Russia is the top non-Arab country supplying the Islamic State with recruits. Our first place status was laid out in a report recently published by the U.S. Congress, in which it is also noted that almost all volunteer jihadis who travel from Western nations to the Middle East are from France.
The Game Has Changed — But the Course Is as Before
On the day leading up to the Paris terrorist attacks, the U.S. president stated in an interview with ABC that the American strategy had been successful in “containing” the Islamic State group (a terrorist organization banned in the Russian Federation) in Syria and Iraq. However, they had not yet been able to “decapitate” the organization.
But what kind of “containment” could he possibly have been talking about? Obama has been asked this question by anyone and everyone paying attention after the attacks in Paris. The White House awkwardly attempted to explain the president’s words: what he meant was that the Islamic State group has not been able to seize additional territory.
As the White House reacted to the terrorist act in France, the capital issued an order to the U.S. intelligence community to carry out a critical re-evaluation of the threat posed to the U.S. by the Islamic State group.
“This was a game changer,” announced a high-ranking intelligence officer in The New York Times. “This clearly shows ISIS is looking at an international level and is capable of carrying out large-scale attacks outside Iraq and Syria … Paris shows that they can attack soft targets on any day, anywhere, including in any major American city.”
Nevertheless, Washington intends to do exactly what it has been doing all along, only more often and better: more airstrikes (including strikes against the Islamic State group’s oil facilities), more raids by the U.S. Army Special Forces, more help given to allies and more strikes against Islamic State group targets outside of Syria and Iraq. However, the U.S. will not put boots on the ground.
“We don’t believe U.S. troops are the answer to the problem,” Benjamin J. Rhodes, the president’s deputy national security adviser, told reporters at the G-20 meetings. “The further introduction of U.S. troops to fully re-engage in ground combat in the Middle East is not the way to deal with this challenge.” A spokesman for the White House said Obama agreed with French President Hollande’s assessment that the aforementioned terrorist attacks in Paris constitute an “act of war.” However, this was not in reference to the coordinated efforts of NATO against the Islamic State group under the mandate of Article 5 of the NATO charter (collective defense). The U.S. and France agreed to strengthen their cooperation regarding the sharing of intelligence.
‘Constructive, But Not a Complete Change of Direction’
During his sideline meeting with Putin at the G-20 Summit, Obama expressed his deepest condolences for those affected by the crash of the Russian plane in the Sinai Peninsula. No official meeting of the two presidents had been planned, but the terrorist attacks in Paris reoriented them toward discussing the possibility of cooperation in the fight against the Islamic State group. A White House spokesperson stated that Obama and Putin have both noted diplomatic progress, which has been achieved in the past few weeks during the course of negotiations on Syria in Vienna. The U.S. president mentioned the importance of Russia focusing its military efforts in Syria on the Islamic State group. Earlier, the U.S. had publicly expressed its displeasure with the fact that Russian airstrikes were being carried out against groups opposing Assad, rather than specifically against the Islamic State group.
In the White House, the sideline meeting that took place between the two presidents was said to be “constructive.” The Kremlin agreed with this assessment; however, Dmitri Peskov, Putin’s press spokesman, added that the meeting was constructive but not a complete U-turn.
‘Nomen Illis Legio’ — Their Name Is Legion
The congressional report, which was prepared by the Department of Homeland Security, notes that over the course of just a few years, the Islamic State group has gained tens of thousands of international recruits. In 2011, more than 1,000 foreigners fought on the side of the Islamist extremists. In 2013, this number had grown already to 8,500 foreigners from 74 different countries; in 2014, 18,000 from 90 different countries; and in 2015, more than 25,000 from more than 100 countries worldwide. The majority of these recruits come from countries in the Middle East and North Africa. Out of all these countries, Tunisia, the “cradle of the Arab Spring,” provided the most: 5,000 people. Next are Saudi Arabia and Jordan. The largest amount of volunteer fighters from a non-Arabic country come from Russia: 1,700. Of the Western countries, France provides the most: 1,550. From Germany and Great Britain: 700. From the U.S.: 250. The age of recruits ranges from 15 to 47.
