The threat posed by Islamic State’s new ‘global offensive’

Jihadists told to strike Europe and Israel while Western powers are distracted by Ukraine

The return of Taliban rule has raised fears Afghanistan could become a haven for terrorists
Return of Taliban rule has raised fears that Afghanistan could become a haven for terrorists
(Image credit: Wakil Kohsar/AFP via Getty Images)

Islamic State (IS) followers are being urged to avenge the recent death of their leader by waging a new “global offensive” against Europe and Israel.

In an announcement timed to coincide with Ramadan, the group’s new spokesperson told would-be jihadists to stage terror attacks while “the crusaders are fighting each other” over the Ukraine invasion.

In an audio message shared online and heard by The Times, Abu-Omar al-Muhajir said that non-Muslim nations are “preoccupied” with Russia’s incursion into the neighbouring eastern European nation – providing an “opportunity” for IS to strike.

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Campaign of revenge

Calling for revenge for IS leader Abu Ibrahim al-Qurayshi, who was killed during a US operation in Syria in February, the group’s spokesperson Muhajir urged jihadists to “fight them all”.

Qurayshi died alongside members of his family and an IS deputy leader after detonating a suicide bomb as “special forces rounded on his hideout” in northern Syria, the BBC reported. Joe Biden said that Qurayshi’s death “removed a major terrorist threat to the world”.

In a message to IS followers that was circulated on the Telegram messaging app, Muhajir said: “We announce, relying on God, a blessed campaign to take revenge.”

Strike back and “Allah will answer and punish them at your hand”, he continued, adding: “The opportunity is ripe for you.”

In what The Times said was as an echo of “previous IS statements”, Muhajir said that Jerusalem could only be liberated through the return of the IS “caliphate”. Jihadists should “arm themselves with weapons and carry out further attacks” on Israel and other enemies of the group, he demanded.

New offensive

The address followed a series of IS-linked attacks in Israel in recent weeks. Footage shared on social media of an attack in Bnei Brak, a Jewish ultra-Orthodox suburb of Tel Aviv, in which a Palestinian gunman killed five people last month showed the terrorist firing at people running for cover and shooting dead the driver of a passing car.

IS has also claimed responsibility for a bomb attack on a mosque in Peshawar, Pakistan, in early March. More than 60 people were killed after a man detonated an explosive vest containing around 150 ball bearings and 5kg of explosives.

The call for further attacks comes after so-called IS Beatle El Shafee Elsheikh was convicted of the hostage-taking and murders of four Americans in Syria in 2012 and 2013. His trial highlighted that the “IS threat continues in Syria and Afghanistan”, where Kurdish fighters “hold precarious control of camps in Syria containing thousands of captured IS fighters and their families”, said The Wall Street Journal.

The West is currently focused on “the threats from China and Russia, but jihadists are still looking to kill Americans and attack the homeland if they get the chance”, the paper continued. The only way to “prevent more attacks” is constant “vigilance”.

Europe in particular has grown “blind to the next jihadi threat”, said London-based counterterrorism expert Liam Duffy. “It’s been a while since Isis staged a major attack on the West”, he wrote in an article on UnHerd in January, but “it doesn’t mean that there aren’t still people killing in the name of jihad”.

“In the wake of America’s withdrawal from the region, much has been made of the danger of Afghanistan once again becoming a terrorist safe haven threatening the West,” Duffy added. And “such concerns are certainly legitimate”.

But The Times’ Middle East correspondent Richard Spencer argued that Muhajir’s call for a new “global offensive” now feels “like more of a sign of weakness”.

“There was a time when a message by Isis warning of imminent attacks on Western targets would have stirred at least consternation in Whitehall and Washington,” he said. But the “latest message requires an appropriate response: vigilance, but in proportion”.

That “more Russians and Ukrainians have died in six weeks of fighting in central Europe than all of the losses to British and American troops in two decades of wars in the Middle East” has “put the dangers to the West of radical Islamism into some perspective”.

Islamic extremists have successfully “spread mayhem” in the Middle East, Spencer conceded. But unlike a nuclear-armed Vladimir Putin, they do not truly threaten “the end of the world”.

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