The excerpt below is from an article written by Douglas Quan for The National Post, which originally appeared on April 26, 2019. The original article in its entirety can be read here.
Its self-declared state is no more, but as the Sri Lanka attacks showed, the jihadi group and those inspired by it still pose a deadly threat.
As U.S.-led forces seized control of ISIL’s last outpost in Syria late last month, pundits were quick to caution against premature declarations of victory. The so-called “caliphate” may have been dismantled, they said, but that did not necessarily mean an end to the threat the jihadi group and its adherents posed around the world.
Weeks later, suicide bombers carried out a series of attacks at churches and luxury hotels in Sri Lanka, killing about 250 people and injuring hundreds more. Though investigators are still examining what links the perpetrators may have had to ISIL’s central command, there is broad consensus they were at the very least inspired by the militant group.
Terrorism analysts say the attacks signal a pivoting away from ISIL’s diminished core to its periphery — and that its brand is finding new life and energy in its far-flung branches.
Amarnath Amarasingam, a senior research fellow at the Institute for Strategic Dialogue and postdoctoral fellow at the University of Waterloo, said there have been rumours of sleeper cells circulating in several countries for some time. Made up of returnees from the battlefield and individuals who have trusted relations with what’s left of the ISIL command structure, these networks are a genuine threat and will become more important and influential, he said.
“I think it’s fundamentally true we will be encountering much more than lone wolf attacks in the coming years.”
Asked who he meant by “we,” Amarasingam replied: “Canada and beyond.”
I think it’s fundamentally true we will be encountering much more than lone wolf attacks in the coming years
ISIL first proclaimed a virtual state, or caliphate, in Syria and Iraq in 2014. It drew thousands of Western fighters from dozens of countries — including Canada — to its frontlines, lured, in part, by a heavy online propaganda machine spewing end-of-the-world messaging.
Even as an international military coalition succeeded in erasing ISIL’s footprint in that region, a U.S. government report in October warned that ISIL’s global reach remained “robust” and its branches and networks continued to thrive in theatres across Africa, Asia, Europe and the Middle East.
“The group has certainly been decimated in terms of territorial ownership but the ideology is … thriving,” said Phil Gurski, a former senior strategic analyst with Canada’s spy agency, CSIS.
“The Islamic State affiliates, wannabees, inspired, are still around and they’re going to do what they can, whenever they can.”
Relatives cry at the graveside during the funeral of a victim of the Easter Sunday Bombings at a local cemetery on April 24, 2019 in Colombo, Sri Lanka. Atul Loke/Getty Images
A report in November by the Center for Strategic and International Studies estimated there were as many as 230,000 Salafi-jihadist and allied fighters around the world in 2018, about a 270 per cent increase from 2001, when the 9/11 attacks occurred. These fighters belonged to one of four broad constituencies, according to the report: ISIL, al-Qaida and its affiliates, other Salafi-jihadist and allied groups, and inspired networks and individuals.
The Easter Sunday attacks in Sri Lanka were one more manifestation of ISIL’s opportunism and intent to spread its terror campaign to “whatever venues are available,” Bruce Hoffman, a terrorism analyst at Georgetown University, wrote in a column this week for The Cipher Brief.
Read the original article in its entirety here