Islamic State’s three tactics that will bring terror closer to home
the attacks in Sri Lanka should not have been all that surprising. While the territorial defeat of Islamic State was an important counter-terrorism win, the attacks in Sri Lanka are a stark reminder of what counter-terrorism officials have been stating for years — IS does not need to hold territory in order to remain a lethal global threat.
Increasingly that threat is presenting itself in Asia.
Thinking beyond the caliphate
The collapse of the caliphate and the retreat of IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has not diminished the appeal of jihad as a solution to injustice, corruption and poor governance.
Growing sectarianism, disinformation and extremism provide openings for the ideology to take hold in people’s hearts and minds.
Sri Lanka, and other regions in Asia, fit into Islamic State’s broader strategy of gaining a foothold in countries and regions where there is a history of communal violence, where there are weapons and explosives readily available, where political and security structures are weak or weakening.
But practically speaking, how does IS manage to maintain its global reach even while losing its base in Iraq and Syria?
There are three ways:
1. Reliance on its regional networks and affiliates
IS is increasingly relying on its affiliate organisations and networks around the world to maintain its relevance via mayhem and to serve as vectors for its ideology.
IS began preparing for the eventuality of the caliphate’s collapse since at least 2015. Instead of calling its followers to travel to Iraq and Syria, it reversed its instruction and told its supporters to migrate to its affiliate organisations or to remain in their home countries and conduct terrorist attacks on their behalf there.
IS has invested resources and energy in developing affiliates and networks in Asia — such as incorporating local groups like Abu Sayyaf and the Ansar Khalifa Philippines in the Philippines under its banner, establishing Islamic State Khorasan Province (ISKP) in Central Asia with operations in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and nurturing networks in India, the Maldives and Bangladesh.
IS supporters in Asia are also increasingly networking among themselves with some reports of Maldivians and Sri Lankans training with ISKP.