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Saturday, January 30, 2016

ISIS discussion (2/18/15)

I am going to deviate from the discussion question slightly; the terror group that I consider to pose the greatest threat within the United States has not stuck at this country internally. I am going to designate ISIS as the group most likely to cause security problems within the United States at present. There are two caveats to consider when making this designation; first, that narco-terror cartels probably have the greatest support structures and commit the most crime within this country but do not consider destruction of our “infidel” way of life as a goal, and secondly, that while I consider Islamist terror in general as the greatest terror threat to us, that the specific group with the most potential to cause mass damage is indeed ISIS. I also consider ISIS to be the greatest potential threat to the world as well; “...for Arab states, ISIS represents an insurgency without political boundaries that threatens the survival of countries [such as Iraq, Syria and Libya] in the midst of civil wars, puts at risk weak states desperately trying to avert civil war, like Lebanon and Jordan; and poses a challenge to the legitimacy of even stronger states like Egypt and Saudi Arabia.” (Harrison, 2014, p. 37). Although ISIS at one time could have beeen considered as a cadet branch of al Qaeda, two things make ISIS the greater threat; first, that while al Qaeda is a support and propaganda coordinator for Islamist terror, ISIS is a unified group that has recently acquired a great deal of economic and military power. Throughout this discussion, I will refer to the group as ISIS, although the group has been and is known by several names.

Terrill informs us that ISIS was formed as the group Jamaat al-Tawhid walJihad in Afghanistan and relocated to Iraq in 2003, where it's leader Abu Mus ab al-Zarqawi swore allegience to al Qaeda in 2004 (2014, p. 14). Terrill also notes that there was discord between the group and the al Qadea leadership from the onset.. Part of this discord was due to the nature of ISIS attacks and who they were targeted against; ISIS has been characterized as “more powerful and brutal than al-Qaeda” (Sprusansky, 2014, para. 1). The “continued targeting and repression of Sunni civilians caused a widespread backlash—known as the Sunni Awakening” (National Counterterrorism Center, 2013, p.32). Between the Sunni Awakening and The Surge in 2007, ISIS (AQI at the time) was defeated. Terrill states that ISIS “was marginalized in Iraq by 2011” at which point they again relocated to Syria and participated in that country's civil war (2014, p. 15). Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki disbanded the Sunni militias and ISIS again began conducting operations in Iraq in 2013. In addition, the US allegedly condcuted a policy that could be described, at best, bungling, in arming the group;“ISIS, an al Qaeda offshoot, has been collaborating with the Syrian rebels whom the Obama administration has been arming” (Shabad, 2014, para. 6). The revitalization of ISIS in Syria and Iraq provided the springboard for the successful takeover of parts of Iraq by the group in 2014. The current leader of ISIS is ”Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, ...an Iraqi who professes to have more religious credentials than previous Al Qaeda leaders.  He claims to be a descendant of the prophet Muhammad and has proclaimed himself as Caliph”(“ISIS vs. Al Qaeda”, 2015, para. 6). al-Baghdadi was in US custody in 2004 (Greenburg, 2014, para. 10), highlighting the dangers of releasing Islamists from detention.

As to current ISIS capablilities and strengths, Terrill estimates that they currently have over 30,000 under arms(2014, p. 19). ISIS controls “nearly 33 percent of Iraq and 35 percent of Syria... It is believed that roughly four million Iraqis and Syrians currently live in ISIS-controlled cities.” (Sprusansky, 2014, para. 5). The number of casualties caused by ISIS is difficult to estimate because they have been conducting both military and terror operations against many foes for a long period of time. Their targets often include people under their own control, which further hinders the ability to estimate the harm they have done.



Counterterrorism 2014 calendar. (2013). United States National Counterterrorism Center. Retrieved January 21, 2015 from http://www.nctc.gov/site/pdfs/ct_calendar_2014.pdf

Greenburg, J. (2014, June 19). Fox's Pirro: Obama set ISIS leader free in 2009. Politifact. Retrieved January 21, 2015 from http://www.politifact.com/punditfact/statements/2014/jun/19/jeanine-pirro/foxs-pirro-obama-set-isis-leader-free-2009/

Harrison, R. (2014). Towards a Regional Strategy Contra ISIS. Parameters, 44(3), 37–46. Retrieved January 21, 2015 from http://search.proquest.com.southuniversity.libproxy.edmc.edu/docview/1628380483?pq-origsite=summon

