The Islamic State’s global reach

In discussions of the threat posed by the Islamic State (formerly the Islamic State of Iraq and the Sham, a spinoff from al Qaeda in Iraq), some Western pundits have argued that the terror organization poses only a distant threat, not a near one. They have claimed that the Islamic State’s goals are mainly territorial and focused on the Middle East, as compared to al Qaeda’s, which are transnational and focused on attacking the West. On June 30, the US State Department referred to the ISIS’ strategy as that of creating a regional caliphate.

That general view was fairly widely held until recently, when the Islamic State executed two American hostages, which brought home to the West that its citizens are at risk. But in addition to committing shocking crimes in Syria and Iraq against civilians, security forces, and Western captives, the group has also developed an international following. The Islamic State’s growing international presence demonstrates the dangerous fallacy of the argument that the group has primarily only regional goals.

National Counterterrorism Center Director Matthew Olsen said on Sept. 3 that the US currently has “no credible information” that the Islamic State is presently planning to attack the homeland. But that assurance is not a signal to dismiss the threats presented by the group. Although the IS arguably has reason to avoid crossing American ‘red lines’ as it attempts to solidify gains and develop infrastructure, it must be regarded as a formidable organization with sweeping global ambitions.

A look at Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al Baghdadi’s declaration of an Islamic caliphate in Iraq and Syria reveals that the group has much wider ambitions. On June 29, the group announced the formation of the caliphate and stressed the following:

We clarify to the Muslims that with this declaration of khilāfah, it is incumbent upon all Muslims to pledge allegiance to the khalīfah Ibrāhīm and support him (may Allah preserve him). The legality of all emirates, groups, states, and organizations, becomes null by the expansion of the khilāfah’s authority and arrival of its troops to their areas.

And in an address at a historic mosque in Mosul on July 4, a week after declaring a calipate, Baghdadi stated [emphasis supplied]:

O Muslims, Allah, blessed be He, created us to believe in Him alone and worship him and establish His religion. {Qur’anic Verse}. And he ordered us to fight His enemies and do jihad in His cause to achieve this and establish the religion. {Qur’anic Verse}.

O people, the religion of Allah, blessed be He, is not established and this goal for which Allah created us is not achieved but by empowering the Shariah of Allah and being judged by it and establishing the restrictions, and this is only done with power and authority. Allah said: {Qur’anic Verse}. This is the establishment of the religion: a Book that guides and a sword that supports. As for your mujahideen brothers, Allah has bestowed upon them the grace of victory and conquest, and enabled them, after many years of jihad, patience, and fighting the enemies of Allah, and granted them success and empowered them to achieve their goal. Therefore, they hastened to declare the Caliphate and place an imam, and this is a duty upon the Muslims – a duty that has been lost for centuries and absent from the reality of the world and so many Muslims were ignorant of it. The Muslims sin by losing it, and they must always seek to establish it, and they have done so, and all praise is due to Allah.

I have been plagued with this great matter, plagued with this responsibility, and it is a heavy responsibility. [translation by the SITE Intelligence Group]

Baghdadi’s speech is addressed to all Muslims, and refers to his fighters as “your Mujahideen brothers”; nowhere in the speech does he mention geographical locations or limits for the caliphate or the jihad. An accomplished Islamic scholar as well as a ruthless military commander, Baghdadi is speaking as a self-declared caliph for all Muslims, and telling them that the duty of imposing sharia, or Islamic law, on the earth by the sword is imposed on them by God.

The breadth of Baghdadi’s declaration has drawn implicit criticism from al Qaeda itself, and a number of al Qaeda ideologues and leaders of al Qaeda affiliates have denounced it on religious as well as strategic grounds. The declaration of the caliphate implicitly requires that all Islamic leaders be subservient to “caliph” Baghdadi, a claim some of those leaders have since rejected. Nonetheless, their reactions also serve to underline the seriousness of the Islamic State’s ambition and goals.

And while so far key al Qaeda leaders have largely, but not unanimously or completely, repudiated Baghdadi’s claim, a number of jihadist leaders across the world have expressed sympathy and in some cases outright support for Baghdadi and his caliphate.

They have recognized the Islamic State’s recent successes in seizing and controlling territory, achievements that galvanize recruits, provide new strongholds, and garner impressive quantities of revenue and weaponry.

But even without regard to official statements by Islamist groups endorsing, opposing, or hedging on the Islamic State, the fact remains that Islamic State fighters and supporters are conducting operations well outside the confines of Iraq and Syria.

Known or suspected Islamic State/ISIS activity outside Iraq and Syria since January 2013

The following is a partial list of reported or suspected ISIS/Islamic State activity outside Iraq and Syria since Jan. 1, 2013. It does not include many reports that referred only to “an Islamist group”; authorities in a number of countries have been reluctant to specify the nature and extent of extremist activity within their borders. The list below, organized by continent and then alphabetically by country, is not exhaustive. Nonetheless, its extensiveness indicates the global reach of the IS, even if the reported activity does not consist of spectacular attacks.

