The Islamic State has increased the tempo and intensity of operations in Iraq and Syria over the past three months, according to new analysis released today by IHS Inc. (NYSE: IHS), the leading global source of critical information and insight.
“Following territorial losses, we are seeing a steady upward trend in the tempo of Islamic State operations worldwide, but particularly in Syria and Iraq,” said Matthew Henman, head of IHS Jane’s Terrorism and Insurgency Centre (JTIC). “Attack and fatality numbers have jumped. The group is resorting more and more to mass-casualty violence as it comes under heavy pressure from multiple angles.”
In Syria and Iraq, attack figures for the first quarter of 2016 compiled by IHS JTIC were the highest since the group took Mosul in 2014. This past quarter also saw the highest number of fatalities since the second quarter of 2015. IHS JTIC recorded 891 attacks and 2,150 non-militant fatalities in Syria and Iraq between 1 January and 31 March 2016, representing increases of 16.7 percent and 43.9 percent, respectively, in comparison to the fourth quarter of 2015.
Hot spots: Libya and North Caucasus
The latest IHS JTIC report also highlighted new trends of Islamic State violence in Libya and the North Caucasus.
“Islamic State attacks are intensifying in Libya after a several month slump,” Henman said. Almost as many attacks were recorded in the first three months of 2016 as in the third and fourth quarters of 2015 combined. “After a seeming period of consolidation and preparation, Islamic State forces in the country launched a series of major attacks on critical energy infrastructure in addition to conducting the deadliest single attack since the overthrow of the government of Muammar Ghadaffi in August 2011.”
Significant Islamic State activity was also recorded in the northwest of the country, centred on the town of Sabratha, which has become a key training area and staging ground for Islamic State attacks in Tunisia.
“In Russia’s North Caucasus region, new data suggests an evolution of Islamic State capabilities,” Henman said. “The one previous verified operation by the group’s franchise in the region (Wilayat al-Qawqaz) in Q4 2015 was a small-arms attack. In the first quarter of 2016, the group conducted an IED attack and two suicide car bombings. This evolution indicates a growing capacity to plan, organise and execute more complex operations.”
On the fifth anniversary of the raid on the Bin Laden compound, the Islamic State has seemingly seized the mantle from the group. “The Islamic State has established itself as the self-professed true vanguard of militant Islamism and the only game in town,” Henman said. “While the Islamic State dominates the headlines and global discourse on terrorism and insurgency, Al-Qaeda’s four primary affiliates continue to pose a significant and expanding threat in their respective areas of operation that should not be overlooked.”
Long-term threat in Middle East
Jabhat al-Nusra has successfully established itself within the militant Islamist opposition in Syria. It plays a leading role in several powerful local alliances, arguably establishing itself as a more dangerous long-term threat in the country than the Islamic State.
Expanding threat in North and West Africa
AQIM has expanded its operational borders into West Africa across early 2016, particularly with attacks in Burkina Faso and Cote d’Ivoire.
Resurgent threat in East Africa
Al-Shabaab has begun re-establishing a substantial territorial presence across south and west Somalia, notably overrunning three peacekeeper bases since mid-2015.
Arabian Peninsula threat
AQAP has exploited the civil conflict in Yemen to seize coastal urban centres in the east of the country, albeit losing control of the city of al-Mukalla on 24 April.