Written on the 18th of June, 2017.
By the 15th of June 2016, 22 Islamic Terror attacks had been carried out in European cities. 2017 though, may present itself as an even bloodier year in the now alarmingly active terrorist’s calendar. With IS’s increasingly unstable position in Iraq and Syria, they have been actively seeking to spread their ideology as the foundation of their caliphate crumbles, inciting ‘lone wolf’ attacks. Such attacks have proven successful and devastating to civil society moral, introducing what may become a new wave of similar attacks on European streets.
The first half of 2014 saw rapid IS territorial gains in Syria and Iraq, with long swathes of land strategically held to ensure IS control of oil wells and the easy movement of fighters and supplies. 2014, for example, saw IS total income reach $1.9 billion yearly, primarily through sources such as tax, natural resources, and fines, with oil sales representing up to $450 million of the total figure. By 2016 though IS’ total income plunged to $870 million. Such a fall in the fortunes of the once aggressively expanding caliphate can be put down do coalition airstrikes primarily lead by the US. Indeed, Iraqi ground forces are currently engaged in extricating IS from Mosul, the caliphates commercial ‘capital’.
Throughout Syria the lifeblood of the Syrian economy is sacrificed, a 21st century Middle-Eastern adaption of Russian and German scorched earth, with the added benefit of obscuring coalition aircraft; two birds with one stone. Significant of such a contraction is the immolation of the once life sustaining oil wells, such as the Arak Gas facility East of Palmyra, set alight on the 18th of June 2017.
As the caliphate contracts, it expands. It’s reach in the digital dimension grows day by day, spurred by a growing propaganda machine, distantly recruiting a new generation of Jihadis to complete what it considers its final goal, the defeat of the ‘Roman’ army at Dabiq, a target it is now incapable of achieving conventionally, partly due to its loss of Dabiq in October 2016 to Turkish backed rebels. As a result, it’s propaganda machine works on overdrive indoctrinating impressionable young men throughout the world.
The result of such efforts to project its influence are seen in the rise of terrorist attacks, from 2015 onwards, with a 650% rise in fatalities from terrorism in western states from 2014’s level, while 2016 saw another rise. A deeper problem though is increasingly becoming apparent in the nature of such attacks, with successful ‘lone wolf’ attacks leading to copycat attacks throughout Europe. Extremely hard to track and prevent, attacks such as the one seen in Nice have served as devastating marketing material for the effectiveness of a vehicle, while simple knife attacks have also become more popular, all of which have been seen numerous times in the last 3 months, as ‘lone wolf’ terrorism increasingly become “part of the terrorist zeitgeist.”
The problem lies not only in their difficulty to predict, but also in the psychology of ‘lone wolf’ terrorism. In the minds of Western Muslims teetering on extremist views, a simple knife or car attack represents an easy alternative to the logistic and technical nightmare involved in bomb making, a short-cut to martyrdom.
In the mind of its victims, the simplicity and assumed prior thoughtlessness associated with a mere knife or truck attack paints a picture of minimal premeditation, unlike a bomb attack requiring months of planning and training, while the increasingly common occurrence of such attacks and ideological-mediocrity of their propagators is potentially dangerous in stirring up beliefs of commonality of such extreme views among Muslim communities, leading to their further alienation and withdrawal inwards; not exactly conducive to successful hearts and minds, or the prevention of further radicalisation, while firmly confirming the beliefs of previously mentioned ‘teetering radicals’.
Such a result, combined with the at times, equally delusional, impressionable, and unintelligent Western male alternative further cultivates a clash of civilisations, the final goal of IS, and another rung on the ladder towards the defeat of the infidel at Dabiq.
Nevertheless, despite the best efforts of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi or Tommy Robinson, such a conclusion is unlikely, though we may see much more blood on Western streets before IS becomes an anachronism. Indeed, it is logical to assume that this summer we may see up to 20 attacks on European streets, a direct result of IS’ failure to remain conventional, but devastating success otherwise.