After the terrorist attacks this weekend, President Barack Obama acknowledged a link between the central Islamic State and lone bad actors, even as the administration has frequently drawn a distinction in the past.
National security experts believe terror attacks “inspired” by the radical groups are just as dangerous—potentially more so—than if ISIS draws up the plan of attack.
The independent bad actors are clearly “executing the will of the organization,” said Bill Roggio, the editor of The Long War Journal.
“ISIS says, if you can’t come down here and fight with us, fight at home, it might even be better,” Roggio, also a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, told The Daily Signal in a phone interview. “ISIS and al-Qaeda are a greater movement where in many cases these people pledge their allegiance to the groups.”
Roggio noted the attacks in New York and New Jersey are certainly similar to past terror attacks.
“The attack patterns follow the past patterns; a bomb in a populated area, similar to Boston. The execution was sloppy. but the planning and coordination were good,” Roggio said.
For ISIS this is free lunch,” @JJCarafano says.
Over the weekend, a pipe bomb exploded at the location where a charity race for Marines and sailors was set to take place later in New Jersey. No one was harmed because the area was empty at the time of the explosion. Also, a pressure cooker filled with shrapnel—similar to what was used in the 2013 Boston Marathon attack—exploded in the Chelsea area of Manhattan, where 29 people were injured.
Additionally, in St. Cloud, Minnesota, a man stabbed eight people at a shopping center, talking about Allah and Islam. All of the victims survived. The attacker was shot and killed by an off-duty police officer before he could harm anyone else. The Islamic State claimed credit for the attack.
But there is no evidence that any of the attacks were linked to a foreign terror organization or cell.
Obama addressed the weekend’s terror attacks on Monday in New York ahead of the United Nations General Assembly meeting, asserting the Islamic State is losing. Obama said:
We will continue to lead the global coalition in the fight to destroy ISIL, which is instigating a lot of people over the internet to carry out attacks. We are going to continue to go after them. We’re going to take out their leaders. We’re going to take out their infrastructure. They are continuing to lose ground in Iraq and in Syria … As we take away more of their territory, it exposes ISIL as the failed cause that it is, and it helps to undermine their ideology, which over time will make it harder for them to recruit and inspire people to violence.
In July, CNN host Jake Tapper challenged Secretary of State John Kerry’s insistence that the Islamic State is “on the run,” pointing out several terrorist attacks that were inspired by the Sunni militant group.
Kerry responded, “It depends on where you mean ISIS,” drawing a distinction between an inspired attack and one plotted and carried out by the central organization.
“If people are inspired, they’re inspired, but ISIL which is based in Syria is under huge pressure and that is just a fact … If you’re saying that one person standing up one day and killing people is a reflection of ISIS moving in Iraq and Syria, I think you’re dead wrong.”
In two high-profile cases this summer, an ISIS-inspired attacker killed 49 in Orlando and another ISIS-inspired attacker murdered 84 in Nice, France, during a Bastille Day celebration.
Inspired attacks are actually worse, argued James Carafano, vice president for the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute at The Heritage Foundation.
“It is way worse when an organization doesn’t have to invest its assets and infrastructure, and can simply outsource terror for free,” Carafano told The Daily Signal. “The notion that ISIS didn’t draw up the attack plans so we are somehow better off is utterly stupid. For ISIS this is free lunch.”
The Islamic State is still able to energize people to join its fight, which demonstrates that the United States and the West haven’t sufficiently weakened the group to the point that it is perceived as weak, Carafano said.
“The inspired attacks show that ISIS is able to take the fight to the enemy and hurt the enemy when people are acting on its behalf,” Carafano said.
In some respects, if anyone is winning, it would be the Islamic State by virtue of still being in existence after two years of fighting with the United States and other powerful Western countries, said Jim Hanson, executive vice president at the Center for Security Policy, a national security think tank.
“Whether it is al-Qaeda or ISIS, this is a civil jihad movement that doesn’t have to have a hierarchy like a Fortune 500 corporation, it’s the ideology that links them,” Hanson said in a phone interview with The Daily Signal.
“The ideology links them enough to say online, ‘If you believe as we do in Sharia law and that Islam should dominate, you are one of us,’” Hanson, a former Army Special Forces sergeant, added.