Category: The Islamic State

The Psychological Impact of the Islamic State Terrorist Attacks – Geopolitics, Uncertainties and Business (6)

This article is part of a series seeking to identify the impacts of the current and most probably forthcoming Islamic State and jihadist terrorist attacks and focuses on major socio-psychological consequences. It follows a first article, which started outlining a framework for impact assessment out of our current understanding of the economic consequences of terrorism, which notably pointed out the need to use mapping as methodology if the complex and cascading characters of these impacts are to be properly assessed. The larger aim of the series is notably to understand if businesses should or not neglect these aggressions and related geopolitical uncertainties, while finding out ways to foresee these risks so as to best design answers (see Helene Lavoix, “Businesses and Geopolitics: Caught up in the Whirlwinds? (1)”, The Red (Team) Analysis Society, 17 Oct 2016)

To find out which could be the psychological impacts of the ongoing string of terrorist attacks, we shall use articles related to 9/11 as well as studies following the second Intifada, which took place in Israel from the end of September 2000 until the beginning of 2005 and was waged by “Palestinian terrorism on Israeli society” (Dov Waxman, “Living with terror, not Living in Terror: The Impact of Chronic Terrorism on Israeli Society“, Perspectives on Terrorism, Vol 5, No 5-6 (2011). Each case will bring insights in what we could expect in terms of current and future socio-psychological impacts, although differences with the contemporary and forthcoming Islamic State’s and jihadist attacks should not be understated. Notably, 9/11 was a huge shock and a very large and spectacular multiple attack, but happened only once and only to one country. The Second Intifada, although targeting too a single country, taking place on a much smaller territory and aiming at a smaller population, compared with the current and probably near-future situation, should give us an insight into the consequences of attacks repeatedly waged over time and carried out in very various ways when, as outlined by Waxman, “once innocuous items (drinks, shoes, backpacks) can become the means of deadly attacks”.

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We shall first explain the disconnection existing between direct exposure to the attack, objective threat and socio-psychological impacts, i.e. how people are impacted psychologically even though they are not in the immediate vicinity of the attack and how this phenomenon takes place. This will allow us better envisioning who can be impacted. We shall then turn to the more individual harmful psychological consequences of terror attacks, from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) to depression and insomnia and their impacts on businesses through impaired professional life. This will notably allow us pointing out that a crucial stakeholder for the corporate sector in terms of considering the Islamic State’s and Jihadist terrorist attacks and thus related geopolitical uncertainties is the department of human resources, which must thus be primarily involved, besides other more obvious departments such as security, risks, or sales, marketing, operations and finance. Staff in charge of exports and supplies must also become involved as the companies with whom they are dealing could be impacted by terrorist attacks. Finally, we shall turn to socio-psychological consequences with collective impacts, which have various effects on companies and de facto societies and countries, from avoidance (not doing something anymore, e.g. flying, traveling by train, visiting some countries, investing in some sectors and countries, etc.) to the rise of collectively aggressive behaviour.

Disconnection between exposure, objective threat and socio-psychological impacts

The first crucial element to consider if one is to understand and take into account properly the socio-psychological impacts of terrorist attacks is the disconnection existing between personal direct exposure, objective threat and happenstance of effects.

This disconnection has been observed again and again according to research. Silver, Holman, et al. show, in the context of the consequences of 9/11, that “the psychological effects of a major national trauma are not limited to those who experience it directly, and the degree of response is not predicted simply by objective measures of exposure to or loss from the trauma” (“Nationwide Longitudinal Study of Psychological Responses to September 11“. JAMA. 2002;288(10)). This was confirmed by Bleich, Gelkopf and Solomon, in the framework of the second Intifada, as they found “no association between symptom criteria for PTSD,…  number or intensity of TSR symptoms or any of the other indicators of distress”, and level of exposure to terrorist attacks (“Exposure to Terrorism, Stress-Related Mental Health Symptoms, and Coping Behaviors Among a Nationally Representative Sample in Israel“, JAMA. 2003;290(5): 619). Gigerenzer, similarly, in his study on dread risk and avoidance (see below) notably after 9/11, show that more people chose to drive rather than fly after the attack, even though those people had not been directly exposed (“Out of the Frying Pan into the Fire: Behavioral Reactions to Terrorist Attacks“, Risk Analysis,  Vol. 26, No. 2, 2006).

