The Islamic State gained prominence in 2014 following an elaborate plan to create an Islamic Caliphate with a global reach and having held large swathes of Iraq and Syria. ISIS through its vigorous online propaganda has managed to recruit, inspire and motivate fighters from different parts of the world especially from Africa, Europe, and other Middle Eastern nations. On the other hand, Al-Qaeda appears to have lost its hold and sway on jihadis but it is not to be dismissed as it has some of the most lethal affiliates among them AQAP in Yemen, Al Shabaab in Somalia, AQIM in the African Maghreb as well as other terror units in the Middle East. While both terror organizations appear to have lost the majority of their territory, infrastructure and networks in the intensified counterterrorism operations by nations and allies, attacks on different parts of the world with terror signages are still experienced with huge casualties.
ISIS has recruited, inspired and trained soldiers/fighters who have been sent back or returned to their home countries creating a global and empowered force to conduct attacks but who appear passive and or not actively involved in terror activities upon return. Intelligence reports major from returnees and defector reveal that ISIS has hundreds of fighters abroad including Europe and Africa waiting to be activated to conduct attacks despite the seemingly evident defeat of ISIS central in Iraq and Syria. Similarly, Al-Qaeda has thrived on the notion that having strategically placed allies, members and partners across the group is more important to the principal agenda than having a large centralized army as the actors can be activated to conduct deadly and even coordinated attacks in multiple locations undetected.
Despite ISIS on the brink of defeat in Iraq and Syria, it maintains a strong online presence where the recruiters and online soldiers inspire locally disgruntled youths to conduct attacks in their countries on behalf of the terror organization. While it may be losing territory in the Middle East, ISIS has been consistently producing and disseminating propaganda that is used to rally and radicalized disenfranchised individuals, especially in Europe the number of ‘terror arrests’ have seen an upsurge in recent months. The upsurge in terrorist-related arrests is an indicator that while ISIS appears defeated on the ground, it still causes a major threat through homegrown terrorists who are radicalized online. Conversely, while there have been attacks in Europe that have either been claimed or linked to ISIS, none appear to have been conducted by returnees rather by local residents that have been radicalized and inspired without having to travel to the Middle East. Therefore, ISIS and Al-Qaeda have been increasing inspiring majority if not all terrorist attacks linked to them through homegrown terrorists.
Counterterrorism efforts and campaigns have in recent years managed to infiltrate online platforms used by the various terror organization and as such managing to foil attacks. The major challenge that faces the efforts is the ever-expanding pool of new recruits attracted by the luring propaganda material spread by the terrorists. In places like Africa and Yemen, the Al-Qaeda is appearing to reinvent itself by gradually building its capacity, building networks that can prove deadly in the long run seeing as the majority of the attention is focused on ISIS-inspired groups. It is crucial to note that while efforts target new recruits and emerging threats, seasoned members and returnees morph silently without drawing attention to themselves. They create terror cells and set up networks and infrastructure almost undetected and launch major attacks when least expected. Therefore, it would be gravely ignorant to assume that since returnees have not been conducting attacks and they seem docile that they can be written out as threats abroad. Instead, they should be monitored as they are part of a larger global network of experienced terrorists that could launch large-casualty attacks back home almost undetected.