Phillips, J. (2015, January 21). ISIS vs. Al Qaeda: The good news and the bad news. The Heritage Foundation. Retrieved January 21, 2015 from http://www.heritage.org/research/commentary/2015/1/isis-vs-al-qaeda-the-good-news-and-the-bad-news

Shabad, R. (2014, June 22). Paul: ISIS emboldened after US armed its allies in Syria [Text]. Retrieved January 21, 2015, from http://thehill.com/policy/international/210168-us-has-been-arming-isis-in-syria-sen-paul-claims

Sprusansky, D. (2014). Understanding ISIS: Frequently Asked Questions. The Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, 33(7), 19–20. Retrieved January 21, 2015 from http://search.proquest.com.southuniversity.libproxy.edmc.edu/docview/1622107531?pq-origsite=summon


Terrill, W. A. (2014). Understanding the Strengths and Vulnerabilities of ISIS. Parameters, 44(3), 13–23. Retrieved January 21, 2015 from http://search.proquest.com.southuniversity.libproxy.edmc.edu/docview/1628380479?pq-origsite=summon



First, their motive is in establishing an Islamic state.  They consider not just an American presence in the area a military threat, but that the ideals of American civilization to be directly counter to sharia.  In addition, they consider the influence of American/Western culture to pollute Islamic ideal.

Second, this is a unified group.  While al Qadea was a coordinating agent for Islamist terror groups, they had little control over what the local groups actually did  Reference ISIS/AQI's activities in Iraq for instance. 

Third, there is a danger in religious potential w/ ISIS.  If al Baghdadi can make his claim to be a descendant of Mohammed popular enough, he may able to sway a number of Shi'ite to support his agenda.  There is enough violence in the Shia/Sunni split to direct at us if they were able to resolve the major difference, which is that the Shia believe that Islamic authority comes from the descendants of Mohammed.

Finally, they are financially self-sufficient and have the greatest availability of arms and manpower.

One of the issues in comparing the threats posed by different terrorist groups is the scope of the intended damage.  Although the claim can be heard that there are more incidents of right-wing terror, the intended targets of right wing terror are ususally law enforcement or politicians  (not forgetting OKC);  Islamic terrorists seek mass destruction.  This makes a threat comparison difficult to judge.


Some of the Islamist groups are racist; however, they bigger issue that they hold is that they consider Obama to be an apostate. Ayman al Zawahiri (al Qaeda) said "You were born to a Muslim father, but you chose to stand in the ranks of the enemies of the Muslims" (BBC, 2008, para. 14). 


http://news.bbc.co.uk. (2008, November 19). Al-Qaeda vows to hurt Obama's US. BBC. Retrieved January 22, 2015 from http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/7737710.stm


Actually, al Qaeda was formed as an Islamist organization; "Al Qaeda launched the global struggle - no longer within the traditionally Muslim borders" (Berman, 2004, p.115).  Both Berman and Lewis note that Bin Laden referred to an Islamic "humiliation" some 80 years before the 9/11 attacks (Berman, 2004)(Lewis, 2003), and that this was reference to the Turkish dissolution of the calipha in 1922.

Although the Russian invasion was a priority to al Qaeda, their goal has been the establishment of an Islamic state uber alles.  "For the Islamists there can be no compromise or coexistence with Western civilization" (Bodansky, 1999, p. 388).

Berman, P. (2004). Terror and liberalism.  New York and London.  W.W. Norton and Company

Bodansky, Y. (1999). Bin Laden: The man who declared war on America.  Roseville. Prima Publishing

Lewis, B. (2003). The crisis of Islam: Holy war and unholy terror. New York.  Random House

Here is a point of contention:

How do you define what is an act of domestic terrorism? 

The Tsarnaev brothers (Boston bombing) were immigrants.  Do you count their act as homegrown terror, Islamist terror, or both.  If you count them as both, it makes comparisons harder to judge.

Former Major Hasan (Fort Hood shooting) was an American, but he was in communication with an Islamist mentor.  Is he a homegrown terrorist, or an Islamist terrorist, or both?

These are things that need to be considered when politicians try to use their "counts" of terror acts to justify focus on one group or another.  The sad fact is that the Tsarnaevs and Hasan had all been identified to our security community as threats, and that  our security community was more interested in spying on American' porn habits than in countering threats.
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One of the issues in comparing the threats posed by different terrorist groups is the scope of the intended damage.  Although the claim can be heard that there are more incidents of right-wing terror, the intended targets of right wing terror are ususally law enforcement or politicians  (not forgetting OKC);  Islamic terrorists seek mass destruction.  This makes a threat comparison difficult to judge.


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