ISIS and the ‘Far Abroad’

In previous weeks we have looked at ISIS in their core area of Syria-Iraq and their provinces and allied groups elsewhere. This week we address the group in terms of what it calls the ‘far abroad’ where they seek to ‘attack and polarise’. At the time of writing this is an area outside of the Middle-East and North Africa (MENA) where ISIS can exert influence and either recruit volunteers or instigate terrorist attacks.

The purpose of this is to cause fear and destabilise the population and terrorist attacks in North America and Western have a higher correspondence than the much larger number of attacks that occur in the MENA region. Many of the attacks so far have been undertaken by discontented men from the countries themselves and have required little involvement from ISIS other then the motivational media that they put out regularly. As the attacks in Nice and Berlin have demonstrated, the weapon of choice can be something as ordinary as a lorry, but still cause a significant amount of destruction and deaths. There have also been attacks carried out by experienced volunteers, such as those in Brussels on the 22nd March 2016 and in France between the 13th and 14th November 2015.  Other attacks have been carried out with firearms and knives.

Attacks by individuals radicalised by ISIS propaganda are a major concern for counter-terrorism as while people entering the country from abroad can be effectively tracked, ‘lone wolves’ are harder to identify. They may not have been involved in criminal activities before, or have a record of petty crime, but little, except for a change in behaviour, noticeable only by friends and family, to indicate their intentions. Where there are commonalities, these relate to feelings of isolation, discrimination and lack of opportunity for achievement or recognition. Given that the majority of the population may at some time feel this way, and not be motivated to violence, a ‘lone wolf’ is unlikely to stand out. One constant is that those radicalised by ISIS and willing to use violence remain in the minority, but one which can do immense harm.

An additional concern is the ‘returning fighters’, who have served with ISIS in Syria and Iraq. As ISIS continues to suffer major reversals in fortune and loss of territory they will switch to a higher utilisation of terrorism as a strategy, both in the ‘interior ring’ of Syria and Iraq’, and the ‘far abroad ring’. These are the hardliners, with battle experience, who are capable of organising single or coordinated attacks and causing significant numbers of casualties. With these, it is a question of the police and security services succeeding in doing their work of monitoring, gathering intelligence and arresting people seeking to do harm. There is also the valuable, softer, approach of de-radicalisation, which can be done at community or national levels.

For more information regarding this week’s blog see:

Dr Carl Turner,

Site Coordinator



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