IPT's Patrick Dunleavy details the recent ISIS prison attacks, its resurgence in Iraq and Syria, and how its gains could embolden ISIS affiliates in the region.
Carol Van Dam: "The military Islamic State group attempted to break thousands of its fighters out of a Syrian prison on Thursday. ISIS also claimed responsibility for an ambush on an Iraqi military post near Baghdad on Friday in which 11 soldiers were killed. The apparent revitalization of ISIS comes months after the US withdrew troops from Afghanistan. VOA senior analyst Mohamed Elshinnawi spoke with Patrick Dunleavy, a Senior Fellow at the Investigative Project on Terrorism about whether ISIS is gaining new strength in Syria and Iraq, and if that would embolden its affiliates if Africa."
Patrick Dunleavy: "I think it does demonstrate that there is a resurgence in ISIS in that particular area coinciding with the U.S. evacuating all its forces from Afghanistan. If you remember, right before the U.S. forces left Afghanistan, the Taliban actually took hold of a prison by the Bagram Airforce Base and released thousands of radical Islamists who were being held by the Americans and by the previous Afghanistan administration. And then we see ISIS who has been almost forgotten by Western democracies because of their attention being given to the Ukraine and to Russia and to groups like NATO, and slow ISIS has since 2019 when we thought that we had defeated them and the caliphate they sought to establish, has slowly but surely increased its strength. And their brazen attack on the prison that coincided also with an attack on the military base in Iraq, shows that they are growing stronger and more bold.
"And this whole attack on prisons is nothing new. If we remember that the actual formation of ISIS took place in a prison in Iraq when many of the leadership of the group which was to become ISIS was incarcerated. It was, and its leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was in there. So, jihadists know that prison is not the end of the road on their path to paradise because they know that at some point, their leadership or someone will try to get them out, or they will be able to influence others while they're in prison. I think ISIS has grown in strength not only in that area but throughout Africa, Southeast and Central Asia. It's very concerning to many counterterrorism experts."
Mohamed Elshinnawi: "So, could the resurgence of ISIS in Syria and Iraq embolden its affiliates in Africa and the Sahar?"
Patrick Dunleavy: "I absolutely think that it will because as Western democracies such as the United States, the U.K., and NATO members are focusing almost all of their resources and attention towards Ukraine and Russia. They're overlooking these groups that are in places like Nigeria, central Africa, central Asia, where they're able to, again, gain strength, gain fighters, influence, attack. I don't know that ISIS is so much looking to gain land as they did when they initially tried to establish a caliphate, but they are growing in strength in particularly Africa and other places."
Mohamed Elshinnawi: "The U.S. State Department said 'we continue to stand with our partners in the region to counter the remnants of ISIS. While the coalition has severely degraded the ISIS ability to conduct attacks, the group continues attempts to destabilize region. ' What's your take on that?"
Patrick Dunleavy: "I think it's a fine statement but it has no teeth to it, it has no substance to it. I think one of the ways that continues, the U.S. and other Western democracies continue to 'support' their partners in this fight is by throwing money at them. For instance, the United States provided moneys to train secure units in the prisons in Syria that are holding thousands and thousands of ISIS men, and the British government gave over $20 million to reinforce walls and other physical security. But, that attack shows that there was some infiltration, particularly with bribing, possible corruption in employees or officials at the prison. So, I think resources or the commitment that we have to our partners there, if it's only money, it's going to fail. And very concerning."
Carol Van Dam: "That was Patrick Dunleavy with the Investigative Project on Terrorism speaking with my colleague Mohamed Elshinnawi."