DAESH continues to expand globally with about 20 offshoots, despite being crushed in Syria, a top US counter-terror official has said.
The Islamic State group “has repeatedly demonstrated the ability to rebound from severe losses over the past six years by relying on a dedicated cadre of veteran mid-level commanders, extensive clandestine networks, and downturns in CT (counter-terrorism) pressure to persevere”, Christopher Miller, director of the US National Counterterrorism Center, noted last week.
Since the October 2019 killing of Daesh chief Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and several top figures, new leader Mohammed Said Abd al-Rahman al-Mawla has been able to coordinate attacks by its far-flung affiliates, Miller told the American House Homeland Security Committee.
Last week, the group claimed responsibility for the killing of six French aid workers and their two local guides in Niger on August 9.
Inside Syria and Iraq, Miller said, Daesh had executed a “a steady rate” of assassinations, and mortar and IED attacks.
In May, Daesh had killed and wounded dozens of Iraqi soldiers. Miller noted that the group trumpeted the operation with graphic videos that served as propaganda to demonstrate the jihadists were still organised and active, after the Syria-Iraq “caliphate” fell last year.
Daesh is currently focused on freeing thousands of its members and their families from detention camps in northeastern Syria, in the absence of any international process to deal with them, he added.
Outside Syria and Iraq, the Daesh global web “now encompasses approximately 20 branches and networks”, Miller said.
It has had mixed results, but is strongest in Africa, as the Niger attack highlighted.
Daesh also seeks to attack targets in the West, Miller warned, but so far effective counter-terror work had prevented terror strikes.
Meanwhile, al Qaeda remained “potent” even after the elimination of its top leaders. The group — which carried out the 9/11 attacks on the US — was still plotting to target the US and Europe, Miller said.
He pointed out that the radicalised Saudi air force trainee who killed three sailors at a US military base in Florida last year was linked to al Qaeda.
The group’s affiliates in Yemen and Africa retained the ability to carry out deadly attacks, Miller said, but its sub-groups in India and Pakistan had been significantly weakened.
His observations came even as Indian sleuths were engaged in operations to crack down on al Qaeda modules.
In Afghanistan, its presence has declined to “a few dozen fighters who are primarily focused on their survival”, Miller said.
Under a Taliban-US deal signed in February, the Afghan insurgents agreed to stop al Qaeda from using the country as a safe haven.
According to the Pentagon, however, the jihadist group continued to maintain close ties with the Afghan militants.