By Brigitte L. Nacos
As horrific as the jihadi terrorists’ six-stop killing spree in Paris was, the attacks were hardly surprising for those who follow the communications of ISIS and Al Qaeda, especially their online magazines Dabiq and Inspire. In the past, the so-called Islamic State concentrated on its regional ambitions in Iraq and Syria limiting global aspirations to calls for inspirational jihad to be fought by lone wolves and cells in the West and apostate regimes in the region.
In this respect, ISIS was different from Al Qaeda Central and affiliated groups that aimed at planning and carrying out spectacular attacks outside their direct bases of operations, such as the East African embassy bombings in 1998, the 9/11 attacks in 2001, and the multiple strikes in Mumbai in 2008.
More recently, ISIS seems to have embraced Al Qaeda’s more direct global agenda—perhaps as the result of a heated feud between ISIS and Al Qaeda about the legitimacy and relevance of the two organizations and their leaders. Whereas ISIS ridicules Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Awlaki as “a leader without real authority,” bin Laden’s successor denies ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi the title of Caliph and his organization the right to call itself “Caliphate.” It is a typical case of competition and outbidding between groups with similar ideologies and agendas—observed, for example, among the Palestinian groups Hamas and the PLO.
From the perspective of ISIS leaders, spectacular attacks outside their immediate sphere of interest takes the mantle of global jihad as spelled out by Osama bin Laden in his declarations of 1996 and 1998 away from Al Qaeda.
Whether ISIS Central or affiliates were directly involved in the recent attacks in Ankara and Beirut, the downing of the Russian airliner over the Sinai Peninsula, and now the catastrophic strikes in Paris modeled along the lines of the Mumbai attacks, matters less than the perception around the world that all of these were the handiwork of ISIS. The same is true for the crash of the Russian plane.
During and after the Paris horror, news reports assured Americans that although New York and other cities had tightened their security measures, there was no known threat against the U.S.
Well, there was no specific threat against Paris in advance of the attacks either. ISIS and Al Qaeda and their surrogates do not advertise their operations. Because of their proximity to the Middle East and their larger factions of extremists Paris and other European venues may be more vulnerable than the United States.
But nobody should doubt that the U.S. heads ISIS’s and Al Qaeda’s list of preferred targets.
If Paris now will not be a wake-up call to all threatened nations in the region, such as Egypt or Turkey, in Europe, such as France, the U.K., Germany, or Scandinavian countries, and, of course, Russia—nothing will bring together a united front against the growing jihadi threat.
I never thought I would find even a modicum of agreement with presidential hopeful Donald Trump. But when he promised the other day, before the Paris attack, that as president he could bomb the …out of ISIS, I agreed with the notion that nothing short of the organization’s destruction will suffice.
The killing Jihadi John via drone strike, the retaking of one ISIS-occupied city in Iraq by Kurdish fighters and U.S. air strikes will not do.
Needed is a broad coalition willing to fight ISIS and affiliates, not providing merely financial aid and lip service.