ISIS has left more than 80 people dead and hundreds wounded in three countries after attacks at an American-owned French factory, a Tunisian beach resort, and a Shiite mosque in Kuwait. That some, including the U.S., see no coordination on these attacks is absurd.
The key question is: why now?
First, is that ISIS is now one year old and so the militants are intending to show off their prowess.
But there is a more sinister reason. A few days ago, ISIS spokesman Abu Mohammed al-Adnani stated that “God never gave the mujahedeen a promise of victory every time,” adding that the faithful “may lose a battle or battles and may lose towns and areas but will never be defeated.” He was referring to a string of setbacks in Syria, where Kurdish fighters seized a key border crossing and have been advancing toward the ISIS’s self-proclaimed capital, Raqqa.
Importantly, Adnani called on followers to “attack them everywhere and shake the ground beneath them” during the remaining days of Ramadan. It is important to note that geography was not delineated by Adnani, meaning that the potential for attacks throughout the world is possible.
Immediately, thereafter, on the 6th day of Ramadan, ISIS executed prisoners in a number of gruesome ways including drowning four captives in a cage. The barbaric killings were setting the scene for events to come. Simultaneously, ISIS launched attacks in Yemen and Kobane in a show of tactical strength, killing dozens.
The violence on the 9th day of Ramadan featured a mix target set; a demonstration killing in France through decapitation and mutilation, automatic weapons fired upon European beach tourists in Tunisia, and a targeted suicide bombing on a Shiite mosque in Kuwait. Together the attacks send multiple messages of ISIS's capabilities and reach plus the fervent nature of ISIS followers. It is important to remember that ISIS is achieving a cult-like status, and so there is a real and serious coordination that is ongoing across ISIS’s geo-strategic reach.
It is notable that ISIS's Najd Province claimed the Kuwait attack. The Province is a state template based in cyber-space that seeks to increase sectarian tensions in Kuwait and its neighbors. That fact was spelled out clearly in the attacks in Saudi Arabia’s Qatif and Dammam against Shiite mosques before Ramadan.
What the attacks across the MENA region also demonstrate is that ISIS sees itself as in control with the ability to disrupt tourism and the sanctity of Islam as a peaceful religion.
ISIS’s road ahead
In Europe, attacks in France are notable for their continuity; four attacks in the first half of 2015 is a blow to Paris and its counter-terrorism capabilities. There are also other capabilities that ISIS possesses including the use of chemicals and other types of weaponry not see yet, such MANPADs (Man-portable air-defense systems). The Australian government has already noted that there is a real and present danger of the use of chemicals by these violent extremists.
ISIS sees itself as in control with the ability to disrupt tourism and the sanctity of Islam as a peaceful religionDr. Theodore Karasik
Other European states face the possibility that those fighters who have cycled through the Levant battle space may likely act out during Ramadan. We need to recall that in recent months, ISIS has sent strong messages “in blood” to the Christian Nation which is translated as Rome and the rest of Europe. Russia is non-exempt as a new Caucasus Province was set up at the beginning of Ramadan. The “Caliphate” continues to expand. We have already seen attacks in Somalia, Chad, Yemen, and, of course, Libya, that is threatening the delicate and unbalanced fabric of these countries. Egypt is also a target, especially in the Sinai and the Upper Nile region where Improvised Explosive Devices and attempted strikes reach tourist spots, such as Luxor.
The challenge to governments and police is going to be how best to mitigate ISIS attack plans during the holy month in particular. Robust thinking needs to be applied fast about how to maintain security. One suggestion is to note that ISIS believers, of course, can act out on their own in lone-wolf attacks. These individuals are on watch lists; they should be detained immediately. Another possibility is for increasing security around potential targets, plus ensuring that summer tourism is safe through business continuity planning and processes. Notably, America’s Independence Day falls within the remaining days of Ramadan. Hence there should also be an abundance of caution.
A final suggestion is to start, immediately, a clear and concise social media campaign in the next ten days to prepare for the final ten days of Ramadan that spells out exactly why ISIS believers and followers are actually heretics within the Ummah. So far, counter-narrative and anti-hate speech campaigns are missing the point and international meetings regarding Countering Violent Extremism are only resulting in debating societies. It can be assumed that ISIS knows they have the upper hand when it comes to hearts and minds of the malcontent in dozens of countries. Unfortunately, time is not on our side.
Dr. Theodore Karasik is a Gulf-based analyst of regional geo-political affairs. He received his Ph.D in History from UCLA in Los Angeles, California in four fields: Middle East, Russia, Caucasus, and a specialized sub-field in Cultural Anthropology focusing on tribes and clans.