In the aftermath of the third terror attack on France since January 2015, a gleeful Islamic State has totted it up as a major success to round off their particularly bloody campaign this Ramadan. According to the terrorist group, Friday’s ‘operation’ was carried out by a ‘soldier’ heeding its call to target citizens of coalition countries fighting the IS. However, prelimiry reports indicate a lone wolf attack by a depressed, suicidal French-Tunisian. Investigators are more inclined to believe that Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel, with a petty crimil record and history of domestic violence, wanted to give a jihadist legitimacy to the outrage he perpetrated when he mowed down 84 persons on the streets of Nice with a heavy truck. The fact that he also used firearms and gredes during the rampage suggests accomplices and access to an underground network. This raises fears of the French far right extremists turning upon Muslims in general; which in turn could trigger copycat attacks in some other European tions. Such a development is precisely what the IS wants, in pursuit of its vision of polarizing countries around the world between Muslims and non-Muslims. It may be tempting to think that the IS is desperately hitting out at faraway targets as it continues to lose ground in Iraq and Syria. Coalition forces, the Syrian army, Iraqi security forces, Kurdish and other fighters are estimated to have re-taken half the area under IS in Iraq, and over a quarter of its territorial conquests in Syria. The terror group is believed to be selling only about 150 million dollars worth of oil in the black market presently, which is less than one-third of its oil revenues two years ago. So the IS has responded with a global terror campaign in the holy month of Ramadan that ended recently, hitting targets as far afield as an Orlando club in the US, the airport in Istanbul, a busy Baghdad market, a café in Dhaka’s high security diplomatic zone, and at Saudi Arabia including the Prophet’s mosque at Medi, the second holiest site for Muslims. The IS website gloats that it has demonstrated its strength by killing and injuring up to 5,200 people this Ramadan, and that more bloodshed is in store. It lists among its victims Shiites, Kurdish peshmerga fighters, Libyan militiamen, Syrian Alawites and Iraqi Christians.
Some security alysts have pointed out that IS strategists are actually moving with a two-fold local as well as global objective. In its local objective of seizing territory in Iraq, Syria and other Middle East countries to establish its ‘Caliphate’, it has already muscled out Al-Qaeda and seized the imagition of hardline salafist jihadi groups active in other countries. Its core strength may have suffered attrition to drop down to less than 35,000 fighters, but it is believed to command the allegiance of over 20,000 fighters in countries like Libya, Egypt, Afghanistan, Pakistan, as well as African countries like Nigeria. Unlike the Al-Qaeda which normally avoided targeting Muslims, the IS has no patience for Muslims who are ‘infidels’ in their eyes, living in countries under ‘apostate’ regimes. This includes Saudi Arabia, whose ruling Al-Saud family has long positioned itself as custodians of the holiest sites in Islam, and which the IS is determined to overthrow. Whether the IS can recoup from its battlefield losses remains to be seen, but the terror group’s capacity to evolve into a deadlier global entity must never be under-estimated. Unless its global network and undoubted cyber capacities are not monitored and checkmated, the IS may strengthen links further with local jihadi groups in other countries to build up significant capacity. The Sheikh Hasi government in Bangladesh may yet pay a heavy price in denying IS footprint there, for local jihadi groups have found it more convenient to run their terror campaigns under the IS banner of global jihad. For India too, this threat needs to be assessed properly, particularly in Kashmir as well as Northeast states reeling under influx from Bangladesh.