The ISIS Threat: Nadav Shragai, Israel Hayom, Jan. 5, 2018— Will the Islamic State forces in Sinai take part in the next clash between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip?
Analysis: Is ISIS Done For?: Yochanan Visser, Arutz Sheva, Dec. 17, 2017— The United States and Iraq celebrated the defeat of the Islamic State on the Sunday after Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced the Jihadist organization had been driven out of the country.
ISIS in Sinai: Battered, Weakened But Still Dangerous: Zvi Mazel, Jerusalem Post, Jan. 15, 2018— Jihadi organization Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis, which morphed into “the Sinai Province of the Islamic State”…
ISIS Takes Hold in Pakistan: Kaswar Klasra, Gatestone Institute, Dec. 28, 2017— Concern over the extent of the presence and power of ISIS in Pakistan resurfaced on December 17, when a suicide-bombing at a church in Quetta left at least nine worshipers dead and more than 50 seriously wounded.
Syria's Post-ISIS Future (Audio): Hillel Frisch, Middle East Forum, Jan. 3, 2018
Returning ISIS Jihadists Pose Long, Uncharted Challenge: Abigail R. Esman, IPT News, Oct. 16, 2017
Are Jihadi Motives Really a Mystery?: Raymond Ibrahim, PJ Media, Jan. 5, 2018
The Jihadist Threat Won't End With ISIS' Defeat: Barbara F. Walter, Foreign Affairs, Dec. 22, 2017
Israel Hayom, Jan. 5, 2018
Will the Islamic State forces in Sinai take part in the next clash between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip?
Officials in the intelligence community who are monitoring the group's growing strength and movements on the Sinai Peninsula tend to think so, and Israel is preparing accordingly. The IDF has even notified communities in the Eshkol Regional Council that it is considering lengthening the anti-tunnel barrier that has been dug along the Gaza border to areas on Israel's border with Egypt to counter Islamic State in Sinai.
The Institute for National Security Studies has been busy studying the jihadi group for years. This week, the institute presented President Reuven Rivlin with its annual security assessment. Among other issues, the report discusses the potential for a major terrorist event in Islamic State-controlled Sinai. "If there is another war in Gaza between Israel and Hamas and other organizations there, we can assume that the parts of Sinai controlled by the Islamic State will also take part in it,"Lt. Col. (res.) Yoram Schweitzer, who heads the Program on Terrorism and Low Intensity Conflict at the INSS and is an expert in the field, says In an interview with Israel Hayom.
As someone who has spent years studying the globalization of suicide terrorist attacks, and who formerly served as head of the IDF's international counterterrorism department, Schweitzer shares the belief that ISIS in Sinai will not remain idle if another clash erupts in the south. He can point out family ties and mutual interests that Hamas in Gaza and the ISIS leadership in Sinai share. "Although ISIS sees Hamas as heretics, and there are deep ideological divides between the two groups, the relations between Hamas in Gaza and the Islamic State in Sinai include mutual interests, a history of cooperating on weapons smuggling and some Hamas members who crossed the border and joined ISIS in Sinai.
"The two groups mix. There are some Hamas members who were disappointed with the group and crossed over to operate as part of [ISIS] in Sinai, and there are clans in Gaza and Sinai who have some members who are active in Hamas in Gaza and others who are active within the framework of ISIS in Sinai," Schweitzer says. The analyst goes on to discuss the "complicated organizational ties between Hamas and ISIS in Sinai, which have had ups and downs." "Even when the Egyptians are putting heavy pressure on Hamas, the group does not turn over members of ISIS-Sinai who have sought shelter in Gaza," he adds. According to Schweitzer, this means that "Hamas is still leaving itself room to cooperate with ISIS in Sinai. A supply and weapons smuggling pipeline to Gaza, with assistance from ISIS-Sinai, is turning out to be an interest stronger than the fear of threats from Egypt, which is demanding that Hamas turn in Islamic State operatives who are hiding in Gaza."
