Why ISIS Is Making Its Presence Felt In the Far East
By Raed Omari
20 January 2016
In a bid may be to distract the world’s intensified military focus on its strongholds in the Middle East or, more likely, to prove an admired status of a global organization with able arms everywhere, ISIS has struck in the Far East.
With its recent series of attacks on Indonesia, and leaked intelligence reports anticipating expansion of operations by the group in Malaysia, the Philippines and Thailand, it would be no exaggeration to say that the group is nowadays almost everywhere on the world’s map.
Regions and countries across the globe are now divided into: areas under ISIS control, those with large-scale presence and influence of the group and those with some ISIS presence that is expected to go downhill. Terror attacks in the Middle East, North Africa, Europe, Asia, America and Africa are either directed by or linked to ISIS or are inspired by the group.
While it is inseparable in many ways from other jihadist organizations, mainly the al-Qaeda, ISIS’s cluster-expansion approach is meant to instill an image of itself as being non-controllable and uncontainable.
The recent ISIS-inspired attacks on Jakarta pose a challenge to the international efforts to eradicate the self-styled caliphate. Even if hit hard in its strongholds in Iraq and Syria, ISIS has always shifted its large-scale operations to Libya and Egypt, needless to mention the small scale attacks it has carried out in Yemen and in other countries. It is an established strategy to ease off the pressure it is receiving in Iraq and Syria and disturb its foes.
ISIS has learned this tactic from al-Qaeda, which once moved to Sudan to Yemen and Somalia when it was hit hard in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The al-Qaeda has learned that it is a lot harmful and destructive to operate within a large-scale military presence of bases and commands – an approach ISIS is now replicating.
However, if such tactics fail – and it has failed on many occasions – ISIS seems to have put in place alternative plans to carry out its attacks not only through sleeper cells but also through what I can term here as “terror diplomats”, as was the case in the deadly suicide bombing in Istanbul.
Through smart and relentless utilization of the social media, ISIS has succeeded in recruiting thousands of young people to work as fighters in Syria, Iraq and Libya and as agents in their countries awaiting orders to move. ISIS has also sent its “terror diplomats” to France and Turkey who arrived there as refugees but ended up becoming suicide bombers and attackers. Such concerns are pushing Jordan these days to reconsider its long-preserved open-door policy towards the Syrian refugees.
To avoid being viewed merely as a conventional enemy confronted by conventional armies, which could mean disappearance or containment, ISIS has been varying its tactics utilizing social media networks and refugee crises. ISIS’s “virtual presence” has proved to be more effective than its actual presence in battlefields and this aspect in itself constitutes a big challenge to military efforts and counterterrorism and counterinsurgency approaches.
Raed Omari is a Jordanian journalist, political analyst, parliamentary affairs expert, and commentator on local and regional political affairs. His writing focuses on the Arab Spring, press freedoms, Islamist groups, emerging economies, climate change, natural disasters, agriculture, the environment and social media. He is a writer for The Jordan Times, and contributes to Al Arabiya English.