The Islamic State is not just the terror group de jour. It is a hugely successful movement with an apocalyptic, nihilistic philosophy. When its members say “convert, join us, or die”, they not only mean it, they follow through with horrific effect.
But let’s look deeper. What else makes them such a real security threat, to Iraq, to the region, to the world and to the U.S.? Here are 11 reasons.
1. The Islamic State is more media sophisticated than al-Qaida and excels in using social media as a tool of terrorism. The group’s Twitter and YouTube postings in English show that the West is often their target audience.
2. The Islamic State is flush with cash. Its territorial control allows for consistent stream of funding. They’ve also developed an extensive extortion racket, as well as selling electricity and exporting oil and gas.
3. Because of The Islamic State’s rise to prominence, many al-Qaida-linked groups are now pledging allegiance to it, including elements of al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, Ansar al-Dine (Tunisia) Boko Haram, and al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, giving The Islamic State access to a global network of terrorists.
4. The Islamic State controls territory the size of Maryland in the heart of the Arab world, which is important for a predominantly Arab revolutionary terrorist group. The al-Qaida core group along the Afghanistan/Pakistan border controls no territory and is dependent on Afghan and Pakistani Islamist militants who act as hosts.
5. The Islamic State has evolved into a proto-state, with its own army, civil administration, judiciary and a sophisticated propaganda operation. Al-Qaida core leaders, by contrast, are fugitives forced to live a clandestine existence under the constant threat of drone strikes or commando assaults.
6. The Islamic State is the most heavily-armed Islamist extremist group in history, having captured huge amounts of military weapons and equipment in Iraq and Syria.
7. The Islamic State is out-recruiting al-Qaida. It is estimated that 80 percent of the foreign militants that flock to Syria join the Islamic State rather than al-Qaida’s franchise, the Al-Nusra Front. The Islamic State appears to have success with recruitment of Westerners as well.
8. The leader of the Islamic State, who goes by the nom de guerre of Abu-Bakr al-Baghdadi, is a charismatic leader who claims descent from the Prophet Mohammed. This will help recruit young, impressionable Muslims. He has much more personal appeal for young Muslim militants than al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, a dour and didactic theoretician.
9. The Islamic State is better placed to not only attract recruits from the Middle East, North Africa, Europe and the United States, but get them into the fight. It is much easier to travel across the dissolving borders of Iraq and Syria than it is to travel to Pakistan or Afghanistan.
10. The Islamic State has declared the rebirth of the Caliphate and the leader of the Islamic State has proclaimed himself to be Caliph Ibrahim.
11. The Islamic State is the richest terrorist group in history. It looted at least five banks in Iraq, including Mosul’s central bank, which yielded more than $400 million in gold and Iraqi currency. It controls oil fields in Syria and Iraq that generate income, and it has pocketed millions of dollars in ransoms for hostages.
In summary, the Islamic State is an army, not just a terror group. The Islamic State is the biggest terror group ever. The Islamic State is actually established as a state, a caliphate at that, and it’s richer than al-Qaida. It holds more territory than al-Qaida, it’s drawing more recruits than al-Qaida, and it’s more brutal than al-Qaida.
This group must be forcefully addressed and stopped.
By Steven P. Bucci
Steven P. Bucci served for three decades as an Army Special Forces officer and top Pentagon official and is director of the Allison Center for Foreign Policy Studies at the Heritage Foundation. ― Ed.
(MCT Information Services)