Islamic State in Sinai has proved its military capabilities and professionalism over the past few years, in particular in recent months. The possibility of ISIS in Sinai taking part in the next round of Gaza fighting demands that we review what the organization has managed to perpetrate against Egyptian and Israeli targets these past few years. The worst terrorist attack ISIS in Sinai has carried out against an Egyptian target took place at the Sufi al-Rawdah Mosque in northern Sinai at the end of this past November. A total of 311 worshippers were killed, including dozens of children. The unusual target was apparently chosen because the Sawarka Bedouin clan and the mosque's imam were cast as vigorous opponents of the Islamic State and as collaborators with the Egyptian government's war on ISIS.
The al-Rawdah bombing was the worst terrorist attack in the history of modern Egypt, and it came after ISIS terrorists managed to slip a bomb onto a Russian tourist plane in Sharm a-Sheikh in October of 2015. The plane blew up in mid-air, and all passengers and crew – 224 people in all – were killed. Every year for the past three years, more than 400 Egyptian civilians and members of Egypt's security forces meet their deaths in jihadi terrorist attacks, mainly executed by Islamic State. The attacks are not limited to Sinai; they are creeping into Egypt proper. Often, they target the country's Coptic Christians and tourist destinations in Egypt and Sinai, like the shooting attack at St. Catherine's monastery last April.
According to foreign reports, as well as reports from the Islamic State delegation in Sinai, Israel is helping Egypt fight ISIS terrorism, contributing intelligence and airstrikes. This is prompting ISIS in Sinai to attack Israeli targets as well, although the jihadis in Sinai had Israel in their crosshairs long before Israel was involved in any way in Egypt's efforts to eradicate the jihadis from the Sinai Peninsula.
As early as October 2004, three explosives-rigged cars blew up at the main Israeli tourist destinations in Sinai – the Taba Hilton and the Ras al-Shitan beach, killing 34 people, 12 of whom were Israelis. In the summer of 2011, Salafi jihadis managed to infiltrate Israel from Sinai and attack two Egged buses and a number of cars near Eilat, close to the Egyptian border. Six Israeli civilians, an IDF soldier, and a member of the Israel Police special forces were killed in these attacks. A year later, the Sinai terrorists almost managed to perpetrate a disastrous attack when they used an explosives-rigged APC and truck to breach the Israeli border near Kerem Shalom. The truck hit an old British "pillbox" guard post at the border crossing and blew up, while the APC continued moving forward into Israeli territory until an IDF attack helicopter destroyed it with a missile.
Between 2011-2012, the natural gas pipeline running from Al-Arish in Sinai to Israel and Jordan was sabotaged 15 times. The Sinai-based terrorists have also fired rockets, although relatively few, at Israel over the years. Between 2010 and 2015, 22 Grad rockets were fired at Eilat and the communities in the Eshkol region. Three years ago, ISIS in Sinai claimed responsibility for one of the rocket attacks for the first time, after firing three rockets toward the Eshkol Regional Council. In 2017, another six rockets were fired, four at Eilat and two at the Eshkol region. The concern now is that in the next clash with Hamas, ISIS in Sinai will launch rocket attacks against Israeli communities, this time more numerous…
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Arutz Sheva, Dec. 17, 2017
The United States and Iraq celebrated the defeat of the Islamic State on the Sunday after Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced the Jihadist organization had been driven out of the country. "Today, our troops were able to purge islands of Nineveh and Anbar in full, and they (the forces) are now fully controlling the Iraqi-Syrian borders,” al-Abadi said…“These victories are not only for the Iraqis alone, though the Iraqis were themselves who achieved such victories with their sacrifices. But the victories are for all Arabs, Muslims and the world alike,” the Iraqi leader added.
“Honorable Iraqis, your land has been completely liberated, the flag of Iraq is flying high today over all Iraqi territory and at the farthest point on the border,” according to al-Abadi who declared Sunday a national holiday. The U.S. State Department followed suit with spokeswoman Heather Nauert issuing a statement congratulating the Iraqi people and “the brave Iraqi Security Forces, many of whom lost their lives heroically fighting ISIS." Nauert cautioned, however, that the victory in Iraq doesn’t mean the war against terrorism and even Islamic State in Iraq is over.
