Although the Islamic State’s Caliphate has been destroyed and its terrorist fighters having largely retreated underground, the group remains dangerous and ready to strike – albeit via different means.
Current Status of ISIS
ISIS was decisively defeated by an American-led international coalition, and their rein of destruction across Syria and Iraq has come to an end. The group has lost enormous financial, arms and training capability with the loss of its territory.
Many in the region who may have been inclined to join the group in earlier years had their fascination disappear with the humiliating defeat, but it is also clear that ISIS’ ability to recruit new members and organize new fighting units and battle plans has been severely degraded.
The result is a far-reaching withdrawal from both Iraq and Syria and ISIS’ loss of the ability to conduct sophisticated operations. According to reliable estimates, approximately 3,500 ISIS terrorists remain in Iraq, and a maximum of 4,000 remain in Syria.
Report: ISIS is Out of Heavy Weapons
ISIS continues to try to obtain weapons, but recently published research indicates that the organization possesses only light weapons, and has no way to obtain weapons of mass destruction. Particularly since ISIS’ financial transactions are constantly monitored and due to the subsequent loss of its financial network over the years, these acquisitions have become virtually impossible.
Its options to conduct terror attacks are also accordingly limited. Mostly they are carried out by small, mobile groups, usually no more than ten people. In addition, these attacks mainly take place in remote regions outside the cities. Usually, the focus is on fast, rather simplistic attacks.
Make No Mistake: ISIS is Still a Threat
Nevertheless, there is no reason to give the all-clear on the threat posed by ISIS. For example, elsewhere, in Europe, ISIS remains active. It has just changed its tactics.
Even in Europe, the organization is no longer capable of large-scale operations, nor can it rely on trusted members trained in the military with substantial combat experience. However, smaller attacks by individual perpetrators, such as recently in Vienna or Nice, are unfortunately still possible and even likely.
ISIS also uses these actions to show that it is still present and that it can still strike. In doing so, it is explicitly looking for new motives for mobilization and provocation that will bring in recruits, for example, the discussion about the Mohammed caricatures that led to protests and controversy in France after a school teacher was beheaded for displaying the cartoons as part of a class debate on free speech.
The ISIS Recruitment Pipeline
Often, no particular effort is required for recruiting new fighters other than a few “inspiring” videos for future terrorists. This cyber recruitment is even more practicable and often more effective than the work of extremist Qur’anic academies schools or extremist groups that are formed around a few mosques and run by like-minded preachers. This form of onlie radicalization often goes unnoticed.
In addition, ISIS is now growing its presence in Africa. In West and North Africa in particular, ISIS is currently strengthening its capabilities. Above all, tge group is making use of the chaos in Libya to grow its numbers and strategic strength. In addition to ideological mobilization, ISIS is primarily concerned with expanding smuggling routes to sub-Saharan Africa.
Although al-Qaeda currently has a more significant influence in the region, it can be assumed that ISIS’ activities in West Africa will increase despite the efforts made to counter them, and that ISIS will remain a credible threat in and outside Europe for the foreseeable future.