The Guardian reports: Nine days before the Paris attacks, Islamic State leaders gathered in the Syrian town of Tabqah to talk about what was coming next for the terror organisation. Senior officials from across the so-called caliphate had made difficult journeys under constant fear of airstrikes to the small town west of Raqqa.
In what marked a critical phase in the group’s evolution, there was to be a new focus on exporting chaos to Europe, the assembled men were told. And up to 200 militants were in place across the continent ready to receive orders.
Details of the meeting have been relayed to the Guardian by two Isis members who are familiar with what was discussed. Both said the mood in Tabqah that evening in early November was triumphant. Senior leaders said they were turning their focus to European capitals, and had dispatched foreign fighters back to their homelands to prepare attack plans. And wait.
The move marked a decisive shift away from putting all the organisation’s efforts into holding on to lands it had conquered in Syria and Iraq – a cause it acknowledged could not prevail against 14 different air forces and the omniscient eavesdropping powers of its foes.
Instead, the group now had the capacity to take the fight to the heart of its enemy. The means to do so had always been there through Europe’s porous borders, which had often facilitated the original journeys. However, the migrant route that had ferried hundreds of thousands of Syrians and Iraqis fleeing persecution had also allowed a small number of Isis members to blend in, and head back the other way.
In essence, Isis had begun to prioritise controlling populations over geography. While it hadn’t given up its grip on the large swath of Iraq and Syria it had seized at the expense of each sovereign state, the original area it controlled was now less important than the faraway societies it could influence. [Continue reading…]