Paris attacks and other assaults seen as evidence of a strategic shift by ISIS

The New York Times reports: The recent attacks in Paris and Beirut and the downing of a Russian airliner in Egypt were the first results of a centrally planned terrorism campaign by a wing of the Islamic State leadership that oversees “external” targets, according to American and European intelligence officials.

The Islamic State’s overseas operations planning cell offers strategic guidance, training and funding for actions aimed at inflicting the maximum possible civilian casualties, but leaves the task of picking the time, place and manner of the attacks largely to trusted operatives on the ground, the officials said.

Carrying out attacks far from the Islamic State’s base in Iraq and Syria represents an evolution of the group’s previous model of exhorting followers to take up arms wherever they live — but without significant help from the group. And it upends the view held by the United States and its allies of the Islamic State as a regional threat, with a new assessment that the group poses a whole new set of risks.

Debris from a Russian airliner downed in Egypt in October, killing all 224 people on board. The downing and the recent attacks in Paris and Beirut were the first results of a terrorism campaign by a wing of the Islamic State, according to American and European intelligence officials. Credit Mohamed Abd El Ghany/Reuters
“Once the Islamic State possessed territory that provided them sanctuary and allowed them to act with impunity, they like other jihadist groups inevitably turned to external attacks,” said William Wechsler, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress and until last January a top counterterrorism official at the Pentagon.

One possible motivation of the change in strategy by the Islamic State, also called ISIS or ISIL, is to seize leadership of the global jihad from Al Qaeda — from which the Islamic State broke away in 2013. The attack on the Radisson Blu hotel in Mali on Friday was probably carried out by two Qaeda-linked groups, suggesting, as one senior European counterterrorism official put it, “The race is on between ISIS and Al Qaeda to see who can attack the West the best.” [Continue reading…]

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