Several recent events seem to have been pivotal in the ongoing fight against ISIS
Events point to an escalation in the world's conflict with ISIS
From Paris to Libya, ISIS' reach and capacity for inflicting terror appear to be growing
As the world reels from the most recent atrocity committed by ISIS, there are concerns about the group’s seemingly expanded ambitions for its campaign of terror.
Just one day before multiple machine gun and bomb attacks in the French capital left almost 500 people from all walks of life dead or wounded, U.S. President Barack Obama said that the U.S. strategy against the jihadist group has “contained” it but not yet succeeded in its effort to “decapitate” the group’s leadership.
Yet ISIS retains a significant capacity for wreaking havoc abroad.
As French warplanes bombs ISIS positions in the group’s Syrian stronghold of Raqqa, what are the key events that that have affected ISIS’ reach and led us to the deadliest attack seen in France since World War II?
Suicide blasts rock Beirut
Two suicide bombers detonated devices in the port city on Thursday, claiming the lives of at least 43 and wounding another 239.
A would-be bomber who survived the attack told investigators he was a recruit from the militant organization, a Lebanese security source said. ISIS also appeared to claim responsibility in a statement posted on social media.
Lebanese intelligence believes the bombers could be part of a cell dispatched to Beirut by ISIS leadership, the source said, but investigators are still working to verify the surviving suspect’s claim. Three other jihadist bombers were killed in the explosions.
Attacks in Turkey
Last month at least 95 people were killed in twin bombings in Turkey’s capital, Ankara, ripping through a peace rally near the city’s main train station. About 14,000 people were in the area. Two suicide bombers are believed to have caused the blasts, and suspicion immediately fell on either the ISIS terrorist group or Kurdish separatists in Turkey.
The attack may have been retaliation for a recent change in Turkey’s stance toward confronting the ISIS threat – shortly before the attacks it had allowed the U.S. to launch strikes on ISIS from Incirlik Air Base in southern Turkey.
Three months prior to the attack on the rally, dozens were left dead after a terror attack in Turkish border city, Suruc – again targeting a demonstration. At least 31 victims died in the attack.
Turkish prosecutors identified one of the bombers in the October attack, and some media reports, including CNN Turk, that have said the bomber, Yunus Emre Alagoz, was the brother of Şeyh Abdurrahman Alagoz, the man who reportedly perpetrated Suruc attack.
ISIS has not claimed responsibility for the carnage in Ankara or Suruc.
Russia’s recent, increased involvement in the fight against ISIS has seemingly escalated the terror group’s responses. In addition to the apparent bombing of a Russian jetliner over Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, in which all 224 people on board were killed, the recent attacks in Lebanon and France suggest that the jihadists are lashing out.
While that attack has not been verified as being an ISIS attack, several senior U.S. intelligence, military and national security officials have told CNN about the growing confidence that terrorists bombed the plane. One official said it was “99.9% certain.” Another said it was “likely.”
A revelation Sunday that at least one of the Paris terrorists who killed more than 120 people on Friday entered Europe under cover as a refugee appears likely to fire up the security debate over what to do with them – the man, embedded in the current wave of Syrian war displaced, appeared to hold an emergency passport and was allowed to enter Greece on October 3.
From there he moved to Macedonia, then Serbia and Croatia, where he registered in the Opatovac refugee camp, the lawmaker said. Eventually, he made his way to Paris, where he was one of three men who blew themselves up at the Stade de France.
Belgium’s ISIS problem
Two of those who attacked Paris on Friday have been identified as French citizens who lived in the Molenbeek district of the Belgian capital, Jean-Pascal Thoreau, spokesman for the Belgian federal prosecutor, told CNN on Sunday. Seven people have been arrested in relation to the attacks in the raids, he said.
The developments have brought renewed focus on the threat posed by jihadist networks in Belgium, a country which, according to one analysis, has exported more jihadists to the conflicts in Syria and Iraq per capita than any other Western European nation.
The authorities there have been making headway, however. At the beginning of the year a terror cell on the brink of carrying out an attack was the target of a raid which left two suspects dead and a third injured and apprehended.
Some members of the cell had traveled to Syria and met with ISIS, which plotted the attacks as retaliation for U.S.-led airstrikes in Syria and Iraq, a senior Belgian counterterrorism official told CNN at the time.
In August, two U.S. military personnel thwarted a would-be “lone wolf” gunman on a train in Belgium, which was headed to France. The suspected attacker, a Moroccan national, was on the radar of European counterterrorism agencies for his radical jihadist views, an official said.
Senior ISIS leader killed in Libya
Coalition attempts to degrade ISIS’ capabilities haven’t been completely without success, however.
Abu Nabil, an Iraqi national and longtime al Qaeda operative, was taken out in an airstrike authorized and initiated prior to the terrorist attacks in Paris on Friday night, Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook said.
He said Nabil’s death will degrade ISIS’s ability to recruit new members in Libya, establish bases in the country, and plan external attacks on the United States.
The infamous masked British executioner, who has apparently appeared in a number of gruesome videos in which ISIS captives were decapitated, was very likely killed in a drone strike earlier in the month. While he didn’t hold any notable position in ISIS’s power structure, he was a significant target due to his propaganda value.
“We are reasonably certain that we killed the target that we intended to kill, which is Jihadi John,” U.S. Army Col. Steven Warren said Friday. “This guy was a human animal, and killing him is probably making the world a little bit better place.”
One consequence of the recent upsurge in attacks may be an upsurge in global cooperation in an attempt to rid the Mideast of the scourge of ISIS. Obama met with Russian President Vladimir Putin on the sidelines of this weekend’s G20 summit in Turkey and reportedly reached an informal agreement that there was a necessity for a ceasefire and transitional government in Syria to effectively combat the threat.