Two years later, memories of the Nov. 13, 2015 terror attacks in Paris are still fresh for many. In the deadliest attack of its kind in France, militants of the self-described Islamic State carried out a coordinated assault on the Stade de France, several Parisian establishments and the Bataclan concert hall.
More than a hundred people were killed and an additional 300 were injured. Then-President François Hollande called the attacks “an act of war carried out by a terrorist army.”
Since then, several other terror attacks have rattled France. A 31-year-old Tunisian man mowed down hundreds of people celebrating Bastille Day in Nice in 2016, ultimately killing 86. That same year, a 25-year-old man killed two police officers in Magnanville and a militant brutally murdered a priest in Saint-Étienne-du-Rouvray. In October 2017, a 29-year-old man stabbed and killed two young students in Marseille’s main railway station.
Most of the attacks or attempted attacks in France since November 2015 were carried out by so-called “lone wolves” ― independent attackers who supported ISIS but did not receive direct plans or material assistance from the militant group. This suggests that ISIS’s operational capabilities are changing, and that it’s becoming harder for the group to carry out large, coordinated attacks that are planned abroad over the course of months.
Retreat In The Middle East
Nicolas Henin, a Middle East expert who was held hostage by ISIS for several months in 2013 and 2014, distinguishes between two types of attacks. The first type, the “inspired” attack, requires few resources and can be carried out by anyone. The second type involves an attack unit, inflicts more damage, and requires logistics.
The consecutive defeats in the Middle East have “disrupted ISIS, drastically decreasing its operational capability and ability to act” in the West, Henin said.
The 2015 Paris attacks highlighted the international threat ISIS posed, prompting countries around the world to respond with increased military pressure on the militant group.
“A terrorist group typically starts with slow growth, slow acquisition of skills, right up to the big score,” Henin said. ISIS’s “big score” in Paris in 2015 led to sustained international military pressure that ultimately led to the militants’ collapse in the Middle East, he argued.
ISIS’s territory in Syria and Iraq has been reduced from an estimated 92,664 square miles in 2014, to a few pockets of resistance near Syria’s Deir ez-Zor and the Iraq-Syria border, according to data from IHS Conflict Monitor, an intelligence analysis service.
In the past year, the terrorist organization lost control of cities like Mosul and Raqqa, which had served as logistics centers for preparing attacks on the West.
The ISIS Migration
Having already kicked the ISIS anthill, the international forces engaged in Syria and Iraq should “capitalize on those gains,” Henin said. The terrorist organization’s retreat in the Middle East creates a “dispersal effect,” he added, which could pose a new danger to that region and to the West.
“A number of ISIS veterans, Western, Asian and Arab, are on the loose,” Henin said. “They are focused on surviving, and they will be looking for a situation in which they are safe.”
Henin identified “numerous gray areas known for regional conflicts,” especially in the Middle East, where surviving militants will attempt to gather. “This is an issue that the West should take care of,” he said.
Though diminished in the Middle East, ISIS influence is growing in other regions. “We must understand that these people are aiming at expanding, not falling back. The movement, initiated in 2006 with a few hundred Iraqi Sunni combatants, is currently a global movement with franchises on three continents, which is not negligible,” France 24 correspondent and author Wassim Nasr told the Parisien.
A number of ISIS veterans, Western, Asian and Arab, are on the loose. They are focused on surviving, and they will be looking for a situation in which they are safe.
Far from the Iraq-Syria region, the ultra-radical beliefs of ISIS find favor in countries including Afghanistan, the Philippines, Bangladesh and Indonesia. “Asia is a continent with significant potential for the Islamic State, and policmakers are aware of this,” Nasr noted.
France, like other nations, must also remain vigilant of jihadis returning to its territory. “We are facing people who are disappointed rather than repentant. We must be watchful: We face minors and women who’ve been trained to handle weapons,” Paris prosecutor Francois Molins warned on the site Franceinfo.
“Almost two years to the day since the Nov. 13 attacks, we won,” French President Emmanuel Macron declared from Abu Dhabi on Nov. 9. He promised to eradicate the Islamic State from the Iraq-Syria region “in the coming months,” but qualified his statement shortly after: “But the fight will by no means be over.”
A version of this story was first published on news France.
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