AMERICAS

Canada: On Aug. 26, it was reported that Canadian Muslim convert John Maguire had gone to Syria and joined ISIS last year, and that he was posting threatening messages on social media that endorsed violent jihad.

On Aug. 23, Syed Soharwardy, founder of the Islamic Supreme Council of Canada (ISCC), warned that the Islamic State is recruiting “right here in this country, under our noses, in our universities, in our colleges, in the places of worship, in our community,” and said he had received a death threat from an Ottawa Muslim now fighting with the IS in Mosul. Canadian authorities had warned in February that at least 130 Canadians were fighting with extremists groups abroad.

In July, an IS video appeared featuring Canadian jihadist Andre Poulin in Syria, urging Canadians to come join the IS fight.

On June 23, CTV News reported that Farah Mohamed Shirdon, the third Canadian known to have joined ISIS, had appeared in a video threatening Canada and the US. A week earlier, the National Post reported that the RCMP is investigating a group of Muslims from Calgary who left for Syria to join groups such as ISIS, after a biography of Canadian jihadist Salman Ashrafi, who died carrying out an ISIS suicide bombing in Iraq, was published by Abu Dujana al-Muhajir, another Canadian jihadist.

United States: On Sept. 4, President Barack Obama said the US objective now is to “shrink the Islamic State” to “a manageable problem” by means of an international effort against the group.

On Sept. 3, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel said that over 100 US citizens are fighting in the ranks of the Islamic State; intelligence officials have estimated that the number is as high as 300. Hagel warned that the IS controls half of Iraq and half of Syria, and that “we better take them seriously.”

It was reported on Aug. 29 that a Texas law enforcement bulletin warned that social media statements by Islamic State sympathizers have expressed interest in attacks by terrorists entering via the Mexican border. Analysis of that threat has been clouded by the politicization of the issue due to its overlap with immigration concerns.

On Aug. 28, President Obama said the US does not have a strategy yet for confronting the Islamic State.

On Aug. 24, General Martin Dempsey, head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that if and when he finds that the Islamic State is plotting direct attacks on the US homeland or Europe, then he will recommend that the US take military action against the group in Syria. He also said the group should be constrained and defeated in partnership with US allies in the region, including Turkey, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia.

On Aug. 21, Secretary of Defense Hagel warned that the IS poses “an imminent threat” to US interests everywhere, not just in Iraq, and said it is “as sophisticated and well-funded as any group” the US has seen.

Less than two weeks after Baghdadi announced his caliphate, Hagel said on July 10 that the Islamic State poses a threat to the US, Europe, and US allies in the Middle East.

On June 22, President Obama said the ISIS poses a “medium and longterm threat” to the US but that other terrorist groups may present more immediate threats, noting that “ISIS is just one of a number of organizations that we have to stay focused on.” Mike Rogers, head of the House Intelligence Committee, countered that the fight against ISIS is in the US national security interest. And Kerry said that the ISIS’ aim to establish a strict Islamist state was a threat “to the entire region.”

EUROPE

Belgium: On May 30, police arrested Mehdi Nemmouche, 29, a French national and ex-convict who traveled to Syria in January 2013 and is suspected of carrying out the May 24 shooting attack at a Jewish museum in Brussels that killed three people and severely injured a fourth victim. He was detained in Marseille while traveling from Amsterdam via Brussels. In his possession was an ISIS flag, a Kalashnikov, a handgun, and a video in which he claimed the Brussels attack. He is thought to have returned from Syria in March after fighting with the ISIS, and to have had an accomplice. He was already known to French intelligence at the time of the attack. In late June, France extradited him to Belgium.

Bosnia: On Sept. 3, security forces conducted 17 raids across the country, arresting 16 people accused of financing, recruiting for, and fighting for radical groups in Syria and Iraq. Some of the several hundred Bosnians who headed to Syria earlier are thought to be now fighting in Iraq with the Islamic State. In late August, Bosnian intelligence estimated that some 150 Bosnians were fighting with Islamist groups in Syria and Iraq.

Denmark: In early September, police arrested the president of the Copenhagen-based Islamic charity Humanitarian Hearts (De Humanitære Hjerter) for supporting the Islamic State, and also detained two women involved in the organization’s work. The main suspect, said to be a Libyan-born stateless person, is accused of collecting money for the IS. Fadi Abdallah, a spokesperson for the terrorism-linked Grimhøj Mosque in Aarhus, said that the mosque “cannot help but support the IS” and that he “understand[s] why they are killing people.” Denmark is said to rank behind only Belgium among Western countries in having the highest per capita number of nationals fighting in Syria.

In June, authorities issued arrest warrants for four men, including two Danish speakers, who appeared in an August 2013 video from Syria in which they targeted effigies of former secret agent Morten Storm, free speech advocate Lars Hedegaard, politician Naser Khader, the imam Ahmed Akkari, former prime minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen, and cartoonist Kurt Westergaard. Abu Sa’ad, a Danish suicide bomber, reportedly carried out an attack for the ISIS in Mosul, Iraq on May 20. Danish intelligence says that 100 people have left Denmark to fight in Syria, and many have returned, but so far none have been prosecuted.

