Counterterrorism and the Western Response

Counterterrorism and the Western Response

DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-8876-4.ch003
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There has been a neglect on the part of Western governments with focus on the U.S. to take seriously the internet campaign that ISIS has been waging since 2014 and the affective response that still draws citizens from across the world into their promise of a civilized, united nation for Muslims. It is possible that the West, even with a severely increased commitment to fighting the Islamic State, may be too late. This chapter will explore responses by Western governments including the United States to fight internet-enabled terrorism.
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The Islamic State throughout the Summer of 2016 to present have refined their jihad through the use of digital technologies and social media to institute lone wolf or homegrown terrorism around the world, but particularly in Western countries. The fear of terrorism and the projection of strength on behalf of the Islamic State have permeated Western societies. A Gallup poll released in December 2015 revealed that half of the Americans surveyed were “somewhat” or “very worried” that terrorism would affect a family member (Swift, 2015). Similarly in Great Britain, 74 percent of participants in a 2015 poll believed a terrorist attack in their country was imminent (Apps, 2015), and 60 percent of people in a German poll believe that the influx of refugees is more than the country can sustain (The Daily Express, 2016). In summary, the Western world has taken heed of the Islamic State, which has diligently worked to expose more citizens around the world to their ideology and goals through both digital communication as well as the terrorist stand-by of coordinating and inspiring attacks.

On August 4, U.S. President Obama gave his first update on the fight against IS since June 2016, directly following the lone wolf attack on Orlando nightclub Pulse. Notably, Obama acknowledged (as he has in the past with still too few details) that it would take “more than military strength alone to defeat IS”, that this fight was as much ideological as it was physical. Yet he did not mention what the U.S. is doing in terms of combating the continued and swift dissemination of extremist propaganda, particularly as it pertains to online efforts. Perhaps it would have divulged too much national security and counterterrorism tactics to the perceived enemy (ies), but there is an international academic and foreign policy community that is witnessing, as Obama himself noted, a group that is losing on the military front but as they are losing physical ground, are gaining in recruitment, mobilization and inspiration of more frequent, smaller-scale attacks carried out by individuals or small cells.

The Islamic State suffered grave territorial losses as the West accompanied by coalition forces amped up the ground and air attack on Iraq and Syria. According to Blanchard and Humud (2018, Pg. 1), the Islamic State lost major portions of territory that it captured between 2013 and 2017. Yet the Department of Defense notes that the organization is “well-positioned to rebuild and work on enabling its physical caliphate to re-emerge” (Seldin, 2018). Although territorially the Islamic State has been diminished, the United States and international organizations such as the United Nations estimate that some 30,000 current and former Islamic State personnel remain in Iraq and Syria (Blanchard & Humud, 2018). This number means that the Islamic State is still poised to make a swift comeback once U.S. troops are withdrawn under the directive issued by President Trump in 2018. From the media standpoint, the official release of Islamic State content has dwindled since its height during 2014 and 15, however, its “output [is] now focused equally on operations in Syria and Iraq and actions by affiliated groups elsewhere” (Winter, 2018). In August 2018, for example, Islamic State leader al-Baghdadi celebrated active jihadists and lone wolf attackers in Europe, Canada, and other “countries of the cross” and encouraged supporters to conduct their own attacks with whatever implements can be easily obtained (al-Baghdadi, 2018).

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