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ISIS leader’s latest threats reveal plans for 2016

While many of us see the change of year as “turning over a new leaf,” ISIS may do the same

Dr. Theodore Karasik

Published: Updated:

I believe that ISIS is looking forward to the Gregorian New Year. The dozens of videos released by multiple arms of the ISIS media empire in the past weeks, capped with ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s audio speech a few days ago, all point to the current state of ISIS and its plans and objectives for 2016. It is almost as if ISIS is conducting an end of year report to see where it’s Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) are and what comes next on its horizon.

Yes, ISIS is getting hammered in the Levant relentlessly by a combination of the U.S.-led Operation Inherent Resolve and Russian strikes. To boot, former stronghold Ramadi was recaptured by Iraqi security forces, with Mosul next on the Iraqi list to roll back ISIS. Other anti-ISIS operations and tactics are notable for destroying ISIS’s economy and seizing strategic chokepoints. Baghdadi implied that he acknowledges setbacks, as his followers “may find more adversity” which perhaps only gives them more resolve. This type of comment sounds like ISIS is beginning to suffer.

This good news needs to be balanced by the bad news: ISIS is still going strong in the information sphere, including its eschatological outlook, as well as in its regional and global plans for disruption. Baghdadi’s taunts America and allies who are afraid to put boots on the ground against ISIS to fight because of “what waits in Dabiq and Ghouta,” which is a reference to what the leader describes as the “Final Battle.” This type of language plays well with ISIS’ audience, wherever they may be.

Running rampant

To be sure, ISIS is following its script announced in 2014 to expand in the Levant into the upper tier of the Arabian Peninsula by 2019. These heathens still run rampant and firmly believe in their stated goals.

While many of us see the change of year as “turning over a new leaf,” ISIS may do the same

Theodore Karasik

ISIS wants to destabilize Lebanon, Israel, Jordan and Gulf states. The messaging is clear: ISIS is continuing to challenge its enemies near and far. Baghdadi’s threats should be taken seriously as we enter 2016.

In addition, ISIS’s branches, notably the Sinai and Libyan outfits, are still active and are seemingly not planning on degrading their capabilities in the new year. In addition, ISIS is energetic in other parts of North Africa, Yemen and in Afghanistan where shifting religio-political alliances are omnipresent against al-Qaeda affiliates and brigades and the Taliban’s many sub-divisions. Let’s remember that there are close to 40 ISIS affiliates globally with millions of adherents and believers around the world. The new year may ring in with more troubling and disturbing terror attacks in the name of uncivilized group.

ISIS’s media is teasing and taunting its enemy to come to fight their “final battle.” But first, ISIS wants to show its global reach with zeal. Baghdadi’s warning to nations taking part in the war against ISIS was a call to his followers — from cells, to lone wolves, to bedroom jihadists – to target landmarks and crowds in dozens of countries across the world. The abundance of potential targets is based on the haunting patterns of numerous 2015 attacks – Paris, San Bernardino, Beirut, Ankara and Baghdad stand out. The threat is real, and the requirement for international, regional, and local cooperation is truly necessary and will be tested again and again in perhaps unexpected places in 2016.

Overall, ISIS isn’t going away anytime soon, with or without Baghdadi. The level of ISIS’s destructiveness, to force confrontations across the world, indicates that 2016 is likely to be more chaotic than 2015. ISIS is an airborne disease and still remains robust as the movement enters into a new combative and aggressive phase. While many of us see the change of year as “turning over a new leaf,” ISIS may do the same.

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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.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.