In February 2013, it was reported that former Guantanamo detainee Slimane Hadj Abderrahmane had been killed fighting in Syria; a group named Islamisk Budskab in Denmark, which was linked to ISIS predecessor al Qaeda in Iraq, celebrated his martyrdom and set up a bank account for donations to support Abderrahmane’s wife and two daughters.

France: In late August, French authorities arrested ISIS operative Fayez Boushran, who holds dual French and Moroccan citizenship, on his return to France, after prompting by Lebanese security officials. Boushan had confessed to arriving in Beirut in June for an ISIS bomb plot in Lebanon along with another would-be suicide bomber who was originally from the Comoros Islands.

On Aug. 20, Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius warned that the Islamic State’s ambitions extend beyond the Middle East, and said France wants the UN Security Council nations as well as countries in the region to join the fight against the Islamic State. President Francois Hollande said the world security situation was at its gravest since 2001, and called for an international conference that pools military and intelligence resources to come up with “a global strategy” to address the Islamic State’s terrorism.

On Aug. 13, Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said nearly 900 French citizens have traveled to Iraq or Syria to fight, and that some of them have joined the Islamic State.

In April, the Defense Ministry denied a report that the government paid a ransom of $18 million for the release of four French journalists who were were kidnapped in Syria by the ISIS in June 2013. According to the report, Defense Minister LeDrian took the ransom money to Ankara, where Turkish secret services helped transfer it to the kidnappers.

Germany: On Sept. 2, Chancellor Angela Merkel warned that the Islamic State now controls an area half the size of Germany, and said the terror group is causing “the far-reaching destabilization of an entire region [which] affects Germany and Europe.” Defending Germany’s decision to send arms to Kurdish fighters in Iraq battling the Islamic State, she also said the more than 400 Germans who have joined the ranks of the IS present a direct threat to Germany. Some 20 former German soldiers are known to have joined jihadist groups in Iraq and Syria. The head of Germany’s domestic intelligence agency said the Islamic State’s brutality has made it “much more attractive” to radicalized German Muslims than the Al Nusrah Front, al Qaeda’s branch in Syria.

On June 25, authorities charged Kreshnik B., a German citizen from Frankfurt am Main, with membership in the ISIS. Following his return from Syria, he was arrested on suspicion of planning attacks. Authorities were investigating the German Brigade of Millatu Ibrahim, whose leader, Denis Cuspert a.k.a. Deso Dogg a.k.a. Abu Talha al-Almani, is now fighting for ISIS. Interior Minister de Maiziere recently expressed concern that Islamists from Germany are cooperating with ISIS in Iraq as well as in Syria.

On June 5, a Lebanese man identified as Ismail I. was charged with membership in a terrorist organization after returning from fighting with ISIS in Syria; his brother Ezzeddine I. and a German identified as Mohammad Sobhan A. were charged with supporting a terrorist organization. At the time of his arrest, Ismail was on his way back to Syria with money, military equipment, and medicine that he had obtained with the help of the other two men. He had allegedly been sent back to Germany by ISIS to procure money and supplies for the group.

Kosovo: On the night of Aug. 10-11, police carried out some 60 raids across the country in a crackdown on Islamic extremists, arresting 40 men suspected of either fighting for, or supporting, the Islamic State or the Al Nusrah Front. Makeshift mosques were raided and weapons, ammunition, electronic equipment, and explosives were confiscated.

Luxembourg: In July, Luxembourg police working with Spanish counterterrorism authorities arrested Belgian national Abou Nouh a.k.a. Davide De Angelis, a former jihadist in Syria who served as a facilitator for an ISIS recruiting network that funneled fighters to Syria and Mali.

Norway: In late August, authorities refused to comment on a report that the July 24 terror alert was triggered by warnings that four Islamic State operatives were on their way to Norway via Greece to commit a major attack. Authorities reportedly said that two Norwegians answer directly to IS leader Abu Bakr al Baghdadi; one is Bastian Vasquez, of Skien, and the other is of African origin and lived in Boerum.

On July 24, security police warned of a “credible” threat of an imminent terrorist attack against targets in Norway by people connected with Islamic extremists in Syria. The attack was reportedly planned in Europe. Security measures were stepped up, and both the City Hall and the Royal Palace in Oslo were closed to tourists.

On May 27, police arrested a Somali and two Kosovans, all Norwegian citizens residing in Oslo, suspected of supporting the ISIS. The two Kosovans are brothers who reportedly fought in Syria and had a brother who died there. At least 50 Norwegians were thought to have traveled to Syria for jihad, and seven have died there, all fighting for the ISIS.

In early May, Albanian and Norwegian media noted the death in Syria of Egzon Avdyli, an ethnic Kosovan from Norway killed while fighting for ISIS. Avdyli, a former spokesman for the Norwegian radical Islamist group Prophet’s Ummah, reportedly left Norway for Syria early this year. Avdyli had encouraged young people to travel to Syria for jihad and also “supported the establishment of an Islamic state in Norway or other Western countries.” Norwegian intelligence said it considered the danger of jihadists returning from Syria to be the most significant terror threat to Norway. [See Threat Matrix report, Norwegian Islamist who fought for ISIS killed in Syria.]

