On 12 and 13 June 2016, two terrorist attacks claimed by the Islamic State (also known as ISIS) reminded the Western population, with immediate impact on the U.K. “Brexit” polls (see below), that the war waged against them and all non-Salafis had not ended. The first attack took place against a gay nightclub in Orlando, U.S., killing 50 and wounding 48 people (e.g. BBC News, 13 June 2016). The second occurred in Magnanville, France (e.g. BBC News, 14 June 2016). There, a jihadi stabbed to death a police commanding officer, who was coming back from work, then killed the police officer’s partner under the eyes of their three and half boy in their home.

The attacks generated political reactions showing that the debate has polarised but without truly evolving since the first recent attention grabbing jihadi terror attack in the West, i.e the Charlie Hebdo attacks in France in January 2015 (e.g. for a summary, Wikipedia).

In the U.S., President Obama (Remarks, White House, 12 June 2016) denounced the “Orlando shooting”, but refused to attribute it to the Islamic State and to Salafism. He preferred to concentrate on themes such as gun control and civil rights (Ibid.). At the other end of the spectrum, presumptive Republican presidential nominee Trump denounced similarly attacks on the civil rights of the LGBT community but, first and foremost, stressed the attack was part of “radical Islamic terrorism”, allowed by a “dysfunctional immigration system” and an “incompetent administration” (Trump remarks on Orlando, Transcript, Time Magazine, 13 June 2016). This prompted a counter-attack by President Obama, who fundamentally moved to carry out an “extraordinary denunciation” of Trump because of his answer to the Orlando attacks, meanwhile insisting that “calling a threat by different names does not make it go away” (CNN14 June 2016New York Times, Editorial, “Mr. Obama’s Powerful Words About Terrorism“,  14 June 2016). The American people has become prey to the ongoing presidential electoral process and to a polarised ideological approach to a specific threat, which seems actually to be spreading throughout the West.

If, in France, the terrorist character of the attacks was stressed, President Hollande refused, surprisingly, to name the Islamic State using instead a periphrasis about an “organisation”, then stressing the need for cooperation against terrorism in general, as well as linkages to trafficking (video, 14 June 2016 M6 Info). However, here, the potential ideological politicisation of attacks is most probably greatly kept in check by the Republican independence of the judiciary, notably as incarnated by Procureur de Paris François Molins (the highest ranking official in charge of enquiry regarding terrorism in France – press conference, video itélé, 14 June 2016). Molins communicated as usual frankly and honestly about the progress of the enquiry, including all necessary elements to allow for understanding, from the Islamic State’s propaganda calls to the fact that the terrorist was a devout Muslim and that he had pledged allegiance to al-Baghdadi, to the number and titles of the religious books the perpetrator held (Ibid.).

In the midst of the confusion and of the caricatural debate according to which we would have the choice only between hiding the Salafi character of these terrorist attacks because they would be understood as “Islamophobia”, on the one hand, or focusing on immigration mainly as a universal panacea, on the other hand, Molins shows us the way forward towards finding a new and third way.  We must assess coldly the threat first with all its components, before to look for solutions second. This article (the assessment) and the next (possible ways forward) are a contribution to this endeavour.

With this article, we shall first stress that, despite an apparent but false lull, the Islamic State is still a threat with ongoing huge impacts, including almost certainly heavily weighing on the result of the British elections regarding the “Brexit”, should polls be trusted. Had all those surprised by the “Brexit” considered the Islamic State threat and done proper foresight as advocated here, rather than relying on betting, then they would not have been surprised by the result of the British referendum. We shall then turn to the identification of the main elements that characterise the possible terrorist attacks the Islamic State may carry outside the main battlefields (i.e. outside Mesopotamia, Libya, Yemen, Nigeria, Afghanistan).

The false lull: the Islamic State is still a threat, with huge impacts

The potential shock that the two terrorist attacks in Orlando and in Magnanville generated was most probably all the greater that the Islamic State had all but disappeared from mainstream media. Furthermore, when the Khilafah was mentioned, it was most of the time to stress – correctly – how much it was losing ground. Neither the uncertainty inherent to war, nor the potential consequences of the battles taking place on the ground in Mesopotamia, Libya, Nigeria, Cameroun or Niger were, most of the time, stressed (e.g for recent attacks in Niger, among others see “Niger says Boko Haram growing stronger“, TV360 Nigeria, 19 June 2016).

