by Ari Lieberman
Why the terrorist group is ramping up its attacks on soft targets.
Just a year ago, ISIS (aka ISIL, aka Daesh) was on the offensive. In Iraq, the group had solidified its hold over Al-Anbar province by securing the predominantly Sunni city of Ramadi and was threatening Baghdad. Some twenty-thousand Iraqi soldiers fled in the face of just 3,000 ISIS fighters. In Syria, ISIS had captured the ancient city of Palmyra, a UNESCO heritage site and also secured nearby gas fields. Like their Iraqi kinsmen, the Syrian army was in full retreat. It seemed that no Arab army was capable of confronting the Islamic State.
The situation today is markedly different. In Anbar province, the Iraqi army backed by various Shiite militias is pressing its assault against the ISIS-held city of Fallujah, highlighting the sectarian nature of the fighting. In eastern Syria, Syrian forces backed by Russian airpower, have retaken Palmyra and are now gearing up for an offensive against the ISIS stronghold Al-Raqqah, considered to be the Islamist group’s capital.
Meanwhile, Kurdish Peshmerga troops backed by U.S. Special Forces continue to score victories against ISIS and coalition aircraft led by the U.S. have been relentlessly pummeling ISIS targets. The Islamic State is being squeezed from all sides and its future is uncertain. So desperate is its predicament that the group has reportedly been murdering many of its own members on suspicion of spying for “infidel” forces.
But it would be a grave mistake to write ISIS off just yet. In fact, as the Islamic State continues to lose ground and becomes more desperate, we can expect concerted efforts by the group to unleash terror attacks on soft targets throughout Europe and the United States, similar to the Paris and San Bernardino attacks that claimed the lives of 130 and 14 people respectively. Though achieving tactically little, these acts of terror sow fear, disrupt daily normal life, draw Jihadist recruits and most importantly, make the group relevant.
Recent reversals experienced by the Islamic State have not dulled their hatred of the West and thirst for gore. In April, the group published a 39-page list of thousands of individuals, along with their personal information, and announced that they were to be targeted for assassination. The hit list was published on an ISIS-affiliated Twitter account but the account was shut down by Twitter soon after.
Authorities are still investigating how such sensitive personal information, containing names and addresses, ended up in the hands of one of the world’s most brutal terrorist organizations but the disturbing development underscores the lengths to which ISIS will go to strike terror. It also underscores the need to carefully monitor social media, a tool terrorists have used effectively in the past to disseminate Jihadist propaganda.
In addition, the breach highlights the need for more effective cyber security. The incident should serve as a warning to agencies maintaining sensitive databases to review their security protocols and mechanisms by which they safeguard their data.
Most importantly, the United States needs to rapidly address the decrepit state of its porous borders. Western Europe has thus far been the focal point of Jihadist attacks principally due to two factors – the existence of a high concentration of Muslims, many of whom are radicalized and a pathetic lack of border controls. The current Muslim migrant influx, which includes an extraordinarily high percentage of young males, has only added to the problem. In the United States, the situation is not as acute but still poses a credible threat that mandates immediate remedial action.
President Obama has promised that those “refugees” allowed to enter the U.S. will be thoroughly vetted but that claim rings hollow in light of the San Bernardino experience. Tashfeen Malik, Seyd Farook’s partner in crime and Pakistani Jihadi bride, entered the U.S. on a K-1 (fiancée) visa and underwent two separate screenings by Homeland Security and the State Department before being granted a visa and underwent a third before obtaining her green card. But Malik had expressed pro-terrorist, anti-American rants on social media and these went unnoticed by immigration and Homeland Security officials despite the so-called "rigorous vetting process."
In addition, there have been repeated cases of Syrian “refugees” turning up on the Mexican border. In one case, five Syrians trying to make their way to the U.S. were detained in Honduras and had in their possession stolen Greek passports. Despite these disturbing developments, the Democratic presumptive nominee Hillary Clinton has stated that she would allow some 65,000 Syrian “refugees” to enter the United States. At least two members of the Islamic terrorist cell that carried out the bloody Paris attacks gained access by posing as Syrian refugees.
The Islamic State and other global Jihadist groups consider the United States their number one enemy and will spare no effort to harm Americans. The published list of NJ law enforcement officials is the latest in series of nefarious attempts by the group to harm U.S. citizens. As ISIS becomes more desperate due to its recent battlefield misfortunes, it will attempt to strike out at the U.S. making it incumbent upon policy makers to ensure that securing the borders becomes a national priority. Unfortunately, the Democratic leadership has utterly failed to appreciate the clear and present danger and is moving in the opposite direction.
Ari Lieberman is an attorney and former prosecutor who has authored numerous articles and publications on matters concerning the Middle East and is considered an authority on geo-political and military developments affecting the region.
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