A day after she issued her warning ISIS suicide bombers tried to attack the Iraqi city of Rashad but the assault was foiled by the Hashd al-Shaabi umbrella organization of predominantly Shiite militias which killed 10 Islamic State terrorists. It didn’t prevent al-Abadi from organizing a military parade in Baghdad with soldiers of the Iraqi army marching through the center of the city while helicopters and warplanes were flying overhead.
The announcement about the final victory over ISIS in Iraq came two days after the Russian army declared victory over the barbaric group in Syria. Both statements seem to be premature, however, and an Iraqi MP even accused al-Abadi of electoral propaganda by declaring victory over Islamic State at this point. Hushyar Abdullah, a member of the Iraqi security and defense committee, wrote on his Facebook account that ISIS is still able of creating new battle fronts in Iraq. “Domestic and foreign reasons that led to the emergence of ISIS still persist in Iraq and the region,” he added according to The Baghdad Post. Abdullah said the political failures in Iraq are “at their worst level,” but didn’t elaborate.
Experts agree with Abdullah and warn a repeat of al-Qaeda’s resurrection in Iraq, which led to the founding of the Islamic State group, could happen because “the earth on which IS flourished” has not dried out. “The jihadists have been deprived of oxygen and defeated militarily but the womb from which they emerged remains fertile.” Karim Bitar a French Middle East expert warned. He meant economic and social problems as well as marginalizing minorities and widespread corruption in the central government in Iraq. Another huge problem is that in Iraq a whole generation has grown up knowing only cruel war and being brainwashed by Islamist ideology.
To understand why it is premature to celebrate victory over the Islamic State group one should take a look at the broader picture of the war against ISIS. Take, for example, what is happening in Egypt and Libya, as well as countries in Asia, Africa and the Western nations. In Egypt Islamic State is on the rise despite a four-year-old campaign by the Egyptian military and continues to expand its destabilizing activities in the country of 90 million. Wilayat Sinai, the local ISIS branch, which began its activities under the name Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis, has roughly 1200 fighters in the Sinai Peninsula, 80 percent of them foreigners according to the Woodrow Wilson Center.
The Jihadist group carried out the deadliest terrorist attack in Egypt’s history at the end of November and has expanded its terrorist operations to the densely populated Nile Delta and to the desert in western Egypt all the way up to the porous Libyan border. Via that border, ISIS terrorists who fled from Syria and Iraq are now regrouping in Libya – that thought it also had routed the Jihadist group after the fall of its local capital Sirte.
Then there is Gaza where ISIS-affiliated Salafist terror groups are more and more challenging Hamas rule over the enclave in southern Israel and who are reportedly behind the renewed rocket attacks on Israeli cities and communities in the vicinity of Gaza. Islamic State also has a presence on the Golan Heights where it operates under the name Khalid ibn al-Walid Army. Channel 2 in Israel reported in October on several senior ISIS commanders who fled from Iraq and Syria and were recruiting local youth who were receiving military training in camps a few kilometers from the Israeli border.
Farther away in Africa Islamic State’s ideology is leading to the formation of new terror groups which joined their brothers of Boko Haram in Nigeria, an Islamist group that swore allegiance to ISIS in 2015. In Niger and Somalia ISIS’ affiliates have already staged deadly terrorist attacks which aim to destabilize the countries to the point the regime collapses. In the middle of October the ISIS and Al-Qaeda affiliated group al-Shahaab killed at least 276 people when a truck bomb flattened the center of Mogadishu in Somalia.
Pakistan and Afghanistan in Asia have also proven to be fertile ground for Islamic State’s radical Islamist ideology and have witnessed a number of devastating terror attacks committed by local ISIS affiliates. Further east in the Philippines ISIS founded a new branch which operates under the name Al-Shabaab and committed a massacre in the predominantly Muslim city of Marawi, leaving more than 200 people dead this summer.
