Saturday 22 October 2016

Isil can mobilise its international following far better than any other terror organisation

Charlie Winter

Published 27/06/2015 | 02:30

The bloodstained belongings of a tourist are seen on the sand in the resort town of Sousse, Tunisia
The bloodstained belongings of a tourist are seen on the sand in the resort town of Sousse, Tunisia

Yesterday morning, Yassin Salhi, a 35-year-old resident of Saint-Priest in Lyon, attached a disembodied head to the gates of the factory which he visited as part of his work, before proceeding to set off a series of small bomb blasts, presumably intending to cause a much larger explosion.

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Just minutes after these reports came in, supporters of Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, also known as Isil, who were already congratulating Salhi online for his exploits, began muttering about a bomb attack on the Shia Imam Sadiq mosque in Kuwait.

One hour later, Isil's internet supporters reached fever pitch, when it emerged that a hotel in the Tunisian resort town of Sousse was in the process of being assaulted by a jihadist gunman.

Of the three attacks, it is only Kuwait's that we know to be linked to Isil: it was officially claimed by the caliphate's recently minted "Najd Province" - the Saudi branch of Isil - which named the attacker as Abu Sulayman al-Muwahhid in its statement.

That said, the other two attacks have tacitly been claimed by Isil supporters, who commended the efforts of the "lions of the caliphate" involved.

Usually, the caliphate's online clique exercise caution when an attack is ongoing - this time, though, they were quick to attribute it to their cause.

Whether or not they are right, they are making these judgments based on a number of reasons.

There is much to suggest - but nothing to confirm - that all three could have been, in some respects at least, inspired by Isil: Kuwait's attack was officially claimed; France's featured a beheading and an "Isil flag"; and Tunisia's was almost immediately attributed to the "men of the [Isil] State" by some of the group's most prominent disseminators in Iraq.

Of course, it could emerge that the "Isil flag" in question was in fact al-Qa'ida in the Arabian Peninsula's, or al-Shabaab's - after all, all three groups use the same banner.

It could also turn out that Tunisia's operation was carried out by the al-Qa'ida-aligned "Uqba Ibn Nafi" Brigade.

Until it does, though, Isil fans will continue to keenly lap up the publicity.

These attacks come at a time of heightened emotion for Isil.

On Tuesday, a statement from the caliphate spokesman Abu Mohammed al-Adnani was circulated online in which he called for Sunni Muslims to "rush and move to make Ramadan a month of disasters for the kuffar".

At a time when it is losing ground in Syria, Iraq and, more latterly, Libya, Isil's momentum needs a boost. Al-Adnani said the words he did, recognising this.

It is precisely for this reason, too, that we are seeing Isil's supporters clamour to claim credit for these attacks.

If it does turn out that the attackers were inspired by Isil, this does not mean that they were coordinated, let alone planned, by the organisation.

The last few months have resoundingly demonstrated Isil's ability to incite terrorist operations abroad. Its ideology is at once more accessible and more intoxicating to its international supporters than that of other jihadist groups.

The totalitarian infusion of utopianism and eschatology, combined with its blatant disregard for mainstream Muslim public opinion, renders attacks in its name both more accessible and more urgent.

For the Isil enthusiast, statements like that of al-Adnani on Tuesday act like direct orders.

For a long time, many analysts, myself included, have been warning that the month of Ramadan would be a violent one.

It is something that Isil propaganda has constantly alluded to in its official messaging, as the organisation's propagandists have sought to assert its stubborn defiance in the face of the global coalition and longevity of its political programme.

While it may appear otherwise, attacks like these are not irrational - they lend momentum to the jihadist cause like nothing else.

Charlie Winter is senior researcher at The Quilliam Foundation, a counter-extremism think tank

Irish Independent

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