During 2017 Sunni jihadist militant groups, particularly the Islamic State (IS), will increase their efforts to conduct asymmetric acts of militancy in notable locations, such as Western countries. With regards to IS, the jihadist group has persistently been losing territories in its strongholds across the Middle East and North Africa, namely Libya, Iraq, and Syria, and is anticipated to witness further setbacks in this region over the coming months. As a result of this, by carrying out notable and high-profile acts of militancy, especially in regions that rarely witness such activity, the Sunni jihadist militant group is liable to project an image of expansion and resilience, in light of the abovementioned setbacks. Such attacks are most likely to include stabbings, vehicular attacks, and active shootings by “lone wolf” IS-inspired militants, as highlighted by the December 2016 vehicular attack in Berlin targeting a Christmas Market, resulting in the deaths of 12 people. The ability to attract such sympathizers may increase over the coming year, as rising anti-Muslim sentiments across the West may alienate such communities and potentially contribute to radicalization.
Meanwhile, in addition to the threat of lone-wolf attacks, IS and al-Qaeda still liable to use their contacts in the West, with supporters, those who returned from Syria and Iraq, and possibly some refugees, to attempt to plan a more high-profile attack. These tend to be more impactful and may involve several individuals working together in different cities, or in different parts of a city, as was the case in the November 2015 attacks in Paris. That said, these attacks, while usually more high profile and incurring greater casualties, tend to be much rarer. Indeed, as unsophisticated attacks by mere supporters of the group have proven successful with the use of fewer resources, it is possible that IS leaders may increasingly focus on these forms of attack, which are harder to detect and prevent.
Moreover, as increasingly witnessed over the past several months, IS will likely bolster its propaganda efforts, while further defaming its rivals, in order to boost its image among supporters and fighters. These are liable to include the detailed publication, both graphically and textually, of high-profile acts of militancy, as well as alleged aggressive actions against civilian populations by the Sunni jihadist militant group’s adversaries, particularly in Syria and Iraq.
Meanwhile, on-the-ground, in regions that IS still maintains significant control over territories, the group may shift its overall strategy towards more local-based support, as opposed to their heavy reliance on foreign fighters in recent years. This can chiefly be attributed to the logistical difficulties of IS-inspired individuals to reach the Sunni jihadist militant group’s controlled territories, given the nearly-complete closure of the Syrian-Turkish border and the strict measures in airports and crossing points across the globe.
Lastly, report assesses that al-Qaeda will likely continue implementing its ongoing strategy of “Sabr” (“Patience”), a jihadist term referring to the necessity of building a grassroots and strong local support base, prior to the establishment of a caliphate, as opposed to IS’s strategy thus far. With this in mind, while notable asymmetric attacks by this prominent jihadist group in new areas remain possible, its main focus is liable to remain in regions where it maintains an already strong support base, such as Yemen, Somalia, Mali, and Pakistan.
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