Since September 11, 2001 there has been a growing number of terrorist activities and events that threaten both domestic and international security. The United States (US) engaged in anti-terrorism operations both in Afghanistan and Iraq. The effort was intended to bring justice to those involved in the 9/11 attacks, as well as decrease the overall terrorist threat that plagued some areas of the Middle East. The birth of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) which is also known as Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) came from the remnants of al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) and through additional extremist interference in the region. US policy failed to effectively address all the threats and variables before departing the country, current tactics and policy attempt to get control of a very complex and widespread threat. Because of the varying name of the terrorist group, ISIL/ISIS it will be referred to as the Islamic State (IS) for easiness and consistency.
History and Ideology
Ozkaya Lasalle & Akgul wrote about the differences between al-Qaeda and ISIL/ISIS (2016). According to Ozkaya Lasalle & Akgul, the creation of the IS dates to 2006 when AQI “was established with five (5) other Jihadist groups, forming the Mujahideen Shara Council” (2016). The IS was proclaimed an authentic group and later extended its influence into Syria in 2012 (Ozkaya Lasalle & Akgul, 2016). Two years later, ISIL broadcasted to the world that they were once again a “caliphate” (Ozkaya Lasalle & Akgul, 2016).
The overall motivation of violent extremists in their ideology and their disapproval to those with conflicting ideology. Past and present attacks by violent extremists have predominantly been against the West and its allies. Pourhamzavi stated, “a variety of experts and scholars have repeatedly noted that the current jihadists in Syria and Iraq are Salafis/Wahhabis” (Pourhamzavi, 2015). According to Pourhamzavi, the earliest Wahhabi movement started during the 18th century in Saudi Arabia (2015). The ideology of Wahhabi is moderately new sect compared to others within Islam, the target is of the unadulterated approach to what being a Muslim actually means. Most scholars believe that in order to understand the IS, Wahhabism should be understood first.
Wahhabism has three (3) main principles associated with it which are: monotheism, invitation and combating all non-Muslims. According to Pourhamzavi, monotheism is defined as tawhid in the Wahhabi doctrine which is the act of worship of another God as heresy (2015). The principle of invitation in the Wahhabi doctrine is defined as the dawa, in which it means to invite others into Islam (Pourhamzavi, 2015). The last principle of the Wahhabi doctrine is combating all non-Muslims is referred to as jihad, in which Pourhamzavi says is “used to fulfil dawa” (Pourhamzavi, 2015). Jihad is a term most people are aware of due to the way it is used with the violent acts against the West. Pourhamzavi states that the jihad is potentially the most important pillars of Islam. According to Pourhamzavi, the three (3) main principles of Wahhabism “supports one another in terms of jihadi type of conflict” (2015).
Today many scholars have believed that these particular type of groups are motivated by Wahhabism (Pourhamzavi, 2015). Pourhamzavi states that the terminology and religious quotes that the IS uses may be traced back to Wahhabism. In particularly, Pourhamzavi, articulates that the name ISIS/ISIL was given to the group by others and instead the group called themselves “al tawhid wa al jihad” in which it translates to Monotheism and Jihad (Pourhamzavi, 2015). According to history, Wahhabis were predominantly Sunni. The ideology and doctrine of Wahhabi is used to justify each act committed by ISIS/ISIL. The IS follows their own version of Islam in which they believe it is the sole kind. The IS also use violent against all non-Islam people and even at times against Muslims who do not agree with their form of Islam like Shi’ah and Sunni.
Jihad, originally was a method used as liberation from oppression of foreign and/or religious domination within themselves. Throughout the years, extremist attacks have been under the pretext of jihad in order to justify their actions. The society of Muslim Brotherhood was created as a religious association with the goal of “promoting prosperity for the good and riddance for the bad” (Ozkaya Lasalle & Akgul, 2016). The brotherhood was founded by Hassan al-Banna, an Egyptian school teacher who was born in 1906. Al-Banna professed that the “poverty and powerlessness of the Egyptians were a result of Egypt’s western orientation” (Ozkaya Lasalle & Akgul, 2016). Al-Banna believed the solution for this is the strict respect of Islam (Ozkaya Lasalle & Akgul, 2016).
