The destruction of the “caliphate” has all but eliminated the Islamic State’s physical stronghold in Iraq and Syria, but that doesn’t mean ISIS is gone forever. In fact, experts warn that terror attacks are likely to increase in 2018 as a result.
“ISIS will want to show that they are still in the fight, and their followers remain as fanatical as ever,” says Lewis-Sage Passant, a former British Army intelligence officer and founder of travel security company HowSafeIsMyTrip. “The number of attacks globally will likely increase as the group switches focus from the war in the Middle East to international terrorism.”
Adam Deen, executive director of counter-extremism think tank Quilliam, agrees. “We’re going to see without a doubt more attacks in the West,” he told reporters in October.
Deen recalled the false sense of victory that many expressed after the death of Osama Bin Laden, and warned that ISIS is now focusing on revenge. “They will be less able to mount well-funded operations such as the Paris attacks. But they want to show that they are still in the fight.”
“I think in the longer term, the defeat of ISIS and the propaganda defeat that goes with that will actually reduce the threat in the UK and Europe,” says Anthony Richards, an assistant professor in Terrorism Studies at the University of East London, in an interview with CNBC. But he notes, “In the shorter term, we’ll still see more terrorist attacks.”
Some foresee more frequent attacks, accompanied by a decrease in lethality, including a rising number of knife and vehicle attacks.
The threats come as an estimated 25,000 foreign fighters return to more than 100 countries after leaving their homes to fight in Syria. According to a report from the Soufan Center, The number of returned fighters was put at 5,600 from 33 countries in October. It also revealed that on average, 20 to 30 percent of those from Europe have already come back. However, in the U.K., Sweden and Denmark, 50 percent of ISIS fighters have returned, and nearly 20,000 names have been given to Interpol.
In the U.S., the Soufan Center reported that 129 Americans made it to the battlefields of Syria or Iraq, and as of October, only seven of them have returned. Seventy-seven out of 135 people charged with ISIS-linked terrorism offenses have been convicted since August.
Al-Qaeda is another major terrorist threat, warned Richards amid threats from Osama bin Laden’s son Hamza, particularly following Trump’s naming of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. The organization is likely to use the younger Bin Laden to spearhead a comeback as it sees opportunity in ISIS’s military defeats.
“There can be no misunderstanding or complacency,” Mubaraz Ahmed, analyst at the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change, told CNBC. “Al-Qaeda remains active and ideologically engaged in activities against the West. An over-concentration on ISIS, rather than jihadi terrorism as a whole, risks creating blind spots for the group to exploit.”
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