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  • Author: James M Dorsey, Raffaello Pantucci, Bilveer Singh, Noor Huda Ismail
  • Publication Date: 03-2020
  • Content Type: Journal Article
  • Journal: Counter Terrorist Trends and Analysis
  • Institution: Centre for Non-Traditional Security Studies, S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies
  • Abstract: The high-profile assassination of General Qassim Soleimani, the commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Quds Force (QF), on January 3 in Baghdad marked the lowest point in US-Iran relations in recent times. It triggered a new spell of geopolitical tensions in the Middle East with far-reaching consequences for South and Southeast Asia. Soleimani’s killing has also coincided with the potential rejuvenation of the Islamic State (IS), and ongoing anti-government protests in Iraq, Iran and Lebanon. Soleimani’s killing was bound to have reverberations beyond the Middle East. Muslim-majority states in South and Southeast Asia, where both Saudi Arabia and Iran have engaged in sectarian proxy wars by funding and influencing the Sunni and Shia segments of the population. While states in both regions have condemned Soleimani’s killing, they have stayed largely neutral to avoid getting sucked into rising geopolitical tensions. Against this backdrop, the March issue of the Counter Terrorists Trends and Analyses (CTTA) features three articles that explore different dimensions of Soleimani’s death and their geopolitical implications. In the first article, James M. Dorsey argues that as US-Iran tensions have eased in recent months, Iranian hardliners, emboldened by a sweeping mandate earned in recent domestic elections, remain committed to a well-honed strategy of escalating asymmetric warfare. According to the author, this raises the prospects for a full-scale war, with the United States also still pursuing a maximum pressure campaign on Iran that has to date, yet to produce tangible results. In the second article, Raffaello Pantucci reasons that despite a general consensus that the US-Iran rupture will ease pressure on transnational jihadist groups in the Middle East theatre, it remains unclear how Soleimani’s killing will shape their future behaviour. On the one hand, Iran-backed Shia militias are likely to step up their operations, which will exacerbate sectarian fault-lines in the region and feed into IS’ self-portrayal as the saviours of Sunnis. Conversely, pragmatism continues to define interactions between Tehran and Sunni jihadist groups such as the Islamic State and Al Qaeda, who appear happy to cooperate to ensure broader strategic goals. Next, Bilveer Singh examines the implications of Soleimani’s assassination for South and Southeast Asia. regions where both Iran and Saudi Arabia enjoy ideological influence among the Muslim-majority states. Sunni Malaysia and Indonesia have reservations about Tehran, but domestic political pressures are likely to endear Iran to them more than the US. The impact in South Asia could be more varied, mostly affecting Afghanistan and Pakistan. Iran through its Shia militant proxies can undermine US interests in Afghanistan. The QF has also recruited significant Shia militias in Afghanistan and Pakistan respectively for operations in Syria. Moreover, Pakistan has to walk a tight rope given Iran has an inside track to its significant Shia population. Besides cross and intra-regional assessments of Soleimani’s assassination within the broader US-Iran fissures, the threat landscapes in Indonesia and West Africa, both long-time hotbeds for terrorist activity in their respective regions, are also examined in this issue. Firstly, Noor Huda Ismail takes a closer look at pro-IS terrorist networks in Indonesia, a country that is home to the world’s largest Muslim population. By examining the background, tactics and modus operandi of local terrorist groups, both online and offline, and comparing their legacy with those of previous militant Islamist movements, the author believes important learning lessons can be drawn to help mitigate future security threats. Finally, Atta Barkindo analyses the jihadist threat in the Sahel region, where a landscape conducive to terrorist activities provides the fertile ground for IS and Al-Qaeda to grow by linking up with local militant networks. The tactical sophistication exhibited in terrorist attacks by Sahelian jihadist groups, particularly in Nigeria and the Lake Chad region, testifies to a growing footprint of global jihadism. Sahel provides an arterial life-line through the region, by facilitating the movement of goods and people between the Mediterranean and West Africa, which has been enormously beneficial to terrorist groups involved in organised criminal enterprises. Moreover, desertification and environmental degradation have also created a conducive environment for criminal activities and terrorism.
