The last terrorist act recorded in Europe – the ‘lone wolf’ attack of the last Wednesday (March 22) at the famous bridge Westminster of London and inside the Parliament’s building nearby, performed by a British citizen pursued by the antiterrorist structures -, resulting in 5 deaths and few dozens of wounded people, was claimed by ISIS, the so-called Islamic Caliphate. An ISIS communication calls Khalid Massoud a “soldier” of the Caliphate, thus indicating that the organization is active in Europe.
The question itself raises at least two issues, which we propose to deal with. The first one refers to ISIL’s vitality, which is the target of both the coalition led by the USA formed by 68 states, and the governmental Syria led by Assad and his allies, let’s call it “The Astania Group”, since its ensemble – Russia, Iran, Turkey – have promoted a solution which is different from those tried before. Namely, a solution that tends to be consistent with the coalition led by the USA, as well as the peace process of Geneva, legitimated by the UN resolution of December 2015. Therefore, the manner of today’s fight against ISIL and which are its chances to survive in Syria and Iraq, where they organized since the summer of 2014 a proto-state.
The second issue refers to the idea of an “Islamic Caliphate” itself, namely if it can by identified as a program for the future action of the militant jihad and the manner in which ISIS will be able to survive to itself after its expected and certain destruction.
Therefore, what ISIL, Daesh or the “Islamic Caliphate” is, lightning appeared in mid-2014, representing the biggest security threat for the current global order, does exist anymore today? In June 2014, when ISIL appeared, its initiators announced that “The sun of jihad has risen.. … Now the caliphate has returned. … Now the dream has become a reality”, and the Sykes-Picot Agreement (1916) which outlined the borders of the current states in the Middle East is “dead”, therefore this political map will be changed. Shortly after this, ISIS established a territorial base in Iraq and Syria, measuring almost 200,000 square Km, and jihadist organizations on other continents gradually joined the new Caliphate and its “Caliph”.
According to the most recent information, fighters and organizations affiliated to ISIS have performed terrorist attacks beyond its territorial base in Syria and Iraq, in states like Egypt, Pakistan, Turkey, France, USA, etc. The aggression launched in the summer of 2014 has soon received an adequate and effective reply. After two years and a half of international effort, the territory controlled by the so-called Islamic Caliphate was limited as a result of joint efforts, including a surface of 40,000 square km. in Syria and Iraq, in December 2016. Simultaneously with the terrorist attack in London, on March 22, 2017, a conference of the anti-ISIS international coalition led by USA was opened in Washington. In his opening speech, the new State Secretary, Roy Tillerson, stated that the alliance of the 68 states aims to liquidate the Islamic Caliphate and its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, mentioning that almost all of his deputies have been eliminated from the battle. “It is only a matter of time before Baghdadi himself meets this same fate” stated Tillerson.
Besides, according to some credible news, the leader of the Caliphate was forced to leave Mosul, where his general district was, the city being almost completely under the domination of the Iraqi forces. ISIL capacities to carry out complex military operations, including in Syria and Iraq, are severely damaged without any doubt, Abu Bakr being unable to permanently coordinate such actions. Also during this meeting of the anti-ISIL coalition held in Washington, which includes both Occidental states and Arab states, was mentioned the will to enhance the joint efforts to destroy the enemy and to launch a reconstruction post-conflict program, ensuring the return of the refugees and the strengthening of the stability both in Iraq and Syria. It has been also noticed, in relation to some recent events, that as ISIS will be under a devastating military pressure in Iraq and Syria, the organization will try to relocate the center of gravity of its operations in West, in Europe and USA, the attack in London being an example.
Countering the spread of the ISIS fighters, and consequently, of the terrorist attacks in West, becomes one of the main directions of action of the coalition led by USA. It is estimated that approx. 1,500 fighters of the around 5,000 fighters in West who joined ISIS in Syria and Iraq, have already returned in their mother countries. Since the beginning of 2017, an increase of the ISIS attacks consisting in car bomb attacks or kamikaze fighters has been noticed especially in the territories held in Syria and Iraq), as well as in other 10 countries, causing almost 800 victims. In the same time, an increase of the actions performed by the jihadist organizations affiliated in Pakistan, Somalia and parts of the North Africa, was obvious. But it became clear that the ISIS force began to be decomposed in this proto-state created in Syria and Iraq, and its end is imminent. It’s not just about the fact that a significant part of the territory occupied by ISIS was liberated, but it is especially evaluated that they will not be able to resist too much in the “capital” Raqqa, which will probably be liberated at the end of this year. But we can notice that, if up to 2,000 volunteers were passing the border between Turkey and Syria each month in the 2014-2015 period, in order to join ISIS, the current monthly turnover doesn’t exceed 50 people. The funds available for ISIS have also recorded a drastic decrease, from almost USD 2 billion per year in 2014, to slightly more than USD 800 million in 2016. With the financial flow, the recruitment of new fighters has also decreased. The important losses in battles (more than 10,000 people) have a strong psychological impact in the same direction.
What’s going to happen with ISIS when its proto-state will be destroyed? Will it survive, relocating itself in other available base, or it will be gone forever from the stage of the history? The answers of the ISIS experts are divided on this matter. Some of them say that the Caliphate will retire in the desert, waiting for better days to reborn. The supporters of this thesis argue that if a Sunni organization will appear in Iraq, providing representativeness to the community, the fascination of the Caliphate will disappear. If this will not happen, or if the community’s repression will be reestablished, the circumstances will favor its reappearance, in order to fill a void felt in the community.
Retiring in the desert will make the enhancement of the combativeness in the West more difficult, by the “lone wolf” actions, due to their complexity and to the considerable weakening of the possibilities of influencing the communities spread across the world by means of communication. However, this retirement in the desert will start a crisis of credibility from which ISIS will never return, according to another group of experts. Losing the territorial base in Syria and Iraq will be perceived as a lack of operational capability, causing a decline of the global attraction it experienced in the two previous years. Finally, another group of experts sat that the idea of the Caliphate will survive and maybe it will reborn. On the one hand, it’s a strong historical tradition in all the Sunni communities, to which the ISIS episode provided a contemporary rebirth reason, on the other hand, we shouldn’t underestimate the capabilities of spreading this idea provided by the evolution of the digital age. This trend of thinking doesn’t exclude the continuity of the idea among the Sunni communities as an expression of a “divine call”, with a certain attraction force which is always reenacting (the parallel with the communist ideology is often done). An argument to this end is provided by the remarks on those who returned from ISIS, many of them remaining loyal to the cause of the militant jihadism.
According to the German authorities, 48 percent of those who returned (meaning 274 people) admit such a loyalty to jihad. A reader made a skeptical comment on a recently published article, foreseeing an enhancement of the global terrorist phenomenon in the future: “There are more than enough Muslim men to support terror groups for decades to come./…/ Still, there seems to be an endless appetite for create terrorist armies that lay waste to whatever land they take over. We have seen the mujahadeen in Afghanistan, followed by the Taliban they spawned, then Al Quaeda, then Al Shabbab, then ISIS, then ISIS in Libya, then Boko Haram.” Therefore, the capacity to revive of the terrorist organizations in order to continue the global hegemonic challenge is historically documented in the recent years. The vigilance and the effort to fight against it, including or especially the military one, obviously must be increased.