ISIS: Transformed, Not Defeated

| May 2, 2019

In recent months, there have been great victories against ISIS in the Middle East – the most notable being that the Islamic State has officially lost all its territory in Syria and Iraq. However, the fact that the recent Sri Lankan Easter bombings have been claimed by a local group – the National Thowheeth Jama’ath – that claims allegiance to ISIS demonstrates that the terrorist group is a long way from being defeated. While the extent of the involvement of the Islamic State is not certain, evidence demonstrating the group’s communication with top ISIS officials implies a legitimate connection.

As it’s lost its territorial strongholds in the Middle East, ISIS has not disappeared, but rather, changed tactics. It’s leader is underground, it still has tens or hundreds of millions of dollars reserved, and continues to be involved in kidnapping for ransom, as well as “legitimate businesses, including fish farming, car dealing and cannabis growing” (Callimachi & Schmitt, NYT). These funds enable ISIS to continue to function through associates and local organizations spanning many countries, allowing it to create a dangerous global network that is maintained by its extensive media networks. While the recent territorial defeats the Islamic State has suffered in recent months may have weakened the terrorist group, its chameleon-like nature is allowing it to slowly regain strength. Christopher P. Costa, a former career U.S. Army Intelligence officer, explains, “It’s not just a question of the loss of a physical caliphate so much as considering exactly what ISIS will look like as it tries to reconstitute itself.”

Analyzing this more frightening reality of the the Islamic State in the context of the Sri Lankan attacks that killed hundreds of Christians urges us to stay alert, to not be fooled by the fantasy of having defeated extremism. As ISIS gains the ability to function stealthily and in a decentralized manner, it almost appears to have become more dangerous than before. It will continue to function indirectly through its local affiliates until it is sufficiently strong enough to regain territories in vulnerable territories in the Middle East.

If there is one thing clear, it’s that its attacks on Muslims that are not extreme enough, Christians, and other religious groups will persist. While it is true that we are personally removed from the situation and therefore seemingly unable to help, we can be adamant about keeping religious persecution and terrorism in the Middle East at the forefront of politics. We must ensure that our representatives and government officials are active in addressing ISIS and its affiliates because the fact that terrorism might not affect those in our direct circles is not an excuse to forget about those suffering at its hands across the world.