The ISIS ‘Storm’ and policy implications
Drone attacks to target ISIS leaders is not going to deter ISIS one iota
ISIS attacks in Paris, Beirut, Iraq, in the past weeks, and about two weeks ago against a Russian airliner in the Sinai are all spectacular attacks against regional countries and international powers under the guise of ISIS’s “Storm” operation.
The attacks of late carry the hallmark and lessons learned of violent extremists who have launched successful attacks not only in Mumbai (2008) but also Chechen terrorist attacks against a hospital in Budennovsk (1995), a theater Nord-Ost (2002), and a school in Beslan (2004). The Westgate Mall Attack (2013) by Al-Shabaab in Kenya is also notable for its viciousness. The summation of this violence is now seen.
ISIS’s Storm is about sending waves of fighters and target commercial aviation to exacerbate tensions in key countries and arenas. In Paris, the attacks focused on gathering places including a stadium, restaurants, and bars. In Beirut, the suicide bombings targeted a Palestinian refugee camp in a Shiite zone of Lebanon’s capital. The targets in Iraq also focused on Shiite pilgrims. Of course, Metrojet flight 9268, brought down by what appears to be an ISIS bomb, killed Russian citizens.
Let’s also note that Boko Haram, who pledged allegiance to ISIS is on a roll in Cameroon, Chad, and Niger in the past few weeks including the deploying female suicide bombers. This wave from Western Africa is meant to destabilize North Africa. Combined with ISIS’ province in Libya, a multi-prong push is obvious.
Thus, ISIS’s Storm is found in the group’s recent statements that, I believe, were not taken seriously by intelligence officials or analysts of ISIS. This lack of reading and analysis is tragic and cannot be repeated again. Electronic monitoring may not have picked up any traffic regarding potential attacks. It may be that ISIS is using better encrypted messaging platforms or had possibly gone back to the old way of face to face communications. Drone attacks to target ISIS leaders is not going to deter ISIS one iota.
Let’s be clear: the recent release of two ISIS messages to the world show the group’s intent. ISIS’s Russian language “Soon Very Soon” video clearly showed threats to Russia and to Europe:
These are our words
In your major cities
We will corner you.
You won’t be able to escape.
Nor spread your corruption.
You will live a life of humiliation
Only from now on.
In the hereafter,
Hellfire awaits you.
Hellfire is an important word: In connotes the end times, part of ISIS’s horrific apocalyptic outlook. The ISIS claim on the Paris attacks specifically target the UK and other countries in the same violent language including Rome.
The Rome threat is not new. In February 2015, “A Message to France” that threatens not only Paris but all French speakers and also Belgium, and “A Message Signed in Blood to the Nation of the Cross” targeting Christians, significantly France and Italy and especially Copts, was a clear warning. The execution of 21 Egyptian Copts in one of the videos repeated in the “Soon Very Soon” video. In August, a Croatian national was beheaded by ISIS who worked for a French company in Egypt. What is clear is that there is warning of coming attacks and there needs to be more serious analysis of these pronouncements.
Drone attacks to target ISIS leaders is not going to deter ISIS one iota.Dr. Theodore Karasik
These attacks are meant to inflame and incense communities and their respective governments to attack ISIS in their heartlands, which are spread out from the Levant to other geographical areas where ISIS has a strong and growing presence. The reach is impressive because of the air-borne nature of ISIS ideology from Africa to Southeast Asia to Europe and Eurasia. This is what I call “the splatter effect” where continued aerial bombing and ground attacks by Russian and American-led forces through Operation Inherent Resolve are sending new waves of assailants with the dissemination of orders to conduct heinous attacks. Unfortunately, more attacks are likely imminent as the ability for ISIS to spread its message to its anti-social, anti-civilization base is strong and robust.
The splatter effect is not new. In June 2015, the violence 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 sent 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 even before the events of the last few days. Thus, the latest attacks are not a shift in tactics. They are an ongoing Storm that requires new thinking and action.
What are the current requirements to fight this scourge? International cooperation including more regional assistance in drawing up a dragnet to track individuals of interest. Monitoring of social media helps immensely but with new encrypted communication technologies is making it more difficult for intelligence and law enforcement to monitor everyone in their two way communications. If ISIS is now using word of mouth to help inspire cell formation and ISR (intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance), the job is crystal clear: Act now on issues such as migration, border control, and most importantly, pay close attention to what ISIS is saying. We know the targets, we know the means and the motives, so why not act on them in a robust manner. A new, international gold standard for security and intelligence needs to be the new norm besides kinetic options.
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.
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