ISIS Setting Up Support Networks to Move Terrorists to Europe, Asia

A member of the Syrian pro-government forces holds an Islamic State (IS) group flag after they entered the village of Dibsiafnan on the western outskirts of the Islamist’s Syrian bastion of Raqqa / Getty Images

Washington Free Beacon, by Bill Gertz, June 21, 2017:

The Islamic State is setting up networks to support the systematic movement of terrorists from the Middle East to Europe and Asia, according to U.S. defense officials.

“ISIS has several facilitators in place that assist the flow of fighters to Europe,” said one official who noted the group is exploiting travel networks used for large-scale human trafficking in the region. The networks include an organizational structure that has been discovered by U.S. and allied intelligence agencies to be using specific groups to help terrorists reach European soil. ISIS has assigned support personnel to the networks to facilitate the process.

No specific numbers were provided by the officials on ISIS fighters moving from strongholds in Syria and Iraq to Europe and Asia.

Many of the fighters, however, are returning nationals who joined ISIS several years ago where they received training and experience during Middle East conflicts. The fighters are regarded as hardened jihadists who will seek to infiltrate society and prepare for future attacks.

A second official said the use of human trafficking networks and refugees by ISIS has increased the danger that similar tactics will be used by the group to send fighters into the United States.

“Refugees from the Middle East could be exploited by ISIS to target the United States,” this official said.

The Trump administration is currently battling U.S. courts over President Trump’s executive order restricting travelers from entering the United States from six majority Muslim nations.

“There is always a possibility that a foreign fighter from a visa waiver country that has not been detected could return home to fly to the U.S. and conduct an attack,” the first official said.

“Our foreign fighter databases are good and information sharing is constantly improving but this scenario is plausible,” the official said. “Let’s not forget we have plenty of U.S. citizens that went to the so-called caliphate and the caliphate has over 100 nationalities on its bench.”

The threat was highlighted in Brussels Tuesday, where military security guards shot and killed a suspected terrorist who set off a small explosive device at a train station.

ISIS fighters also are moving in increasing numbers to Asia but it does not appear that ISIS is shifting its focus to Asia, the officials said.

“ISIS’s business model is to set up affiliates around the world they can leverage for worldwide attacks,” the first official said. “I think instead of shifting I would say attempting to expand with varying results.”

Asked about the overall ISIS threat to the United States and Europe, the officials said vehicle ramming attacks are increasing.

“The new tactic of renting or stealing large vehicles to ram in to crowded areas and ISIS’ own endorsement of these tactics present daunting challenges to intelligence and law enforcement officials,” the first official said. “We must work together to mitigate evolving threats.”

A report by the State Department’s Overseas Security Advisory Council noted that in the past six months, Islamic terrorists have conducted seven attacks in Germany, France, Sweden, and the United Kingdom, causing more than 50 deaths.

The danger is increasing, according to the June 7 report.

“The elevated Islamic extremist terrorist threat in Western Europe is expected to persist in 2017,” the report said.

“Some authorities assess that as ISIS continues to lose ground in Iraq and Syria, the group will focus on conducting attacks against the West in an attempt to maintain legitimacy among supporters,” the report added. “Operations and plotting may increase during times the group may consider symbolic or more permissive, such as holidays and busy travel months.”

The report said authorities in Europe have prevented a number of attacks since the beginning of the year. “The frequency and reach of terrorist activity affirms that the threat persists throughout the region,” it states.

The Islamic terror group is facing intense pressure from intelligence and law enforcement forces, according to the two officials with access to intelligence reports of the activities.

“The southeastern European region has been the gateway to Europe for foreign fighters wishing to travel west,” the first official said, adding that U.S. and allied nations are working hard to disrupt the logistics and support networks.

“This is especially reflected in ISIS’ rhetoric and propaganda—they are openly encouraging people to stay home and conduct knife and truck attacks,” the official added.

According to Interpol, over 4,000 human traffickers are operating in Europe and human trafficking within the continent is increasing.

Because of the ease of travel in Europe, “ISIS can leverage affordable modes of transportation to transverse Europe if they have documentation that will pass the scrutiny of border guards,” the official said.

A lack of coordination among European security services and porous borders that require minimal identification has boosted travel by ISIS fighters.

