Thursday,21 February, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1382, (22 - 28 February 2018)
Thursday,21 February, 2019
Issue 1382, (22 - 28 February 2018)

Ahram Weekly

The future of IS

After the collapse of IS in Syria and Iraq where will its fighters go? This is the question a new study prepared by Al-Azhar Observatory for Combating Extremism tries to answer, reports Ahmed Morsy


The future of IS
The future of IS

A recent study by Al-Azhar Observatory for Combating Extremism out underlines how, since the emergence of Islamic State (IS), it has attracted adherents from many different states. As it occupied more and more land in Syria and Iraq the number of foreign fighters joining the terrorist organisation grew, with some estimates placing their number at 40,000.

But with IS routed from its bases in Iraq and Syria where will these foreign fighters go? What threat will be posed by IS members operating as lone wolves, by the group’s cyberspace propaganda, idle cells and returnees to their countries of origin?

The Al-Azhar Observatory study presents the thoughts of world leaders on the future of IS. Among them is President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi who, in October 2017, said “success in fighting IS in Syria and Iraq will lead the organisation to shift fronts to Libya and Egypt’s Western border, North Sinai and West Africa.”

In December Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogansaid Sinai had become a destination for IS fighters. “I want to clarify something,” he said. “IS militias present in Syria’s Raqqa have withdrawn to the Egyptian desert.”

In the same month Iran’s Intelligence Minister Seyed Mahmoud Alawi warned that “IS has lost control on the ground but it still exists and its elements haven’t laid down their arms but are seeking to establish themselves in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Central Asia as well as any other front they can reach.”

Fayd Mohamed Othman, Afghanistan’s minister of hajj and awqaf, was quoted by Afghan media saying “more than 5,900 IS militants have fled from Iraq and Syria and are about to enter Afghanistan.”

Political leaders, says the study, agree IS is now seeking to consolidate its presence in Libya, West Africa, Sinai, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Central Asia.

According to Timeturk newspaper Zamir Kabulov, Russia’s representative in Afghanistan, believes “the strength of the organisation has increased in Afghanistan and their numbers now exceed 10,000 fighters, a figure that is growing with the influx of new fighters from Syria and Iraq.”

Africa is also a favoured destination for IS militants with many news agencies reporting the return of African fighters recruited by IS to their home countries. The African Union Commissioner for Peace and Security’s Ismail Sharqi warns that 6,000 Africans who fought for IS could return home.

The Al-Azhar Observatory stresses that IS has repeatedly threatened to target the Egyptian police and army, Copts and Sufis from Sinai.

IS plays fans and manipulates sectarian strife. “Al-Azhar is aware of this,” says the study, “and is playing its role to counter it by spreading awareness among citizens and refuting the arguments and fatwas on which IS relies to attract and recruit young people. It plays its role not only in Egypt but throughout the world via Al-Azhar Observatory which counters extremist ideologies in 11 languages.”

The study says foreign returnees pose a daunting challenge since they are likely to stage lone-wolf attacks which are extremely difficult to detect.

EU Commissioner Julian King expressed concern over the ramifications of the shift in IS fighters’ focus: “I expect a number of militants to shift their attention to Europe. This small number of extremists poses a huge threat that must be dealt with firmly and decisively,” King was quoted as saying in Newsweek.

In Germany authorities estimate of the 940 German nationals who joined IS 145 have been killed while 250 have already returned.

The study argues that a qualitative strengthening of international efforts and intelligence and military cooperation in the fight against terrorism is needed to contain the threat posed by IS.

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