WASHINGTON, DC — Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) jihadists are “adapting” to the fall of their so-called caliphate in Iraq and Syria by intensifying their activity “in all” other corners of the world, including Africa, Bangladesh, and Southeast Asia, a top U.S. State Department official told reporters.
While briefing reporters in all different areas around the globe via teleconference on Thursday, U.S. Ambassador Nathan Sales, the counterterrorism coordinator at State, noted:
As we defeat ISIS on the battlefield, the group is adapting to our success. The fight is by no means over – it’s simply moving into a new phase: from military solutions to law enforcement solutions. Increasingly, we’re going to need to supplement our military efforts to defeat ISIS with civilian measures that can ensure the group’s enduring defeat.
We’re not just worried about ISIS core, which as we all know has been degraded quite severely in its territorial holdings in Syria and Iraq, but as that territorial core has eroded, we’ve seen an increase in activity by ISIS elements elsewhere in the world.
The State official’s comments echo recent warnings from the U.S. intelligence community that ISIS will “likely” attempt to regroup in Iraq and Syria this year.
In their Worldwide Threat Assessment unveiled in February, U.S. intelligence officials predict the terrorist group will be “enhancing its global presence, championing its cause, planning international attacks, and encouraging its members and sympathizers to attack in their home countries” this year, adding:
ISIS’s claim of having a functioning caliphate that governs populations is all but thwarted … Outside Iraq and Syria, ISIS’s goal of fostering interconnectivity and resiliency among its global branches and networks probably will result in local and, in some cases, regional attack plans.
In recent days, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson officially designated several ISIS-affiliated groups and leaders as terrorist organizations.
State has identified the groups as ISIS West Africa, ISIS Somalia, ISIS Egypt, ISIS Bangladesh, ISIS Philippines, the Maute Group in the Philippines, Jund al-Khilafah Tunisia; and the individuals as Mahad Moalim, the leader of the ISIS affiliate in Somalia, and Abu Musab al-Barnawi, a top jihadi within ISIS’s West Africa affiliate.
Amb. Sales explained:
We’re seeing ISIS increasingly active in Africa, hence the designation of ISIS West Africa. As we all know, ISIS Philippines laid siege to Marawi last year, and that territory was liberated only by extensive interventions by the Philippine military.
ISIS Bangladesh. So we’re seeing activity, really, in all corners of the globe. And that’s why it’s incumbent upon us in the United States, with our international partners, to mobilize an international coalition and demonstrate to that coalition that the fight is not over … we need to redouble our efforts to confront this decentralized threat as it fans out across the globe.
Sales warned that the Islamic State is seeking to attack “targets of opportunity” across the world, telling reporters:
Just last week there were public reports of an ISIS threat to Carnival in Trinidad and Tobago. Fortunately, we were able to disrupt that. In Dagestan, ISIS claimed responsibility for an attack on a church. In Australia, an ISIS-inspired woman stabbed her landlord in Melbourne. And these are all just within the past several weeks.
“I think ISIS will seek out targets of opportunity, not just civil aviation and not just governmental targets, but also churches, mosques, and individuals,” he stressed.
The ambassador noted that the State Department is mobilizing law enforcement efforts to keep ISIS off U.S. soil.
Such moves include the recent designations, keeping Islamic State-affiliated individuals from boarding planes through Passenger Name Record (PRN) data, and preventing them from obtaining documents to enter the country through biometric efforts.