Army Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti, commander of the European Command, said in a speech last April that the battle against terrorism is difficult.

“This fight against terror and violent extremists will not be easy, nor will it be fast,” he said. “It is not a war of choice. It will take resources, determination, and resolve to see the end of terror in Europe.”

The European Command said the ISIS infiltration threat is a concern.

“To the south, we see a much more multi-faceted challenge of ungoverned spaces and unresponsive governments resulting in migrant flows of criminality, terrorism and foreign fighters in and out of these areas,” the command said in a statement.

“We are putting pressure on ISIL in many avenues,” the command said. “This is a long-term effort and not just a short-term challenge that we need to be thinking about. It will take a dedicated effort, not only from the air, but also on the ground to counter transnational threats.”

A key focus of the command is assessing threats to American forces and securing service members, civilians, family members, and facilities.

Meanwhile, the Pentagon announced on Tuesday that a key Islamic terror leader, Turki al Bin’ali, was killed in an airstrike in Syria May 31.

“Al Bin’ali had a central role in recruiting foreign terrorist fighters and provoking terrorist attacks around the world,” the Pentagon said in a statement.

“As chief cleric to ISIS since 2014, he provided propaganda to incite murder and other atrocities, attempted to legitimize the creation of the ‘caliphate,’ and was a close confidant of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.”

A Bahraini national, Bin’ali, 32, also used his propaganda writings and recorded lectures to attempt to “justify and encouraging the slaughter of innocents.”

The terrorist leader was active in recruiting ISIS fighters from Persian Gulf states to join the terror group in Syria. He also was involved in funding operations and giving propaganda lectures in Syria. He also sought to recruit rival al Qaeda terrorist leaders to join ISIS.

RAMADAN THREAT: ISIS demands more attacks on Europe in chilling threat made on secretive messaging app used by jihadis

The Sun, by Danny Collins, June  13, 2017:

ISIS has called for jihadis to carry out more attacks like the London and Manchester atrocities during Ramadan.

The sick message, released yesterday on secret messaging app Telegram, praised recent attacks, including one on the Iranian parliament last week.

ISIS had called for more attacks on the West like the London Bridge terror attack. Here, terrorist Khuram Butt takes his last breath after being shot by police

Dozens were injured and eight killed when a van mowed down pedestrians before three men jumped out and began stabbing revellers

It is believed to have been personally sent out by ISIS head of propaganda, Abi al-Hassan al-Muhajer, the Mirror reports.

The audio statement said: “O lions of Mosul, Raqqa, and Tal Afar, God bless those pure arms and bright faces, charge against the rejectionists and the apostates and fight them with the strength of one man.

“To the brethren of faith and belief in Europe, America, Russia, Australia, and others.

“Your brothers in your land have done well so take them as role models and do as they have done.”

Would-be jihadists have used the secretive app to send messages to the group’s followers anonymously.

And its end-to-end encryption has left security services scrambling to find a means of tracking terror plots.

ISIS has already called for increased attacks during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan in its magazine Rumiyah.

Ramadan runs from 26 May to 24 June.

London Bridge attackers Khuram Butt, Rachid Redouane and Youssef Zaghba

ISIS has used encrypted messenger service Telegram to send out the twisted threats

Eight were killed in the London Bridge terror attack as pedestrians were mown down by a speeding hire truck before dozens were stabbed.

Authorities believes knife-wielding terrorists Youssef Zaghba, Khuram Butt and Rachid Redouane could have been brainwashed by hate preachers on YouTube

An attack on the Iranian parliament in Tehran last week saw 17 people killed in the first major attack on the country since 2010.

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ISIS vowed that the Manchester attack is a harbinger of what’s to come as Islamic State territory falls in Iraq and Syria and the terror group continues to “shift its focus towards carrying out attacks on Crusader soil.”

The terror group didn’t publish any new attack tactic tips in today’s new issue of their Rumiyah magazine, but teased to a special forthcoming publication about how their followers should observe the last 10 days of Ramadan, which ends the evening of June 24.

Analysis: The Islamic State’s first major terrorist attacks inside Iran


Note: A version of this article was first published by The Daily Beast.

