November 2015 – TERRORISM – If investigators determine that the Islamic State is responsible for the catastrophic attacks in Paris, as the group claims and France alleges, the assaults represent a major leap in the group’s abilities. Until now, the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, has relied mainly on “lone wolf” followers to attack the West, with relatively low-tech assaults — shootings, the taking of hostages, hit-and-runs — that draw wide attention but do not cause mass casualties.
“This is much different than a normal lone wolf inspired attack,” said Patrick M. Skinner, a former C.I.A. operations officer now with the Soufan Group, a security consultancy. “This was choreographed. The fact that they could do this, especially in Paris, where the intelligence service is really good, clearly there’s a hole somewhere,” Mr. Skinner said.
The Islamic State has been expanding beyond its base in Iraq and Syria since it declared a caliphate, or Islamic state, in June 2014. The group is focused on three parallel tracks, according to Harleen Gambhir, an analyst at the Institute for the Study of War: inciting regional conflict with attacks in Iraq and Syria;, building relationships with jihadist groups that can carry out military operations across the Middle East and North Africa; and inspiring, and sometimes helping, ISIS sympathizers to conduct attacks in the West. “The goal,” Ms. Gambhir said, “is that through these regional affiliates and through efforts to create chaos in the wider world, the organization will be able to expand, and perhaps incite a global apocalyptic war.”
ISIS activity across the Middle East and North Africa has also surged. The group declared official provinces — or wilayat — in areas of Afghanistan, Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Yemen that had networks loyal to ISIS, many of which have adopted the organization’s signature brutality. It is an “open question” to what extent the core leadership of the Islamic State communicates with its affiliates, Mr. Skinner said. While ISIS is providing support to some groups, there is no hard evidence that it is able to direct the activities of a regional wilayat as part of a cohesive campaign.
But Ms. Gambhir noted that a rocket attack last summer on a multinational force in the Sinai Peninsula may be a sign that ISIS is seeing its abilities mature. The attack could be seen as part of a larger strategy to fracture the American-led airstrike coalition. “We haven’t assessed yet if that’s an intentional orchestration by ISIS,” Ms. Gambhir said. “We’re on heightened alert to look for things like that because it would indicate a new level of capability for the organization.” –NY Times