What the New York Attack Says About ISIS Now (New Yorker)

What the New York Attack Says About ISIS Now

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Shortly after the terrorist attack in New York on Tuesday, a
new account, @cnnbrea, which described
itself as “CNN Breaking News,” appeared on Twitter. Its crude, explicit
and ungrammatical tweets vowed more ISIS attacks on the United States.
One warned: “O, Nation of Cross in America We will continue to terrorize
you and ruin your lives.” It attached a photo of American police
overlaid with a headline: “RUN The Islamic State is Coming.” An imprint
of the signature black-and-white ISIS flag was on top. The Middle East
Media Research Institute, or MEMRI, identified the account for me as one
of many—new and old—that lit up social media to celebrate the attack by
Sayfullo Saipov on a bike path blocks away from the site of the
September 11, 2001 attacks. The Twitter account was still up almost two days later.

ISIS’s constantly evolving and mischievous propaganda is one
of the few tools left for the group to spread its toxic message and
inspire lethal attacks. It has now lost about ninety per cent of
the territory that made up its pseudo-caliphate, which was the size of
Indiana in 2014. Most of the eight million people it once ruled have
been liberated. ISIS has lost more than sixty thousand fighters,
including a hundred and thirty leaders. Just hours before the Saipov
attack, the Pentagon released the names of eleven additional major
figures—nine in Syria and two in Iraq—“taken off the battlefield” in
recent days. Even ISIS’s social-media profile has diminished, with the
loss of the production headquarters and studios it ran in Raqqa, the
Syrian city that was its
capital
until U.S.-backed forces retook the northern city last month. Many of
its main media chiefs, including the loquacious braggart and chief
spokesman Abu Mohammad al-Adnani, have been eliminated as well.

Yet ISIS’s propaganda was sufficient to animate Saipov to carry out the
worst terrorist attack in New York since 9/11—as he has now confessed,
waiving his Miranda rights. On Wednesday, the F.B.I., which had not put
Saipov on any watch list, said that the initial investigation indicated
that he had not been in direct contact with extremist groups or
activists abroad. He had instead been radicalized after he came to the
United States, from Uzbekistan, in 2010.

As John Miller, the New York Police deputy commissioner for intelligence
and counterterrorism,
told “CBS This Morning” on Thursday, the United States has not yet figured
out how to deal with the arc of radicalization. “This is something that
has vexed us since 9/11,” he said. “We have no effective counter-message
today.”

According to the ten-page federal complaint filed against him, Saipov
fell under the ISIS spell by viewing some ninety ISIS-related videos and
almost four thousand images on his (at least two) cell phones. He was
specifically inspired by issue No. 3 of the slick online
magazine Rumiyah, which means “Rome,” an allusion to an old prophecy
foretelling the fall of the infidel West.

In a three-page spread entitled “Just Terror Tactics,” published a year
ago, Rumiyah wrote that “very few actually comprehend the deadly and
destructive capability of the motor vehicle and its capacity of reaping
large numbers of casualties if used in a premeditated manner.” It listed
the best vehicles to launch an attack, illustrating the page with the
picture of a U-Haul truck. (Saipov rented a truck from Home
Depot.) Rumiyah then cited the best events to crash,
literally—pedestrian-congested streets, open-air markets, festivals,
parades, and outdoor celebrations that “are fair game and more
devastating to Crusader nations.” The list was illustrated with the
Macy’s Day Thanksgiving Parade. (Saipov chose Halloween.)

Saipov was so smitten by ISIS that he “wanted to display ISIS flags on
the front and back of the Truck during the attack, but decided against
it because he did not want to draw attention to himself,” the formal
complaint against him reported. From a hospital bed after his capture,
Saipov audaciously requested the infamous black-and-white ISIS flag to
display in his room.

The lesson from the New York attack is that the military campaign
against ISIS—the numbers killed or the territory lost—should not be the
only measure of success, Hassan Hassan, co-author of the best-selling
ISIS: Inside the Army of
Terror
,”
told me. “ISIS has received blows on many levels. Ideologically, it’s
weaker than it was in 2014. Financially, it’s not as rich as it was in
2014. And it’s not as deadly as in 2014, despite its ability to kill and
maim and attack,” he said. “It’s lost the space to operate and breathe
and think and plan and train and indoctrinate millions of people.”

Yet, largely through its propaganda machine, ISIS has evolved since
2014, from a state focussed on ruling in Iraq and Syria, into a
full-fledged jihadi organization “with the ability to project power and
images globally,” Hassan told me. “It’s evolved from a corner grocery
store to an international chain.”