A team of terrorists struck the Iranian Parliament and the tomb of Ayatollah Khomeini earlier today. At least 12 people were killed, according to Iran’s state media. Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps blamed Saudi Arabia, further escalating tensions in the region. The Islamic State (ISIS) quickly claimed responsibility for the assault via its Amaq News Agency, which released statements and a short video from one of the attacks as it was still ongoing. Amaq says that two suicide bombers detonated their explosive vests at Khomeini’s mausoleum, while inghimasis (well-trained fighters who “immerse” themselves in battle) raided the parliament.

The attack is a significant development, to grossly understate the matter. Tehran had long avoided being hit by the types of “martyrdom” operations that routinely rock the neighboring capitals of Baghdad and Kabul.

This is no accident. The Iranian government’s security services are ruthlessly effective at suppressing all forms of opposition, including both legitimate protesters and those with ill-intentions.

More important, perhaps, is the fact that the Iranian regime cut a secret deal with al Qaeda.

Osama Bin Laden’s organization and its spin-off, the so-called Islamic State, have fought against Iran’s proxies in Iraq and Syria for years. Killing Shiites is a blood sport for ISIS’s Sunni jihadists. And Abu Bakr al Baghdadi’s so-called caliphate reportedly has attempted to strike inside the mullahs’ country before. The group routinely agitates against the Iranians in its videos and propaganda statements. Yet, it wasn’t until now that ISIS successfully attacked the heart of Tehran.

Al Qaeda’s leadership long sought to rein in the anti-Shiite violence in Iraq. Ayman al Zawahiri, Osama bin Laden’s deputy and successor of emir of al Qaeda, even tried to persuade Abu Musab al Zarqawi, the founder of al Qaeda in Iraq, to stop targeting Shiite civilians. Zarqawi hoped to provoke a full scale, sectarian civil war in Iraq. When his men blew up the revered Golden Mosque in Samarra in 2006 they very nearly accomplished that goal. Despite the U.S. “surge” that averted complete disaster in the years that followed, sectarian violence has plagued Iraq ever since.

Zarqawi was killed in June 2006—less than a year after Zawahiri tried to convince him to stop targeting Shiite civilians. Zarqawi’s heirs continued his sectarian strategy inside Iraq. But until 2014, they abided by an order from al Qaeda’s leaders to avoid terrorist operations inside Iranian territory and against Shiites outside of Iraq. The two sides formally split in early 2014. At that point, the organization calling itself the Islamic State (ISIS) gained strength, waging a campaign against Shiites throughout the region—and accusing al Qaeda of being soft on them.

In May 2014, ISIS spokesman Abu Muhammad al Adnani, delivered a stinging rebuke of al Qaeda leaders that exposed their cozy relations with Tehran.

“Let history record that Iran owes al Qaeda invaluably,” Adnani bristled, saying he and his men had “complied with your [al Qaeda’s] request not to target [the Shiites] outside Iraq, in Iran and elsewhere.” Adnani, who was killed in an American airstrike last year, explained that ISIS was “acting upon the orders of al Qaeda to safeguard its interests and supply lines in Iran.”

After al Qaeda’s general command disowned ISIS in February 2014, Baghdadi and Adnani no longer considered themselves bound by al Qaeda leader Ayman al Zawahiri’s edicts. ISIS began launching indiscriminate attacks against Shiite Muslims far outside of Iraq, and it started eyeing operations inside Iran as well.

To this day, however, al Qaeda avoids attacks inside Iran—at least those that can be directly attributed to the organization. (It is possible that al Qaeda supports other regional groups that occasionally target Iranian security forces on their home turf.)

Files recovered during the May 2011 raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan explain this reticence. One of the documents corroborates Adnani’s testimony regarding al Qaeda’s orders.

In October 2007, bin Laden wrote a letter to the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI), the immediate predecessor to Baghdadi’s ISIS. The missive was likely addressed to Abu Hamza al-Muhajir (a.k.a. Abu Ayyub al Masri), who led the ISI at the time. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi took charge of this same group in 2010, after Abu Hamza was killed.

