What ISIS Plans for Europe (and Beyond)

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by Neil Godfrey

Less than a week ago I ended a post with

One holds one’s breath to see which way ongoing losses of ISIS territory might play out in the U.K. and other Western countries.

Today Scot Atran with far more insight posted something more pessimistically specific:

I suspect that ISIS is planning a coordinated attack across multiple cities in Europe to ramp up the process of extinguishing the gray zone, and to also shift the focus of its possible adherents away form its increasingly noteworthy military containment in Syria and Iraq.

Atran describes the “apocalyptic mindset” of ISIS inspired and directed terrorists and what it is about contemporary Western culture that they loathe.

In After Brussels, ISIS Has Plans for Even Worse, Uglier Things Across Europe: ISIS has a plan for taking down Europe. Do Europeans have one to stop them? he explains:

Today’s Brussels attacks represented only the latest in an ever-more effective series of hits intended to foment chaos in Europe and thereby “Extinguish the Grey Zone,” in the words of a 12-page editorial in ISIS’s online magazine Dabiq in early 2015.

The Grey Zone here is the twilight area occupied by most Muslims between good and evil—in other words, between the Caliphate and the Infidel—which the “blessed operations of September 11” brought into relief. The editorial quotes Osama bin Laden, for whom ISIS is the true heir:

“The world today is divided. Bush spoke the truth when he said, ‘Either you are with us or you are with the terrorists,’ with the actual ‘terrorist’ being the Western Crusaders. Now, the time had come for another event to… bring division to the world and destroy the Grayzone everywhere.”

The idea is for ISIS to fill the void wherever chaos already exists, as in much of the Sahel and Sahara, and to create chaos that it can then fill—as its working to do in Europe.

I’ve posted on the Islamist plans for targeting the Grey Zone before and Scot Atran’s article further elaborates on the worst sorts of responses Westerners can have; the best responses to follow; and immediate (military) and long-term methods required to defeat ISIS. Meanwhile, he reminds readers of the key maxims found in the manuals followed by the terrorists (with my own bolded highlighting):

The following axioms are taken from “The Grey Zone”, and from The Management of Chaos-Savagery, published in 2004, that’s become required reading for every ISIS political, religious and military leader, or amir. The group’s actions have been, and likely will continue to be, consistent with these axioms:

Diversify the strikes and attack soft targets—tourist areas, eating places, places of entertainment, sports events, and so forth—that cannot possibly be defended everywhere. Disperse the infidels’ resources and drain them to the greatest extent possible, and so undermine people’s faith in the ability of their governments to provide security, most basic of all state functions.

Motivate the masses to fly to regions that we manage, by eliminating the “Gray Zone” between the true believer and the infidel, which most people, including most Muslims, currently inhabit. Use so-called “terror attacks” to help Muslims realize that non-Muslims hate Islam and want to harm all who practice it, to show that peacefulness gains Muslims nothing but pain.

Use social media to inspire sympathizers abroad to violence. Communicate the message: Do what you can, with whatever you have, wherever you are, whenever possible.

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Neil Godfrey

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16 thoughts on “What ISIS Plans for Europe (and Beyond)”

  1. There is no mystery here. ISIS is targeting the west because the west is targeting them. Iran, Iraq, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Egypt all have reason to fear ISIS and the means to defeat them. We should pull out and stop meddling. Focus our resources on better intelligence and protecting ourselves. Fighting them over there does not stop them from coming over here.

    1. I think this is somewhat shortsighted. Israel, Saudi Arabia and Egypt are viewed by ISIS as tyrannical states propped up by Western power — money and weaponry — and the terrorist literature to which Scott Atran points justifies attacks on the West because of “our” creation of these “apostate” Muslim states who are opposing ISIS. ISIS views them as proxies for the West.

      Robert Pape made this case some years back with “Dying to Win” but (suicide) terrorism has changed since then. It is about more than Western occupation of the Middle East. Many studies about ISIS and its supporters have been published now — it is more complex than a simple reaction against Western interventions. A glance at the data in my previous post reminds us that ISIS and affiliated groups are also targeting countries who have never attacked them.

      1. Well they are right about that too. Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Israel are tyrannical states propped up by western power. Of course no one can know for sure what the consequences of American military withdrawal would be, but it’s clear that what we have done has not worked.

  2. Previously I wrote a response regarding Barack Obama and Donald Trump are both wrong about Islam. [Perhaps there was a transmission problem because it was not posted.] Yes, they were both wrong. However, it is important, in fact, vital to understand the logic that motivates ISIS and other terrorist groups. EDUCATION and KNOWLEDGE are necessary to defeat these horrible people. So, I encourage your readership to find out why SOME Muslims hate the West and murder innocent people whether they be in Belgium, France, or anywhere.

    Please do a search on the Internet for Osama bin Laden’s Declaration of War (1996 [first fatwa]. It is a long read and difficult at times. However, it is a must to understand OUR enemy. And, please understand that in their [these extremists] eyes there is NO such thing as compromise. Their rationales include the U.S. supports illegal govt’s [Saudia Arabia], the U.S. support of Israel, the U.S. responsibility for the death of Muslims [Iraq, etc], the “enemy of Crusaders-American forces occupy certain lands, pollution by infidels of their holy land [the Arabian peninsula], religion, etc.

    We must know OUR enemy to defeat OUR enemy. Together WE build.

    1. Your previous comment can be found at http://vridar.org/2016/03/14/barack-obama-and-donald-trump-are-both-wrong-about-islam/#comment-76643 Sometimes a post does get stuck in moderation or spam and is not rescued until Tim or I notice it, unfortunately. I try to check at least daily.

