The coordinated attacks in Paris and suspected Islamic State bombing of a Russian airliner raises the risk that Islamic State supporters in the U.S. and other Western countries will spur into action. The opening of a new phase in Islamic State (ISIS) terror will also result in a fresh wave of recruits radicalized by the appearance that the Islamic State is quickly ascending.
You can watch Clarion Project National Security Analyst Ryan Mauro discuss this increasing threat on FOX News’ “America’s News HQ” on Saturday afternoon below:
First, there is a risk of “copycat” attacks by the Islamic State and other Islamist terrorist supporters, including those who are loyal to Al-Qaeda and want to show that the group hasn’t become a “has-been” in the jihadist world. It is hard to express the excitement that an aspiring jihadist will feel at two breakthrough moments in the war against the West in such short order. At this sensitive time, any kind of an attackâ€”even a simple shooting or pipe bombingâ€”takes on much greater significance.
If an Islamist terrorist is planning or considering an attack, it is difficult to resist the temptation to strike now. Even a relatively minor attack becomes part of a bigger story, rather than being forgotten amongst the wave of headlines about acts of violence. On an egotistical level, a jihadist will want to attach his name to this dramatic story.
Secondly, there are those who will worry that they might now lose their chance to strike and earn their ticket to Paradise by dying in jihad as a “martyr.” Supporters of the Islamic State have every reason to expect Western governments to become extra aggressive in rounding up possible terrorists. ISIS supporters who believe they are on the authorities’ radar could choose to act sooner instead of patiently preparing their plot and risk being foiled.
The attacks in Paris and on the Russian airliner show that the threat from the Islamic State is greater than ever, and we’ve entered a new period where they’ve moved towards more sophisticated, Al-Qaeda-style attacks in the West. They are engaging in pre-planning and dispatching teams of operatives instead of just hoping to inspire a random supporter into committing violence independently. This upgrade in quality is a powerful tool in the Islamic State’s propaganda arsenal.
The organizationâ€™s ability to recruit is largely based on the appearance of success. No one wants to join an organization whose recent history is filled with losses. Moreover, success is seen as Allah‘s endorsement; the ultimate winning argument in a theological debate among those dabbling in Islamist extremism.
Just as the Islamic Stateâ€™s burst onto the scene with the capturing of Mosul in 2014 earned it a wave of recruits, these attacks will also earn it a wave of recruits and it will encourage the millions of Islamic State supporters who have yet to take up arms to finally act upon their beliefs.
It is critical that the West push back against the Islamic Stateâ€™s convincing narrative of success. Those in the region understand the importance of this. We saw many tweets from people in the Middle East directed towards ISIS that told the group that their attacks in Paris cannot erase their setbacks elsewhere.
Dramatic events like these make recent losses like the killing of “Jihadi John” and the Kurds recapturing Sinjar seem like distant memories, but they deserve to be a part of the news coverage and U.S. government’s international messaging. Instead of focusing on single events that the Islamic State hopes will grab our attention, we must put them into a broader context that the Islamic State is less eager for the public to know about.
Ryan Mauro is ClarionProject.orgâ€™s national security analyst, a fellow with Clarion Project and an adjunct professor of homeland security. Mauro is frequently interviewed on top-tier television and radio. Read more, contact or arrange a speaking engagement.