  • Topic: Security, Terrorism, Bilateral Relations, Counter-terrorism, Al Qaeda, Islamic State, Protests
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Iran, Middle East, Lebanon, Southeast Asia, United States of America
  • Author: Syed Huzaifah Bin Othman Alkaff, Natasha Quek, Md. Didarul Islam, Naman Rawat
  • Publication Date: 05-2019
  • Content Type: Journal Article
  • Journal: Counter Terrorist Trends and Analysis
  • Institution: Centre for Non-Traditional Security Studies, S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies
  • Abstract: The Islamic State’s (IS) territorial defeat reflects a shift in the epicentre of violence from Iraq and Syria to the peripheries (countries with an active presence of IS cells or other insurgent and terrorist threats). In the study of terrorism and insurgency, age-old threats can persist while new threats are always emerging, either due to policy shifts that give rise to new opportunities for insurgents to exploit, or due to changes in the political climate of societies. As such, the May issue deals with three key thematic challenges in a post-IS threat landscape. First, it looks at returning foreign terrorist fighters (FTFs), who after IS’ territorial defeat have either traveled to or attempted to return to their home countries. According to the United Nations (UN) more than 40,000 FTFs from 110 countries had traveled to Iraq and Syria to join IS. The return of segments of the FTFs indicates escalation of threats in their home countries as they come armed with operational skills and could possibly regroup, establish local cells and engage in violence. In this case, a high number of FTFs travelled to Iraq and Syria from Tunisia despite the country’s peaceful transition towards a participatory democracy, in the aftermath of the 2011 Arab uprisings. Second, in order to deal with the shifting threat landscape, it is necessary to develop new and strengthen existing de-radicalisation programmes. De-radicalisation is a smaller part of broader counter-terrorism and counter-radicalisation efforts that focus on terrorists or returning FTFs in custody. Effective de-radicalisation programmes will provide detainees with opportunities to reintegrate back into the society by rejecting violence and promoting peaceful coexistence. This issue critically evaluates de-radicalisation as a concept and specific programmes in Yemen, Pakistan, Indonesia and Saudi Arabia, while extoling the need for holistic approaches for effective outcomes. Lastly, beyond the Islamist extremist threat emanating from IS and other affiliated or local groups, other non-Islamist threats continue to persist. This includes far-right extremists gaining traction and engaging in violence in parts of United States, Europe, Australia and New Zealand. In addition, ethno-separatist groups (Baloch Liberation Army in Pakistan) and communist groups (The New People’s Army in Philippines and the Naxalites in India) also have a strong support structure and operational presence. According to the Global Terrorism Index, the Communist Party of India (Maoist) or Naxalites killed 205 people in 190 different incidents across 2018. This issue specifically delves into the Naxalite insurgency in India, which has evolved from a mass-mobilisation movement to a militant insurgency over the last few decades. The article advocates for institutional reforms to address various grievances to reduce the agency to violence. In the first article, Natasha Quek and Syed Huzaifah Bin Othman Alkaff explore the causal factors behind Tunisia contributing one of the highest numbers of FTFs in theatres of conflict in the Middle East and beyond. The authors contend that the proliferation of Tunisian FTFs and surge in jihadist-linked violence domestically in recent years, poses a threat to long term stability, and could also fuel conflict in the wider region. Tunisia’s strong history of secularism provides an advantage, as the government can rely on a robust civil society rather than adopt a purely security-based approach. However, additional policy responses are needed to curtail jihadist activities and safeguard the country’s democratic achievements. Md. Didarul Islam then assesses various definitional aspects and theoretical models of de-radicalisation programmes. The author further provides observations on the gains, limitations and local context of de-radicalisation programmes, gleaned from four country case studies, which suggest that effective de-radicalisation of individuals necessitates a holistic approach focused on three key areas: (i) re-education or ideological interventions; (ii) vocational training or financial support; (iii) and a viable reintegration environment. Isolated approaches towards de-radicalisation that discount these variables are likely to only bring short-term success and a higher likelihood of recidivism. Lastly, Naman Rawat then examines different factors and underlying causes which have sustained the Naxalite insurgency in India for over fifty years. The author argues that since the 1960s, the lack of legitimate political institutions as well as corrupt practices of the government and bureaucracy have contributed to the Naxalites’ socio-political alienation in India. Additionally, the ineffective implementation of land reform laws, which prohibit acquisition of the tribal lands by non-Adivasis, has pushed the more extreme sections of tribal and peasant people to revolt against the government. Though the insurgency has been weakened in recent years, it is far from over.
