At the same time, ISIL is also a millenarian cult with global terrorist ambitions. A number of existing terrorist organizations have pledged allegiance and become “wilayat” or provinces, among them the Sinai Province in Egypt; Barqa, Tripoli, and Fezzan Provinces in Libya; Khorasan Province in Afghanistan and Pakistan; and Boko Haram’s West Africa Province in Nigeria. We can expect provinces to continue to spread into lawless or poorly governed areas. Volunteers are coming to the Islamic State by the tens of thousands, enticed by the chance to live in the only “place on the face of the Earth where the Shari’ah of Allah is implemented and the rule is entirely for Allah,” as well as the promise of sex, violence and money. Many of them will end up serving as cannon fodder. While many experts focus on ISIL’s narrative of victory, I see a narrative of overcoming humiliation, and a chance to recover lost dignity. This narrative is meant to appeal to all the world’s oppressed.
A principle source of the threat to the West is that ISIL and its Salafi jihadi ideology have metastasized into the banlieues of Europe. It appeals, in ISIL’s words, to the people “drowning in oceans of disgrace, being nursed on the milk of humiliation, and being ruled by the vilest of all people.” To those oppressed, ISIL promises the chance “to remove the garments of dishonor, and shake off the dust of humiliation and disgrace, for the era of lamenting and moaning has gone and the dawn of honor has emerged anew. The sun of jihad has risen.”
With the Paris attacks ISIL has taken this challenge to a whole new level. Until now, we have mostly seen relatively unsophisticated self-starters, inspired by ISIL’s ideology but not directed by its leadership. But it was only a matter of time before ISIL would be able to coordinate attacks outside its territory. To do so requires not only trained labor and weaponry, but most importantly intelligence and counter-intelligence, the latter greatly enhanced by a Snowden-inspired anti-surveillance mood. We are likely to see ISIL-trained operatives working together with local personnel, who know the targeted city or facility. Over time, we will likely see more use of insiders, as we may have seen in the explosion of the Russian airliner on October 31st.