The men were to form classic sleeper cells, and wait for orders. Isis leaders saw opportunity wherever it may arise, but this new wave would place emphasis on wreaking havoc in Italy, Belgium, France, Germany and the UK.
“They said the UK was the hardest to get to,” one Isis member said. “But Belgium was easy. Spain was also mentioned, but not as much as the rest.”
In the past six months, Isis has lost roughly 30% of the area it controlled in the heady summer months of 2014. By the end of this year, it is likely to have lost significantly more than that. Palmyra, one of its prized catches, is under imminent threat of recapture by a conglomerate of Russian, Iranian and Syrian forces. And Mosul, where the Isis insurrection in Syria morphed into a phenomenon that imperilled the regional order, is under increasing threat from regrouping US-backed Iraqi forces.
Isis now contends that geography was a means to its ultimate ends, which were always to spread its influence far and wide. The group’s most senior leaders, among them the still recuperating Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, are implacably ideological, convinced of their role as custodians of an ultra-radical reading of Islamic teachings and compelled to fight anyone who does not submit to their world view.