  • Topic: Terrorism, Counter-terrorism, Radicalization, Islamic State, Political stability, Conflict, Radical Right
  • Political Geography: Pakistan, Iraq, South Asia, Indonesia, Middle East, India, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, North Africa, Syria, Tunisia
  • Author: Rohan Gunaratna, Mahfuh Bin Haji Halimi, Muhammad Saiful Alam Shah Bin Sudiman, Nur Aziemah Azman, Mohammed Sinan Siyech
  • Publication Date: 01-2019
  • Content Type: Journal Article
  • Journal: Counter Terrorist Trends and Analysis
  • Institution: Centre for Non-Traditional Security Studies, S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies
  • Abstract: The January issue focuses on an overview of the terrorist and violent extremist threats in key countries and conflict zones in the Asia-Pacific throughout 2018. The articles discuss the regional terrorism threat and responses in Southeast Asia, South Asia, Central Asia, China and the Middle East. Thematically, the articles also analyse online extremism and the counter-ideology dimensions of terrorism and violent extremism in 2019. The lead article argues that global terrorist and extremist threat is likely to persist in 2019 as the Islamic State (IS) is going through a phase of readaptation and decentralisation. The group has established clandestine and underground structures to survive in Iraq and Syria. Its ideology is still intact and continues to be propagated in the cyber space. In the provinces, groups, networks and cells which have pledged allegiance to IS leader Abu Bakr al Baghdadi are radicalising Muslims and conducting attacks. Harnessing both the physical and virtual space, IS continues to present an enduring threat worldwide. Although the apex of IS leadership and many of the directing figures are on the run and might be eliminated in 2019, the penultimate leadership enabling the fight and supporting the infrastructure will continue to operate in the shadows as they become agile and more cunning. The IS and Al-Qaeda (AQ)-centric threats are likely to remain given the lack of an effective global counter terrorism plan and strategy, the continuation of superpower and geopolitical rivalry, and the failure to resolve the underlying causes of extremism and terrorism.
