Why does ISIS keep on targeting Europe?

Security and intelligence agencies are struggling to cope with a new lethal threat

Why does ISIS keep on targeting Europe?

The recent terror attack in Barcelona is yet another bloody reminder that the Islamic State (ISIS or IS) has put Europe in its crosshairs. Although this was the bloodiest attack in Spain since 2004, several European cities—including London, Paris, Brussels, Nice, and Berlin—have witnessed terrorist-caused carnage and mayhem. Although the United States has been ISIS’ most frequent target of its threats, there have been more attacks in Europe, with only one major ISIS-linked attack in the US, the mass shooting in San Bernardino, California. This, though, was sought out by two ISIS supporters, not the group itself.

ISIS is the epitome of modern terrorism - its rampant use of social media to spread its messages and excessive use of brutality set it apart to the extent that even Al Qaeda, its apparent parent organization, has severed ties with it. It targets a much broader group of civil society: the “non-believers”, which also includes various sects of Islam which differ in ideology. The group grew out of instability in Iraq, post-US occupation and the fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime, and today, controls a little less than 7% of Syrian territory.  Now, the terrorist group is expanding its bases throughout Europe as a ground for recruitment, as well as extremist attacks.

But why is Europe a target for ISIS? There is no simple answer to this question. If we look back to the Sykes-Picot agreement of 1916, it could shed some light on the matter. This treaty decided the future of the people of the Middle East without their consent, some may argue. It divided the area into spheres of influence between the French and the British. Modern state borders were drawn based on the agreement and, today, according to ISIS, “wars are being fought to preserve them”; this is seen as the exploitation of the Middle Eastern lands at the hands of European countries, a grievance ISIS has used to justify its attacks.

The details of the agreement have contributed to the instability in Iraq and Syria, formerly controlled by Britain and France; both wracked by instability and coups until the Hussein and Assad regimes were established. What followed was a political crisis in both countries, revolts against the regime and chaotic political vacuum, and the creation of ISIS.

There is no doubt that ISIS holds the US and Europe responsible for the miseries in the Middle East, especially in Iraq and Syria. Abu Ahmed al-Adnani of ISIS released an audio clip asking true believers to use all means available to them to carry out attacks against non-believers, especially in Europe and in United States.

The rise of terrorist attacks has not only seen an increase in rightist propaganda in the West, such as Trump in the US, Le Pen in France, Wilders in the Netherlands, and Hofer in Austria, but there has also been an upsurge in the anti-refugee and anti-Islam sentiment across Europe. In fact, a recent survey made by the Chatham House Royal Institute of International Affairs revealed high public opposition to immigration – especially, immigration from Muslim majority countries in European countries.

Jihadist groups find opportunity for recruitment in European countries due to the states’ secularism “coupled with a sense of marginalization among immigrant communities”, according to a report from the Soufan Group, a major security firm based in New York. “The propaganda of the Islamic State offers an attractive alternative of belonging, purpose, adventure, and respect. These are the people ISIS recruits: the marginalized and the radicalized”, affirms the same report.


Latin American Post | Carlos Eduardo Gómez Avella 

Copy edited by Susana Cicchetto

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