As a number of ISIS attacks have rocked Europe, it can be difficult to remember that the group is largely on the back foot.
“They are on the run,” US Secretary of State John Kerry said in an interview on CNN last week while addressing the spate of terror attacks by the group. “And I believe what we are seeing are the desperate actions of an entity that sees the noose closing around them.”
Through satellite photos and other data, it’s clear that the terror group has been steadily losing territory in its heartlands of Iraq and Syria. Even now, major efforts are underway to reclaim Mosul, the largest city under ISIS control.
However, as ISIS does steadily lose ground through conventional warfare in the Middle East, the group’s attacks against civilians around the world will only likely increase — at least for the time being.
“At some point there is going to be a terrorist diaspora out of Syria like we’ve never seen before,” explained FBI Director James B. Comey at a cybersecurity conference at Fordham University on Wednesday, the New York Times reports. “Not all of the Islamic State killers are going to die on the battlefield.”
As the terror group’s territory shrinks, dedicated fighters within the group will travel to find new locations to conduct their operations — most likely in hiding. Comey continued by saying that many of these core fighters would migrate to Western Europe as ISIS loses ground. And, there is always the risk that some of them would eventually reach the US.
Drawing a comparison between the number of radicalized Al Qaeda fighters from Afghanistan in the 1980s and 1990s to ISIS today, Comey referred to the stark nature of the current threat.
“This is 10 times that or more,” he said. “This is an order of magnitude greater than anything we’ve seen before.”
Comey’s concern over the metastasizing threat was echoed by former FBI special agent on the Joint Terrorism Task Force Clint Watts.
“For those homeless foreign fighters, the choice is simple: They can either die in place fighting for a crumbling caliphate or they can go out as martyrs striking their homelands or regional or international targets,” writes Watts, who is currently a Robert A. Fox Fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute’s Program on the Middle East.
Watts continued, “The Islamic State owns the largest number of homeless foreign fighters in history. As the group loses turf, they will likely become part of the largest human missile arsenal in history and be directed against any and all soft targets they can reach.”
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