Bin Laden disapproved of the ISI’s threats against Iran. “I have a few remarks concerning the matter of your threats to Iran, and I hope that you and your brothers will accommodate it,” bin Laden wrote. The al Qaeda founder continued (emphasis added): “You did not consult with us on that serious issue that affects the general welfare of all of us. We expected you would consult with us for these important matters, for as you are aware, Iran is our main artery for funds, personnel, and communication, as well as the matter of hostages.”

Bin Laden was not against targeting Iran in principle. He simply thought the cost was too high and the benefits al Qaeda received from the relationship were significant.

The “main artery” bin Laden referenced was later targeted in a series of terrorist designations, reward offers and other official statements by the U.S. Treasury and State Departments.

In July 2011, Treasury first identified the al Qaeda leaders, including one known as Yasin al-Suri, who ran the facilitation network inside Iran at the time. Treasury explained that they operated under a formerly “secret deal” between the terror organization and the Iranian government. The Obama administration also referred to the Iranian hub as al Qaeda’s “core facilitation pipeline,” which allowed the jihadist organization to shuttle personnel and funds throughout the Middle East and South Asia. Al Qaeda operatives involved in plots targeting the West have moved through Iran as well.

The leadership of the network has evolved over time for several reasons. In December 2011, for instance, the State Department offered a $10 million reward for Suri, making him one of the most wanted terrorists on the planet. Al Qaeda was forced to reshuffle its deck and place another veteran in charge, but Suri eventually assumed command once again.

In the years that followed, several prominent al Qaeda figures in Iran went on to hold key positions elsewhere, including inside Syria. Indeed, designated terrorists such as Muhsin al-Fadhli and Sanafi al-Nasr, both of whom led the network in Iran for a time, became key players in the so-called “Khorasan Group.”

In 2014, the Obama administration ordered airstrikes targeting the “Khorasan Group,” saying that members of this al Qaeda wing were planning attacks in the West. Both Fadhli and Nasr were killed in American bombings in Syria.

The deal between al Qaeda and the Iranians has survived the wars in Syria and Yemen, despite the fact that they are on opposite sides in those bloody conflicts. It is one of the great curiosities in the jihadist world. There is no question that al Qaeda and Iran’s proxies are at each other’s throats in those countries. Al Qaeda has even kidnapped Iranian diplomats to force exchanges for senior jihadists and family members who were held in some form of custody inside Iran.

Still, even though the two sides frequently clash, their collusion is ongoing. In July 2016, for example, Treasury revealed that Abu Hamza al-Khalidi, al Qaeda’s “Military Commission Chief”—one of the most senior positions in the group—is located in Iran alongside some of his comrades. Another file recovered in bin Laden’s lair refers to Khalidi as part of a “new generation” of leaders groomed to replace their fallen comrades.

As Adnani’s May 2014 message demonstrated, ISIS has been keen to highlight al Qaeda’s unwillingness to strike Iran. The two Sunni jihadist groups remain at odds and ISIS wants to undermine al Qaeda’s legitimacy among Sunni fanatics who may not understand why bin Laden’s heirs would refrain from directly attacking Iran. Other files recovered in Abbottabad show that bin Laden devised plans to undermine Iran’s regional position. But this doesn’t go far enough for some.

According to Treasury, the predecessor to Abu Bakr al Baghdadi’s ISIS had its own relationship with Iranian intelligence during the height of America’s involvement in the Iraq War. But ISIS doesn’t remind its audience of this inconvenient fact. Instead, ISIS criticizes al Qaeda for its willingness to compromise with the Iranians.

In 2016, for example, ISIS’s Naba magazine carried a series of interviews with an al Qaeda defector known as Abu Ubaydah Al Lubnani, who claimed that “Iranian intelligence” was in complete control of al Qaeda’s safe houses inside the country. Interestingly enough, Lubnani himself transited through Iran to the lands of the self-declared caliphate after leaving al Qaeda’s ranks. But the purpose of Lubnani’s interviews was to indict ISIS’s rivals as being soft on the Iranians.

Other propaganda disseminated by ISIS has similarly sought to portray the group as the vanguard of Sunni opposition to Iranian-backed forces throughout the region.

There is no question that after today’s attacks inside Tehran, ISIS will ramp up its messaging along these lines. ISIS can finally claim to have brought the Sunni jihadists’ war to Iran, something al Qaeda has been unwilling to do.