  • Topic: Terrorism, Counter-terrorism, Islamic State, Political stability, Conflict
  • Political Geography: Iraq, South Asia, Central Asia, Middle East, North Africa, Syria, Southeast Asia
  • Author: Rohan Gunaratna, Paul Hedges, Jasminder Singh, Muh Taufiqurrohman
  • Publication Date: 10-2017
  • Content Type: Journal Article
  • Journal: Counter Terrorist Trends and Analysis
  • Institution: Centre for Non-Traditional Security Studies, S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies
  • Abstract: October 2017 has been a fateful month for the Islamic State (IS) terrorist group. In Syria, its de facto ‘capital’ Raqqa has fallen to an alliance of Kurdish and Arab fighters backed by the US-led coalition. Earlier in Hawija, the last remaining IS stronghold in northern Iraq, about 1,000 IS fighters surrendered to Iraqi forces rather than fighting for ‘martyrdom’. Over in Southeast Asia, the Philippines authorities announced the liberation of Marawi after a five-month battle and the killing of IS top leaders, Isnilon Hapilon and Omar Maute. The string of losses suffered by IS since 2016 nullifies and invalidates the IS slogan of ‘remaining and expanding’ and constitutes a huge symbolic blow to its standing as leader of the global ‘jihadist’ movement. It is likely that the fall of Raqqa was expected by the top leadership of IS and that plans have been made well in advance for al-Baghdadi and his senior commanders to go into hiding, and for the ‘jihadi’ struggle to persist in some form in Iraq, Syria and elsewhere. This is already evident from IS’ decentralisation of its ‘jihad’ and ‘virtualisation’ of its so-called caliphate (from a territory-based entity). The ‘decentralisation of jihad’ through its various wilayats and online presence (including videos and publications), is similar to Al-Qaeda’s post-9/11 franchising strategy. IS has been urging its affiliates in different parts of the world to continue the so-called ‘caliphate’ project by granting them more autonomy and freedom to mount operations. Against this backdrop, Southeast Asia has to contend with the threat of IS and other terrorist groups engaging in recruitment and proselytisation, and planning attacks through the online domain. This context necessitates close monitoring of hotspots in Southeast Asia, including Marawi in the Philippines, Rakhine in Myanmar and the southern provinces in Thailand. In the Philippines, security forces have successfully managed to contain, isolate and eliminate the IS threat in Marawi. Although the battle is almost over with the deaths of IS Philippines leaders Isnilon Hapilon and Omar Maute, the threat of terrorism in the region is far from over. Rohan Gunaratna discusses the situation in Marawi, the activities of the militants, the government’s response and future trends. Despite the elimination of top leaders and fighters in Marawi, IS will prevail in Southern Philippines and pose a security threat to Southeast Asian countries as the leadership outside Mindanao remains intact. In addition, other militant groups are joining IS’ East Asia Division, indicating efforts to expand from the Philippines to Northeast and Southeast Asia. While IS has failed to hold territory, it has been successful in cyberspace, with regular online publications of battle news, ‘religious’ articles, showing exploits of IS fighters and propaganda videos. In this connection, Jasminder Singh and Muhammad Haziq Bin Jani discuss the unprecedented appearance of a Singaporean national in an IS-propaganda video last month and its possible implications. In the midst of IS decline in the Levant, the video attempts to rally the ‘jihadists’, boost their morale, and gives the false impression that IS will prevail. The video underlines the need for continued high-level vigilance against extremist teachings and ‘jihadist’ propaganda and radicalisation in the real world and the murky cyber world. Muh Taufiqurrohman et al. examine the issue of jihadist radicalisation and activities in Indonesia’s prisons at Nusa Kambangan. They observe that lax security measures, understaffed prison facilities, low budgetary provisions and overworked prison guards have enabled high-profile jihadists such as Aman Abdurrahman, Iwan Darmawan, Abdullah Sonata and Abu Hanifah to recruit, preach, communicate, plan and execute attacks without hindrance. They recommend placing terrorist inmates in special prisons or solitary confinement, employing full-time religious counsellors, recruiting more qualified prison guards and increasing the prisons’ operational budget. On the issue of radicalisation, a better conceptual understanding of the subject is required. Paul Hedges explores and clarifies key issues associated with the term radicalisation. He argues that radicalisation is largely linked to socialisation and that there is no commonly accepted personality profile nor a linear pathway to radicalisation; basically, the landscape and trajectory of terrorism in terms of recruitment and evolution are both changing and fluid. In order to counter the booming youth ‘jihadist’ cultural milieu, he argues that it is necessary to have credible moderate role models and voices messages that are packaged to appeal to the youth. He added that any response to address the issue of trajectories into violence needs to be measured, targeted, evidence-based, and empathetic to the communities involved.
