On June 29th, 2014, after the Islamic State captured Mosul, the goup's spokesman Abu Mohamed al-Adnani, shocked the world with the publishing of an audio message proclaiming the establishment of a “Caliphate”. Five years later, much has changed, as a number of military offensives have managed to free the territories that had been conquered by the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq.
The heinous terrorist attacks against churches and hotels that killed 258 people and injured at least 500 in Sri Lanka on Easter Day, caused political turmoil and confirmed a worrying trend already on the rise in the last years: for Islamic State (IS), South and Southeast Asia are the next hotbeds of jihadism, and are an area where the terrorist organisation can sponsor local groups and merge its brand with local guerrillas.
When groups are described as monoliths it is typically the result of lacking information on the true internal dynamics within the group. The same goes for the Islamic State, al-Qaeda and likeminded Jihadi groups. The general impression of the Islamic State is that of an ideologically stringent, organizationally coherent and hierarchically centralized group. As information slowly drops from the inside a less rosy picture is emerging though.
In June 2018, I co-authored an Op-Ed in the Dutch newspaper de Volkskrant appealing to the Dutch government to take back the children of Dutch Islamic State (IS) fighters for legal and long-term security considerations.
The Islamic State in Khorasan (IS-K) expanded rapidly in Afghanistan in 2015-17, but during 2018 the crisis of the Caliphate in Syria and Iraq started eventually to affect it. Although the number of IS members moving to Khorasan from Syria and Pakistan was at this stage still small, news of the state of near terminal crisis inevitably spread to the ranks of IS-K, affecting morale negatively. Even greater was the inability of the Caliphate to transfer funds to IS-K.
The military defeats of Islamic State’s (IS) fighters in Iraq and Syria led many to believe that the threat represented by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s organization was on the verge of extinction. The video-message by the “Caliph” in April 2019, however, denied the persistent rumors that circulated about his death and proved above all his growing attention to sub-Saharan Africa.
Five years ago, speaking from the pulpit of the ancient al-Nuri mosque in Mosul, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi proclaimed the rise of the “Islamic State” (IS). Under his personal guidance, the group was set to take control and expand its territories across Iraq and Syria, to establish a transnational “Caliphate” that was meant to be the home for all Muslims in the region and beyond. IS thus spread like wildfire all over the Middle East attracting foreign fighters from all over the world.
Jihadist mobilisation in the West is not a new phenomenon. However, it has witnessed a substantial increase in recent years – especially after the sudden rise of the so-called Islamic State (IS) or Daesh, which proclaimed its “Caliphate” on 29 June 2014.
In recent years, the threat posed by IS in the West has been manifested in at least two main ways: on the one hand, the increase of jihadist attacks in the region and, on the other hand, the unprecedented flow of foreign fighters heading to the territory of the Caliphate.
At the height of the Islamic State’s (IS) success, in 2013 and 2014, a constant flow of information emerged on social media about the group’s leaders.
Though not enough to endanger the group’s leadership, it did give a general idea of its chain of command. At times IS actively contributed to this through its propaganda, while exercising care not to compromise security.
On the very day of the proclamation of the “Caliphate”, on 29 June 2014, the so-called Islamic State (IS) published a video in English, through one of its official media channels, titled “The End of Sykes-Picot”. In this sophisticated video, a Chilean-Norwegian militant showed and narrated the destruction of a border crossing between Iraq and Syria as well as the hoisting of the “Caliphate”’s flag.