ISIS has developed into a full-fledged insurgency already active in the United States, according to a new report released Nov. 23.
The Threat Knowledge Group, which provides training to the intelligence, defense, and homeland security communities, released the report to assess the risk of Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) attacks on U.S. soil in the aftermath of the Nov. 13 attacks in Paris. Although the proportional Muslim population is much higher in France than in the U.S., the report concludes the risk of domestic attacks is high.
“ISIS has already recruited supports in the United States with the intent of executing domestic attacks here in America,” write authors Sebastian and Katharine Gorka.
U.S. officials have arrested 82 individuals for affiliating with ISIS since March 2014, a small part of the nearly 1,000 ISIS-related investigations the FBI is conducting. ISIS is recruiting within the United States at three times the rate of al-Qaeda, resulting in more than 250 individuals joining or attempting to join ISIS in Syria and Iraq.
The report runs counter to President Barack Obama’s Nov. 12 assertion that ISIS is “contained.” Following the Paris attacks the next day, the White House said Obama was referring only to the battlefield in Iraq and Syria, but many have also questioned that claim.
“ISIL is not contained. ISIL is expanding,” said Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., the top Democrat on the Intelligence Committee, in an interview with MSNBC. “I’ve never been more concerned.”
The report explores some causes of concern, including profiles of the 82 individuals arrested on ISIS-related charges during the last 18 months.
Social media is a key part of ISIS activity and recruitment—so much so that it’s the most common reason authorities catch would-be terrorists. In the last 18 months, 32 of 82 arrests were the result of ISIS-related social media posts, including plans to join ISIS or stage an attack.
Tips from close associates rank as the second most common reason jihadists are apprehended. Eighteen of the 82 arrests were made because someone who knew the person turned him in. Authorities interdicted 16 more in connection with other cases.
Among the arrests, more than half aspired to join the jihad overseas, but almost 1 in 3 planned to carry out attacks on U.S. soil.
“That could easily lead to multiple Paris attack-type scenarios,” the report said.
Some experts worry a slowdown in arrests since July indicates ISIS cells are learning to operate below law enforcement radar. Authorities have discovered ISIS using encryption devices and sometimes communicating through wives to avoid detection.
ISIS is a now a full-fledged insurgency, according to the report, not merely a terrorist group like al-Qaeda. It is the richest non-state threat group in modern history.
The authors argue the key failing of U.S. counterterrorism efforts is not understanding the importance of ideology, specifically “that every act by jihadists must be justified by radical clerics, jurists or scholars. … Field commanders, as we have seen again and again, are replaceable, but ideas live on.”
One of the leading U.S. voices espousing Islamist ideas is Ahmad Musa Jibril, a resident of Dearborn, Mich., who had 242,000 Facebook likes and some 38,000 Twitter followers before he quit social media.
The idea of a caliphate is among the most powerful concepts in Islam and helps explain the rise of ISIS. In June 2014, ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi—from the pulpit of Mosul’s largest mosque—announced the re-establishment of a worldwide caliphate and declared himself the “caliph.”
“God says when there is a caliphate, you must join the caliphate,” said an ex-Taliban loyalist who recently switched his allegiances to ISIS. “There is a caliphate now, so we’ve left the Taliban. We’re fighting holy war under caliph’s leadership.”
ISIS now boasts more than 60,000 fighters and 35 affiliate groups who have sworn allegiance from countries including Libya, Tunisia, Nigeria, Yemen, Pakistan, the Philippines, and Indonesia.
The report makes five recommendations to U.S. policymakers: stop downplaying the threat; recognize ISIS is recruiting youths; target the ideologies; better use open-source intelligence; and properly screen refugees.
— by J.C. Derrick