In February, Norwegian intelligence warned that at least 40 or 50 Norwegians, including about a dozen women, were known to have traveled to Syria to fight and that they have most often joined extremist groups such as the ISIS.

Spain: In July, authorities said at least 35 Spaniards are estimated to have joined the ranks of rebel fighters in Syria, and most are thought to have joined the Islamic State.

On April 30, Spanish security forces working with French police arrested Abdelmalek Tanem, an Algerian national who also has French citizenship, in Almeria. He had recently returned from Syria, where he worked as a facilitator along the Turkish border, integrating European jihadists into the ISIS and the Al Nusrah Front.

In mid-March, Spanish and Moroccan authorities targeting an al Qaeda recruiting network arrested four suspected members in Spain and three in Morocco. The network, whose activities extend to Morocco, Belgium, France, Tunisia, Turkey, Libya, Mali, Indonesia, and Syria, is headed by Melilla resident Mustafa Maya Amaya, who funneled recruits to the ISIS, the Al Nusrah Front, and al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. Some of the suspects arrested in the operation had returned home after going to conflict zones such as Syria; and in January, a suspected jihadist returning from Syria was arrested in Malaga as a potential “threat to national security,” CNN reported.

Sweden: On Aug. 13, Sweden’s intelligence service was said to be investigating reports that during a TV interview, an Islamic State supporter from Sweden named Sheikh Ahmed threatened violence in the country and war against Sweden and Europe. An estimated 80 Swedes are said to be fighting for rebel groups in Syria.

In May 2013, a government report said there are currently at least 30 Swedish nationals fighting with “groups similar to al Qaeda” in Syria. The report called Sweden “far behind” other EU countries in preventing militant Islamism, and recommended that travel abroad for terror training be outlawed. The report said while Germany has a program for former jihadists, not one Swedish jihadist is thought to have defected from that ideology.

United Kingdom: On Sept. 4, Prime Minister David Cameron said that the Islamic State presents a direct threat to the UK, noting IS-inspired attacks in Europe. He did not rule out launching airstrikes against the group in Syria, and said the UK did not need permission to do so from Syrian President Bashar al Assad. He indicated that UK authorities are in contact with the Islamic State kidnappers of a British hostage but reiterated the government’s stance against paying ransoms.

On Aug. 21, it was reported that Khadijah Dare, 22, a Lewisham woman married to a Swedish IS fighter who calls himself Abu Bakr, had vowed to become the first woman to behead a British or US prisoner; she is thought to be in Syria with her husband and young son. Brustchom Ziamani, 19, a Congolese convert to Islam, was arrested in Camberwell on Aug. 19 while carrying a bag with a hammer and a knife wrapped in an Islamic flag; he has been charged with preparing terrorist acts. The suspect had said he intended to commit a Lee Rigby-type attack on UK military or government personnel.

On Aug. 20, Foreign Secretary Hammond said the Islamic State jihadist whose videotaped murder of US journalist James Foley was filmed appears to be British, and warned that “there are a significant number of British nationals in Syria and Iraq operating with extremist organisations” and accordingly that the Islamic State presents “a direct threat to the UK’s national security.”

On Aug. 14, Scotland Yard chief Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe said about half of the estimated 500 British jihadists in Syria and Iraq are from London, and warned that the task of addressing the threat posed by their return to the UK should not be underestimated. UK jihadist Nasser Muthana, an Islamic State fighter, posted photos of IEDs he made in Syria on social media. British police are investigating the distribution of leaflets on London’s Oxford Street urging Muslims to pledge allegiance to the Islamic State.

In late July, British ambassador Peter Westmacott warned that among the 70 UK jihadists arrested after returning to Britain, a number were carrying “very specific” instructions for terrorist missions in the UK. British intelligence said it was close to identifying the Islamic State jihadist who beheaded American journalist James Foley; among those being investigated is UK rapper-turned-jihadist Abdel Majed Abdel Bary.

In June, an ISIS recruitment video surfaced featuring three Britons and two Australians calling for Westerners to come to Iraq and Syria for jihad. MI5 made tracking British jihadists in Syria its top priority. The counterterrorism chief for the Kurdistan Regional Government said ISIS would likely use its surviving British jihadists to mount attacks against the UK; he also claimed that KRG intelligence told the US and Iraq in January that ISIS was planning to seize Mosul and advance on Baghdad but the warnings were ignored.

On May 20, Mashudur Choudhury, 31, became the first Briton convicted of a Syria-related terrorism crime. The former youth worker at a Portsmouth mosque had traveled to Syria in October with four other men to join the ISIS, and was detained upon his return.

In February, British authorities were said to be “closely monitoring” some 250 British jihadists who have fought in Syria and returned home. A British fighter with the ISIS in Syria appeared in a YouTube clip warning aspiring British jihadists of the difficulties of the battle zone. Earlier that month, a British jihadist of Afghan origin called Abu Layth was reported killed while fighting for the ISIS in clashes with rebels; he is said to be the seventh British jihadist killed in Syria.