Google trends, as shown below, gives us an indication of the worldwide loss of interest for the topic, with which may only come a lack of concern.

The various labels used for the Islamic State over time. The three peaks show respectively the first beheading, Charlie Hebdo attacks and the 15 November attacks in Paris.
Google trends comparing the various labels used for the Islamic State over time. The three peaks show respectively the first beheading, Charlie Hebdo attacks and the 13 November attacks in Paris.
The yellow curve, 2016, shows for the first 6 months a interest which is much lower than for 2015 and only slight above 2014 (before the declaration of the Khilafah)
The yellow curve, 2016, shows for the first 6 months an interest that is much lower than for 2015 (red curve) and only slight above 2014 (blue curve), before the declaration of the Khilafah.
The trend shown with ISIS is accentuated when using as keyword "Islamic State", including because there was no such thing as the Islamic State before the declaration of the Khilafah thus for the first semester 2014.
The trend shown with ISIS is accentuated when using as keyword “Islamic State”, including because there was no such thing as “the Islamic State” before the declaration of the Khilafah, thus for the first semester 2014.

If we take as indication search on Google, it would thus appear that populations located outside the direct zones of war – as defined classically – have been held in a lull, willingly or unwillingly.

Yet, even if the Islamic State is fighting on the ground in its main wilayat while losing territory, as shown on the map below, first it is still fighting, and second, it is still carrying out global terror attacks (for an explanation of the Islamic State administrative structure and its efforts at state-building, H. Lavoix, Understanding the Islamic State’s System – Structure and Wilayat, 4 May 2015 and following articles of the series). For example, the New York Times  maintains a quite accurate historical database of all the terror attacks carried out by the Islamic State and of the numbers of people killed (Karen Yourish, Derek Watkins, Tom Giratikanon and Jasmine C. Lee, updated 14 June 2016).

the Philippines, ISIS, IS, Islamic State, ISIL
Advertisement image for the video by The Islamic State: “The Solid Edifice – The Philippines”

Note, however, for example, that attacks in the Philippines,  as well as those in Niger, or the latest terrorist attacks in Libya are missing from the database (see, for a backgrounder, on the Philippines H. Lavoix “At War against a Global Islamic State – from the Philippines and Indonesia to Bangladesh“, RTAS, 11 January 2016; Caleb Weiss, “Abu Sayyaf Group battalion defects to Islamic State“, 22 March 2016, “Islamic State-loyal groups claim attacks on Filipino military“, 28 May 2016; “Islamic State details activity in the Philippines“, 12 June 2016, The Long War Journal); for Niger, see above, for Libya, e.g. “Libyan forces killed in suicide attack outside SirteAl Jazeera, 16 June 2016; Tweet, 20 June 2016 Terrormonitor.org).

Islamic State, ISIS map, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, war, ISIL
The Islamic State held territory in Mesopotamia (Syria, Iraq and Lebanon) – 3 June 2016 – by Wikipedia – Click to access large original image.

Indeed, the Islamic State’s vision and thus strategy are global, as established throughout our detailed series of articles over 2015 (see, notably, Worlds War and Ultimate War; for a list of articles, Portal to the Islamic State War, RTAS – see these articles for references to many other authors). Europol’s assessment following the Paris November attacks, for example, confirmed our estimation and understanding (“Changes in modus operandi of Islamic State terrorist attacks“, 18 January 2016: p.3). Furthermore, as we warned (23 Nov 2015), failure to consider the global character of the Islamic State and the global theatre of war could also lead to more or, to the least, continuing terrorist attacks:

“Failure to do so [considering the global character of the Islamic State], even in the case of a complete success on the Syrian and Iraqi front, assuming this is possible without considering the larger theatre of war, could leave the world either with the same problem as explained above, or, in an apparently better case scenario, with rampaging armed groups or dispersed armed fighters that would have the potential to sow instability in very various areas. It would also leave pockets of discontent, including religiously-based and extremist groups, which would go underground and could then re-emerge later, possibly transformed, maybe in a worse guise.” (H. Lavoix, “At War against the Islamic State – A Global Theatre of War“, RTAS, 23 November 2015)

Despite politician approaches, many countries state’s administrations seem to be aware of the threat ahead, as again emphasised by CIA director Brennan in his statement delivered to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence on 16 June 2016 (CIA):

“ISIL, however, is a formidable, resilient, and largely cohesive enemy, and we anticipate that the group will adjust its strategy and tactics in an effort to regain momentum… To compensate for territorial losses, ISIL will probably rely more on guerrilla tactics, including high-profile attacks outside territory it holds.” (CIA Director John O. Brennan, 16 June 2016).

