The Islamic State in Syria and Iraq (IS) advertises its murderous, brutal, and inhuman behavior to the world through its internet postings and social media. They offer video tapes of their outrageous conduct including two beheadings of captured news reporters. IS does what every terrorist aspires to achieve; instill fear in anyone who would oppose them. At present, IS Sunni Islam is seeking to disenfranchise Shia Islam which in recent times has been favored by the governments in Syria and Iraq.
. What is happening now?
The Islamic State in Syria (ISIS) was only one of several al-Qaeda offshoots in 2011 fighting to topple the brutal Shia Islamic regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. They are financially backed, according to some, by followers of Wahhabism, an ultra conservative sect of Sunni Islam favored by some in Saudi Arabia and Qatar. Some terror experts view Sunni Wahhabism as the primary source of worldwide Islamic terrorism. Shia versus Sunni, the ancient internal Muslim religious conflict that started shortly after the death of Mohammed, continues to the present. It is now being reignited by IS.
Assad’s regime is primarily supported by another Shia country, Iran. IS today is the most successful of all the Syrian-Iraqi jihadist groups, in military and financial terms, and in their sophisticated, well designed, and well executed use of the internet to sell their jihad to disaffected Sunni Muslims worldwide. They have gone from calling themselves the Islamic State in Syria (ISIS), to The Islamic State in Syria and the Levant (ISIL), to the Islamic State (IS), and as of July 4, 2014, to a Caliphate declared by their leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi as the self designated Caliph Ibrahim.
Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi asserts he is a direct descendant of Mohammed. As Caliph, he is the head of the Islamic world political state (which apparently has no geographical boundaries). In declaring the Caliphate, al-Baghdadi also lays claim to being God’s representative on earth, the self-declared worldwide religious leader of all Muslims (presumably Sunni at the expense of the Shia).
What is the immediate concern?
IS displays extreme brutality towards the non Sunni populace in captured areas. Murder, rape, intimidation, and torture seem to be routinely in use as IS addresses Shia Muslims and other religious and ethnic minorities that come under their control. Every day seems to offer yet another news report of IS increasing brutality. To IS you are either a Sunni Muslim willing to embrace their most conservative brand of Islam or you are an enemy to be killed or enslaved.
At first, IS seems to bring some order out of chaos in captured territory. They make water available, restore electricity, control fuel and food distribution, and replace the local police with their own form of enforcement. However, all soon changes.
IS bans alcohol, smoking, music, and insists women remain in their homes and not leave unless under a full burqa. Executions on the street seem frequent, random, and directed at non Sunni targets. Murder, rape, and denial of daily basic human needs are all used as a tool to instill fear and prevent opposition. . If news reports are accurate, they accomplish this using brutal foreign fighters installed as local police. These enforcers reportedly feel free to take captured Shia women as slaves.
The US and other western countries were initially slow to comprehend the totality of the al-Qaeda threat. They do not appear poised to make that same mistake again with IS or the newly announced Caliphate.
Some who claim to be able to quantify the size of the threat today say IS has about six thousand fighters in total with thirty-five hundred to five thousand of that number in Syria. Of this number, about one thousand are believed to have been recruited from Chechnya. The “Chechen problem” will no doubt re-visit Russia.
It is further reported that five hundred IS fighters have been recruited from Great Britain, European countries, Canada, the US, Africa, and the Middle East. It was a hooded IS fighter with a British accent who beheaded at least one reporter on camera and gave IS the sought after international appeal.
Western governments realize IS soldiers have sufficient training, experience, cruelty, and blinded fanaticism to serve as future terrorists in their countries of origin or any country that has issued them a valid passport. When IS jihadists return to their country using their presently valid passports, they will seek install the Caliphate in all its civil and religious forms. At home, these terrorists will use their barbaric methods now on display in Syria and Iraq to instill fear and terror to force the acceptance of the newly declared Caliphate. This is their end game.
This is why governments are now in haste to identify their passport holders who may be fighting with IS. The US seems to be preparing more quietly then some countries but with no less vigor or diligence. The battle has already started. It is just out of the public view at present.
Much of what is legally needed may not presently be in place. Great Britain has signaled to their political bodies the need for new laws to address the return terrorist issue. They highlight the problem by raising the threat level, increasing public awareness, and engaging in the needed public debate. Others are following suit. A citizen with a valid passport, who can be shown to have fought with or supported IS, will certainly be challenged when seeking re-entry.
All countries will need the help of an alert and cooperative citizenry as this problem unfolds. They will also need the cooperation of Muslims in their communities, both Shia and Sunni, who together reject both the aberrant Islamic religious philosophy and abhorrent behavior practiced by IS.
James Ring is a former FBI agent and longtime resident of Boston’s North End. He is also author of the book “Necessary Assets,” an inspired fictional story of an Al Qaeda terror plot that brings forth an unusual alliance between a modernized Sicilian Mafia and a retired FBI agent who lives in the North End. Jim blogs regularly at JamesRing.com.