In January, a Syrian defector from the ISIS said the terror group is training British, European, and American recruits to conduct terror attacks in their home countries. Some 500 British fighters were believed to have traveled to Syria, and about 50 were thought to have already returned home. Jihadists in Syria seeking to return to their home countries are reportedly funneled through al Qaeda safe houses in Turkey.

In December 2013, family members said that well-known British jihadist Ifthekar Jaman a.k.a. Abu Aburahman died in Syria while fighting alongside the ISIS.

MIDDLE EAST

Egypt: On Sept. 5, Reuters reported that a senior commander in the Sinai-based terrorist group Ansar Jerusalem (Ansar Bayt al Maqdis) told the news agency that over the past year, the Islamic State has been providing Ansar Jerusalem with instructions on how to create cells and carry out operations; he said the IS has not furnished weapons or fighters, however.

On Aug. 28, Ansar Jerusalem released a video showing the beheading of four Egyptian men it accused of spying for Israel, a few days after the Islamic State released a video of the beheading of American journalist James Foley. Egyptian intelligence said the group has contacts with Libyan jihadists who are influenced by the Islamic State.

In early August, Egyptian jihadist Islam Yakan was said to be promoting the Islamic State and encouraging youth to join the jihad in Syria and Iraq.

On June 6, tribal sources in Sinai said that the ISIS is supporting the operations of the al Qaeda-linked Ansar Bayt al Maqdis (Ansar Jerusalem), local jihadists have been trained in Syria, and the ISIS flag has been seen in militant operations near Sheikh Zuweid and Rafah.

Jordan: On Aug. 29, militant Salafist leader Mohammad Shalabi a.k.a. Abu Sayyaf, who has urged Islamists to fight in Syria and indicated his support for the Islamic State as well as other groups, said his followers will not take action in Jordan unless “we felt … that injustice is going to befall us or that the circle of injustice is expanding.” A security official said Jordan could have “hundreds if not thousands” of potential Islamic State sympathizers.

On Aug. 12, it was reported that Shalabi indicated his support for the Islamic State, and said efforts are being made to resolve the differences between the IS and the Al Nusrah Front. Jordanian authorities arrested 20 Jordanian Salafists in Amman and Zarqa in early August suspected of supporting the IS.

On Aug. 2, Shalabi said that cheering for the Islamic State in mosques in Jordan is “normal.”

On July 9, Jordanian soldiers fired at and wounded three Islamic State gunmen who were trying to cross into Jordan from Syria for medical treatment; jihadist sources said about 2,200 Jordanians were fighting in the ranks of Islamist rebels in Syria, mostly with the Islamic State.

In late June, two rallies in support of ISIS were held in Maan, the first such public demonstrations for the group in Jordan. Salafi jihadist leader Mohammad Shalabi reportedly convinced the ISIS demonstrators to tone down their activities. Al Qaeda and other jihadist groups have in the past been allowed to operate in Jordan, ostensibly so authorities can monitor and infiltrate them. Authorities said the country’s borders are secure, and denied reports that ISIS had taken over the strategic Turaibil crossing into Iraq.

Also in late June, Shalabi said his group has nearly 2,000 jihadists in Syria and he claimed to lead some 5,000 Salafi jihadist followers in Jordan. Another Jordanian Islamist leader, Saad al Huneiti, was said to have been in Syria trying to broker a truce between ISIS and Al Nusrah.

Concerned about events in Iraq, on June 13 Jordan reportedly deployed some 40,000 troops along its eastern and northeastern borders with Iraq and Syria to prevent ISIS and Al Nusrah Front fighters from entering Jordan.

On April 25, it was reported that authorities were trying to stem the flow of Jordanian jihadists to and from Syria, amid reports that some 2,000 Jordanians are fighting there and about 300 have returned in the past two months.

In late March, the parliament considered a revised antiterrorism bill what would make it a crime to fight with, or seek to join, radical groups. Shalabi criticized the bill as “amending the law to classify some 2,000 young people who are fighting [in Syria] as terrorists” so they could be sent to prison. Officials began closing illegal crossing points from Deraa in Syria into al-Ramtha.

In early October 2013, authorities said the Al Nusrah Front and the ISIS were recruiting in Jordan; over 400 Jordanians were said to have been recruited for Syrian jihad.

In August 2013, Information Minister Momani said “Jordan will not be a launching pad for any military action against Syria.” The Islamic Action Front, the Muslim Brotherhood’s political arm in Jordan, denounced US plans for a military intervention in Syria. The head of Jordan’s Salafi jihadists also criticized the plans and vowed resistance from Islamist groups to any attempt at interference in Syria. More than 1,000 Jordanians were thought to be fighting with Islamist groups in Syria, with about 80 percent of them in the Al Nusrah Front.

Kuwait: A Kuwaiti newspaper reported on Aug. 19 that security forces were on high alert over reports from Iraq that Islamic State militants were planning to infiltrate Kuwait’s northern border.