Nonetheless, considering terrorist attacks’ impacts, is such an awareness as well as the classical security approach enough and sufficient? Is it possible to keep citizens outside of the war when they do risk their lives? May the corporate world accept to believe in the false lull when their business and activities will be impacted by any terrorist attack?

At a collective level, a measure of the directness of the impact of terrorist attacks may be given by the surveys on the referendum for or against the exit of the United Kingdom from the European Union, the “Brexit”, as well as on the final vote leading to the historic decision by the British people to leave the European Union, even though, of course, many other elements were at stake. Right after the Orlando’s attacks, the surveys in the U.K. swung in favour of the “Leave”: Yougov (12 to 13 June for Times), ICM Unlimited (10 to 13 June for The Guardian), Orb International (8 to 12 June for The Daily Telegraph – note that this poll, taken over a longer period of time and ending on the day of Orlando shows less swing towards “Leave”). The murder of Member of Parliament Jo Cox and its effect on the campaign, seemed to have the opposite effect, but in a lesser way (e.g. Yougov/Sunday Times 16 June 2016; Simon Kennedy,  “First Brexit Poll Since Jo Cox Killing Has ‘Remain’ in Lead“, Bloomberg, 18 June 2016).

Thus, as pointed out for example by Robert Colvile (Politico, 23 March 2016), or by former European Central Bank chief economist Otmar Issing (Reuters, 10 June 2016), terrorist attacks including outside the U.K. are one of the most likely event to fully change the result of the referendum. Considering the string of consequences that will result from the exit from the European Union, the severity of the impact of terrorist attacks, at all levels, may not be stressed enough.

This swing in the U.K. survey underscores what is at stake here, and that part of Western societies tend to have forgotten. What matters most to people is to stay alive. Besides simple good sense, Abraham Maslow, Motivation and Personality (1954) showed when establishing his human beings’ hierarchy of psychological needs (physiological, safety, belonging, esteem, self-actualisation), that safety needs were second only to the simplest physiological needs (eating, drinking, breathing). If the lower needs on the hierarchy are not fulfilled, then, psychologically – save for a few enlightened individuals having reached self-actualisation and assuming no psychopathy is at work, either individually or collectively  – human beings’ needs fall down the ladder, back to those unsatisfied needs (ibid.).

For the corporate world, ongoing terrorist attacks by the Islamic State – or others – will thus also have huge specific impacts, as people will change the way they behave, thus consume and conduct business, with ripple effects from one activity to another. In the light of the surprise that obviously gripped so many actors with the result of the U.K. “Brexit” vote, and which led to a staggering “global equity loss of over $2 trillion” because of wrong market positions, according according to Standard & Poor’s Dow Jones Indices, it is obvious that corporate actors must change their approach (Tim McLaughlin, “Brexit baffled punters, pundits and fund managers to the very end“, Reuters, 25 June 2016; Edward Krudy, “Post-Brexit global equity loss of over $2 trillion worst ever – S&P“, Reuters, 27 June 2016. They must fully integrate strategic foresight methodologies that consider geopolitical risks before to take positions and decisions. Had they done that, then the “Brexit” would not have been a surprise, but a highly likely scenario.

For political authorities, as their fundamental mission is to provide security (see, notably, Moore, 1978), being finally unable to do so will also have severe impacts. Fundamentally, the legitimacy of these political authorities will be questioned (Ibid.). It is highly probable that we are here seeing one of the major causes of the polarization currently at work.

Characteristics and what it means for the population to face a global war

Using the work previously done to understand the Islamic State we shall now identify the characteristics of the related terrorist threat for the population at large.

