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The Islamic State (IS) has been putting a lot of effort recently, especially over the summer, into directing attacks outside its caliphate, particularly in Europe. While many of these attacks are initially reported as “lone wolf” incidents, it has become increasingly clear by IS’s method of claiming these attacks that IS’s Amn al-Kharji, or foreign intelligence service, is guiding these attacks—walking the would-be murderers through the attacks emotionally, ideologically, and logistically.
Earlier this month, on 7 November 2016, Aaron Travis Daniels (Harun Muhammad, Abu Yusef) tried to leave the United States to Trinidad with his ultimate destination being Libya, where he intended to provide material support (namely himself) to the Islamic State. Daniels had been recruited and guided to his decision and intended destination by Abu Isa al-Amriki (sometimes spelled Abu Issa al-Amriki).
Abu Isa is also known as Abu Sa’ad al-Sudani, a Sudanese national, and his wife, an Australian citizen named Shadi Jabar Khalil Mohammad (Umm Isa al-Amriki), were killed on 22 April 2016 in al-Bab, the headquarters of Amn al-Kharji and its director, Abu Sulayman al-Firansi. Taha Falaha (Abu Muhammad al-Adnani), as the caliph’s deputy, oversaw and approved operations of Amn al-Kharji until he was killed in August—unsurprisingly near al-Bab. Abu Isa and Ms. Mohammad were actively involved in recruiting foreign fighters to come to the caliphate and inciting terrorist attacks in the West, specifically America, Britain, and Canada, according to the Pentagon.
Ms. Mohammad was the sister of Farhad Jabar, a 15-year-old who shot dead Curtis Cheng, a member of the finance department at Parramatta police station in west Sydney on 2 October 2015. Ms. Mohammed was reported to have gone missing—i.e. fled Australia to Syria—on Thursday, 1 October 2015.
Junaid Hussain (Abu Hussain al-Britani), the British hacker (and to some degree his wife, Sally Jones, who is now on the U.S. terrorism list), was probably the archetype of this model of operative for the Islamic State. A list of those Hussain has guided would include:
Hussain worked alongside two other Brits, Raphael Hostey (Abu Qaqa al-Britani), who guided Mohammed Hamzah Khan, 19, of Bolingbrook, Illinois, to try (unsuccessfully) to travel to Syria in October 2014 with his two younger siblings, and Cardiff local Reyaad Khan.
Hostey, the baby-faced 24-year-old from Manchester who had been studying graphic design at Liverpool John Moore University when he left Britain and joined IS, was killed on 2 May 2016. Khan was struck down near Raqqa on 21 August 2015 by an RAF drone, along with his friend, Ruhul Amin (Abdul Raqib Amin), who is believed to have studied in Aberdeen and who appeared with Khan and another Cardiff native, Nasser Muthana, in an IS propaganda video last year. An American airstrike killed Hussain on 24 August 2015.
“Both Junaid Hussain and Reyaad Khan … were involved in actively recruiting ISIL sympathisers and seeking to orchestrate specific and barbaric attacks against the West, including directing a number of planned terrorist attacks right here in Britain, such as plots to attack high profile public commemorations, including those taking place this summer,” according to then-Prime Minister David Cameron.
IS’s “cyber caliphate” has notably suffered since Hussain’s downfall, with very few hacks of sensitive Western information streams, but IS’s foreign operations have only increased in scale and frequency.
The Times revealed this week that Neil Prakash (Abu Khaled al-Cambodi), survived the drone strike believed to have killed him in May 2016, and was arrested by the Turkish government recently. Prakash is believed by the Australian authorities to be one of the most dangerous of their citizens operating in IS’s ranks and has been linked to at least four terrorism plots in Australia since he joined IS in Syria.
Amn al-Kharji works to infiltrate IS’s enemies; in prospective zones of conquest in Syria and Iraq this is to weaken them since IS proceeds by tradecraft rather than conventional military superiority, and further abroad it provides IS the ability to strike at countries, whether in revenge or to punish god’s enemies. Turkey is a notable case where IS “central” has a robust presence and an Amn al-Kharji operative who has directed attacks there is Ahmet Chatayev, a Chechen also connected to the “war ministry” and its leader, Gulmurod Khalimov, an Uzbek. IS appears to have guides for regions and states: Halis Bayancuk (Abu Hanzala) and Mustafa Dokumaci are also involved in Turkish operations, Muhammad Wanndy Mohamed Jedi in Malaysia, Bahrun Naim in Indonesia, Shafi Armar (Yusuf al-Hindi) in India.
For Europe, the primary Amn al-Kharji “virtual planner” is Rachid Kassim, who was recently profiled by Bridget Moreng of Valens Global. Kassim guided Larossi Abballa to his stabbing attack in Paris in June, Adel Kermiche and Abdelmalik Petitjean to their attack on a church in Normandy a month later, and a foiled car bomb plot near Notre Dame Cathedral in September. As we have seen this pattern develop since Abballa’s attack, where terrorists film a video swearing allegiance to the caliph, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, and pass it to IS’s Amaq News Agency, which then publishes it with a claim of responsibility after the attack—proving that IS was aware of the operation and isn’t falsely claiming responsibility for something it had nothing to do with—Kassim has played a role in refining it, putting out an audio message in August specifying that these videos must contain a bay’a (pledge of allegiance) and “message of daw’a (proselytism)” that calls on others to heed IS’s call for attacks.
The U.S.-led campaign to defeat IS looks troubled, with plans to uproot IS completely in Mosul next-to-non-existent and excess focus being given to symbolically starting the offensive against IS’s Syrian capital, Raqqa, leading to alliances with deeply problematic groups rather than doing anything to prevent the destruction of Aleppo and the forces therein that could be used to liberate Raqqa in a sustainable way later. The flawed Coalition campaign has decoupled IS’s strength at its core from its appeal abroad; because of the way IS is being defeated, it has allowed IS to retain their international audience. IS will be defeated, of course, but even once the statelet is gone IS will have the online infrastructure to train and command its secret soldiers, spread out all over the world.