by Nick Hill & Gregory J. Nolan
Whether you know them by the Islamic State, the Islamic State of Iraq and Sryia (ISIS), the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), or Daesh, you probably know enough about them to understand they are bad people. If you’ve seen coverage or read about the attacks they are responsible for (Belgium, Paris, etc.), the kind of attacks they inspire through their propaganda (San Bernardino, Pulse/Orlando, etc.), and the despicable executions they’ve carried out against innocent lives, you understand that they are the lowest and most worthless forms of life on the planet. But don’t discount them, because we’re here to tell you they want you dead. Yes, you. If you read my blog on preparing your mentality, you know that just because there’s a real threat out there, doesn’t mean we need to be afraid – instead, we prepare. Nick Hill, a global threat expert with extensive knowledge on ISIS and the threat they pose, has six things you need to know about the enemy that wants to kill you; these six things will help you prepare for the threat, so listen up. - GJ
1. Threat = Capability + Intent
When we (security professionals) talk about a threat what we are really saying is that a person or entity has the capability and the intent to do harm. So is ISIS really a threat?
Capability: To truly appreciate the capability that ISIS has to conduct a terrorist attack let’s look at three distinct elements: capital, experience, and range.
Intent: ISIS radical ideology has inspired horrific acts of violence all over the globe. For ISIS, terrorist attacks are the end-state because they are ideologically committed to killing all non-Muslims. Yes, we have a threat here folks. So what else do we need to know about this threat?
2. You're not the target - you’re the mechanism
It is important to know that ISIS is not targeting you because of your ethnicity, nationality, faith, or job. ISIS views terrorism as a tool of warfare that is applied differently across different geographic areas. This is why you see terrorist attacks against military targets in Syria and Iraq but terrorist attacks against civilian targets in Europe.
Why should you care? ISIS’ approach to targeting makes it difficult for the every-day person to successfully mitigate the risk of being targeted. When traveling think about what ISIS would seek to achieve by attacking you in your current time and space. For example, if you are traveling in Jordan, avoid military/police forces, or driving with military convoys. If you are traveling through Europe consider visiting tourist spots during non-peak hours.
3. There’s an inverse relationship between controlled territory and transnational terrorism
Over the past six months ISIS has lost territory on several fronts in Syria and Iraq. Continued territorial loss will likely force ISIS to flex from a territorial based organization into a transnational shadow organization similar to Al Qaeda. This flex will inevitably result in more terrorist attacks around the world.
Why should you care? As positive headlines, like “ISIS Losing Ground in Iraq and Syria”, make the news this summer we should not develop a false sense of security, as the transnational threat posed by ISIS remains and is growing.
4. ISIS cares about Brexit and so should you
On June 23rd United Kingdom will vote on removal from the European Union. If you take a quick look at what the UK contributes to the defense and security of the E.U., you might understand why ISIS is so interested in a Brexit. The UK is responsible for approximately 23% of the EU’s total annual defense budget. Many countries in Europe would find their security infrastructure and intelligence severely hindered without the security partnership offered by the UK through the EU.
Why should you care? Europe will continue to be the primary target for ISIS’ transnational terrorism plans and a divided Europe is probably less secure than a Union with the UK. That considered, a Brexit will set the conditions for ISIS to expand their transnational terrorism footprint throughout Europe, which will inevitably embolden them to expand further – think: US.
5. ISIS is NOT Al Qaeda
ISIS attacks outside of the Middle East are random targets of opportunity with no connected political situation. We see a direct correlation between Al Qaeda operations and geopolitics in the Middle East. Correlations like this provide context for intelligence analysts and security professionals to predict when there are increased security risks. The contrast to Al-Qaeda is that although ISIS may have similar geographical end-states, they aren’t reactive in nature, but rather opportunistic in the way they conduct attacks. ISIS may not be planning and timing attacks to strategically respond to battlefield momentum or geopolitical realities.
Why should you care? An ISIS attack is very difficult to predict and nearly impossible to mitigate or navigate around. The key take away is to be mentally prepared to respond to an emergency and take proactive measures to better protect yourself.
6. This is not a Middle East phenomenon: Being a martyr is cool again
News following the Orlando massacre suggests that the shooter claimed allegiance to ISIS before shooting innocent people in Pulse. No definitive connection between ISIS and the shooter has been found. Was the shooter really an ISIS fighter? Probably not. But in some way ISIS gave him the inspiration to carry out the attack. ISIS has created a cultural space where people don’t have to be a suicide bomber in the Middle East – they can be the shooter in Orlando who knew he’d be taken down by police – martyrdom by cop – the end state is the same, earning respect and acceptance from ISIS as a “martyr”.
Why should you care? ISIS propaganda has made mass murder and suicide culturally viable to certain people around the world. This is why we see murders of tourists in Asia in the name of ISIS, shooting in the US in the name of ISIS, and violent vandalism and break-ins in Africa in the name of ISIS.
ISIS is a threat that you may not be able to avoid, whether abroad or here in the US. What you can control is how well you prepare. The best fight against ISIS is culturally and psychologically. We cannot let them make us afraid, only better prepared. Know your enemy and stay vigilant.
Nick is a global security expert and the primary for G2's Destination Threat Insight operations. He is a former active duty US Marine officer, all-source intelligence officer, who is also the co-founder of Presidio Point Advisory and a travel security consultant for American institutions of higher education.