Furthermore, Bleich et al. (Ibid.) found “no significant association … between objective threat (high vs low residency risk, urban vs nonurban, Jewish vs Arab Israeli), exposure and future orientation, or sense of personal safety,” apart from association that could be found only in the case of fear for friends and family. The only demographic indicator that could be identified as having an effect on the happenstance of psychological symptoms was that women were more susceptible (5.5 times more likely for Israeli women) to develop PTSD and TSR symptoms and to experience feelings of depression (Ibid.), which, of course, does not imply that men do not develop these symptoms. This means also that neither the level of education nor age, nor social class etc. have an effect on the development of psycho-social impacts after a terrorist attacks, but, on the contrary that everyone is affected.

The explanation that is most often given for these disconnections is first that people are actually exposed to the attacks through media coverage (e.g. Vaxman; Daniel Antonius, “When fear is a weapon: how terror attacks influence mental health“, The Conversation, 5 Dec 2015, updated March 23, 2016;  Schlenger et al., “Psychological reactions to terrorist attacks: findings from the National Study of Americans’ Reactions to September 11.“, JAMA. 2002 Aug 7;288(5):581-8); for a review up to 2007, Marshall et al. “The psychology of ongoing threat: relative risk appraisal, the September 11 attacks, and terrorism-related fears“, Am Psychol. 2007 May-Jun;62(4). This does not mean that media should not provide coverage of the attacks, on the contrary, or, to anticipate on what is explained below, the factor of “unknowability” which mediates our distorted appraisal of risk would be heightened.

As far as the current Islamic State’s and other jihadist attacks are concerned, the rising spread not only of media access and exposure but also of direct access to witnesses’ videos, pictures and accounts through social networks, from Twitter to Facebook, through Instagram and YouTube may only heighten this characteristics of the socio-psychological effects of terrorist attacks.

Once people are exposed to attacks through media, individuals would interpret the information received through what Marshall et al. (ibid.) suggest to call “relative risk appraisal”,  a “multidimensional process that mediates the relation between environmental events and the individual’s meaningful appraisal of them.” Interestingly, we may note that individuals, when they evaluate the terrorist risk they face (ibid.) are prey to exactly the same biases as analysts trying to foresee future events (see online course, module 2).

As explained by Marshall et al. (Ibid.), this appraisal process is notably influenced by three elements, as identified by Slovic (“Perception of Risk”, Science, 1987 Apr 17;  236(4799), and Slovic P, MacGregor D, Kraus NN, “Perception of risk from automobile safety defects”, Accid Anal Prev. 1987 Oct; 19(5)). First, we have the “catastrophic, uncontrollable, and inequitable” aspect of danger, called “dread risk”. Second we have the unknowable character of the hazard, notably in terms of timing (when waiting for a plane, at a cafe, in a restaurant, when shopping, when commuting, any time and any place actually), and specificities (a suicide bomber, a knife stabbing, a lorry ramming a crowd, etc.). Finally, these characteristics must have “signal potential”, i.e. they must be interpreted as a warning of an existing danger, “which has entered the environment” (Slovic et al., 1987, ibid.).

As far as the Islamic State and other jihadist attacks are concerned, we definitely find the characteristics of uncontrollable as well as inequitable dangers, while the catastrophic element is sometimes present in terms of scope, as with the Bataclan, Stade de France and restaurants attacks in November 2015 in Paris, and often emphasised in repeated signal potentials, such as, for example, references to nuclear risk in Belgium (Debra Decker, “ISIL’s next Belgian target could be a nuclear plant“, USA Today, 24 March 2016), or regular mention of the potential use of Weapons of Massive Destructions (WMD) by the Islamic State (e.g. Associated Press, “Chemical weapons found in Mosul in Isis lab, say Iraqi forces“, The Guardian, 29 Jan 2017;  Rob Merrick, “Isis wants to carry out a chemical weapons attack in Britain, the national security minister warns“, The Independent, 1 Jan 2017).

Similarly the wide variety of modus operandi for the attacks, the inherent element of surprise found in terrorist attacks, added to the stress put by politicians, governments’ and states’ officials on the impossibility of zero risk, show that Slovic second factor is also present in the current string of attacks. Furthermore, the rising suspicion against the ruling establishment (as evidenced by President Trump election in the U.S., or shown by the degrading OECD index of “trust in government, with only 40% citizens continuing to trust their government in 2016), the willingness of governments and media to sometimes hide the terrorist character of attacks by initially favouring explanations in terms of psychiatric unbalance (e.g. Mark Mazzetti and Erik Schmitt, “In the Age of ISIS, Who’s a Terrorist, and Who’s Simply Deranged?“, The New York Times, 17 July 2016) may only heighten the feeling of “unknowability” of the population, while the signal potential has not been lowered. Finally, the signal potential may only remain as long as the Islamic State’s and Jihadist threat exist.

