The Levant Exclusive – By Dr.Amer Al Sabaileh –
The launch of the airstrikes against IS marks a turning point and a long road ahead for the region, full of new and complex challenges.
The focus of the fight against regional terrorism on IS has increased global coverage highlighting a shift in the stereotypical image of middle eastern terrorist. New members from non-Muslim countries, people who look and speak like native western citizens are increasing. While this globalization of Islamic terrorists is concerning for many reasons, the immediate implication is that these new recruits can also travel and move with the freedom of western citizens due to their citizenship and passports.
This increase in recruits from outside the region is not the only strategy for growth. IS has also co-opted the Al Qaeda end-game of creating a Caliphate. This serves to invite disparate Al Qaeda cells into the IS network, as it grows in power and stature, while Al Qaeda has been crippled in recent years.
IS is clearly implementing a growth strategy , but more importantly it is seeking expansion of influence and the geographical expansion of the declared Caliphate. By tapping into the decentralized network of Al Qaeda cells, IS can expand with well trained and widespread recruits to push out of the limited areas of Syria and Iraq.
The next stage will be to connect up with Islamic terrorist groups from Asia to Africa. We are already seeing the beginnings of this phenomenon with Ansar Bait al-Maqdis in Egypt declaring loyalty to IS. We are likely to see more of this as the IS expansion strategy continues.
In addition to trained and organized groups and cells, we are seeing more individual or ‘lone wolf’ attacks. With a region suffering from political tensions, extremists ideologies, difficult economic situations, failed integration policies and growing concerns around lack of political representation amongst citizens, there is a growing disaffected community for IS to encourage. Lone wolf attacks are notoriously difficult to defend against. They are simple and often do not create the chatter or triggers for intelligence and security forces to pick up on prior to the attack.
Unfortunately there are too many players using the instability caused to leverage political ends. At the moment, the US is ignoring the situation in Libya as the instability there could be used to influence politics in Egypt.
Countries like Iran, Syria and Russia continue to be excluded from the strategy in combating terrorism in the region for political reasons. Meanwhile, some of the countries who fund and facilitate some of these groups are part of the alliance and the countries creating the bulk of the people turning to terrorism in the first place are not being addressed either.
With the challenges the world is currently facing, we should be focused on adopting a strategy that combats terrorism by recognizing its causes and influence. If the world continues to use terrorism for politicking then we cannot effectively combat an increasingly sophisticated network of terrorists.