Experts: ISIS seeks to offset defeats with new attacks

2015-03-22 19:57
(File, AFP)

(File, AFP)

Multimedia   ·   User Galleries   ·   News in Pictures Send us your pictures  ·  Send us your stories

Beirut - By launching attacks in Yemen and Tunisia, the Islamic State group aims to demonstrate its ability to expand in order to divert attention from setbacks in Syria and Iraq, experts say.

"Expansion is their strategy," and the first ISIS attacks in Yemen and Tunisia allow it to appear omnipresent, said JM Berger, analyst and co-author of "ISIS: the State of Terror".

"Creating the perception of strength is a key part of ISIS's recruiting and propaganda goals," Berger told AFP.

After announcing its self-styled "caliphate" in 2014, "ISIS has made formal ventures into Egypt, Algeria, Nigeria, Libya, Tunisia, and now Yemen as part of its effort to broaden its reach around the region," he said.

On Wednesday, ISIS claimed responsibility for an attack on the National Bardo Museum in the Tunisian capital in which 20 tourists and one policeman were killed.

It was the group's first attack in Tunisia, which despite isolated Islamist violence since 2011 had largely been spared the chaos of the aftermath of the Arab Spring.

Just two days later, its suicide bombers struck in Yemen, killing 142 people in mosques in a country already on the brink of civil war and where ISIS's jihadist rival, al-Qaeda, is well-established.

According to Mathieu Guidere, professor of Islamic studies at the University of Toulouse in France, such attacks aim to show that ISIS is "capable of striking anywhere and at any time, as it has supporters everywhere, ready to die in order to achieve its objectives".

ISIS 'message'

"These attacks are simultaneously a show of force and a message to the international community that ISIS has become a global player," he said.

But after lightning ISIS offensives in Iraq and Syria, accompanied by shocking footage of its atrocities, experts say the image of invincibility that ISIS tries so hard to project is starting to fade.

In northern Iraq, ISIS has been chased out of a number of areas over the past few months and Tikrit, one of its major bastions, is under major assault by Iraqi armed forces.

In northeast Syria, the group suffered a resounding setback when Kurdish forces supported by US air strikes pushed it out of Kobane and several surrounding areas on the border with Turkey.

For the first time, Kurdish fighters have begun advancing on the Islamic State group's main stronghold in the northern Syrian province of Raqa. ISIS jihadists have also been beaten back by rebel forces outside Damascus and by regime forces to the east in Deir Ezzor.

These defeats have cost the jihadists more than just territory. The battles have killed thousands of ISIS fighters, and air strikes have targeted lucrative oilfields that had been an important source of its funding.

Now, under pressure from the West, Turkey is tightening control of its border in a bid to stem the flow of jihadists into Syria.

Ankara says it has detained and deported hundreds of potential fighters.

Media storm

Faced with these setbacks, ISIS launched spectacular attacks in Tunisia and Yemen to cast its "caliphate" in a more favourable light.

"There's certainly a sense that they are compensating for the defeats they suffered in Iraq and Syria," said Thomas Pierret, an expert in contemporary Islam at the University of Edinburgh.

"If there is an expansion, it's of ISIS's terrorist activities more than ISIS's caliphate," he said.

Pierret said the deadly attacks represented ISIS attempts to offset the fact that "it has no real territorial presence" in either Tunisia or Yemen.

"To assert itself, ISIS has no other option than trying to create a media storm in Tunisia by attacking foreign tourists," Pierret said.

In Yemen, the group is "trying to religiously outdo al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula" by attacking Huthi Shi'ite establishments, he told AFP.

Analysts say it is too early to determine the level of coordination between those who carried out the Tunisia and Yemen attacks and the ISIS leadership.

The attackers in Tunis may have been trained in Libya, as Tunisia said, but other attacks could be locally planned and carried out, Berger said.

What is certain, he said, is that ISIS is focused on showing signs of expansion beyond Iraq and Syria and "on providing a new headline every week".

Read more on:    isis  |  iraq  |  yemen  |  syria

Join the conversation! encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions.
NEXT ON NEWS24X publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
Comments have been closed for this article.

Inside News24

Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire network.


Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.