As a result, we may expect the disconnect to take place currently and in the near future, potentially leading to an even more distorted relative risk appraisal compared with previous episodes of attacks, considering current specificities.

The disconnection and the way it is taking place through relative risk appraisal process not only allows for the occurrence of pathological symptoms within individuals, but also favours harmful behaviour at collective or aggregate level (Marshall et al., ibid.). It is first to these different pathological symptoms in individuals  we shall now turn.

Harmful individual socio-psychological impacts: from PTSD to lower work quality and burnout

Acute Stress Disorder, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Traumatic Stress-Related Symptoms

Without entering into the clinical details, best left to Medical Doctors, these disorders are now gathered in a single category, “Trauma and Stressor-Related Disorders“, and are the most painful and incapacitating range of symptoms that an individual may experience after a terrorist attack.

Acute Stress Disorder (ASD) usually appears immediately after the trauma and may last from 3 days to 1 months, while the others last for more than a month (MSD Manual).

A precise model of estimation would be necessary here, but without it, we can at least obtain a rough estimate of the number of people who are potentially concerned by these disorders out of previous instances. In the case of the second Intifada, Bleich et al. (Ibid.) report that 76.7% people suffered from at least one Traumatic Stress- Related (TSR) symptom, 9.4% suffered of PTSD and 1 person from ASD.

In the case of 9/11, two months after the attack, “the prevalence of probable PTSD was 11.2% in the greater New York area and 4.3% across the United States as a whole” (Marshall et al.). Note the difference of results between the U.S. and Israel in terms of exposure. It could stem from numerous variations, such as size of country and would justify further research. Indeed, understanding the various variables leading to variations would be crucial to better estimates for the case of the attacks at hand: for example we could test the hypothesis that the further away not only in geographical terms and exposure but also feeling of “imagined community”, to borrow from Benedict Anderson, the least likely the relative risk appraisal would operate to favour the happenstance of TSR disorders (TSRD) (Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities. Reflections on the Origin and. Spread of Nationalism, 1983, 1991, 2006).

The number of people suffering of these disorders drops after 6 months but does not disappear. Studies found that 6 months after 9/11, between 3.4% and 5.8% of people indirectly exposed through media experienced PTSD symptoms (Ibid.). In the New York area, the six-month prevalence of PTSD in the directly affected subgroup of New-Yorkers was 12.0% … and in the indirectly affected group, 3.7% (Ibid.). Always in New York, one year after the attack 4.2 % people had PTSD and the following year this number fell to 3.3%(Joseph A. Boscarino, Richard E. Adams, and Charles R. Figley, “Worker Productivity and Outpatient Service Use After the September 11th Attacks: Results From the New York City Terrorism Outcome Study“, Am J Ind Med. 2006 August ; 49(8).

The repetition of attacks, although potentially allowing for desensitisation (Bleich et al., Ibid.), also obviously multiplies the number of people who can suffer from TSR disorders, thus spreading over time adverse consequences within the very fabric of everyday life of a society.

Operations within businesses may be impacted inasmuch as the staff is psychologically hurt, which can virtually hit almost anyone, with various consequences according to whom develops TSRD and to the size of the company: a small company with, for example 10 employees, which sees one crucial member of its staff suffering of PTSD may see its overall activity more hurt than a very large company employing thousands of people, when someone can more easily be replaced.

The findings from Israel regarding less severe “suffering of one symptom of TSR” let us expect that three quarters of the population may be impacted (Bleich et al.) Thus,  pretty much all companies will have to deal with negative symptoms and, as a result, impacts on operations. The impact of the psychological trauma is not only limited  to the few months following the attacks, but could last much longer, as seen. For example, Boscarino et al. document a loss of productivity (measured through work loss and lower work quality), especially through lower work quality stemming from PTSD, notably during the second year following 9/11.

Human Resources Offices and related services should thus pay a particular attention to the potential for terrorist attacks as stemming from related geopolitical uncertainties. Meanwhile clients and suppliers may also be impacted, and this should be kept in mind by all staff dealing with them.

Depression and impaired productivity

Depression is another symptom that has been observed following terrorist attacks.

For New York residents, a study found that 11% of workers had depression during the first year following 9/11 and 10% during the second year. Depression was found as a major cause of work loss and lower work quality during the first year following 9/11, mitigated by self-esteem (Boscarino et al., Ibid).