Everyone is in danger

First, the Islamic State blurs, indeed suppresses, the ideal line separating combatants from civilians (“Ultimate War“, Ibid.), and carries out the disappearance of this differentiation to such an extreme that everyone becomes not only an enemy but also an enemy one ought to kill by any means (see H. Lavoix, “The Islamic State and Terrorist Attacks: License to Kill“, 4 April 2016). Only children below 15 years old – and some exceptions may be found – remain relatively safe (Ibid.).

Thus everyone may be a target and attacked. This means that everyone is in danger, and, ideally, everyone should be protected.

The grim specter of civil war: the attacks may come from everyone

Meanwhile, all “citizens” of the Islamic State are de facto fighters, who ought to kill enemies (Ultimate War). The duty to fight and kill increases with the threat to the existence of the Islamic State and its Khilafah. In such instances, women also have a duty to carry out jihad, as pointed out in “Women in the Islamic State: Manifesto and Case Study” (Islamic State Al-Khanssaa Brigade’s media wing, 23 January 2015, translated by Charlie Winter, Quillian Foundation: 22).  As a result, and because we are in the case where the Islamic State existence is indeed threatened in Mesopotamia and Libya, we may expect, renewed commitment to attacks by all Islamic State members (the muwahhidin (Muslims) have even more a duty to be mujahidin), including by women.

ISIS, ISIL, India, Islamic State
Still from – “Selected 10 Videos From the Provinces of The Islamic State – May/June 2016”

Through the global and encompassing character of the Islamic State’s beliefs, indeed the very claim at the root of the Islamic State’s existence, all Muslims ought to pledge allegiance to the Khalifah (currently Abu Bakr al Baghdadi). If they do not do so, then they are considered as even worse than Christians, they are kafir, i.e. “pronounced by the Islamic State as unbelievers (kafir), no longer Muslims” (see detailed explanations in “Ultimate War“, Ibid.) They thus become specific targets for Islamic State’s fighters.

Accordingly, when the Khilafah spokesman al-Adnani calls Muslims to kill non-believers and attack them in their land, as he did again for the 2016 Ramadan, besides galvanising fighters to fight to the end in the name of Allah only, al-Adnani indeed, speaks to all Muslims as the Islamic State’s imagine them, wherever they are (Audio statement by IS-spokesman Abu Muhammad al-‘Adnani as-Shami “And Those Who Lived [In Faith] Would Live Upon Evidence“, Al Hayat Translation (pdf), via Pietervanostayen, 21 May 2016):

“Ramadan has come near, and it is the month of raids and jihad, the month of conquest. Prepare yourselves and get ready. Let each of you hope that he passes it fighting for Allah’s cause, seeking and hoping for Allah’s reward. Let all of you make it, by Allah’s permission, a month of suffering for the kuffar everywhere; and we specifically direct this to soldiers and supports of the Khilafah in Europe and America.

O slaves of Allah, O muwahhiddin! If the tawaghit have shut the door of hijrah in your faces, then open the door of jihad in theirs. Truly, the smallest act you do in their lands is more beloved to us than the biggest act done here; it is more effective for us and more harmful to them. If one of you wishes and strives to reach the lands of the Islamic State, then each of us wishes to be in your place to make examples of the crusaders, day and night, scaring them and terrorizing them, until every neighbor fears his neighbor. If one of you is unable, then do not make light of throwing a stone at a crusader in his land, and do not underestimate any deed, as its consequences are great for the mujahidin and its effect is noxious to the disbelievers. ” al-‘Adnani as-Shami, “That They Live by Proof”, al-Hayat Media Center, p.12-13.

This does not say anything on the answer Muslims will give, but al-Adnani’s call remains nonetheless, with the implicit – or explicit – specific threat, that if Muslims do not comply they will be declared apostate and killed.

This means that all those who live outside the Islamic State’s ideological boundaries, Muslims and non-Muslims alike, cannot identify easily potential enemy fighters – those fighting for the Islamic State – through external criteria. The logical external criteria that would be allegiance to al-Baghdadi – assuming it is easy to identify – is not sufficient because sometimes, as in Orlando, the explicit allegiance is done almost simultaneously with the attack (e.g. Thomas Jocelyn, The Long War Journal, 20 June 2016).

