah by IS.

“Hudhayfah al-Badri (may Allah accept him), the son of the Caliph (may Allah safeguard him), was killed in an inghimasi [suicide] operation against the Nusayriyyah and the Russians at the thermal power station in Homs Willayah,” the news outlet reported.

Inghimasi refers to suicide operations in which a fighter, clad with explosive belt and armed with regular weapons, attacks an enemy position before detonating himself to inflict as much damage on the enemy as possible.

The U.S. military said it has seen the reports of al-Badri’s death but declined any confirmation.

“It would be inappropriate for us to comment on an attack on forces outside the Coalition. We have nothing more to provide,” U.S. Central Command told VOA.

An Iraqi national, al-Baghdadi, whose real name is Ibrahim Awad al-Badri, announced the Islamic State caliphate in the city of Mosul in June 2014 and made himself its caliph. The leader has since become the world’s most wanted man, with a $25 million bounty on his head.

Islamic Terrorism in NYC
Bicycles and debris lay on a bike path after a motorist drove onto the path near the World Trade Center memorial, striking and killing several people, Oct. 31, 2017, in New York. VOA

Al-Baghdadi’s fate is still unknown, with various reports claiming his death and injury several times, including a claim by the Russian Defense Ministry that he might have been hit by a Russian airstrike in 2017.

Those claims have been rejected by U.S. officials and the whereabouts of the elusive leader remain unknown.

Al-Baghdadi’s infamous role in IS has put a spotlight on his family. In March 2014, al-Baghdadi’s wife, Sujidah al-Dulaimi, was released, along with her two sons and daughter, in exchange for 13 nuns taken captive by al-Qaida-linked al-Nusra Front militants.

Also read: Will the Latest Message From Islamic State Leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi Provoke New Attacks in the West?

It was reported that only the girl was al-Baghdadi’s daughter. The two boys belonged to a man his wife had married before meeting al-Baghdadi. (IANS)