  • Topic: Terrorism, Counter-terrorism, Islamic State, Political stability, Conflict
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Middle East, Philippines, Syria, Southeast Asia, United States of America
  • Author: Rohan Gunaratna, Muhammad Haniff Hassan, Mahfuh Bin Haji Halimi, Nur Azlin Mohamed Yasin
  • Publication Date: 07-2017
  • Content Type: Journal Article
  • Journal: Counter Terrorist Trends and Analysis
  • Institution: Centre for Non-Traditional Security Studies, S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies
  • Abstract: As the Islamic State (IS) terrorist group evolves into the next phase of its life cycle, it is operationalising its so-called wilayats (governorates) in different parts of the world. In June, with the loss of ground in Iraq and Syria, IS has made significant territorial gains in the Philippines along with carrying out a high profile terrorist attack in Indonesia. The operational strength and sophistication exhibited in these latest developments in Southeast Asia is concerning for three particular reasons. First, IS will stay alive and relevant through its wilayats notwithstanding its defeat in the Middle East. This could result in higher levels of violence and radicalisation in the regions where IS might turn its attention. The ability of the so-called Caliphate to operate in the online and offline spheres has already provided the group a virtual sanctuary to survive and stay relevant despite real world defeats. Second, with the seige of Marawi in the Philippines by IS, the city and surrounding areas may emerge as a new hub for IS supporters, sympathizers and lone-wolf fighters. In its latest issue of Rumiyah, the terror group has encouraged its supporters to relocate to Marawi if they cannot migrate to Iraq or Syria. This might galvanise a new wave of pro-IS fighters in Southeast Asia. IS has already prepared them for the setbacks in the Levant and provided them with sufficient religious grounds to press on with their ‘struggle’ through its propaganda machinery. The porous and heavily forested terrain and cluster of small islands with almost no control of the government in southern Philippines suits IS designs to fortify and consolidate its footprint in the region. It will require concerted efforts under the auspices of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to counter IS gains in the region. Even though Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia have done remarkably well to check the security challenge posed by IS, more needs to be done in places like the Philippines and Thailand with coordinated operational efforts and timely intelligence sharing. Third, IS online followers, supporters and sympathisers are now moving from open social media platforms to encrypted ones such as Telegram, Whatsapp and WeChat. This adds a new layer of complexity to keep track of vulnerable segments of youth susceptible to radicalism and disrupt any terrorist plots that may be planned and executed through communication in encrypted social medial platforms. Various Social Media Companies (SMCs), law enforcement agencies, academia and civil society organisations (SCOs) will have to team up and redouble their efforts to discuss how to deal with the challenge of cyber radicalism. Further procrastination in operationalising stronger social media strategies to counter violent radicalism will hamper efforts to curtail the spread of extremist propaganda and avert terrorist attacks. Equally important is the realm of counter-ideology and promotion of religious moderation. A strong rebuttal of Sunni extremist groups’ exploitation of Quranic verses and other religious texts to further their narrow agendas serves to de-legitimise their efforts. Once the ideological appeal of these groups is neutralised, it will be easier to counter them operationally. Terrorist groups can survive loss of sanctuary and decapitation of the top leaders, but ideological de-legitimization deprives them of the moral support they enjoy among the vulnerable social segments. These are some of the issues which the current issue of CTTA discusses at length highlighting: a) Marawi: A Game Changer in Terrorism in Asia by Rohan Gunaratna, b) The Evolution of Online Extremism in Malaysia by Nur Azlin Mohamed Yasin, c) A Rebuttal of Al-Qaeda and IS’ Theological Justification of Suicide Bombing by Muhammad Haniff Hassan and d) Abrogation and the Verse of the Sword: Addressing Sunni Extremists’ Misappropriation of Concept and Verse by Mahfuh Halimi
  • Topic: Terrorism, Counter-terrorism, Islamic State, Political stability, Conflict
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Indonesia, Middle East, Philippines, Syria, Singapore, Thailand, Southeast Asia
  • Author: Rohan Gunaratna, Bilveer Singh, Mohammed Sinan Siyech, Patrick Blannin, Farhan Zahid
  • Publication Date: 05-2017
  • Content Type: Journal Article