[For a timeline of U.S. government designations and other statements concerning Iran’s agreement with al Qaeda, see FDD’s Long War Journal report: Treasury designates 3 senior al Qaeda members in Iran.]

Thomas Joscelyn is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Senior Editor for FDD’s Long War Journal.

Anti-Islamic State coalition begins Raqqah offensive

The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) General Command announces the beginning of the battle for Raqqa on June 6, 2017. (SDF photo)

Long War Journal, by Bill Roggio, June 6, 2017:

A coalition of anti-Islamic State groups backed by the United States has officially begun its assault on the jihadist-held city of Raqqah in northern Syria. Raqqah has been controlled by jihadist forces since 2013 and has become the de facto capital of the Islamic State inside Syria.

The US Department of Defense announced the commencement of the operation to liberate Raqqah in a news article on its website.

“The offensive would deliver a decisive blow to the idea of ISIS as a physical caliphate,” according to the DoD.

The push to take Raqqah is led by the Syrian Democratic Forces, which is largely comprised of the Kurdish YPG (or People’s Defense Units). The YPG is affiliated with the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which has been designated as a terrorist organization by the US government for terrorist attacks throughout Turkey. The Turkish government has opposed US support for the YPG.

The US military attempts to mitigate Turkish anger over the support of the YPG by emphasizing the “Syrian Arab Coalition’s” role in the offensive. However, there is no official group known as the Syrian Arab Coalition, it is merely the Arab component of the SDF.

The US military noted that it is “providing equipment, training, intelligence and logistics support, precision fires and battlefield advice” to the SDF for its Raqqah offensive. To emphaisize this point, the US military, in a separate press release that tallied air operations against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria noted that “24 strikes engaged 18 ISIS tactical units; destroyed 19 boats, 12 fighting positions, eight vehicles, a house bomb and a weapons storage facility; and suppressed an ISIS tactical unit” in and around Raqqah yesterday.

The SDF and the US have shaped the battlefield in northern Syria for months in preparation to advance on Raqqah. But the final push on Raqqah could not be launched until the SDF secured the town of Tabqa and its dam, which are located about 20 miles west. The SDF seized Tabqa on May 11 after six weeks of fighting.

The SDF now controls the terrain north of the Euphrates river from Tabqa all the way to the town of Madan, which is due east of Raqqah. Madan is south of the Euphrates, remains under control of the Islamic State. Raqqah is situated north of the Euphrates, so the SDF does not need to cross the river to take the city.

The fight for Raqqah takes place as Iraqi forces are making their final push to root out the Islamic State in Mosul. The Mosul offensive began six months ago, however, the Islamic State still controls pockets within the city.

While the US military insists that the loss of Raqqah and Mosul will deal a “a decisive blow” to the Islamic State, the group still controls a significant amount of terrain in both Syria and Iraq. The Islamic State still occupies a large area in central and southern Syria, and continues to besiege Syrian military forces in the city of Deir al Zour. The Islamic State controls all of the Euphrates River Valley south of Madan down to the Iraq towns of Rawa and Anah.

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD’s Long War Journal.

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IRAN ATTACK: ISIS claims responsibility for pair of assaults in Tehran

Fox News, June 7, 2017:

ISIS claimed responsibility for a pair of Wednesday attacks in Tehran in which suicide bombers and teams of gunmen stormed Iran’s parliament and the nearby shrine of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, killing at least 12 and injuring dozens of others.

This is the first attack orchestrated by ISIS in the Islamic Republic, SITE Intel Group reported. It wasn’t initially clear if the death count, reported by state broadcaster IRIB, included the attackers.

In a rare and stunning move, ISIS released video from inside the parliament building while the attack was under way.  The video, circulated online, shows a gunman and a bloody, lifeless body of a man lying on the ground next to a desk. A voice on the video praises God and says in Arabic: “Do you think we will leave? We will remain, God willing.” Another voice repeats the same words. The two appeared to be parroting a slogan used by IS spokesman Abu Mohammad al-Adnani, who was killed in Syria last year.

The parliament assault ended Wednesday morning with all four attackers there being killed.