Lebanon: On Aug. 25, Imad Jomaa, an Islamist commander captured on Aug. 2 in Arsal, reportedly confessed that he had been tasked with coordinating the takeover of Arsal and other Lebanese towns in the Bekaa Valley and the north so that an Islamic emirate could be established in the area with Abdullah Azzam Brigades spokesman Sirajeddine Zureiqat as its emir. The battle also involved Abou Malek al-Souri, emir of the Al Nusrah Front in Qalamoun with 29 armed groups under his command. The plot also aimed to capture male and female Hezbollah sympathizers and as many Lebanese troops as possible, and to spark instability.

On Aug. 18, it was reported that the Islamist militants still holding Lebanese security forces captive had issued a list of their demands, and that the Islamic State holds 11 soldiers and a corpse, and the Al Nusrah Front holds 18 captive security forces after releasing two the day before.

On Aug. 16, the US issued a travel warning for Lebanon noting that the Islamic State, the Al Nusrah Front, the Abdullah Azzam Brigades, and Hezbollah all operate there, and stressed the increasing frequency of suicide bombings.

On Aug. 12, the head of Lebanese armed forces said the Islamic State had tried to set up a bridgehead in Arsal from which to attack Shiite areas and engulf the country in sectarian strife.

Saudi Arabia: On Aug. 26, police arrested eight people in Tamir suspected of recruiting for the Islamic State. The Special Criminal Court sentenced 12 people to jail for terrorism offenses, including plotting to bomb a US diplomatic mission, joining al Qaeda training camps in Yemen and Lebanon, and facilitating the travel of militants to conflict zones abroad. Six other people were jailed for planning to kill intelligence officers.

In March 2013, Suleiman al Sabi’ee, a Saudi jihadist who had recently returned from Syria, alleged that ISIS members had taken over his social media accounts and exploited his large following to call others to participate in jihad; he also claimed that ISIS members used his accounts to attack the Saudi royal family and incite violence against the Saudi government. [See Threat Matrix report, Saudi jihadi recounts his time with ISIS.]

AFRICA

Algeria: On Sept. 5, Magharebia reported that Algerian officials are concerned about rumors that foreign fighters from the Islamic State are involved in digging tunnels linking Algeria, Tunisia, and Libya. In August, some 100 Syrian Islamic State recruits were reportedly arrested while on their way to Libyan camps for training in carrying out terror attacks in Europe.

Libya: In June, an Egyptian Interpol officer told Al Shorfa that the agency has been trying for months to help Maghreb countries deal with the reverse migration of jihadists from Syria. Interpol was said to be focusing on those who had fought with Al Nusrah, ISIS, and other armed terrorist groups. Hundreds, if not thousands, of Libyan fighters are thought to have traveled to Syria to fight. Many of these Libyans are believed to be fighting with ISIS or Al Nusrah.

On June 15, the al-Battar Brigade, a Syria-trained Libyan militia affiliated with the ISIS and Ansar al Sharia, threatened to avenge the death of an emir who was killed in Derna by the rival Abu Slim Martyrs Brigade, which is linked to al Qaeda’s Syrian branch, the Al Nusrah Front.

On March 13, the Libyan jihadist group Martyrs Brigades released a video showing its execution of a Free Syrian Army official in Libya in retaliation for the FSA’s fight against the ISIS.

Mali: On July 15, a message purportedly from Hamaad bin Muhammad al-Amin al-Shinqiti, former head of the sharia judiciary in Gao, expressed his approval of the Islamic State; the message was titled “Azawadi Support for the Islamic State.”

Morocco: On Sept. 4, seven members of an ISIS-linked Moroccan cell were remanded to prison; the Interior Ministry said on Aug. 22 that the cell “planned to receive military training” before taking action in Morocco, “under the Islamic State’s plans to expand its field of operations” outside Syria and Iraq.

On Aug. 14, Moroccan police broke up a nine-person Islamic State cell that operated in Ceuta, Tetouan, Fez, and Fnideq and sent fighters to Syria and Iraq.

In early August, Spanish authorities said Mohamed Hamdouch a.k.a. Kokito, a Moroccan from Fdineq who leads an Islamic State brigade in Syria, had appeared in a recent IS video with the heads of slaughtered victims. His wife Asia was said to share his jihadist goals. Over 3,000 Moroccan jihadists were said to be fighting in Syria and Iraq.

In July, Spanish security forces said that Mohamed Almedi Khalou, a former Moroccan army officer, is leading some 1,200 Moroccans who have joined IS forces in Syria in a group called the Harakat al Sham, or Sham al Islam. Khalou reportedly replaced Brahim Benchekroun, a former Guantanamo detainee who was killed in Syria in April. Prior to his death, Benchekroun had begun planning attacks in Morocco.

In July, authorities arrested two Islamic State jihadists who were planning to travel to Syria and Iraq to attend terrorist training camps and then return to conduct attacks in Morocco. Both had links to foreign extremists, and one of the suspects had connections with a criminal gang in Fez.

Nigeria: On Aug. 24, Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau released a lengthy video in which he claimed to have created an Islamic emirate or caliphate in Gwoza in northern Nigeria’s Borno state; in July Shekau had voiced his support for the leader of the Islamic State as well as leaders of al Qaeda and the Taliban.