We are fully into the tragic conditions of civil war, where a nice neighbour may turn out to remain nice (e.g. among many other witness interviews, Reuters, “Brussels Suicide Bomber Najim Laachraoui’s Brother: ‘He Was a Nice Boy’“,  24 March 2016; Tom Burgis, “Paris attacks: Samy Amimour, the ‘nice guy’ who became a jihadi“, Financial Times, 19 Nov 2015), yet wanting to kill us because of his or her specific beliefs, and acting out the threat because he or she ought to.

Permanent and omnipresent danger

Third, one of the crucial specificities of the Islamic State’s threat – and of the Salafi-Jihadi’s one more generally –  is that it carries the war wherever and whenever it thinks its version of Islam is under threat, as again reasserted by al-Adnani in May 2016 (see above and see the idea of ribat, explained in “Ultimate War“). Thus, alertness, must remain constant and global.

These characteristics determine the various types of terrorist attacks we are now used to face. The attacks are best understood as located somewhere on an axis between two extreme ideal-type terrorist attacks (e.g Europol, Ibid). At one extremity, we have what could be termed classical terrorist attacks organised through cells with or without the physical presence of fighters trained and sent from Islamic State’s wilayat, including the famous 1500 foreign fighters who are likely to be back in Europe (Europol, Ibid., U.S. General Breedlove, Commander of the U.S. European Command and NATO, Transcript News Conference, 1 March 2016). Instances of these attacks are the 13 November Paris attacks, or the Brussels attacks (e.g. “November 2015 Paris attacks“, “2016 Brussels bombings“, Wikipedia). These attacks are usually of a larger scope and more deadly.

At the other extremity, we have attacks that a single individual or a few of them can carry out, without needing a complex degree of direct support, typically called “lone actor attacks” (Europol, ibid.) or “lone wolf attacks” (among many others, Bates, “Dancing With Wolves…“, 2012) Instances of such attacks vary widely – indeed the fully solitary character of the attack is often contested – and can go from the Sousse attacks in Tunisia (June 2015) to the Orlando Shooting (June 2016, Ibid.) to ramming people in the street with a car, as in Dijon in France (Dec 2014, Le Parisien), or in Salon de Provence, there targeting militaries (January 2016, Le Monde, even if there the authorities decided it was not a terrorist attack), to stabbing policemen, as in Magnanville (Ibid.), or any individual belonging to target groups as defined by the Islamic State and then re-imagined by the jihadi/perpetrator, as in Bangladesh (NYT Database, Ibid.; “At War against a Global Islamic State – from the Philippines and Indonesia to Bangladesh“, ibid.) , to any idea that can cross the mind of the Islamic State jihadi.

ISIS India, India, Islamic State, ISIL, terrorism
Still from – “Selected 10 Videos From the Provinces of The Islamic State – May/June 2016”

Countries and societies concerned by potential attacks are as much those where Sunni Islam is the most widespread faith, such as Bangladesh, Morocco, Egypt or Tunisia, or the Gulf countries, as countries where there is also a large part of the population following Shi’a Islam such as Lebanon, Pakistan, Iraq, India or Syria, or countries where the religious affiliation is multiple such as many Western countries, Russia, China, India again, Singapore or the Philippines.

The sheer number of possibilities for the terrorist attacks, as well as the immense potential numbers and characteristics of jihadis/perpetrators constitute major challenges for security services in their fight against terrorism. They indeed cannot follow all people who have previously been identified as potentially dangerous, while, as we shall see in the follow-up article, early identification of potential perpetrators is fraught with even more challenges. As a result, if security services cannot succeed alone when people still need to be protected, it seems that the only way forward is to fully involve people in their own defence.

In the next article, we shall examine a few ways forward and options, which will consider the various elements identified above and full involvement of populations.

Featured image: from the Islamic State video “You Are Not Held Responsible Except For Yourself – Wilāyat al-Furāt”, 19 June 2016, published after the Orlando and Magnanville attacks – via Jihadology.net.

About the author: Helene Lavoix, PhD Lond (International Relations), is the Director of The Red (Team) Analysis Society. She is specialised in strategic foresight and warning for national and international security issues.


Moore, B., Injustice: Social bases of Obedience and Revolt, (London: Macmillan, 1978).

Bates, Rodger A. (2012) “Dancing With Wolves: Today’s Lone Wolf Terrorists,” The Journal of Public and Professional Sociology: Vol. 4:
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