ISIS strategy of ‘death by a thousand cuts’

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Christian Chesnot
ISIS seems to have revamped its strategy of terror, as evidenced by its latest attacks in Spain, Finland, Russia and Belgium. Unable to hold on to its territories in Iraq and Syria in the wake of relentless strikes by the international coalition, ISIS has now adopted the strategy of delivering “death by a thousand cuts,” to show that it has not capitulated.

This strategy aims to increase the number of terrorist attacks outside the Middle East, ranging from small-scale and rudimentary assaults (for example knife attacks or ram raiding) to more sophisticated operations (such as car bombings and suicide blasts).

The important thing here is the emphasis on striking at random and indiscriminately, anywhere and at anytime in order to create a sense of heightened anxiety and desperation among security forces and the general public.

Also read: How the fall of ISIS can usher its very resurrection

ISIS hopes to bleed its adversaries by delivering so many cuts that it hopes them to eventually give up the fight out of sheer exasperation. This is the goal of the terrorists, but will they be successful in achieving it?

It is now abundantly clear that the present spate of terrorist attacks is here to stay. This is not a temporary wave as the breeding grounds for terrorists in the Arab-Muslim world seem inexhaustible, be they in the West, in Africa or in Asia.

The return of terrorists from the Iraqi-Syrian war theatre to their countries of origin and the increase in the number of local radicals does not exactly portend a bright future.

ISIS hopes to bleed its adversaries by delivering so many cuts that it hopes them to eventually give up the fight out of sheer exasperation
Christian Chesnot

Self-defeating strategy

However, overplaying the strategy of conducting as many terrorist strikes as possible may eventually prove counterproductive for the purveyors of terror. First, the shock and surprise factor would start to wear off. Security services around the world would be better prepared and equipped to pre-empt or tackle any terror threat.

There can never be foolproof security but the noose around the terror networks has already begun to tighten. Cooperation between countries, in particular within Europe, is already improving and investigations into these incidents are being conducted much quicker these days.

Only a few hours after the Barcelona attack on the Las Ramblas, the news was out that terrorists had been on whirlwind trips to France before the attacks. But the challenge to neutralize the terrorists and their morbid strategy is not just a security concern, it is a fundamentally societal issue.

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Public opinion has now incorporated the risk posed by terrorism into their lives. A form of resilience or fatalism is gradually building. After the attacks on the Las Ramblas of Barcelona, tourists did not run out of fright. People continued to frequent the beaches, bars and major tourist sites, even the Church of Sagrada Familia which had been targeted by terrorists earlier.

The more the terrorists strike, the more civil societies come together and show solidarity, like the common refrain heard in Catalonia: ‘No tinc por!’ (“I am not afraid!”). In short, contrary to their expectations, terrorists are facilitating a new-found solidarity in the population, wherever they hit.
Clash of civilizations

The other objective behind carrying out the recent string of terrorist attacks is to trigger a clash of civilization between Christians and Muslims in Europe and elsewhere. Despite the firebrand rhetoric of extreme right-wing populist parties in the continent, the vast majority of citizens have not fallen prey to confusing Islam with terrorism.

After every attack, many Muslims of Europe participate in demonstrations showing solidarity with the victims and shout out loud and clear: “Not in our name!”

It is becoming increasingly clear that terrorists have hijacked a religion, which only serves as a cover for them. Research shows that many of the terrorists suffer from psychological disorders while many others follow a nihilist mindset and express their unhappiness through their suicidal tendencies and acts of violence.

Also read: Saudi Arabia foils ISIS attempt to attack defense ministry

There are also problems related to socioeconomic integration of some of these elements in Western societies. In short, there are more important factors than religion that create terrorists.

A former French anti-terrorist judge Marc Trévidic once narrated an interesting anecdote, which speaks volumes about the mindset of these terror recruits. He once asked a radicalized youth if he had read the Qur’an. In his response, the accused admitted with confusing frankness: “The Quran? I do not care about the Quran! What I’m interested in is jihad!”
Christian Chesnot is grand reporter at Radio France in Paris in charge of the Middle East affairs. He has been based as correspondent in Cairo and Amman. He has written several books on Palestine, Iraq, Syria and the Gulf. Chesnot tweets @cchesnot.