Tunisia: In early August, authorities issued a committal order against against Seifeddine Rais, an Ansar al Sharia spokesman who has pledged allegiance to the Islamic State.

In February 2014, Kamel Zarrouk, the deputy emir of Ansar al Sharia Tunisia, was reported to be fighting alongside the ISIS in Syria. In May 2013 he had claimed that “the Al Nusrah Front, Ansar al Shariah, al Qaeda, the Islamic State of Iraq and the mujahedeen in Somalia, Mali, and Algeria, we all stand united against our enemies.” More than 5,000 Tunisians were thought to have traveled to Syria to fight, making them one of the largest groups of foreign fighters in Syria. [See LWJ report, Ansar al Sharia Tunisia deputy leader reportedly in Syria.]

ASIA

Afghanistan: A commander of the Hizb-e-Islami in Baghlan province said he has contacts with Islamic State members but is taking a wait and see approach on their caliphate.

China: Iraqi officials indicated that a Chinese fighter for the Islamic State was captured recently. In late July, a Chinese official acknowledged that about 100 Chinese were with fighting groups in the Middle East. In a speech released on July 1, IS emir Abu Bakr al Bagdadi claimed that Chinese fighters were in the IS ranks.

Indonesia: On Aug. 11, the Detachment 88 counterterrorism squad arrested Jemaah Anshorut Tauhid leader Afif Abdul Majid, who was added to the US’ global terrorist list in 2013. Majid, who recently returned from Syria, has pledged support to the Islamic State, along with jailed al Qaeda-linked cleric Abu Bakar Ba’asyir. Although the government reportedly banned IS ideology weeks earlier, groups supporting IS were holding meetings in Jakarta, Solo in Central Java, and Bima in West Nusa Tenggara.

Malaysia: On July 18, a top Malaysian counterterrorism official said police had foiled terrorist plans to bomb targets in Malaysia and set up regional and global Islamic State networks; 19 suspects were arrested. The suspects, who sought to establish an Islamic caliphate comprising Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, the Philippines, and Singapore, included two housewives as well as professionals, and some had tried to travel to Turkey and Syria for training by the IS. The official said that over the previous week some 20 to 30 Malaysians had gone to Syria to join the Islamic State but that the actual number might be “a lot higher.”

On July 21, a top counterterrorism official said Islamic State militants from a group of 19 arrested for plotting terrorist attacks in Malaysia had acquired aluminum powder for use in making bombs. He also said 12 of the 19 suspects have been released for lack of evidence. Recruiting for the group in Malaysia is swift, he noted, and recruits are being sent to Syria despite the recent arrests. The only prominent Muslim leader in Malaysia who has denounced the Islamic State is former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad.

Pakistan: On Sept. 4, Reuters reported that Islamic State pamphlets were recently distributed in Pakistan, and that Islamic State flags have appeared at protest rallies in Kashmir. Pamphlets claiming that the IS caliphate also embraced Afghanistan, Pakistan, and some Muslim central Asian republics were distributed in the city of Peshawar and in nearby Afghan refugee camps.

Philippines: On Aug. 30, the US Embassy warned Americans to avoid travel to Sulu and the Mindanao archipelago due to the activities of al Qaeda-linked groups such as Abu Sayyaf. In July, reports emerged that elements of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters and the Abu Sayyaf, including wanted leader Isnilon Hapilon, have sworn allegiance to the Islamic State. Wanted Abu Sayyaf leader Mobin Hailil a.k.a. Apo Kahumbo was arrested on firearms charges; he is suspected of facilitating the transfer of kidnapping victims from Sabah to Jolo.

Russia: The Islamic State released a video in early September threatening Russia and President Vladimir Putin, showing fighter jets seized in Raqqah, Syria and claiming that it will use the jets against Russia to free Chechens and all of the Caucasus.

Uzbekistan: On Sept. 4, Radio Liberty reported that police have been investigating the appearance of an Islamic State flag displayed on a bridge in the capital city of Tashkent on Aug. 28. A statement was sent to the news agency recently by an Uzbek national claiming that the Islamic State has already appointed an emir for Uzbekistan. The ranks of the Islamic State include many fighters from Uzbekistan and other Central Asian republics.

AUSTRALIA

Australia: In late August, Australian intelligence chief David Irvine said some 60 Australians are fighting in Syria or Iraq for the Islamic State or the Al Nusrah Front, and that 15 of them have died fighting there, two as suicide bombers. Irvine warned that “dozens” have already returned home, where another 100 Australians are known to be actively supporting jihadist groups by fundraising and recruiting fighters, including suicide bombers. Authorities were said to be monitoring the activities of the relatives of the Pendennis Nine, an al Qaeda-linked terrorist group uncovered in 2005, which are thought now to extend to fighting for the Islamic State in Syria or Iraq.

On Aug. 21, Prime Minister Abbott warned that Islamic State beheadings could happen in countries like Australia if they relax their vigilance. He said the Indonesia-based Jemaah Islamiyah has indicated support for the IS and thus that there is a risk of “increased terrorist activity in our region.” Abbott criticized Islamic community leaders who boycotted discussions on preventing young Australians from joining extremist organizations such as the Islamic State.