ISIS now has more than three dozen wilayats, or provinces, on three
continents, including in the Muslim former Soviet republics. The Islamic
Movement of Uzbekistan pledged bayat, or loyalty, to ISIS in 2015.
Some franchises are small, some dormant, but all have been deadly—and
all have fed the ISIS propaganda machine. According to the International
Crisis Group, somewhere between two thousand and four thousand people
from the former Soviet Central Asian republics have joined ISIS. The
largest group came from Uzbekistan. The group notably publishes
Rumiyah and other materials in Russian and in Central Asian
languages.

ISIS was never going to defeat its enemies on the battlefield, Bruce
Hoffman, a Georgetown University political scientist and the author of
the book “Inside
Terrorism
,”
told me. “It has a long-term strategy of attrition—creating polarization
and divisions in society and getting liberal states to embrace illegal
tactics,” he said. “That’s what ISIS is all about now—how it survives.
It defaults to a lower level that still plays into the terrorist
narrative and maintains relevance.”

Two examples of illiberal reactions emerged from the White House less
than twenty-four hours after the attacks. President Trump threatened to
send Saipov, now a permanent U.S. resident, to the extraterritorial
prison at Guantánamo Bay and to totally eliminate the popular
diversity-visa program, through which Saipov gained entry to the United
States. (Prosecutors in New York made clear that they want to try Saipov
in their jurisdiction.) Then, on Thursday, the President tweeted twice
that Saipov should get the death penalty. The Trump statements,
terrorism analysts told me, could feed the alienation and sense of a
clash of civilizations—and fuel more terrorism. And that is just what
ISIS wants.

By Thursday morning ISIS had not formally claimed responsibility for the
New York attack, despite Saipov’s confession. It may be because he
survived. In the past, ISIS has not claimed ties to other perpetrators
when they are not “martyred.” In his first speech declaring the
caliphate, in 2014, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi told his followers not to be
“stingy” with their lives. “We will never be truthful as long as we do
not sacrifice our lives and wealth in order to raise high the word of
Allah and bring victory to the religion of Allah,” he said from the
pulpit of the Grand Mosque in Mosul, Iraq.

But that didn’t prevent ISIS supporters from lighting up social media
and online accounts to hail Saipov, a former Uber and truck driver, as a
hero to the ISIS cause. According to research by MEMRI, the institute
that studies terrorism, they “rejoiced in the fact that the operation
was carried out in the heart of enemy territory.” Writing under hashtags
such as #Manhattan, #NewYork and #Halloween (in English or in
Arabic), many stressed that the attack was revenge for U.S. air strikes
in Iraq and Syria—for example, on the former ISIS strongholds of Mosul
and Raqqa. They also made noxious new threats in inflammatory language,
and flaunted graphic posters depicting future attacks.

At 12:46 A.M. on Wednesday, the pro-ISIS media foundation Al-Wafa
released a new poster showing the New York skyline, a careening semi
truck, and the profile of a fighter armed with an assault rifle and with
a kaffiyeh wrapped around his face. Underneath, in all caps, it read:

O WORSHIPPERS OF THE CROSS IN USA OUR LONE WOLVES WILL COME TO YOU
FROM WHERE YOU DO NOT KNOW AND WE WILL TERRORIZE YOU WHEREVER YOU ARE
AND WE WILL SHOW YOU MULTITUDES OF TERROR AND PAIN THAT YOU SHOWED TO
THE MUSLIMS, AND WHAT IS COMING IS MORE BITTER AND GREATER.

For all the ISIS bluster, and the fear it triggered, the
attack in New York had a death toll that was in the single digits—eight,
far lower than the nearly three thousand people who died in the
September, 2001 attacks. It did not involve a team of operatives who
acquired sophisticated skills over many months under the noses of the
U.S. intelligence and law-enforcement communities. The perpetrator was
captured within minutes, identified within several hours, and the basics
of his life unravelled within a day. And the latest issue of Rumiyah,
a monthly publication known for its punctuality, is now three weeks
late.

As Hoffman told me, “Terrorism is here to stay—at one level or
another—for the foreseeable future.” The fact that the attack was
carried out in New York, which has “iconic stature for terrorist
groups,” also counters some of the recent ISIS losses, he said. Yet in
the sixteen years since 9/11, terrorism is notably smaller in scale,
less deadly, and less impactful in the United States. And all the ISISpropaganda in the world won’t change that.

General

via New Yorker http://bit.ly/2v93nIt

November 2, 2017 at 09:11AM