Under assault from all sides, the Islamic State (IS) extremist group is losing territory, revenues, and the ability to attract recruits, a new United Nations report said, RFE/RL reports:
The report circulated by Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on February 6 warned, however, that IS militants were “partially adapting” to losses on the battlefield by encouraging followers to stage attacks in the West. IS has lost “large numbers of fighters and territory,” as it is increasingly encircled by armies bent on destroying it.
The report to the U.N. Security Council, which was circulated Monday, said member states highlighted that internal communications and recruitment by IS “are increasingly moving towards more covert methods, such as the use of the dark web, encryption and messengers,” the New York Times adds.
Government agencies have tried unsuccessfully to compete with militant jihadists in cyberspace. But officials at the State Department’s new Global Engagement Center say they’re the first to tap into the Internet’s vast stores of personal information to discourage individual users from joining the Islamic State, The Washington Post reports.
Some critics have also questioned whether the program’s leaders would ever be able to produce quantifiable results, something that’s “difficult, given what they are trying to do,” said Tara Maller, a former CIA military analyst and senior policy adviser for the Counter Extremism Project, a nonprofit organization that seeks to prevent terrorists’ use of social media.
“While they can target the vulnerable audience they want to capture and provide counter-messaging, that is only one part of addressing the fight against extremism online,” said Maller, who says she is broadly supportive of the new approach. But she said that other government agencies and social-media companies must work in tandem to “remove the horrific content . . . that is radicalizing individuals online every single day.”
“You have meat-cleaver messaging — large, thematic campaigns with big audiences — and then you have ‘scalpel’ messaging,” said Michael Lumpkin, a retired Navy SEAL who headed the center before stepping down last month. “These are highly targeted messages that go to the most vulnerable audiences: people who are susceptible to recruitment.”
The dissolution of the so-called Islamic State remains contingent on the emergence of governing authorities that respect people’s rights and choices, away from sectarian, ethnic and regional divisions, analyst Jalal Zain Aldin contends in a paper published by the Arab Reform Initiative:
The paper, entitled The Dissolution of the Islamic State, argues that the rise and growth of the Islamic State is the outcome of the recent rifts and rapid changes the Arab region has witnessed. However, the amount of territory that the group seized, and the speed at which it did so, are not indicative of future trends……The existence of the Islamic State is primarily due to the fact that Iraq and Syria lack comprehensive national projects. When the sectarian regimes in Iraq and Syria collapse, the Islamic State will inevitably lose its most important source of support because these regimes provide justification for the Islamic State’s existence in the region.
“Only if a just authority upholds people’s right to freedom and acts in their interests, abandoning the constraints of an antiquated, regional-based, sectarian system of divisions, will the Islamic State inevitably end,” Aldin suggests. RTWT
Islamic State is at a low ebb, but Islamists and some analysts believe recent events could strengthen the ultra-hardline group by creating new recruits and inspiring attacks on U.S. soil, Reuters reports.
“They will simply double down on the strategy (of attacks) and instead of investing totally in the battlefields they use, they will try even harder than they have already to activate cells in different Middle Eastern and Western countries,” says Mokhtar Awad, Research Fellow in the Program on Extremism at George Washington University.