According to military estimates, as a result of the airstrikes carried out by the allied forces, no fewer than 10,000 Islamic State group fighters have been destroyed. However, volunteers from abroad have more than made up for these losses. New recruits are actively recruited on social media and through Internet sites that use special protocols to send messages. Direct affiliates of the Islamic State group and other organizations that have declared themselves as Islamic State group allies are operating already in 18 different countries.
As is noted in the congressional report, Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who announced his intention to establish a caliphate on June 29, 2014, has already brought about that which Osama bin Laden could have only dreamed.
In the two months following the proclamation of a caliphate, the amount of foreign volunteer fighters doubled. The character of Islamic State group recruitment has changed as well. At the beginning, the Islamic State group called only on men to join its ranks. Today, the organization calls not only on women but entire families, who are promised a new house and a monthly allowance of $1,100. In an article entitled “Healthcare in the Caliphate,” published in Dabio, an online journal for extremists, newcomers are promised treatment by the best doctors in the best hospitals.
At the U.S. Department of State, a special center was recently established to counter recruitment efforts by terrorists on the Internet: the Center for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications. However, as noted by the congressional report, the tens of workers employed by this center cannot possibly counter the tens of thousands of Islamic State group followers on the Internet. The slow, bureaucratic and ineffective attempts by the U.S. government to counter propaganda are useless against the propaganda of the Islamic State group, which is as successful and infectious as a virus. An advertisement produced by the Department of State will be viewed by 500 people over the course of a few months; the Islamic State group’s advertisements receive many thousands of views within hours.
Having received battle experience in Syria and Iraq, fighters are returning to their own countries to carry out terrorist attacks. Since the beginning of the past year, more than a dozen conspiracies involving returning volunteer fighters were discovered in France, Belgium, the U.K. and Canada. In April, an American citizen from Ohio, 23-year-old Somalia-native Abdirahman Mohamud was arrested and charged with trying to organize a terrorist attack on a military base in the United States. He had trained in an Islamic State group military camp in Syria.
“We don’t know whether they will act today or tomorrow, but what we do know is that in five, 10, 15 years, not just next month, they will pose a danger. They’ve had military training; they’ve set up networks. We’ve seen it with the Afghan Arabs — those foreign fighters who came of age in the decade-long, C.I.A.-financed jihad of the 1980s against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. Many of them subsequently became involved in every conflict of the 1990s: Bosnia, Kosovo, Chechnya. Others went home to Libya, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and, once there, like the other Afghan Arabs, they became the elite: the leadership of the new jihad,” insists Peter Neumann, a respected terrorism expert and professor at King’s College London.
The members of this “foreign international” are often more ruthless than Islamic State group volunteers, who use these individuals from Europe and the U.S. for special operations: torture, executions and terror attacks.
One of the first Americans killed in the Syrian conflict was 22-year old Moner Mohhamad Abusalha, who drove an explosive-filled truck into a restaurant. In a video, which was uploaded before the attack and put on social media, the terrorist tears up an American passport and warns that America is no longer safe. After the massacres in Paris, the terrorists announced that their next target would be Washington.
As the congressional report noted, there is still no single database on foreign Islamist recruits. The most comprehensive database is considered to be that held by Interpol, which has the names of more than 5,000 foreigners. However, as the congressional report points out, the exchange of information has been and remains a problem at the national and departmental levels. Those suspected of terrorism in Germany may freely travel to Spain and from there head to America without any sort of screening. This is exactly what Hayat Boumeddiene, who is wanted in France, did: After traveling to Spain, she was able to fly to Turkey. Boumeddiene is a suspected accomplice of her common law husband, Amedy Coulibaly, who took hostages in a kosher supermarket and shot a police officer in Paris. “I had no difficulty getting here,” she stated in an interview with an Islamic State group publication in Syria.
The report states that Islamic State group volunteers have recently arrived in Europe among the recent wave of refugees. As Mohammed, a Syrian who has recently settled in Germany, reports, Italian law enforcement agencies generally don’t vet newcomers: There was no registration, no verification of documents and no taking of fingerprints or photos. In a few years, these refugees will receive a European passport and will be able to fly to the United States. What will they bring in their luggage?