      You might also be interested in the regular posts here covering the serious research into what leads some persons into radicalisation and terrorism. You are correct about the political factors and the US has indeed learned some lessons in that respect. It withdrew from Saudia Arabia, for example — one of the demands of Al Qaeda. But Al Qaeda is now in the shadow of ISIS whose agendas are far more comprehensive than anything Al Qaeda dared to attempt.

      1. Hello Neil:

        Thank you for taking the time out of your busy schedule to reply to my post.

        Let’s hope that we have truly seen the end of the violence…

        And, hopefully you will have an opportunity to examine the copy of my e-book that was sent to you. The topic is definitely compelling, relevant, and current.

  3. Osama’s rationale and the others you listed are all legitimate. How about “We must know ourselves to make peace with our enemy”? We have accomplished nothing good in the Middle East and it’s time we butted out. That’s the best approach to reducing terrorism in the west. Bottom line is they are attacking us because we have attacked them. Why is that so hard to understand?

  4. Perhaps a hopeful thought: these terror strategies have been in place for more than a decade, and appear to be – until now- ineffective; the West still consists of stable democracies, and – even more striking – there is only very limited support for ISIS among the Grey Zonists.

  5. If ISIS’s plan is to use terror bombings to weaken their enemies’ resolve to defeat them, they might want to look at studies on the effectiveness of “strategic bombing” during WWII. Basically, since any bombing will necessarily only kill a few people, but many will be spared, people begin to feel invicible or apathetic in the face of attacks. The psychological effectiveness of bombings will dwindle to nothingness. Just look at Americans’ resigned response to mass shootings, which are killing far more people than terrorism in the West.

    Basically, ISIS has all of its best attacks behind it. The next one will be “just another” bombing or shooting – it will stop being noteworthy and therefore stop being effective on a strategic scale. They’d be better off trying to consolodate and defend their actual territory, because without holding land they’re doomed to irrelevance.

      1. I think that the growth of the far right parties has more to do with the immigrant and refugee crisis, than with terror attacks. Most of these parties were founded on a racist, mostly anti-Semitic platform; they now expand this to an anti-Islam platform, with the influx of large numbers of Muslim refugees.

        But there may be more at hand here: some of the countries with fewer immigrants have shown the largest growth of far right parties; I suspect that the degree of nationalism, or self-identification, in their society is also a factor.

        1. National self-identification is indeed a factor where a relatively “monocultural” society is rapidly changed without general consent into a “multicultural” society then reinforced by top-down legislation and propaganda. A similarity exists between the reaction to an armed invasion & occupation and the response to immigration & colonization. It can be politically acute if some inward settlers themselves are “xenophobic” towards their “hosts”; and if the dominant elites of the latter adopt a “Quisling” posture, there will be unrest and reinforced dislike of the “political class”, especially if economic disquiet is added to the mix.

          For one view among the assortment, see Judith Bergman, “Jihad in Brussels”, Gatestone Institute, March 24, on-line.

          My own view has always been that there were two mistakes, not just one or the other: (1) the admission for permanent settlement of traditional Muslims in large communities in western Europe, and (2) the western aggression against Muslim homelands on behalf of a US-Israel alliance. Some who disagree with (1) regard me as a “racist” or “religious [!] bigot”, and those who disagree with (2) see me as an “antisemite” or “terrorist sympathizer”; a further illustration of how in these matters “moral” outrage and “ideological” prejudice interfere with factual analysis, common-sense sociology, and the detachment needed to moderate if not reverse dangerous policies, especially in the contested area of the “Holy” Land.

          1. Your sentiments drip with the very same racist bigotry that undergirded what in Australia was for many years our “White Australia Policy” and our recent Prime Minister’s public rationales for “turning back the boats” of refugees to where they had fled from. These were indeed ugly, racist blights on our history. Of course the perpetrators always believe they are following the only common-sensical course and it is their critics who are blinded by do-gooder prejudice.

            1. Thank you for publishing and answering my comment.

              I admit a sentimental attachment to the English society in which I was raised and to general admiration for the achievements of the larger European civilization, but not to hatred of the cultures of other peoples, whether Palestinians, Japanese or San; I favour a voluntary interchange of ideas and values all round.

              Prejudice precedes knowledge, and bigotry is often in the eye of the beholder. No-one with both personal experience and wide historical study should deny that enforced ethnic mixtures or huge ethnic population movements can have downsides. I shall not try here (unless invited) to illustrate the former with adverse details from my own “homeland” in Waltham Forest in Outer London, though I retain individual friends of Caribbean and south Asian extraction (who all know my opinions and some agree with them). But I would recommend your perusal of studies ranging from Byron Roth, “Perils of Diversity” (2010) to Paul Colinvaux, “Fates of Nations” (1980).

              I do not blame migrants for wanting to better themselves. As for recent refugees and asylum-claimants in Europe, I think there was a lot in the positive proposals of Gordon Brown.

              1. I grew up hearing the same sentiments. We don’t “hate” them. We love them. We’re Christians, after all. What we do is done in Christian love and kindness. We love the happy servants and dark skinned peoples in their richly coloured clothes and quaint customs keeping in their own place away from us. Okay to visit, of course. That was the White Australia policy and the era when we kindly removed black children from their parents to give them a better life. I still recall those days from my boyhood and being reassured it was all done in love and for the best of intentions. Not a hint of racism. Perish the thought! Why, we even have a black friend.

                I have seen the same many times. Love for the other is so easy across a distance — the way God meant it to be.

                That’s the end of this conversation.

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