  • Journal: Counter Terrorist Trends and Analysis
  • Institution: Centre for Non-Traditional Security Studies, S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies
  • Abstract: The Islamic State (IS) terrorist group that emerged victorious in Iraq in 2014 has lost its eminence. Presently, it is on the defensive, struggling to retain its strongholds in Iraq and Syria. This contrasts with the situation in 2014 when the group was on the rise. It was expanding territorially, producing shockingly brutal videos with cinematic flare, and proclaiming its revival of the so-called ‘caliphate’ and implementation of Sharia to beguile local and foreign Muslims and fellow jihadists. In recent months, IS has suffered several setbacks, including loss of territory, which is the focal point of its jihadist strategy. The group is also facing diminishing numbers of foreign fighters, depleting finances and high casualties of its commanders and foot-soldiers. Given the above, will IS remain relevant to the global jihadist landscape in future? The answer resides in the international community’s ability to end the conflict in Iraq and Syria and ensure post-conflict political stabilisation. Failure on these two fronts will give IS enough space to recuperate and revive. IS will seek sanctuary among pockets of politically-disgruntled Sunnis, regroup and resort to guerrilla warfare as a military strategy to fight the powerful adversaries. This is not the first time IS – earlier known as the Islamic State in Iraq (ISI) – is facing such a challenging situation. In 2006, when ISI leader Abu Musaab Al-Zarqawi was killed, it suffered huge setbacks. The group went underground and re-emerged in 2010 by defeating the Sahwa Movement, the Sunni tribal uprisings against the group. ISI exploited the Arab uprisings in 2011, and expanded into Syria to eventually become the IS in June 2014. On the international front, IS’ declining influence and appeal and the vacuum created by its retreat have rendered the leadership of global jihad as a contested domain, once again, opening up the possibility of Al Qaeda’s (AQ) return to the top of the jihadi pyramid and merger between the two old jihadi allies. Iraqi Vice President Ayad Allawi recently stated that ‘discussions and dialogue’ have been taking place between Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi’s representatives and AQ chief Ayman Al Zawahiri. Any rapprochement between the two rivals is likely to further complicate the jihadi landscape in Iraq, Syria and beyond. Against this backdrop, the latest issue of CTTA provides a snapshot of jihadist activities in Pakistan, India, the Philippines and Indonesia and the resulting security threat. Strategically, there is a weak correlation between defeating IS-central and its outlying wilayats and enclaves in Africa, Pakistan, the Philippines and elsewhere. Unless each pro-IS entity is defeated physically in its respective area of operations, the fight against the Middle Eastern Salafi jihadist group will remain incomplete. Specifically, if the conditions and root causes that gave birth to IS and its militant affiliates from countries stretching across Nigeria to the Philippines are not addressed, the international community might have to prolong its battle against them or fight new extremist groups in the future. This is why ideological de-legitimisation through robust counter-narratives, conflict stabilisation in Iraq, and finding a viable political solution to the Syrian civil war are central to defeating the jihadist by-products of these conflict-hit areas. In this issue, Rohan Gunaratna discusses the recent high-profile terrorist attacks in Manila and highlights the threat posed by IS East Asia Division in the Philippines. He argues that the recent attacks, unifications of various militant groups under the IS umbrella and the clashes between Filipino security forces and IS-affiliates in Bohol point to IS’s growing influence in the Philippines, and a stark reminder that the group is trying to expand northwards. The article contends that the IS threat is likely to increase in the future, and warns that the creation of an IS nucleus in the Philippines presents not only a domestic but a regional and international threat that needs to be addressed swiftly. In the next article, Bilveer Singh discusses the revival of Al Qaeda’s affiliate, Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), in Southeast Asia. The author argues that JI’s present low profile and non-militant approach may change as more hard-line JI leaders and members are released from detention in the coming months and years, and as more well-trained and ideologically-hardened fighters from Iraq and Syria return to Indonesia. Farhan Zahid details the rise of IS in Pakistan since the group’s formation in 2014, and the extent of its activities in all four provinces of the country. IS