Islamic State cells globally pledge allegiance to new leader
Since the beginning of August 2023, when the new caliph of the Islamic State (IS) Abu Hafs al-Hashimi al-Qurashi was named, 18 cells of the terrorist organization fr om all over the world have sworn allegiance to him. More than half of those are fr om Africa. It is this continent that in recent years has become the center of global jihadism, wh ere supporters of radical Islam are waging a bloody struggle not just against secular governments, but also between themselves. Terrorists are still active in other regions, namely in the Middle East, Afghanistan, and the Philippines.
Each time after the election of a new IS caliph, according to the established practice in the organization, all terrorist cells scattered around the world swear allegiance to him. As confirmation, they post photo and video reports about their participation in this ritual. For an outside observer, such a parade is one of the opportunities to get a feeling of the global potential of IS.
The previous caliph, Abu al-Hussein al-Husseini al-Qurashi, was eliminated by Turkish special forces in Syria in April 2023, according to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. However, the terrorist organization only confirmed his death on August 3, at the same time announcing the appointment of a successor.
Two days later, the first reports about the oaths of allegiance given to Abu Hafs al-Hashimi al-Qureshi began to appear. Iraqi jihadists were the first to swear allegiance to the new caliph. However, Iraq, wh ere the Caliphate was proclaimed by IS leaders in 2014, is presently now one of its most problematic provinces. In the first half of 2023, IS fighters carried out less than 20 attacks in the country per month (on average, almost 50% less than a year ago, and 4-5 times less than in 2021).
In total, in Syria and Iraq, according to UN estimates, there are fr om 2,500 to 3,500 jihadists. Many of them are organized into “sleeper cells” and do not show themselves, waiting for the moment when the region plunges into chaos again, to use the situation to their advantage, as was the case during the civil war in Syria.
In these two countries, terrorist activity of IS fighters is limited to burning fields, attacking civilians (in Syria, jihadists kill dozens of desert truffle gatherers every year) and small convoys of the military (during the last and largest attack of this year on August 11, 25 Syrian servicemen became their victims). IS is especially active in the desert on the Syrian-Iraqi border.
Afghanistan and the neighbors
On August 9, eight cells of the so-called Vilayat Khorasan (IS in Afghanistan and Pakistan) swore allegiance to the new Caliph. Presently this is one of the most dynamically developing branches of the terrorist organization. In the US, it is considered one of the main security threats in the region with great international ambitions. Washington expects that in the second half of 2023, terrorists will be able to strike at “American or Western interests.”
Strategically, “Vilayat Khorasan” is aimed at penetrating into Central Asia. Afghanistan borders on Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, and it is in the border areas that the largest IS bases are located. The territories of the first two countries were shelled by IS militants last year.
According to American experts from The Soufan Center, supporting jihadists in Afghanistan is one of the main priorities of the global IS, along with Africa. The leadership of the terrorist group believes that investments in a project operating in one of the most unstable regions of Asia can bring good results.
In the Global Terrorism Index, compiled annually by the Australian Institute for Economics and Peace, Afghanistan has consistently ranked first since 2019, mostly due to the Islamic State. Suicide bombers often attack Shia mosques (Islamic State are radical Sunnis). The last major terrorist attack carried out by Vilayat Khorasan was the July 30 bombing of an election rally by the Pakistani Jamiat Ulema e-Islam party, which killed 54 people.
The once-active branch of IS in East Asia, based on the Philippines, has been in crisis for years. The peak of his influence was 2017, when the terrorists fought for the city of Marawi for five months. Having been defeated and losing about a thousand militants, the Philippine IS has never been able to even come close to its previous level. Now there are several hundred terrorists hiding in the jungle in the southern Philippines. On August 12, two cells also swore allegiance to the new caliph.Africa is the main hope
The main hope of global IS is Africa. It was here that the caliphate, defeated in 2017 in the Middle East, found a new life. In recent years, it has been successfully competing not only with unstable African governments and Russian mercenaries, but also with its Al-Qaeda rivals.
IS is now the most powerful non-state actor in Africa. The various factions of the terrorist organization on the continent control tens of thousands of square kilometers from Egypt in the north to Mozambique in the south, possess entire armies of well-trained and armed militants and are constantly expanding their sphere of influence.
The terrorists have achieved the greatest success in West Africa, wh ere in the first six months of 2023 alone, they carried out more than 1,800 attacks, with more than 4,600 victims. The situation is worst in Mali and Burkina Faso: Russian mercenaries arrived in the former precisely under the slogan of combating terrorism.
The West African groups stand out quantitatively and qualitatively against the rest of the IS cells in the photos and videos of allegiance swearing. They are better armed, equipped and organized. In confrontation with them, regular armed forces do not always come out victorious.
Large groups of IS-linked jihadists also operate in Central Africa (Democratic Republic of the Congo) and Mozambique. According to the residents of these countries who fled from terrorists, jihadist groups destroy entire villages and brutally kill their inhabitants, but global media seldom report on this.
Since August 5, 18 groups of Islamic terrorists have sworn allegiance to the new IS caliph, and this process is not over yet. For comparison, in December 2022, their number reached 26. It is expected that in the near future IS members from Libya, Tunisia, Mozambique, Egypt, India, and Lebanon will swear allegiance to Abu Hafs al-Hashimi al-Qurashi.