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ISIS’s Global Attack Network: November 13, 2015 – November 9, 2016

Corpse Fortress

Courtesy Metal Chris/Flickr. CC BY-NC 2.0

This article was originally published by the Institute for the Study of War (ISW) on 9 November 2016.

ISIS has organized a number of external attacks worldwide in the past year, some of which have been thwarted. ISIS’s global network is still operating and is poised to continue conducting external attacks in late 2016. The U.S. must recognize that the campaign to recapture Mosul and Raqqa will not defeat ISIS. Rather, any military success in Iraq and Syria must be the first phase of a campaign to counter ISIS globally, whether through military or non-military means.

Overview

ISIS has been planning an external attack from Raqqa, Syria. The U.S. and its partners in the counter-ISIS coalition are assisting the major operations to recover Raqqa and Mosul, ISIS’s main urban hubs. ISIS is conducting  counter-offensives inside Iraq to divert Coalition attention from these main efforts. Similarly, ISIS will direct its global network to launch additional counter-offensives across its global footprint. Coalition partner nations face a high risk of attacks by ISIS on their homelands and their populations abroad while the offensives to recapture Mosul and Raqqa progress. The attack threat emanating from Raqqa highlights that ISIS-linked militants across the world still receive direction from ISIS in core terrain.

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ISIS’s Campaign in Turkey

Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, painted portrait

Courtesy by thierry ehrmann/flickr

This article was originally published by the Institute for the Study of War (ISW) on 30 June 2016.

ISIS is refocusing its strategy in Turkey towards destabilizing the Turkish state and isolating it from the West. ISIS has two main lines of effort in Turkey. The first is to incite an ethnic war between the Kurds and the Turkish state in order to weaken its opponents in northern Syria and regain freedom of action in southern Turkey. The second is to undermine the Turkish state and punish it for being part of the anti-ISIS coalition through attacks against western targets in Turkey. ISIS has more actively pursued this second line of effort by targeting Westerners in Istanbul beginning in early 2016 while continuing its campaign along the Syrian border. The triple suicide bombing at the Istanbul Ataturk Airport on June 28, 2016 supports ISIS’s stated strategic objectives of seizing Constantinople and undermining the Turkish state by harming the vital tourism industry, targeting infrastructure that connects Turkey to the West, and raising requirements for domestic security services. ISIS has not claimed any spectacular attacks against the state in Turkey in order to avoid a major domestic crackdown that would threaten its freedom of action as well as its cross-border mobility into Syria. Moreover, ISIS already accomplishes its objectives in Turkey through spectacular attacks without risking a claim.

ISIS’s evolved strategy in Turkey mirrors a corresponding shift in the policies pursued by Turkey towards the group. Turkey joined the international anti-ISIS coalition in September 2014 but initially avoided overt confrontation with ISIS. Turkey instead tolerated ISIS as a vector to apply indirect pressure on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and hasten the overthrow of his regime by opposition groups supported by Turkey. ISIS also provided Turkey with a means to contain the Syrian Kurdish YPG, which Turkey views as an existential threat due its affiliation with secessionist agenda of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). Turkey’s reluctance to restrict cross-border flow of foreign fighters and supplies provided ISIS with an incentive to avoid conducting terrorist attacks inside the country and jeopardizing its freedom of movement through Turkey to Syria. Turkey altered its calculus after the U.S.-led anti-ISIS coalition deepened its cooperation with the Syrian Kurds throughout early 2015, enabling the YPG to secure major gains along the Syrian-Turkish Border. The prospect of further motion towards a contiguous autonomous zone in Northern Syria controlled by the Syrian Kurds prompted Turkey to deepen its own engagement with the coalition. The coalition also acted to encourage this decision through the use of alternating incentives and disincentives meant to influence decision-making in Ankara. The U.S. in particular modulated its provision of aircraft, missile defense systems, rocket artillery, and other high-end capabilities in order to generate a policy convergence on Syria.

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The EU as a Terrorist Target: Why, Where, and How

Map of Europe in flames, courtesy geralt/pixabay

This article was originally published by The European Union Institute for Security Studies (EUISS) on 4 May 2016.

As an international actor, the EU can expect to win enemies as well as admirers. Two recent terrorist attacks in close succession – the first targeting an EU military mission in Bamako, the second in the ‘EU quarter’ in Brussels – seemingly confirm this. They also lend weight to the argument that if member states want the EU to be a robust international actor, they must give it the counterterrorist powers to protect itself. But is the EU facing a classic terrorist logic of action-and-reprisal and, if not, what exactly is the EU’s risk profile?

