The (virtual) caliphate relaunches its threat on Europe

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In the midst of a pandemic, jihadist terrorism strikes again in Europe. But it is very different from the one that, until four years ago, was capable of causing dozens of deaths with sophisticated attacks perpetrated by men with experience on the battlefield in the Middle East and linked to international groups. A 25-year-old Pakistani who had been in France for two years. An 18-year-old Chechen who had come to this country as a child and had been educated in French school. A 21-year-old Tunisian who had just disembarked on the continent via the migrant route in the Mediterranean. A 20-year-old Austrian, the son of Albanians from North Macedonia, who had tried to go to Syria, without success.

The perpetrators of the attacks of the last month and a half in France have a common profile: they apparently acted alone, were not registered by the intelligence services and used knives to attack. In the Austrian case it is different: the terrorist was carrying combat weapons, including an assault rifle, a sawed-off Kalashnikov, and a machete. And he had been through jail.

Recent attacks show that, despite the annihilation of the caliphate raised by the Islamic State (ISIS) in the summer of 2014, the threat persists in a battle of ideas that is the breeding ground for many young people. radicalized. The physical caliphate in Syria and Iraq has been replaced by a virtual caliphate.

“[Los seguidores del ISIS] they have never disappeared ”, explains the Swedish researcher Michael Krona, co-author of The Media World of ISIS (The media world of ISIS), who estimates that the followers of the terrorist group are present on around 100 online platforms. “On the contrary,” he adds, “there are indications that suggest that they have grown in number in recent times. Since 2018, the survival and expansion of the ISIS brand is largely due to increased activity by its supporters. [en la Red]”.

What has changed is the type of attacks and their lethality. In France, between 2015 and 2016 – the years of the ISIS-related attacks against Charlie Hebdo and the Jewish supermarket Hyper Cacher, Bataclán and the terraces of Paris and the seafront in Nice – 239 people died. Since 2017, 24 have died.

“In Madrid, in 2004, in Bataclan in 2015, in Barcelona in 2017, they were structured groups that had a certain logistics. All this is over ”, explains Olivier Roy, professor at the University Institute of Florence and specialist in Islamism. “Now we have individuals out of nowhere, without special training, often not very psychologically stable and who attack with kitchen knives. Kitchen knives are proof that there is no net behind. Because if you want to kill a lot of people you need a Kalashnikov. The objective is not to cause the maximum number of deaths but to kill and die, because everyone dies ”.

Roy alludes to the three attacks in France in little more than a month. On September 25 in front of the former headquarters of the satirical weekly Charlie HebdoWhere in January 2015, 12 people were killed by a jihadist attack, Pakistani Zaheer Hassan Mahmoud wounded two people before being arrested. On October 16, Abdouallakh Anzorov, who had been born in Moscow in 2002 and had come to this country at the age of six, beheaded the school teacher Samuel Paty for teaching the Muhammad cartoons published in the classroom. Charlie Hebdo. Later he was killed by police shots.

On the 29th of the same month, Brahim Aouissaou, who had left Tunisia in mid-September and a few days later had entered Europe via the Mediterranean, cut the throats and stabbed to death three people in the Notre-Dame basilica in Nice. Aouissaou is hospitalized. On November 2, Kujtim Fejzulai, who had been released in December 2019 after a brief stint in prison for wanting to join ISIS in Syria, killed four people on the streets of central Vienna where the Viennese had been rushing the last hours before of a new confinement by the coronavirus. Fejzulai was killed after the attack.

The publication again, in early September, of the Muhammad cartoons in Charlie Hebdo, coinciding with the start of the trial of the alleged accomplices of the attacks, it has circulated on these networks as a new argument of these terrorists. To this were added, in the following weeks, the speech of French President Emmanuel Macron on the so-called “Islamist separatism”; the calls for a boycott of France in Muslim countries, and the geopolitical pulse of the Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, with his French counterpart.

And all this, a year after the death of califa Abubaker Al Bagdadi – jihadism likes symbols and ephemeris – with ISIS re-emerging between Syria and Iraq, and in a context of global confinement, tremendously open to the radicalization of young people and the massive use of the Internet.

“The profiles of the attackers remain similar: angry Muslims of immigrant descent, filled with hatred after absorbing ISIS’s online content and, more recently, also fueled by the reissue of the Muhammad cartoons, than those who carry out the attacks are considered blasphemy and hate speech, ”says Anne Speckhard, director of the International Center for the Study of Extremist Violence and a professor in addition to psychiatry at Georgetown University.

“ISIS has always been flexible adapting its story to each situation,” says the Swede Krona. “The narrative of victimhood and revenge has been rekindled after the death of Professor Samuel Paty and the republication of the cartoons of Charlie Hebdo, with statements by French officials about France at war against Islamism, which have been used by ISIS followers to justify more attacks, something very worrying.

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