Report Covering Islamic State Leadership Demonstrates So-called ‘Lone Wolf’ Attacks are part of a Cohesive Strategy


Leading Security Think-Tank Releases Comprehensive Compilation of Islamic State Leadership Demonstrating that So-called ‘Lone Wolf’ Attacks are part of a Cohesive Strategy

Report indicates Islamic State leadership has far more direct control over terrorist activity within Europe than has been widely reported, forming a continent-wide strategy to tie down security services.

The Henry Jackson Society, a leading foreign affairs and security think-tank, today releases a report which provides the most comprehensive compilation yet of what is known about the Islamic State’s leadership. The report provides detailed profiles and biographical details of the key figures within the caliphate’s government, both for the chief administrators internally, and for those organising attacks against the West. The command and control structure of the organisation is laid out in detail.

The report also demonstrates that the Islamic State leadership is mounting a strategically cohesive European-wide campaign of terror. Though these single-actor attacks have repeatedly been misreported as lone-wolves, the individuals are radicalised and often directed by a network; Islamic State has endorsed and suggested the action (Nice is only one of the more recent examples of such misreporting – the perpetrator was erroneously said to have self-radicalised within weeks. In fact he had been connected with a network for some time). This mistaken analysis can have devastating consequences: in 2015, the Islamic State tied down Western security services with a number of small, apparently-unrelated plots that then enabled the larger, directed attack in Paris to succeedunimpeded.

Report author Kyle Orton also said: “There is a large bias for reporting attacks in Europe as individuals acting wholly at their own initiative but in IS’s name. This is problematic in itself because even when they are not directly tied to the organization they are a bit more than inspired: they are operating under a strategic framework laid down by IS that wants as many attacks, of whatever “quality,” as fast as possible. This can be done to occupy security services and allow larger attacks, like those in Paris, to succeed”

The report also shows that deeply flawed coalition strategy is laying conditions that will enable the Islamic State to revive in its heartland and in the short-term is increasing the Islamic State’s capacity to mount western foreign terrorist attacks; the overwhelming use of non-Sunni forces against Islamic State plays perfectly into their hands, as it enables them to portray assaults on their borders as part of a global anti-Sunni conspiracy and aids recruitment for terrorist attacks within the West.

Orton also said: “The line between ISIS conspiracy theory of a grand American-Russian-Iranian alliance against Sunnis and our foreign policy is increasingly difficult to find. Western policy has directly co-operated with Iran’s proxy militias in Iraq, ceased trying to remove Bashar al-Assad, though he is the primary cause of the casualties and deliberately facilitated the rise of the Islamic State, and is now poised to make indirect coordination with Russia in Syria into direct collaboration. This will be taken as ratification of the Islamic State’s narrative, granting it greater legitimacy locally and greater capacity for its networks in Europe and elsewhere to mobilise foreign sympathisers to attack the states that are engaged against it.”

Kyle Orton is a non-resident Research Fellow in the Centre for Response to Radicalisation and Terrorism. Working as a Middle East analyst focused on Syria, Iraq, and Sunni jihadism, he has frequently been published in numerous outlets, including The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal. He recently contributed to the writing of the United States Department of Defence’s official history of the Iraq War.


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