A player and a pole

On 22 March, bombs were detonated in the public area of Brussels Zaventem airport, raising concerns about the vulnerability of Europe’s interconnected infrastructure networks – a particular preoccupation of the European Commission. Already last year, the Thalys train was the subject of two terror scares, showing that Islamists are ready to disrupt Europe’s transport systems. Now it has emerged that the perpetrators may have been eyeing harder infrastructure targets across Europe, including such critical infrastructure as nuclear power plants.

Another bombing occurred in Brussels that day, in a metro station serving the EU quarter. Although at least one of the attackers had been employed in an EU institution (as a cleaner) there is no evidence that the terrorists were directly targeting EU buildings or personnel. But, as Islamist media feeds now boast about having ‘attacked the heart of Europe’, the seed of an idea may well have been planted. Indeed, there are indications that the terrorists had been scoping the city’s diplomatic buildings (choosing the metro only because of the crowds and softness of the target).

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Nuclear Terrorism: Public Education as Effective Counter

Graffiti image of the nuclear scream, courtesy lonelysherpa/Flickr

This article was originally published by RSIS on 12 April 2016.

Synopsis

The recent Nuclear Security Summit 2016 in Washington DC highlighted the pervasive threat of nuclear terrorism, for which governments see the need to commit more resources and prioritise the issue as a primary national security agenda.

Commentary

Since the biennial Nuclear Security Summit (NSS) ended its 2016 instalment in the United States, stakeholders and policy analysts are left searching for an equivalent high-level platform with the same mission. The critical role to enhance nuclear security has expanded with the threat of nuclear terrorism growing. Investigative works on the recent attacks in Paris and Brussels highlighted that terrorist organisations could be after radiological materials that will enable them to construct a crude nuclear bomb.

During the nongovernmental experts meeting of the NSS, Argentine ambassador Rafael Mariano Grossi mentioned that, unlike nuclear safety which has established quantitative guidelines, nuclear security requires variable policing efforts that are difficult to agree upon at the international level. Instruments such as the Convention on Physical Protection of Nuclear Materials (CPPNM) and the International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism (ICSANT) have not been universally adopted, and could therefore pose a challenge in dealing with terrorism that is global in nature. As such, initiatives to deal with the threats of nuclear terrorism have been mostly adopted at the national level.

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The Fight against the ‘Islamic State’ in Syria and the Right to Self-Defence

Islamic State is killing Islam

Khartoon! Islamic State is killing Islam not helping it

This article was originally published byE-International Relations on 5 February 2016.

Since the outbreak of the Syrian civil war in 2011, organised networks have spread out across borders, overtaking cities. The most famous of these is the ‘Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant’ (ISIL), more commonly known as ‘Islamic State’ (IS) (Flasch, 2015: 3). Militants of IS now control wide portions of territory in Iraq and Syria as well as an area in Libya. IS has killed and injured thousands of people and IS-related violence has led to the displacement of over a million people. Atrocities committed by the IS have extended to several other countries in the Middle-East, in West-Africa, and in Europe (Zerrouky, Audureau and Vaudano, 2015).

In response to attacks of IS, Iraq has requested that the United States and its allies assist it in defending itself against the group. Since September 2014, Iraq, together with the United States and several other states, has been using force against IS in Syria without the consent of the Syrian regime. Iraq acts on the basis of its right to individual self-defence and the other intervening states intervene on the basis of the right to collective self-defence. Self-defence, as well as the use of force within an authorisation given by the United Nations (UN) Security Council, constitute the two exceptions to the international prohibition on the use of force between states (Articles 51 and 42 UN Charter). An action in self-defence can be individual, when the victim state reacts to an armed attack, or collective, when other states react to an armed attack on the request of the victim state. France began its military intervention in Syria in September 2015, resorting to the rights to both individual and collective self-defence. After the terror attacks of IS in Paris on 13th November 2015, France extended its strikes, on the basis of the right to individual self-defence and asked for assistance. Several Western states, including the United Kingdom and Germany, decided to be involved in different ways in the fight against IS in Syria, invoking in particular the right to collective self-defence and, sometimes, also the right to individual self-defence. Russia too has been perpetrating strikes in Syria since November 2015 but these happen with the consent of that state. Consent by Syria to the resort to force by Russia precludes the wrongfulness of that act in relation to Russia and thus provides legal grounds for Russian military action (Article 20 of the Draft Articles on Responsibility of States for Internationally Wrongful Acts, 2001).

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