Michael Weiss, in text prepared for his testimony in front of the U.S. House Committee on Foreign Affairs on December 2, wrote: Policymakers here and abroad often speak as if ISIS only debuted as a significant insurgency and international terror threat in June 2014, when its soldiers stormed into Iraq’s second-largest city of Mosul, almost uncontested. The president surely forgot himself when, in conversation with the New Yorker’s David Remnick, he referred to the group that had dispatched mentally disabled girls in Tal Afar as suicide bombers and blew up the Golden Mosque in Samarra as the “JV team.” But as you well know, this is a jihadist franchise, which with we have grown intimately acquainted for over a decade. It has long memory and is playing an even longer game.
Has it altered its strategy? No, not really, although it has placed greater tactical emphasis on its foreign operations since its capacity for receiving emigrating jihadists from New Jersey to Peshawar has shrunk, thanks to better policing and the relative closure of the Syrian-Turkish border.
Abu Mohammed al-Adnani, officially ISIS’s spokesman but in reality the man in charge of its dominion in Syria, defined the “state’s” foreign policy rather plainly in September: “If you can kill a disbelieving American or European — especially the spiteful and filthy French — or an Australian, or a Canadian, or any other disbeliever from the disbelievers waging war, including the citizens of the countries that entered into a coalition against the Islamic State,” he said, “then rely upon Allah, and kill him in any manner or way however it may be.”
But Adnani was only reiterating what has always been ISIS’s global ambition—to export its holy war well beyond its immediate precincts or purview. The domestic pillar of ISIS’s project is what it calls “remaining and expanding”—the pushing of the borders of the caliphate in the Levant and Mesopotamia and the swelling of the ranks of its fighters and supporters there. We may pretend that ISIS is no state, but its ideologues and bureaucrats and petty officials behave as if they fully believe their own propaganda.
The foreign pillar is the opportunistic spreading of chaos, harm and wanton destruction in the West, relying upon agents who come from the West and who may or may not be returning veterans from a regional battlefield but rather everymen, Muslim or non-Muslim, who have been radicalized remotely. These jihadists are encouraged to strike at the kufar, the unbelievers, on the latter’s home turf or wherever they may be found, using methods both clever and crude: “an explosive device, a bullet, a knife, a car, a rock, or even a boot or a fist,” as al-Adnani elsewhere specified.
The two pillars have been in existence since the era of ISIS’s founder and godfather, the Jordanian jailbird Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. Lest we forget, Zarqawi personally beheaded the American contractor Nicholas Berg in Iraq in 2004; two years before that, he had a direct hand in the assassination of 60 year-old American citizen and USAID worker Laurence Foley in Amman. [Continue reading…]