Global Terrorism Threat Analysis – February 2019
Globally, the push within the high-tech sector to crack down on illegal activities on messaging services, and social media more generally, has seen pro-Islamic State (IS) groups migrate to less well-known platforms in an attempt to avoid being detected. This is likely to continue, with a number of different messaging services likely to be utilized over the coming years, as jihadist operations in the West become increasingly reliant on online communication capabilities.
In Asia, an increase in IS claims in the Philippines accompanied a spike in attacks by affiliates in the country’s south, as a likely response to the Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL). The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan’s (TTP) propaganda drive sought to boost the group’s reputation by using references to past attacks in a possible attempt to revive recruitment. Talks between the Taliban and the US reached a framework in principle, but key sticking points will limit progress in the near term. Finally, in India, pro-IS groups in Kashmir attempted to counter operational constraints and broaden their network by using appeals to radical Islamist theology.
In Europe, calls for stabbing attacks in France continued as the local jihadist community was emboldened by the shooting incident in Strasbourg and is looking to take advantage of the ongoing issues regarding protests. In Spain, King Filipe’s trip to Iraq drew calls from jihadists to attack Spain, highlighting vehicular rammings as the best method in the country, underscoring the continuing prevalence of pro-Islamist groups in the country, particularly those radicalized in prison. Finally, in Russia, pro-IS media reported that the group was responsible for a major explosion in a residential building in Magnitogorsk. While the reports seem to have no independent verification, they do show the attempts by Russian pro-IS groups to maintain visibility in the country, despite continuing crackdowns against jihadists in the North Caucasus.
In the Middle East and North Africa, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) captured vast territories across northwestern Syria, strengthening the Syrian Salvation Government (SSG) that it controls, and thus providing the jihadist group with an opportunity to further project its dominance. The Islamic State (IS) has increased its activity in Libya in recent months, highlighted most recently by an attack on the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Tripoli, in an effort to undermine the fragile governmental structures in the country and expand the group’s influence. Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) released another video in its series of publications against espionage, highlighting the group’s increased perception of threat from intelligence collection efforts by the US and the Saudi-led Coalition.
In Sub-Saharan Africa, al-Shabaab’s large-scale attack at a hotel and business complex in Nairobi, Kenya was a highly significant event and the group released propaganda stating that it was conducted in response to the US’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. This further contextualizes al-Shabaab within the al-Qaeda network. Additionally, IS in Somalia released a video highlighting its governance in northern Somalia while they also directly confront al-Shabaab, with the two jihadist groups clashing for territorial control. In the Lake Chad region, Boko Haram attacked the Islamic State’s West Africa Province (ISWAP) in Niger, in a rare confrontation between the two militant groups. This comes as ISWAP has increasingly solidified its position as the preeminent jihadist group in Lake Chad, releasing propaganda that emphasizes this position.