The Islamic State (IS) has escalated a campaign of global terrorism over the past few years, exactly as it was losing overt control of territory. In 2016, IS consolidated a model of guiding and claiming attacks in the West and elsewhere via is media channel, Amaq. The outlines of this have long been known. Now there is significant new detail thanks to a four part reporting series in the German newspaper BILD by Björn Stritzel, who contacted Amaq and posed over many months—in consultation with Germany security agencies—as a potential terrorist.
BACKGROUND TO IS’S FOREIGN TERRORIST INFRASTRUCTURE
IS, at its core a revolutionary movement, has always been global in its outlook. As a report for The Henry Jackson Society documented, IS, a group founded in 1999, moved to Iraq and had attempted attacks in Europe in 2002—before the Anglo-American invasion. Nonetheless, it is clear that IS has invested more in external attacks since 2014, and that the bulk of such attacks have occurred since then. The increase in external attacks is not a sign of desperation, however, or a way of IS lashing out as its caliphate is destroyed.
IS’s founder and leader until 2006, Ahmad al-Khalayleh (Abu Musab al-Zarqawi), did not have to invest so heavily in external attacks to strike at his Western enemies because between 2003 and 2011 the so-called “far enemy” was “on the ground right in front of him”. IS was driven into the wilderness by the “surge” of 2007, and it was rebuilding between 2008 and 2013, aided by its own realization and remedy of its mistakes in handling the tribes and other elements of Sunni society, the American withdrawal from Iraq, Iran’s expanding influence in Baghdad, and the failure to bring the war waged by the regime of Bashar al-Assad against the Syrian population to a swift conclusion.
By 2011, IS had recovered quite considerably within Iraq. Many of IS’s Sunni rivals had been eliminated and it was waging a concerted terrorism campaign against the government, including against the minorities and in the Shi’i areas to try to incite an official over-reaction. This insurgent-terrorism campaign increased in 2012 and 2013. A crucial aspect in IS’s recovery was the emergence from prison of senior IS operatives—notably Abdurrahman al-Qaduli (Abu Ali al-Anbari) and Adnan al-Bilawi (Abu Abdurrahman al-Bilawi)—either by government release or IS jailbreaks, and this cadre helped orchestrate the expansion of IS into Syria. In early 2014, with IS capturing territory but before the takeover of Mosul that put IS on the political agenda worldwide, IS was already trying to orchestrate attacks against outside targets, from Lebanon to Belgium and France.
Amaq was created in late 2014 as an ostensibly-independent news agency. In time, Amaq became the avenue through which IS allows Westerners planning to commit domestic terrorism to contact them. IS operatives from its foreign intelligence service, the Amn al-Kharji, then provide instructions and support—tactical, religious, emotional—to guide individuals toward an atrocity in which the loyalist will usually, and usually hopes to, die. The proof that IS is behind an attack comes from the video supplied by the killer to Amaq before the operation, which will contain a bay’a (pledge of allegiance) to IS’s caliph, Ibrahim al-Badri (Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi), and often some outline of the type of attack (stabbing, vehicle ramming, etc.) that the individual plans to carry out.
NEW DETAILS ON AMAQ
This is the way Stritzel began his odyssey, posing the question to a closed Telegram group: “How can I send a video to Amaq?” As he explains, “Everybody knows what I mean by my question”. Stritzel is then given two English-speaking instructors, Abu K. and Abu Abdullah. The first instruction is to move off of Telegram to Wickr; though Telegram is encrypted it is apparently not considered safe enough. Wickr lets messengers know if recipients screenshot their messages, so Stritzel took pictures with a separate device.
Read the rest at The Henry Jackson Society