Then there is Europe where returning ISIS terrorists are increasingly staging so-called lone wolf attacks on Westerners and are forming local terror cells which, like in Spain, are able to wreak havoc. Some 1,200 Islamic State terrorists have returned to European countries and Andrew Parker, the director of the MI5 British intelligence service, warns that the threat they pose is evolving rapidly. “That threat is multi-dimensional, evolving rapidly, and operating at a scale and pace we’ve not seen before,” according to Parker. The United Kingdom tops the list of countries which are harboring ISIS terrorists, with 425 individuals who fought in Syria and Iraq.
The threat Islamic State poses to the world now tops the list of worries among the public. A Pew Research Center report from August 2017 showed that 61 percent of people interviewed in countries across the globe said Islamic State remains the greatest threat worldwide.
Jerusalem Post, Jan. 15, 2018
Jihadi organization Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis, which morphed into “the Sinai Province of the Islamic State” when it pledged allegiance to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, self-proclaimed caliph of ISIS, is slowly losing steam. Torn apart by internal strife and new enemies it is less and less active. Terrorist attacks plummeted from 594 in 2015, to fewer than half that in 2016 and 2017, according to a recent report of Al-Ahram Weekly. This is due to several factors, first and foremost, the Egyptian Army which is doing much better since it killed the organization’s leader Abu Anas el Ansari in May 2016.
ISIS appointed in his stead Abu Hajer al-Hashemi, who is not Egyptian and is rumored to be a former Iraqi Army officer. More non-Egyptians were appointed to the leadership of the group or swelled the terrorists’ rank and file. Among them were deserters from the Izzadin Kassam Brigades, the military wing of Hamas, who fled the Gaza Strip because they were dissatisfied with what they perceived as the lack of resolve of Hamas against Israel and against the Palestinian Authority.
The growing influence of these “foreigners” led to significant changes. Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis no longer took into consideration the tribal intricacies of northern Sinai and did not hesitate to target local civilians and Beduin, even those who in the past had demonstrated sympathy toward the jihadists. The new policy was following the basic tenet of Islamic State: Apply maximum savagery to terrify to reach its goal: setting up an Islamic regime based on the Shari’a and ruled by a caliph.
The November 24 massacre at Al-Rawdah Mosque, linked to the Sufi school of Islam, was a stark demonstration of that new policy. More than 300 civilians were killed in the attack carried out during the Friday morning prayers. The large Tarrabin tribe, which in the past had helped the jihadists, supplying them with information and affording them sanctuary, then turned hostile and greatly hampered their movements. According to reports, armed tribesmen had started unspecified operations against the jihadists last summer. Meanwhile, there were bitter conflicts between the “Egyptians” and the newcomers among the terrorists.
The tribe’s hostility combined with the growing pressure from the army led to the desertion of many militants. Some went back to Gaza, others departed for Libya. Those who did not want to leave the Sinai Peninsula joined another terrorist group, The Army of Islam, which protects them from the vengeance of Daesh. It is a small organization affiliated with al-Qaida that appeared in 2011 and lately carried out two attacks, against the army and against Daesh. Worse, there were incidents between the two sides inside Daesh. Some weeks ago, 20 bodies were found in a desert area south of El-Arish, apparently the result of an armed confrontation between their followers…
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Gatestone Institute, Dec. 28, 2017
Concern over the extent of the presence and power of ISIS in Pakistan resurfaced on December 17, when a suicide-bombing at a church in Quetta left at least nine worshipers dead and more than 50 seriously wounded. Had Pakistani security forces not responded swiftly to the attack on the Bethel Memorial Methodist Church — where 400 men, women and children were attending Sunday services – the assailants "would have managed to reach the main hall of the building, and the death toll would have been much higher," Sarfraz Bugti, the provincial home minister of the Baluchistan province, where Quetta is located, told Gatestone Institute.
