An audio message released this week purporting to come from the spokesman of the so-called Islamic State (IS) group called on followers to launch attacks in the United States, Europe, Russia, Australia, Iraq, Syria, Iran and the Philippines during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, which began late last month.
The audio clip was distributed on Monday 12 June on IS’ channel on Telegram, which is an encrypted messaging application. The audio was attributed to the militant group’s official spokesman, Abi al-Hassan al-Muhajer. While the authenticity of the recording has not yet been independently verified, the voice was the same as a previous audio message purported to be from the spokesman.
According to new analysis, the so-called Islamic State (IS) group lost almost a quarter of its territory in 2016.
Security and defense analysts IHS Markit have reported that last year, the terrorist group gave up almost 18,000 sq km (6,900 sq miles), with its territory effectively reducing to some 60,400 sq km, just less than the size of the US state of Florida. According to IHS Markit, the 23% reduction in IS-held territory in 2016 followed on from a 14% loss in 2015.
IHS Market predicted the recapture of Mosul by Iraqi government forces by the middle of the year, nothing that the stronghold of Raqqa would be more difficult to recapture. What is also troubling is that IS retook the city of Palmyra in December 2016.
The report also highlighted what it said was a major theological dispute within IS, between those following mainstream doctrine and those taking a more radical interpretation, noting that this could raise the risk of defections or even cause an internal break-up.
In recent weeks, the so-called Islamic State (IS) group has suffered a series of setbacks in Syria, including the loss of access to the Syria-Turkey border and the killing of a number of top leaders. Analysts however warn that the terrorist group remains a potent force – a fact that has been demonstrated by a series of deadly attacks.
The growing pressure on IS, which includes Turkey’s decision to launch an operation against it in northern Syria, has seen the militant group lose ground at an unprecedented pace. IS however continues to maintain the capacity to obtain weapons, attract recruits and deploy fighters to carry out devastating attacks abroad.
On 4 September, the Turkish operation reclaimed the last stretch of the Syria-Turkey border from IS, effectively sealing off its self-styled “caliphate” in Syria and neighbouring Iraq and forcing the group to rely on smuggling networks instead. For IS, this was just the latest setback as the group is now under attack from Syrian and Iraqi troops, as well as Kurdish fighters, Syrian rebels, Turkish Forces, Russian warplanes and a US-led coalition. Experts believe that IS now controls just 20 percent of Iraq and 35 percent of Syria. At the height of its expansion, after it seized Syria’s Palmyra in May 2015, IS controlled around 240,000 square kilometres (more than 92,000 square miles) in both countries – an area roughly the size of Britain. Today however experts indicate that this number has fallen by more than a third to around 150,000 square kilometres, adding that the population it now controls has also declined from some eight million people in mid-2015 to 4.5 million people today. In another major blow to the group’s mobility, in August, IS lost Jazirat al-Khaldiyeh, an area in Iraq’s western Anbar province that was a key crossroads. Meanwhile in Libya, IS is on the verge of losing its stronghold of Sirte. Along with the territorial losses, IS has been affected by a number of high-profile assassinations of its key leaders, which include senior commander Omar al-Shishani and spokesman and top strategist Abu Mohamed al-Adnani.
While these setbacks paint a picture that IS is on the decline, analysts are increasingly warning that the group is far from finished, noting that its focus may simply be shifting from territorial expansion to consolidation of population centres, such as Syria’s Raqa and Iraq’s Mosul, and to launching new attacks against civilians in the region and the West. IS has proven capable of adapting to the changing territory, and it likely that it will do the same this time around. The loss of the border with Turkey will hamper the group’s abilities to import new weapons and recruits, as well as to export resources such as oil. However this challenge is hardly a new one as pressure from Kurdish forces coupled with a Turkish crackdown on the border had already forced IS to mainly rely on smuggling networks. In regards to attaining weapons, IS has always relied to some degree on purchasing from corrupt individuals among its enemies, or capturing arms from defeated opponents.
In a nine-minute video posted on YouTube on Sunday, the so-called Islamic State (IS) group has called on its members to carry out jihad in Russia.
The video, which has subtitles, depicted footage of armed men attacking armoured vehicles and tens and collecting arms in the desert. One of the subtitles read, “breaking into a barrack of the Rejectionist military on the international road south Akashat.” In the last minutes of the video, a masked men driving a car in the desert yells “Listen Putin, we will come to Russia and we will kill you at your homes…Oh Brothers, carry out jihad and kill and fight them.”
While it was not immediately possible to independently verify the video, the link to the footage was published on a Telegram messaging account used by the militant group. Furthermore, while it was not immediately clear why Russia would be a target, the country, along with the United States, are talking about boosting military and intelligence cooperation against both IS and al-Qaeda in Syria. IS has called on its supporters to take action with any available weapons targeting countries it has been fighting.
Over the past several weeks, there has been a string of deadly attacks that have been claimed by IS. Last week, assailants loyal to IS forced an elderly Catholic priest in France to his knees before slitting his throat. Since the mass killing in Nice, southern France on 14 July, there have been four incidents that have occurred in Germany, including the most recent suicide bombing that occurred at a concern in Ansbach.
In an audio recording two years ago, the so-called Islamic State (IS) group urged its followers to attack French people with vehicles.
A speech from the jihadists’ group’s spokesman, Abu Mohammed al Adnani, encouraged devotees to turn to more basic methods of terrorism if they were unable to obtain guns or explosives. In the recording, he stated, “if you are not able to find a bomb or a bullet, then smash his head with a rock, or slaughter him with a knife, or crush him with your car, or throw him down a high place, or choke him, or poison him.” In his remarks, Adnani singled out “the spiteful French” amidst a long list of enemies, which was topped by “the disbelieving American” and their allies.
His September 2014 speech came shortly after a US-led coalition, which included France, launched airstrikes against the jihadist group’s strongholds. A month later, a man rammed his car into two Canadian soldiers in Quebec, killing one of them, in an attack that may have been inspired by Adnani’s recording. In December 2014, a man rammed a van into a crowd of shoppers at a Christmas market in Nantes, injuring nearly twenty people. That incident came just days after another driver rammed pedestrians in the central French city of Dijon, wounding about a dozen. However in both incidents, police refrained from calling the Dijon and Nantes incidents attacks because they said that both individuals had a history of psychiatric illness.
The method has become more common in various parts of the world, however many of the vehicles involved in such attacks are usually rigged with large bombs. In June 2007, two men in a burning jeep smashed into the main terminal at Scotland’s Glasgow Airport. One of the men was later jailed for life, with the judge describing him as a “religious extremist.”