has managed to increase its clout by forming tactical alliances with like-minded local militant groups. He argues that IS is likely to assert its dominance through local affiliates in urban centers of Pakistan, specifically the Punjab province. Patrick Blannin examines IS multiple sources of funding and some counter-mechanisms deployed by the global anti-IS coalition. The paper analyses how IS exploits the volatile political and security situation across the Middle East and North Africa to generate funding, and exposes the dichotomy between the terrorist group’s religious rhetoric and its criminal enterprises. Lastly, Mohammed Sinan Siyech’s article examines IS footprint in India in the wake of the group’s suspected involvement in the recent bombing of a passenger train in Madhya Pradesh (MP) state. Although IS recruitment and presence in India is not as strong in numbers in comparison to other countries, it remains concerning given various vulnerabilities and fault-lines that exist in the country. Given the current volatile environment triggered by the rise of right-wing Hindu extremism or the Hindutva movement, another terrorist attack could contribute to communal tensions, leading to spate of violence.
  • Topic: Terrorism, Counter-terrorism, Islamic State, Political stability, Conflict
  • Political Geography: Iraq, South Asia, Middle East, North Africa, Syria, Southeast Asia, Global Focus
  • Author: Iftekharul Bashar, Remy Mahzam, Marcin Styszynski
  • Publication Date: 02-2017
  • Content Type: Journal Article
  • Journal: Counter Terrorist Trends and Analysis
  • Institution: Centre for Non-Traditional Security Studies, S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies
  • Abstract: In the last several weeks, the Islamic State (IS) terrorist group and its affiliates have demonstrated their continued ability to direct and conduct high-casualty and high-impact attacks in and outside their strongholds in Iraq and Syria. On 10 February, a car bomb struck Baghdad killing 10 people and wounding 33 others. Six days later, a suicide bombing at a Sufi shrine in Sindh (Pakistan) killed over 80 people and injured 250. The latest (8 March) is the attack on a military hospital in central Kabul which killed 49 people and injured over 60. The global terrorism situation remains grim as IS continues to plot more attacks and exploits social media to subvert the alienated and disgruntled to its jihadist cause. On the battlefields in Iraq and Syria, however, IS is on the retreat, pounded by the US-led Coalition as well as Russian and Syrian forces. The Coalition forces are making significant progress in their offensive to retake western Mosul, capturing its airport, military base and main government complex. IS fighters are outnumbered and experts expect western Mosul to fall in coming months. On the Syrian front, IS has lost Palmyra again, after recapturing it in December last year, and is coming under attack in its de facto capital Raqqa. Some 400 US Marines have been sent to assist in the allied operation to retake Raqqa. It would not be long before more comprehensive, co-ordinated and forceful plans are implemented to defeat IS as well as other jihadist groups. With the likely imminent defeat of IS on the battlefronts, it is timely to discuss the global threat landscape in a post-caliphate scenario. Marcin Styszynski, in his article, highlights four factors that will influence the threat trajectory: the strategic withdrawal of IS into smaller Sunni strongholds to carry out operations and attacks, the expansion of threat frontlines by IS’ associated networks and returning fighters, the rise of sectarian and religious tensions, as well as the competition between Al Qaeda and IS. The author concludes by emphasising the need to address the root causes of political conflict and instability if the significant successes of the Coalition forces in the last two years are not to be in vain. This March issue also examines IS jihadist propaganda and information warfare in cyberspace. Remy Mahzam highlights the great emphasis IS places on online propaganda, and the significance of its propaganda magazine Rumiyah (Rome). He looks at IS calls for various forms of attacks to be executed, and attempts to influence specific groups of readers through exploitation of religious texts and powerful emotional and spiritual messaging. He concludes by spelling out what needs to be done to counter IS digital warfare. Iftekharul Bashar looks at the threat in Bangladesh, six months after the Dhaka Café attack and argues that even though the security establishment has weakened IS through hard approaches, the group is far from eliminated. In his view, the current administration needs to adopt a long-term approach to tackle the broader issue of radicalisation and the diverse threat emanating from IS, Al Qaeda and other associated groups in the country.
