In defiance to the rumors of his injury or death, ISIS leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi delivered a 17-minute audio speech on Thursday admitting that the U.S. – led campaign against ISIS is “one of the hardest ones.” In another video released today, he takes his revenge by beheading another American--Peter Edward Kassig, a former U.S. Army Ranger who converted to Islam to aid the Syrians.
But Baghdadi's biggest problem isn’t U.S. led air attacks. It’s the growing possibility of being defeated by what Baghdadi calls secular Muslims—men and women who would give their lives rather than live under the rule of a 7th century madman who thinks his brand of Islam is the one true faith.
His strategy—destroy the infidels.
He declared the expansion of ISIS to Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Egypt, Lybia and Algeria by accepting the allegiance of jihadist groups from these countries. He declared these countries new governorates of the Islamic State, appointed governors, and asked everyone to report to the nearest governorate to wait for orders.
Baghdadi’s speech came one day after the ISIS announcement that five Jihadist groups had joined ISIS. For each country, Baghdadi issued specific directives to his new followers. In Saudi Arabia, he asked his followers to attack the royal family calling them “the head of the snake.” However, he remains focused on his sectarian obsession and he told them to attack the Shiites first. This call came a week after an attack on Saudi Shiites by gunmen that killed 5 Shiites in Eastern Saudi Arabia.
In Yemen, he asked his orders were to attack the Shiites who managed to conquer the capital last September. In Egypt, calling the government a tyrant, he addressed the insurgents in Sinai. Baghdadi mentioned the eight Egyptian sailors went missing after an attack by gunmen on Wednesday in the Mediterranean Sea.
In Libya, Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco, he directed followers to fight the seculars. A civil war is taking place now in Libya between two governments: one is Islamist and the other is secular.
Opening new war fronts is one of ISIS’ most favored tactics. New research conducted by Terrorism Research and Analysis Consortium TRAC in Florida has found that 60 Jihadist groups in 30 countries around the world have pledged allegiance or support to ISIS. “We at TRAC are constantly adding to the list (nearly daily). As of today, there are at least 30 separate regions that have active militant organizations that have pledged support to Islamic State; a total of 60 distinct groups worldwide,” said Walton Beacham, the president of TRAC.
The 60 group list includes some very active and prominent jihadist organizations like the Kurdish group Ansar al-Islam, considered the mother organization of the Iraqi jihadist groups; Ahrar al-Sham, the largest rebel group in Syria; the Chechen Al Aqsa brigade, the most active foreign unit in Syria led by Omar al-Shishani; Anar Bayt al-Maqdis, the most active insurgent group in Egypt; Fajr al-Islam, one of the most treacherous Sunni insurgency groups in Lebanon; Tehreek-I-Taliban Pakistan, the largest rebel group in Pakistan; The Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, the most active rebel group there; the Soldiers of the Caliphate in Algeria, the group that beheaded a French citizen in September; the Lybian Islamic Youth Shura Council that controls the city of Derna; the Nigerian Boko Haram; Ansar al-Din in Mali, one of the main rebel groups there; Ansar al-Sharia, the main Islamic insurgent group in Tunisia; and Abu Sayyaf, the most powerful rebel group in the southern part of Philippines, a Muslim area.
Until recently, many of these groups were affiliated with al-Qaeda. Their shift to ISIS is yet another indication of how much support al-Qaeda lost recently. “There is a clear generational divide in the global jihadi movement that has been gaining momentum for at least a year. The younger generation see the Islamic State as pure, effective, and connected (international draw, real-time "sharing"). Where as the older, often established leadership, see the Islamic State as “upstarts," hasty, and especially defiant”, said Veryan Khan, the associate publisher at TRAC.
One of the main arenas for ISIS caliphate expansion is north Africa, where the majority of the foreign fighters in Syria came from. “What we are witnessing in Libya (particularly Derna) is a result from a call back of foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq by both Ansar al Sharia Libya and Ansar al Sharia Tunisia in the beginning of the summer to help establish a Caliphate to Northern Africa…. Libya serves a mirror of what is taking place in Egypt, Tunisa and Algeria. Four allegiances, in four countries with the highest number of foreign fighters in Syria.
“The IS strategy of creating security vacuums is initiated subtlety. They use local groups to create increased insecurity as well as establishing an alternative form of governance: The Caliphate. Hence, it is the returning foreign fighters, coupled with specific groups that have stated support/allegiance, that not only merely engaged in destabilization but also propagate the Caliphate (as seen in Derna),” said Claire Davis, TRAC research associate specializing in the emergence of the Islamic State.
Nigeria, where the extreme group Boko Haram operates, is another region where ISIS influence was increasingly noticed. “Boko Haram's Abubakar Shekau, stated support for the IS in a video published in July 2014. Since then, the group has significantly changed its tactics on the battlefield: from hit and run operations to open confrontation of Nigerian defence force members, even at their own barracks. It is not merely operations that have made a full swing, their objectives have become much more emboldened since their declaration: from engaging in single acts in terror in Borno and Yobe states, to enaging in acts of terror followed closely by maintaining presence and control.
“Recently, renaming at least two areas/towns in Nigeria show this newer tactic of dominance, control and continued presence. In the most recent video we see a Shekau not in military uniform screaming and shouting, but dressed as a Emir talking to a small audience on Islam - for the first time ever, Shekau presents himself as leader that can calmly calling on support. Boko Haram is not merely using IS tactics: Boko Haram is acting like an IS,” said Jasmine Opperman, the director of African operations at TRAC.
Another strategic step that ISIS achieved lately was in Syria itself. ISIS has agreed with al-Nusra Front, al-Qaeda branch in Syria, Ahrar al-Sham and Jund al-Aqsa to stop the internal fighting among them and focus on fighting the U.S. – led campaign.
“There is no bigger reason to switch sides than the perceived Fitna of battling and killing of fellow jihadist. If you are seen as the instigator of this battle line, then you are the one at fault for this Fitna… you can understand the kind of pressure Zawahiri is under to ally with Islamic State,” said Ms. Khan.
In another expression of independence, ISIS has just issued its first own Islamic State currency as a sign of independence from Iraqi and Syrian currencies.
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