On Aug. 10, Defence Minister David Johnston said Australia is “not ruling out” providing backup military support for the US “as they go in and deal kinetically with this terrorist organisation.” He said: “Islamic State … is not just a terrorist group, it is a terrorist army.” Australian jihadist Khaled Sharrouf reportedly posted a photo on social media of his young son in Syria holding the severed head of an Islamic State victim.

On July 30, the federal police issued arrest warrants for Khaled Sharrouf and Mohamed Elomar, two Sydney residents who are fighting with the Islamic State in Iraq and have threatened to kill Australian soldiers as well as all non-Muslims. Authorities estimated that 150 Australians are currently fighting in Syria and Iraq, and that about 60 of them have joined extremist groups. Attorney General George Brandis said Islamic extremism is germinating “within the suburbs of Sydney and Melbourne and Brisbane.”

On July 22, outspoken Islamist cleric and Islamic State supporter Musa Cerantonio arrived in Australia after being deported from the Philippines, where he had been arrested in the company of a Filipina fashion designer. Australian authorities released him but said he will be monitored.

In June, the number of Australians fighting in Syria was estimated to be around 200, and ISIS was actively recruiting Australians.

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7 Comments

  • The physicist in me has long realized that an underlying simplicity in the narratives of Muslim radicalism has led to their extensive propagation and identification.
    I have found a correlation between sharia’s popularity and embrace of these ideas.
    All of this means that we are in a position to neutralize this threat at the global level: http://www.southasiaanalysis.org/node/1556

  • Jake says:

    Thanks for sharing your paper, Moorthy. I think you’re on the right track, and I hope it leads to an eventual solution. Have you thought of any ways to combat the popularity of Sharia and extreme clerics? What is a good, Islam-based counter-narrative to Sharia which Muslims could turn to in its place?

  • Warren Peese says:

    There are announcements from officials about threats, but I haven’t seen evidence that the US faces a direct or imminent from ISIS. Is there an ISIS plot to strike the United States? I haven’t seen credible evidence of it. There could be evidence of it in the near future, but there is no evidence right now that I’ve seen.
    This couldn’t be more relevant, because if we strike ISIS in Syria, we are tacitly supporting an Assad regime that is responsible for murdering over 100,000 civilians, unless we also actively take out Assad. Either we hit neither in Syria, or both.

  • Robespierre Jackson says:

    Does the current Obama Adminstration (or perhaps both Democrat and Republican) policies of “scrubbing” Radical Islam and Jihad from FBI / Homeland Security Counter-Terrorism manuals, adversely impact this? Some reports claim FBI is not even listing “Radical Islam” as a prioritized domestic terrorist threat? Can this really be true?

  • Evan says:

    Robespierre,
    Of course it can be “true,” to a degree.
    What reports?
    Rest assured, with more than 1 per state, at last count I think they were at 60 or so, and climbing, NSA/CIA/DHS/FBI/who ever “intelligence fusion centers,” who’s SOLE purpose is to gather/sift through/ and distribute DOMESTIC intelligence, on all of us, SOMEBODY knows something’s that we don’t.
    Things like threat streams and active plots against the homeland by who ever.
    It is a fact though, that as far as threats to the US are concerned, at the very least ideologically speaking, there are a huge number of both domestic and international groups of ALL stripes who would love to watch our country burn.
    Wether it’s skin heads or gangbangers or cartels, underground criminal organizations, biker gangs, anti government militia, whatever, there’s plenty of guys that need watching over here.
    But, Warren, non of them is a physical threat like AQ or IS…
    Both of whom are undoubtedly plotting attacks against us, it’s just the prudent thing to assume at this point, don’t you agree?

  • Listened to Pres. Obama today. His speech lacked conviction, and he knew it.
    I wouldn’t blame him for the state of affairs. At the end of the day, a president’ actions reflect the quality of advice he/she is getting.
    Jake, to answer your question now…
    I, too, would declare an air war, except that would be over the airways — using tools called TV, radio, Internet etc.
    It would go after the ideologues and sharia-based narratives that are proven enemies of Muslims and us: certain clerics and sharia.
    No real coalition, other than one with Western nations. I wouldn’t intensify the ongoing air strikes.
    The ideological warfare will convince the Sunnis in Iraq and Syria (and in other countries) to raise up in their own interests.
    Not just IS/ISIS/ISIL, this strategy break the back of radical Islam for good, in about 3 years.
    That’s right — in three years.
    The strategy proposed by Obama administration (and blessed by American establishment )couldn’t be more wrong.
    Ten years after the dastardly 9/11 attacks, America is still clueless.
    But I can tell you that it is so obvious what we need to do and for a win-win situation, without putting Islam down or alienating Muslims.

  • Miriam says:

    I find it interesting that Israel is conspicuously missing from this list
    Theories?

Iraq

Islamic state

Syria

Aqap

Al shabaab

Boko Haram

Isis