The criminal shape of terror to come

Christopher Dickey writes: He is the very model of a modern ISIS terrorist: not very smart, not very religious, certainly sadistic, hugely egotistical, a minor criminal most of his life who’s looking to kill whoever he can whenever he can to make a name for himself. The territories now held by the so-called Islamic State (aka ISIS or ISIL) were his training ground but not his battleground: He was a jailor alternately torturing Western hostages and singing to them. But his sights were set on bigger Western targets. And he became such a loose Kalashnikov that, in the view of some European counterterrorism experts, even ISIS wanted to be rid of him.

Mehdi-NemmoucheSuch a man, according to his victims and his prosecutors, is 29-year-old Mehdi Nemmouche. On May 24, the young Frenchman allegedly walked into a Jewish museum in Brussels and killed four people.

At the time, before ISIS had conquered Mosul, the second-largest city in Iraq, the attack evoked outrage but not hysteria. Today, amid the furor created by the realization that ISIS is redrawing the map of the Middle East, and after the horror evoked by the beheadings of American journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff, such an attack would have much more dramatic repercussions.

Over the weekend the French press published reports, unconfirmed, that when Nemmouche acted as one of the jailors for French hostages held in Syria in 2013, and possibly for the Americans James Foley and Steven Sotloff, as well, he bragged about ambitious plans to attack the July 14 Bastille Day parade in Paris.

There are many reasons to worry that ISIS will, at some point, try to carry out a major terrorist attack in Europe or the United States. (It will claim it was forced to do so by the American bombing campaigns, just as it says it was forced to behead American journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff.) But the immediate risk is from disorganized, undisciplined, and nonetheless very deadly characters who want to see their names go down in their own half-assed version of history.

Maybe like Nemmouche they’ve spent some “jihad tourism” time in Syria or Iraq—many hundreds of Europeans and a substantial number of Americans are believed to have done so. Or perhaps they’ve only been “inspired” by ISIS from afar. All can claim the black banner of “the Caliphate,” and in the emotionally fraught environment of today, a little terrorism goes a long way.

When President Barack Obama addresses the nation on Wednesday, not the least of his goals will be to rein in the rampant rhetoric surrounding ISIS. But it won’t be easy. Obama would rather talk about “managing” ISIL than “destroying” or “defeating” it—words he has used but with obvious reluctance. In classic Obama fashion, he wants to keep his options open, only to discover he’s lost control of the narrative altogether.

Veteran terrorism expert Brian Jenkins notes the alarmism in Washington has reached such proportions, there’s a kind of “shock and awe in reverse.” Thus, as Jenkins writes, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel proclaims ISIS is an “imminent threat to every interest we have.” A congressional staffer argues that it is “highly probable ISIS will…obtain nuclear, chemical, biological or other weapons of mass death…to use in attacks against New York [or] Washington.” Texas Governor Rick Perry claims there is a “very real possibility” that ISIS forces may have crossed the U.S.-Mexican border. Senator James Inhofe asserted, “We are in the most dangerous position we’ve ever been in as a nation,” and retired Marine four-star Gen. John Allen goes so far as to say, “World War III is at hand.” [Continue reading…]

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