The Muslim Brotherhood paved the way for other organizations to resemble and follow them. According to Ozkaya Lasalle & Akgul, “were significant for the development of the notion of global jihad followed by al-Qaeda and the Islamic State because they developed the concept of hakimiyyah” (2016). The concept of hakimiyyah states that “Sovereignty belongs only to God” (Ozkaya Lasalle & Akgul, 2016). Due to this belief, some Muslims believe that political system and government were detrimental to the faith and all laws or governance outside of Gad must be rejected (Ozkaya Lasalle & Akgul, 2016). Ozkaya Lasalle & Akgul stated that “from the Islamic point of view, this means that it is legitimate to engage in jihad against governments that do not have any relation with Islam, except possibly in their names” (2016).
Abddalla Azzam who is known as the father of global jihad, became the “undisputed spiritual chief of all schools of jihadists of today” (Ozkaya Lasalle & Akgul, 2016). Azzam united the Salafist mujahedeen army in Pakistan in a jihad against the Soviet regime during the 1967 Arab-Israeli war (Ozkaya Lasalle & Akgul, 2016). Azzam requested all Muslims to unite under the flag of jihad in Al Jihad, he professed that the infidels have attacked Muslim terrain (Ozkaya Lasalle & Akgul, 2016). Azzam quantified that obligation would persist until “we have reconquered all Muslim lands and reinstalled Islam” (Ozkaya Lasalle & Akgul, 2016).
Ozkaya Lasalle & Akgul, believe that “IS is absolutely uncompromising on doctrinal matters, prioritizing the promotion of an unforgiving strain of Salafi thought” (2016). The IS was once a part of al-Qaeda and rationally measured to follow the same philosophy, its more severe in their interpretation and execution of their principles. One of the essential assets of the IS is their “decentralized organization” just like al-Qaeda (Ozkaya Lasalle & Akgul, 2016). Ozkaya Lasalle & Akgul, believe that al-Qaeda function with “considerable autonomy, with their own money and planning and/or execution of activities at the local level” (Ozkaya Lasalle & Akgul, 2016). The decentralized organization aspect causes IS to be a dangerous and difficult enemy to defeat. The ability to carry out terrorist attacks is widespread and make the international effort that more important.
The 21st century Iraqi insurrection motivated the younger generation of jihadists by the extreme ideas of Salafi/Wahhabism (Ozkaya Lassalle & Akgul, 2016). Ozkaya Lassalle and Akgul proclaim one young jihadist to join the cause was Jordanian born “Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who inspired and set in motion the ideological trajectory that IS continues to follow (Ozkaya Lassalle & Akgul, 2016). Ozkaya Lassalle and Akgul, furthermore proclaim that Zarqawi “directly contributed to the two most eminent ideological principals of the IS: an extreme anti-Shi’ism and the emphasis on the restoration of the caliphate” (Ozkaya Lassalle & Akgul, 2016).
Social media has revolutionized the way society communicates and distribute information. Due to social media, today jihadists use social media to disseminate information, inspire, motivate and to promote others to their cause. YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook are the most popular platforms that are being utilized for extremist recruiting purposes, but they aren’t the only ones. In every conflict propaganda has been used due to its effectiveness, therefore IS has chosen to continue with it. The ease and availability of information along with the widespread appeal of IS, is what has contributed to lone-wolf attacks such as the Pulse nightclub shooting and Boston marathon bombing. Ozkaya Lassalle and Akgul furthermore proclaim that “IS uses it geographic position as a propaganda tool by combing it with its apocalyptic vision” which preserves the belief that every achievement is a sign towards judgement day (2016).
Finding a financier has been key in prolonging the Jihadist fight. Ozkaya Lassalle and Akgul declare that the primary means of funding are “donations and income generating activities such as fraud, drug trafficking, kidnapping and extortion, together with the management of illegal companies” (Ozkaya Lassalle & Akgul, 2016). Jihadists extract from Islam doctrine to justify their financial jihad, in which they believe the financial jihad is supportive to the physical one. The advancements in the Islamic State’s recruiting and training practices has added greater importance to the financial battle. Islamic State is “a notable exception of certain terrorist organizations supported by the State, IS is probably the best financed terrorist organization that we faced” (David S. Cohen as cited by Ozkaya Lassalle & Akgul, 2016).
The fight against the IS has been long and complex. The tactics, organizational structure, and economics has been a challenge to wholly subdue and defeat. The U.S. has partnered with multiple nations to create a unified effort to rid the international community of the threat. It was declared that we as a nation would not stand for terrorism and would take measures to eliminate it. Policies were ratified to counter threat as soon as they had a name and designation.
