In the worst attack on US soil since 9/11/01, ISIS has directly or indirectly claimed the lives of 49 and injured another 53 in Orlando. The transgression of the dead? They had the nerve to attend a club frequented by gays and be American. Of course, Obama in typical fashion refused to call it Islamic terrorism and used the incident to once again sing the virtues of gun control because we all know that if we had stringent controls on gun purchases, terrorists would put their tails between their legs and slink on home.
But, that is not what this article is about. This is about ISIS which is unlike any terrorist group before. We know their depravity knows no bounds. Whether it is the videotaped beheading of those they capture, burning them alive in cages, dropping them in vats of nitric acid, or tying them to trees and having hungry dogs maul them to death, they never cease to amaze. Of course when you enforce Sharia law to the letter, throwing homosexuals off buildings and stoning alleged adulterers is just another day in the caliphate.
It is not only the depravity that the West must confront, but also their intelligence. In 2014, ISIS killed Abu Khalid al-Suri, a top emissary for al-Queda in Syria after infiltrating that group. A rebel commander was kidnapped by his Turkish driver (an ISIS infiltrator) and slaughtered. ISIS had also infiltrated the activist group Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently by posing as a supporter and killing one one of their leader in Turkey.
These are not the actions of your garden variety Islamic terrorist group. They are far-sighted, patient and not rash to act. And it is happening not only in Syria and Iraq, but also in Europe and the United States. Unlike al-Queda, they have the ability not only act, but to react.
There have been several ISIS defectors and their story has one similarity- ISIS is smart and has built up a system of sleeper cells throughout the world ready to strike without warning. It works like this: after recruitment and period of radicalization, the members are then sent to prospective target countries where they basically stay below the radar. During this period, plans are devised, weapons amassed, plans tinkered with and adjusted. Then without warning the plans are carried out. There is no “command” from ISIS and no “chatter” to be heard. After the London attacks, British intelligence warned that this was a growing threat. Only the United States had sounded similar alarms, but they went unheeded in Europe. In a classic case of European elitism, they dismissed US warnings as “going overboard.”
It is estimated that 5000-6000 Europeans went to Syria to fight for ISIS. Of these, about 15% were killed in action. More ominously, 25-50% have returned to Europe. Of course, not all are willing to carry out attacks in their home countries. But whereas al-Queda had about 200 people deployed worldwide, ISIS has at least 2,000. It is not just the returnees, but also the ISIS sympathizers and we have no idea of their number. From Paris to Brussels to San Bernardino to Orlando, these were people who “hid” in plain sight.
Earlier this year, German authorities arrested a man called Harry S. who had gone to Syria to fight alongside ISIS. He has been a treasure trove of information for authorities ever since. Upon his arrival, on at least three occasions he was asked whether he would be willing to perpetrate acts on German soil. Although he and others begged off the question, he notes it was consistent among other Europeans he knew in Syria.
The acts of ISIS are not those of some apocalyptic extremists. Whatever ISIS does whether it is conquering cities or whole territories, it does so after thorough preparation and when the chances of success seem the greatest. When under attack in Fallujah, they resorted to coordinated and deadly attacks in Baghdad itself. They have a history of infiltrating opposition forces and even journalistic organizations and then assassinate leaders. The killers are usually close confidantes of the dead. They have infiltrated the very closed leadership ranks of the Kurdish fighting forces. If they can do that, there is no doubt they have cells throughout Europe and the United States.
They are now targeting the West because it bears more benefits than costs. Europe is particularly vulnerable due to the huge influx of refugees and the number of Europeans who have gone to Syria.
The problem is that we are treating ISIS like al-Queda. The former group from the attacks at Luxor, Egypt to the 9/11 attacks were designed to bring down Arab regimes or the United States itself. It resulted in an Egyptian crackdown and driving the Taliban out of Afghanistan. Al-Queda believed the masses would rise up and establish an Islamic Utopia, but it never happened. They never had a plan to control territory, let alone a single city, nor the means to sustain revenue sources.
ISIS planned a state from the beginning- the caliphate. There were no attacks in the West because the theory was that they intended to establish this territorial caliphate. They were perceived as weak in that regard; take the territory and you break them. Born in Iraq, ISIS managed to transform into a Mafia-like organization extorting at least $12 million a month from Mosul alone. When authority collapsed in neighboring Syria, they saw their chance and expanded in brutal fashion.
In effect, ISIS reflects the mantra “baqiya wa tatamaddad-” remain and expand. Terror attacks were only one part of the strategy. The attacks are meant as a response to Western airstrikes, to prove the vulnerability of those attacked, to help recruit and underline their omnipotence. But what they have done in this interval is convince the West that a ground attack would be futile and deadly. They have so expanded their reach into sub-Sahara Africa, Libya and elsewhere that as they are defeated in one place, they expand and thrive in another.
Regardless, any ground attack would likely have to include the Russians and that would be depicted as support for Assad. Then ISIS would portray themselves as the last protector of Sunni Muslims. For the United States, ISIS’ opponent in Syria is the Kurds who happen to be the enemy of another US ally, Turkey. In Iraq, the enemy of ISIS is also an enemy of the US, Iran.
There have been some successes against ISIS, but the inevitable aftermath is what will allow ISIS to persevere. Obviously, apocalyptic destruction is not their goal. A caliphate or state is the goal. It explains why they avoid blowing up grain silos in areas conquered. They are not al-Queda, but something entirely different with a long-term goal and lots of death along the way. They are a fighting army, an intelligence service, and racketeers, but above all they’re pissed Islam lost the Battle of Vienna in the 17th century. They are not open to negotiation and have no political strategy. They will not transform into a political group.
We are told that a very small minority of the Muslim world supports ISIS. Well, a “very small minority” of over 1 billion people is still a lot of people. And that is the scariest part.