When the Islamic State declared itself a worldwide caliphate in 2014, its structure and goals looked markedly different from its parent organization, al Qaeda. Where the 9/11 perpetrator tended to operate in the shadows, organizing relatively low-cost terror attacks in the West, ISIS functioned more like a conventional army, claiming territory it proceeded to ruthlessly govern and use as a source of revenue.
But now, as ISIS has lost a quarter of its territory in the last year, the brutal group is shifting its focus in a way that resembles al Qaeda’s old tactics. Instead of urging would-be terrorists to travel to Iraq, ISIS instead encourages them to wage attacks wherever they already live. “If the tyrants close the door of migration in your faces, then open the door of jihad in theirs and turn their actions against them,” said an ISIS leader in a recent audio message.
This strategic change could foreshadow a long-term increase in terrorist attacks in Europe and the United States which FBI Director James Comey this week predicted will happen as ISIS is defeated. “At some point there is going to be a terrorist diaspora out of Syria like we’ve never seen before,” Comey said. “Not all of the Islamic State killers are going to die on the battlefield,” and they will not simply de-radicalize and go home.
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