One of the terrorists blew himself up inside the parliament building, where a session had been in progress, according to a statement carried by Iran state TV. It quoted lawmaker Elias Hazrati as saying the attackers were armed with Kalashnikov assault rifles.

An Associated Press reporter saw several police snipers on the rooftops of buildings around parliament. Shops in the area were shuttered, and gunfire could be heard. Witnesses said the attackers were shooting from the fourth floor of the parliament building down at people in the streets below.

“I was passing by one of the streets. I thought that children were playing with fireworks, but I realized people are hiding and lying down on the streets,” Ebrahim Ghanimi, who was around the parliament building when the assailants stormed in, told The Associated Press. “With the help of a taxi driver, I reached a nearby alley.”

Police helicopters circled over the parliament building and all mobile phone lines from inside were disconnected. The semi-official ISNA news agency said all entrance and exit gates at parliament were closed and that lawmakers and reporters were ordered to remain in place inside the chamber.

State TV reported four attackers were involved in the parliament attack.

Iran’s official state broadcaster said a security guard was killed and four people wounded in the shrine attack. It said one of the attackers at the shrine was killed by security guards and that a woman was arrested. It described the shrine attackers as “terrorists” and said one carried out a suicide bombing, without providing further details.

In addition to being lethal, the attack on the shrine of Khomeini is symbolically stunning. As Iran’s first Supreme Leader, Khomeini is a towering figure in the country and was its revolutionary leader in the 1979 ouster of the shah.


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And Now Jihad in Australia…


Jihadist Yacqub Khayre, KIA by Australian police

Terror Trends  Bulletin, by Christopher  Holton, June 5, 2017:

We can now add Melbourne, Australia to the long list of Western cities victimized by jihad during the Muslim “holy” month of Ramadan.

Late yesterday afternoon, Yacqub Khayre, 29, an Australian citizen of Somali descent–who came to Australia as a child refugee at the age of 4–killed one innocent victim and took another hostage before being killed by police in a shootout and siege that lasted some 2 hours.

Khayre killed a Chinese-Australian man in the lobby of an apartment building in the affluent  Brighton area of Melbourne. He then took a woman hostage in the building. Within two hours he was shot dead by police after opening fire on them.

Initial reports of the incident indicated that it was not “terrorist-related,” however those reports turned out to be inaccurate.

It turns out that Khayre called a local television station during the stand-off stating, “This is for the Islamic State, this is for Al-Qaeda.”

Subsequently, the Islamic State media arm, Amaq, claimed credit for the attack, stating,””The executor of the Melbourne attack in Australia is a soldier of the Islamic State and he carried out the attack in response to appeals to target citizens of coalition states.”

Once again, it turns out that Yacqub Khayre was known to authorities, had a long history of violence, had previously been charged with a terror offense but acquitted and was known to have connections in the past, with “violent extremists,” (which is of course a misnomer for Jihadists)


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More Information Emerges on Foreign Jihadi Fighters in the Philippines

Terror Trends Bulletin, by Christopher Holton, June 1, 2017:

A couple of years ago the Philippine government THOUGHT that they were making progress in ending the long-raging Islamic insurgency on Mindanao.

Clearly, efforts to negotiate a truce with Jihadists there did not work out so well.

Entering into truces with Jihadis is never a good idea for reasons based on Islamic doctrine but in this case, the insurgency reignited for other reasons as well.

Just a few years ago the players in the Jihadist insurgency were the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MIF), Abu Sayaff, Jemaah Islamiyah, and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF).

Then something significant happened: in the summer of 2014, at least a section of Abu Sayyaf pledged allegiance to the Islamic State:

Now, in 2017, violent Jihad in the Philippines has escalated to the point that Islamic State Jihadis were able to seize a city of 200,000 for the better part of a week.

The biggest aspect of this development is the revelation that there are foreign fighters involved in the fighting in the Philippines. In fact, given the geographic distribution of the reported foreign fighters, as well as the intensity of the fighting there over the past 10 days, one has to consider that it is very possible that the Islamic State has set its sights on the Philippines as the next theater in the global Jihadist insurgency.

“Indonesians, Malaysians, Pakistanis, Saudis, Chechens, Yemenis, Indians, Moroccans, and Turks have been identified among the militants…”

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