Responsibility for the attack — in which two terrorists, clad in explosive vests and armed with AK-47 rifles — was later claimed by ISIS, which has an impressive record of honesty in taking credit for attacks, in a statement published by the Amaq News Agency. This was the sixth ISIS attack in Pakistan in the past year and a half. The first took place on August 8, 2016, when a suicide bomber killed at least 70 people and wounded more than 100 in an attack on a crowd of lawyers and journalists gathered in a government hospital in Quetta — in the province that borders Afghanistan and Iran — to mourn a lawyer who had been murdered earlier in the day. The attack was claimed by a joint ISIS-Taliban faction.
On October 24, 2016, ISIS claimed responsibility for a deadly attack on a police training college in Quetta. The assault, committed by three heavily armed terrorists against sleeping cadets, left more than 60 dead and more than 165 others wounded. On February 16, 2017, an ISIS-affiliated suicide bomber blew himself up at a Sufi shrine in Pakistan's Sindh province, killing more than 90 worshipers and wounding more than 300. On April 18, 2017, the Pakistani army foiled a planned Easter suicide bombing against Christians in Lahore. Given the amount of explosives recovered from the perpetrators, had the attack succeeded, there would have been mass casualties.
On May 12, 2017, an ISIS suicide bombing on the convoy of the deputy chairman of the Pakistani Senate, traveling on the National Highway in the Mastung District of Baluchistan, left at least 28 people dead and 40 wounded. On August 12, 2017, an ISIS suicide bombing on a convoy of the Pakistani military in Quetta left 15 people dead – among them eight soldiers – and 40 others wounded.
All of the above attacks could have been anticipated. In February 2016, the director general of the Pakistani Intelligence Bureau warned the government that ISIS was emerging as a threat, with Pakistani terrorists providing a foothold for the group, whose Pakistani branch is called Walayat-e-Khurasan. Operatives in neighboring Afghanistan have also been playing a major role in the terrorist network. ISIS enlists "partners of convenience" in Afghanistan and "outsources" terror attacks to Pakistani organizations — such as Lashkar-i-Jhangvi and Jamaat-ul-Ahrar — a recent UN Security Council counter-terrorism report revealed. In addition — according to Punjabi Law Minister Rana Sanaullah — as many as 100 Pakistanis left the country in 2015 to join ISIS in Iraq and Syria.
Both revelations are interesting in light of the fact — told to reporters in Islamabad by Pakistani Ambassador to Iraq Ali Yasin Muhammad Karim after the liberation of Mosul in July 2017 — that Pakistan secretly supported Iraq in the fight against the terrorist group. "Pakistan's security forces have the capability and expertise to deal with terrorist groups," Mohammad Ali, an Islamabad-based security expert, told Gatestone Institute. "I hope they take the threat from ISIS seriously."…
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Syria's Post-ISIS Future (Audio): Hillel Frisch, Middle East Forum, Jan. 3, 2018—With the demise of the Islamic State, Syrian President Basher Assad defeated the foremost threat to his regime thanks to Russian and Iranian support. But with substantial parts of Syria held by Kurdish forces, key strategic areas dominated by Turkey, and remnants of jihadist forces still active, the regime has yet to regain full control over his rebellious subjects.
Returning ISIS Jihadists Pose Long, Uncharted Challenge: Abigail R. Esman, IPT News, Oct. 16, 2017—For months now, Western counterterrorism experts have sounded the alarm: as ISIS loses ground, foreign fighters from America and Europe may try returning home. When they do, the experts cautioned, they will carry the terror threat with them, ready and willing to strike. Law enforcement needs to be prepared.
Are Jihadi Motives Really a Mystery?: Raymond Ibrahim, PJ Media, Jan. 5, 2018—The so-called mainstream media's approach to and apologias for Islamic terrorism have become as predictable as they are farcical.
The Jihadist Threat Won't End With ISIS' Defeat: Barbara F. Walter, Foreign Affairs, Dec. 22, 2017—Since October, the Islamic State (or ISIS) has appeared to be on the verge of defeat. Yet even if ISIS were never to reemerge, the United States is no more secure against the jihadist threat than it was in the past.