The initial policy ratified by the U.S. was quick and broad. The national call for the war on terror was in a response to 9/11 and intended to purge the world of international threats that are willing to cause harm to nations. The broad policy needed to be well-defined to be more effective and to give the agencies involved focus and understanding. The “Axis of Evil” was identified as the countries of Iran, Iraq, and North Korea, and further action and policies would focus on them. Sinver and Lucas believe that “the ‘war on terror’ rather than al-Qaeda, both defined and shaped US foreign policy” (2016). The invasion of Iraq stemmed from this policy and our current engagements reflect this initial response.
International Effort Against the Islamic State
Siniver and Lucas believe the battle against the IS began with language and that the response to the IS by the Obama administration “failed to establish a response to the Islamic State and then named that group as ISIL as part of the evasion of a strategic approach” (2016). According to Siniver and Lucas, assert that the policy to address the IS threat was hindered and not detailed in its approach (2016). The key to coming up with an effective plan of action is to properly identify the threat in order to come up with an effective response; Siniver and Lucas sense that didn’t happen upon the onset of the IS.
The IS announced its “Islamic Caliphate” on June 29, 2014. The announcement posed a potential threat to the US and its allies both domestically and abroad. The execution of policy began with kinetic operations aimed to deter enemy advancement into other neighboring countries. The use of airstrikes and joint security operational teams were used until a detailed approach was conceived. Timothy Sands wrote the “ISIS requires continued military successes, alliances, combat service support, and religious authority,” and the use of tactics such as airstrikes were aimed to disrupt the Islamic State tactical strategy (Sands, 2016). The US partnered with the Iraqi government in an effort to train and equip the Iraqi Security Forces will the skills and resources to defeat the enemy abroad. Recent actions has also seen a rise in the US personnel present in the country, and their mission is to aide and advise partner nations in their effort against the enemy.
The fight against the Islamic State cannot be executed on the battlefield alone, Sands writes that “The Center for Naval Analysis (CNA) organized a forum to encourage dialogue between the United States and its Gulf allies to explore the broader questions of deterrence and assurance” (Sands, 2016). The partnership with countries in the region is paramount towards dismantling the threat and the organization on multiple levels. Sands states that “several Gulf States have already set aside old animosities to joining forces against ISIS” (Sands, 2016). A joint effort is required because of the decentralized organization that spans across multiple countries. Sands stated that 34 largely Muslim countries joined the mutual effort against the Islamic State (Sands, 2016).
Domestic Effort Against the Islamic State
September 11, 2001 revealed a number of weaknesses in or preparation and policy towards threats and how we respond. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) states part of its mission towards preventing terrorism and enhancing security is to “to better mitigate and defend against dynamic threats, minimize risks, and maximize the ability to respond and recover from attacks and disasters of all kinds” (DHS, 2016). It was previously mentioned that the strengths of the Islamic State rest in their ability to recruit and fund their mission. The use of social media and propaganda videos showing off their victories are part of their tactics. Amanda Borquaye states that policymakers “must begin to tackle the digital realm, for most foreign recruits become radicalized and make their first connections with ISIS and its jihadi principles from social media platforms” (Borquaye, 2016). Disrupting communication will aide in eliminating many threats.
Financing is a large part of terrorist operations. Policy and sanctions were enacted after 9/11, but a larger effort needs to be put into place to thoroughly disrupt the flow of money to terrorist organizations. Kathleen Bouzis states that US Treasury Department (DoT) “has directed the finance strategy against ISIL by discouraging the payment of any ransoms and extortion. However, the DoT’s tools are not designed to counter extortion and ultimately reducing the hold ISIL has over local businesses and communities will be the job of ground forces” (Bouzis, 2016). The US still has a long fight ahead of them, but we are better positioned for it because of the lessons we learned after 9/11.
9/11 taught us a lot of lessons on how to better be prepared. Weaknesses were exposed in regard to procedures and communications. Terrorism threats are ever present and often ever changing, so it is important to remain diligent and ensure our current practices remain relevant in the changing environment. The security practices in place failed us when we needed them most and then an outdated standard of procedures hindered us from reacting effectively from new threats. We also failed to identify clues and trends that might have aided in forming a future response to a threat. Lastly, we learned the lengths to which terrorists will go to in order to inflict damage. Terrorism is complex just as the war to end it is, so training and awareness are a key part of developing an anti-terror solution. Our current policy is sufficient in the meantime, but the landscape of the battlefield continues to change, and we need to ensure we stay ahead of the curve.