  • Topic: Terrorism, Counter-terrorism, Islamic State, Political stability, Conflict
  • Political Geography: Pakistan, Iraq, South Asia, Middle East, North Africa, Syria, Southeast Asia, Global Focus
  • Author: Rohan Gunaratna, Remy Mahzam, Iftekharul Bashar, Mohammed Sinan Siyech, Abdul Basit, Sara Mahmood, Nodirbek Soliev, Syed Huzaifah Bin Othman Alkaff, Vikram Rajakumar, Shahzeb Ali Rathore
  • Publication Date: 01-2017
  • Content Type: Journal Article
  • Journal: Counter Terrorist Trends and Analysis
  • Institution: Centre for Non-Traditional Security Studies, S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies
  • Abstract: 2016 saw the so-called Islamic State (IS) in retreat following sustained bombardment and military attacks and airstrikes by the US-led coalition as well as Russian and Syrian forces. It has conceded large swathes of territory, towns and cities, and lost some of its top commanders and strategists and more than 25,000 fighters. The group‘s revenue has declined and so has the flow of new fighters. It has to contend with desertions, in-fighting and scarce resources. Its fall-back wilayats (provinces) in Libya have been lost and many in the liberated areas of Iraq and Syria are jubilant at its ouster after holding sway for more than 20 months. Its declaration of the caliphate is rejected by the Muslim world, which has denounced its acts of violence and misreading of religious texts. Since its formation, IS remains the object of condemnation and denunciation by the whole world. Even so, the terrorist threat posed by IS and its decentralised networks in 2016 shows no sign of abatement. Throughout the year, IS‘ active worldwide networks demonstrated the ability to plan, direct, train, recruit and radicalise from abroad, operating with impunity and surpassing the threat from Al Qaeda‘s old guard. The year saw a number of IS-directed or IS-inspired attacks by terror cells or ‘lone wolves‘ in major cities like Brussels, Nice, Orlando, Istanbul, Dhaka, Jakarta and Berlin resulting in thousands of casualties. Its propaganda machinery and online presence remain formidable, exploiting technology for communications, recruitment, finance, training and terrorist operations. IS has caused the displacement of millions and triggered a humanitarian crisis among refugees and in the battle zones. The group‘s extremism and violence have contributed to inter-religious tensions and discord, and strengthened anti-Islamist movements in the West. The stage is therefore set for 2017 to be a portentous and decisive year for IS and countries afflicted by the threat of terrorism. As IS loses control of Mosul and Raqqa in coming months, it will change strategy, focus and priorities. How it will change and what the impact will be are issues addressed by Rohan Gunaratna in his article on Global Threat Forecast, as well as in accompanying articles on the terrorism situation in selected countries and regions. As IS continues to lose ground in Iraq and Syria, it will transform itself from a caliphate-building entity to a terrorist organisation. It will seek refuge in its many wilayats and enclaves, and consolidate, expand and use them as launching pads to mount terrorist attacks. The group will continue with its strategy of expanding the ‘battlefield‘ to the West and elsewhere, and hit ‘soft‘ and easy targets. Overall, the terrorist threat will endure in the New Year and will continue to require effective counter-insurgency, counter-terrorism and counter-violent extremism measures.
  • Topic: Terrorism, Counter-terrorism, Al Qaeda, Islamic State, Political stability, Conflict
  • Political Geography: Africa, Russia, Iraq, South Asia, Central Asia, East Asia, South America, Syria, Asia-Pacific, North America