Global Terrorism Threat Analysis – May 2019
Globally, on April 29, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, leader of the Islamic State (IS), openly appeared in a video for the first time in almost five years. The main objective of the video is to showcase to IS followers that al-Baghdadi is alive and still in command of the organization, and to rally his followers to increase their rate of activities. Over the longer term, IS will invest in building up its local affiliates, particularly in Africa and South Asia, to compensate for its recent losses in the Middle East and its current inability to fully rehabilitate itself there.
In Asia, increased pro-IS messaging was noted in Bangladesh amid a low-intensity IS-claimed explosion in the capital city of Dhaka. The IS announced its “Wilayat Hind” in India, which may be indicative of a desire to further decentralize and provide validation for its local sympathizer groups. In Pakistan, an attack on security personnel in Lahore suggested the Hizbul Ahrar outfit’s growing operational reach. Finally, in Sri Lanka, IS claimed the April 21 Easter Sunday blasts conducted by the National Thowheed Jamaath, in what may be seen as a sign of its growing willingness to engage in asymmetric warfare in thus far muted regions of operation to offset territorial losses in the Middle East.
In Europe and the Americas, IS-linked groups continued to circulate publications promoting arson as a tactic for lone-wolf supporters in Europe and the USA. In Russia, IS-linked media groups released a poster prior to Victory Day encouraging attacks in the country, underscoring the continued focus on the North Caucasus by the militant group. Jihadist online messaging groups further pushed propaganda in the Spanish and Basque languages in an attempt to boost support in Spain. A US military veteran was arrested for attempting to carry out a jihadist attack at a right-wing rally in California, illustrating the continuing threat of radicalization among vulnerable social groups in the US.
In the Middle East and North Africa, the first official reference to “Wilayat Turkey” was made in al-Baghdadi’s video, which indicates that Turkey will likely constitute an increasingly important logistical hub for IS’s operations following its loss of territories in Syria and Iraq. The increase in IS attacks in Libya over the past month was likely facilitated by the security vacuum created in central and southern Libya as a result of the Libyan National Army’s (LNA) current preoccupation in hostilities in and around Tripoli. A militant attack was conducted in Saudi Arabia’s al-Zulif on April 21, which highlights the lingering threat of jihadist militancy in the Kingdom.
In Sub-Saharan Africa, IS claimed responsibility for its first attack in the DRC, and the establishment of a new Central Africa affiliate was also recognized in al-Baghdadi’s video. Additionally, al-Baghdadi drew specific attention to IS fighters in Mali and Burkina Faso, elevating the affiliate’s leader Abu Walid al-Sahraoui, and further confirming the consolidation of operations in both Mali and the Lake Chad region under IS’s West Africa Province. The increased release of information on IS in Africa, particularly in Lake Chad, emphasizes their continued successes in Africa despite significant losses in the Middle East.