AHMAD AL-RUBAYE/AFP via Getty Images
In many respects the threat of terrorism in the West is on the decline. The UK Government has recently put the terrorist threat to the nation at “substantial.” Previously the threat was described as “severe” so the move to “substantial” now means the threats from terrorism are now just “likely” as opposed to “highly likely.” One of the contributing factors to the change in the threat level is undoubtedly the degradation of the capabilities of ISIS/Daesh. This year has not been a good one for the group.
On the battlefield, there have been significant defeats leading to a loss of most of the territory that was controlled under the banner of the Caliphate. The physical defeat has significantly impacted the group’s ability to produce propaganda and reduced its capacity for further operations and planning. Last week’s killing of ISIS leader Al-Baghdadi has been heralded as a further degradation of the group’s capabilities. However, any claim that the threats posed by ISIS are now gone or severely limited is misplaced as the ideology of ISIS will continue to pose a major global security threat.
When Al-Baghdadi declared the Caliphate in 2014 he made real a desire held by a wide range of extremists. There is a long history of individuals and groups that believe there is a need for a society to more closely embrace the core tenets of Islam and emulate the life of the Prophet. This ideology has had a range of manifestations from the Muslim Brotherhood in the early 1900s to the range of jihadist insurgent groups operating around the world in recent decades. The practical action to realise the objectives of this ideology vary in terms of methods and means but the objective is consistent – God’s law is the only source of authority.
The physical caliphate of ISIS was a symbol of this ideology – it sought to bring about a form of governance and life based on a perverse interpretation of Islamic texts combined with a power political agenda. The ISIS brand continues to thrive through various affiliates around the world from Nigeria to Egypt to the Philippines. These affiliates have declared some sort of allegiance to ISIS and will continue to operate and uphold the same ideological base. It is possible that the affiliates may claim the ideological leadership position with Al Baghdadi’s demise. We have already seen competition between ISIS and its affiliates and those associated with Al Qaeda resulting in increased violence. The competition is not for seeing who can be more peaceful and productive in governance, rather about proving whose violent methods are the best for realising this ideology.
With a range of groups continuing the ISIS message and brand, this will continue to impact upon and influence individuals who have sympathy with this view. The degradation of ISIS will affect its ability to direct organise attacks around the world but the ideology will continue to inspire individuals who will take violent action in its name. Security authorities around the world need to remain vigilant of this.