After its recent defeat in Mosul, Dr Dave Sloggett asks have we seen the back of Islamic State?
Since the attack at the Finsbury Park Mosque by a lone individual claiming to have connections to the Extreme Right Wing, the rate of terrorist attacks has, mercifully, tailed off. Across Europe where attacks in France, Belgium, Germany and Russia had become almost commonplace it appears so-called Islamic State (IS) is not getting the same level of traction it had previously enjoyed.
But does that mean that with its obvious defeat in Mosul in Iraq and its impending loss of its capital city in Raqqa that IS can be written off? Another chapter in the grizzly tale of terrorism consigned to the bloody bucket of history. Or is that far too simplistic a view?
Things have clearly not been going well for IS of late. Rumours, spread by the Russians, they they had killed Abu Bakr-al-Baghdadi (the leader of IS) when he was attending a meeting in Dier ez-Zor seem to have proven false. In an era when fake news is often associated with Russian propaganda that is hardly a surprise.
Sadly, in the international fight against Islamic extremism there is no room for false news and rumours. The Russia’s have to learn there is a difference in what they do day-to-day to try and split NATO and the European Union and what they claim they are contributing to the international effort to defeat Islamic extremism. In the latter, it simply does not help at all to tell lies. President Putin please take note.
The situation that IS faces is clearly really difficult. Its finances are drying up. Concerted efforts by the international community to track and freeze funds are finally bearing fruit. Even the United Kingdom is now naming and shaming organisations that are being used as a conduit for money going through what appears to be charity routes into the pockets of IS.
Its calls for action are also becoming increasingly desperate. In recent comments in both its weekly publication and the more formal Rumiyah magazine – which is a mouthpiece that many acolytes of IS read avidly, the emphasis has moved from the sophisticated attack to the simple. Praising the efforts of Oussama Zariouh, a thirty-six-year-old man who was shot and killed by Belgium police as he attempted to detonate a bomb at Brussels main transit hub on 20 June this year.
So pitiful was his attempt to create mass casualties that only he died. His efforts barely being mentioned in the mainstream media in the United Kingdom. But is this a new trend that we are likely to see emerge? Might we see more amateur attacks of a similar nature? And might so of them get lucky and kill large numbers of people?
The problem for the authorities is that while the ideology of IS exists, and crushing an idea is quite difficult, there will be those adherents and acolytes that will seek some fame from their otherwise humdrum lives in conducting an attack and claiming in some way it was linked to the wider struggle against the west. Such a narrative is easy for anyone with a grievance against western values and beliefs to develop. Especially those that have prior vulnerabilities.
The simple answer is that while IS has been struggling it is far from being removed as a threat. Many of its foreign fighters have left Iraq and Syria and via a range of quite innovative routes are now trying to make their way back to their home countries or to new locations, such as in Libya or in Afghanistan, where IS hopes to keep the candle of Islamic extremism alive. In Afghanistan, the arrival of fighters from Iraq – using routes through Iran – is already having an additional de-stabilising effect.
Steady progress in creating a more secure Afghanistan had been made over the last three years. That is now put at risk as fighters enter the country determined to continue their efforts to attack the west. It has to be remembered that the original plan for 11 September was hatched in Afghanistan. It would be somewhat of an irony that years later, after vast expenditure of blood and treasure, that became the source of yet another major iconic attack in the west.
Of one thing, there is no doubt. The narrative of IS still resonates with potential recruits and acolytes in the west. With the United Kingdom Security Services admitting that they have a list of up to 23,000 people of whom they have justified concerns about their actions and intent the problem of Islamic extremism – with all its potential to ignite violent racially motivated revenge attacks – lives on.
In her address to the annual Lord Mayor’s defence and security lecture at Mansion House in London on 20 July the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police adopted a sombre tone. Listing what she termed as the “ghastly” series of attacks that have occurred in London and Manchester that had left thirty-six people dead she noted that since March this year, the tempo has changed”. Adding that “progress on the ground in Syria and Iraq does not translate into a reduction in threat here”. Her assessment contrasts markedly with the mood music emerging from leading political leaders in Iraq.
Since June 2013 Ms Dick noted that thirteen lethal plots had been disrupted in the United Kingdom. These actions by the Security Services has seen three hundred and forty people suspects detained in the last two years and over one thousand people entering programmes developed as part of the Government’s much criticised ‘Prevent’ programme since 2012.
These statistics alone make difficult reading. The threat from Islamic extremism appears to be as clear as it has been for some time. Those minded to claim that its destruction in Mosul will see and downturn in attacks in the west need to think again. While the threat may change, with the balance of attacks being undertaken by the amateur, it can still be deadly.
A look at the simplicity of the attack that killed five people on Westminster Bridge in the afternoon of 22 March shows the complex nature of the problem. An individual, driving a car, managed to bring an end to the relative calm that had existed in the United Kingdom since the attempt to detonate bombs at Glasgow Airport on June 30, 2007. A period of nearly ten years.
That fact alone demonstrates the enduring nature of the threat from Islamic extremism. Despite the recent set-backs it is not about to go away overnight. For the emergency services in the United Kingdom it is a question now of being ever vigilant. While London and Manchester have been the focus of Islamic State’s recent efforts its call for anyone to become involved in any way at any location means that ‘Martini’ terrorism is alive and well and could be hatching its next plot in your back-yard.