Despite the efforts of international coalitions, ISIS is reemerging in Syria. The protests against French President Emmanuel Macron around the Muslim world are only exacerbating their progress further as the terrorists leverage religious anger at the West for propaganda value.
Macron’s Fight Against Islamism
The situation continues to be highly volatile in the Arab world and throughout the Middle East. After the egregious murder of a French teacher for showing a cartoon of the Prophet Muhammad in class, Macron pledged to fight Islamism harder than ever before. It did not surprise that he demonstratively said the Mohammed cartoons are under the protection of freedom of expression, one of the core Western values.
The reactions across the Muslim world were furious, and there were mass demonstrations around the world.
In Syria, local Muslims organized an anti-Macron demonstration in Sari Kani (Ras al-Ain), a city currently controlled by Turkey-backed jihadists, and flags similar to that of ISIS were reportedly present.
It is not a coincidence. ISIS is using the outrage of the Muslim world to reposition itself and is – in Syria – met with partial approval, it appears.
Radical Islamists Still Have Significant Footholds in Syria
Even in the last rebel stronghold, Idlib, anger is boiling up. The province in northeast Syria is also under the control of Radical Islamists.
Syrian Kurds rose against Syrian leader Bashar al Assad here in 2011. A year later, they fought back the Islamists of the Nusra Front. Years in Kurdish self-government followed. However, at the end of 2019 – and after the US withdrawal under President Donald Trump, Turkish troops invaded the small town with Islamist militias’ support.
By now, Turkish units have taken up positions in several observation posts in the area. Ankara military vehicles patrol the province, keeping Assad’s troops at bay. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan holds a protective hand over Idlib. Otherwise, the Islamists would have no chance against the Syrian and Russian overwhelming power.
Erdogan’s Encouragement of Militant Islam
The Islamists have long since gained a foothold in the Turkish-occupied border strip between Tal Abyad and Ras al-Ain in northeast Syria. Most of the Kurdish residents have fled. Instead, Arab Sunnis from Eastern Ghouta, Deir Ezzour, and Aleppo now live here. Erdogan settled them here: a population exchange at the expense of the Kurds.
The result is an Islamist militia Jaish al-Islam which maintains approximately 1,000 fighters in Ras al-Ain alone.
Moreover, four other extremist groups and thus the perfect breeding ground for ISIS are rising in other areas such as Raqqa. Some analysts report that these developments are all with Turkey’s approval.
ISIS Cells are Attacking Once Again
Thus, it is not a surprise that ISIS cells are again carrying out attacks in other regions of Syria, often from ambush. Hardly a day goes by without a new attack.
It is not easy to estimate how many followers ISIS still has in this region. With targeted needle pricks, they seek to spread fear and terror, no longer just in the desert between Iraq and Syria, but also along the Euphrates River in the area of Kurdish self-government.
Many ISIS supporters who were held in Kurdish prisons or camps were able to flee or were released because the self-government was hopelessly overwhelmed with their care. They are now gaining a foothold in the region again.
A study by the Center for Global Policy in Washington displays the impact the terrorists have had. Until April, ISIS carried out an attack every three days.
Funding is Still Flowing to ISIS
Moreover, money is not an issue for the terrorists. Large parts of its finances were saved when the so-called calipate collapsed.
Money is also used to attract recruits who want to fight for ISIS. However, ISIS terrorists also enforce “Islamic State” laws in the region again. For example, business owners in Kurdish cities are told not to employ women. Any business violating the rule can expect a swift attack.
The comeback of the terrorists in Syria has already happened and is increasing. It does not bode well for the region or the world.