In the case of the second Intifada, Bleich et al. (Ibid.) find that “58.6% [of respondents] reported feeling depressed or gloomy and 28% that they felt “very” depressed or gloomy.” Yet, the authors also point out that “the majority of participants (82.2% [421/512]) stated that they felt optimistic about their personal future and 66.2% (337/509) that they felt optimistic about the future of Israel.” We thus are presented with strange results, as one of the characteristics of depression is “pessimistic thoughts” (DSM-IV Criteria for Major Depressive Disorder – MDD). Further research would be needed to investigate this phenomenon, all the more so that it is used to outline the resilience of society (e.g. Vaxman, Ibid.).

Considering the impact on work quality, again, human resources offices, as well as those staff dealing with clients and suppliers which may be likewise, impacted should pay attention to terrorist attacks and to uncertainties leading to them.

From Insomnia to Burn-out

Also working on the Second Intifada, researchers found out that fear of terrorist attacks heightened the probability to develop insomnia two years after the attacks. In turn, the tiredness generated by insomnia led to heightened odds to see the impacted people experiencing job burnout “two years after insomnia increased” (Sharon Toker, Gregory A. Laurence and Yitzhak Fried, “Fear of terror and increased job burnout over time: Examining the mediating role of insomnia and the moderating role of work support“, Journal of Organizational Behavior, Volume 36, Issue 2, pages 272–291, February 2015; George Watson, “Fear of terrorism hastens path to burnout for Israeli workers“,  Texas Tech University, 19 Feb 2015).

Note that insomnia may be part of PTSD and TSRD, as well as of depression (see MSD Manual and DSM-IV Criteria). It may also be experienced without PTSD, TSRD or depression.

As previously, human resources offices, and staff dealing with clients and suppliers, are most concerned here. Interestingly, Toker et al. study also points out that co-workers’ support but not management concern had a mitigating impact and suggests that the creation of a work environment conducive to this adequate support could be key (Ibid.). Assuming the current campaign of terrorist attacks continues, as the December 2016 attack in Berlin or the February 2017 Louvre attack in Paris (e.g. The Telegraph) indicate, we are thus faced here with the possibility to have to fundamentally re-design work spaces and possibilities for employees relations, assuming companies do not want to see their operations impacted because of adverse consequences of terrorism on staff, including management and senior executives.

Socio-psychological symptoms with negative collective impacts:  avoidance and aggressive behaviour

Impaired sense of safety and avoidance

People living in societies victims of terrorist attacks tend to experience an impaired sense of safety, which lasts for a relatively long time. In the 2002 survey in Israel, 60.4% people feared for their own safety and 67.9% for the lives of family and friends (Bleich et al, Ibid).  After 9/11 in the U.S. we find a similar impact: six months after the attack 40 to 50% of Americans “feared for their safety and that of family members” (Marshall et al.). One year after the attack, in New York, up to 73% people feared for their own safety and 75% for the lives of family and friends (Ibid.).

As fear for safety leads, besides notably the fear to relive painful memories, to avoidance behaviour (Marshall et al.), this psychological impact is particularly important.

Avoidance behaviour, which is not always considered as pathological, means that affected people will avoid places and situations where they feel their life can be threatened, considering the previous terrorist attacks. For example, after 9/11 people avoided flying:  airlines’ passenger traffic in the U.S. dropped by 20% for September to December 2001 (Marshall et al.; Gigerenzer). This avoidance led to an increase in driving at least for the next three months and, also, unfortunately to more death out of car crashes (Gigerenzer, Ibid; Ropeik D, “The consequences of fear“, EMBO Reports, 2004 Oct; Spec No 5). After the March 2004 Madrid attacks, for the two following months, people in Spain reduced train travel, however less significantly, and there no increase in driving-related death was observed (Gigerenzer; López-Rousseau, “Avoiding the death risk of avoiding a dread risk: the aftermath of March 11 in Spain“, Psychol Sci. 2005 Jun;16(6) ).

For the current string of attacks, a similar avoidance phenomenon seems to be observable in Paris, although comprehensive and detailed studies focusing on avoidance for these attacks are not (yet) available: following directly the November 2015 attacks, cafés and restaurants saw a drop in attendance of 44% and 58% respectively, while hotels saw their occupancy rate lowered by 51% (Sondage Synhorcat auprès des adhérents, 20 novembre 2015 in “Rapport au Premier Ministre sur la Destination France après les Attentats“,  Rapporteur M. Sharon Elbaz, Prime Minister Office, Sept 2016: 25). Avoidance continued, although less starkly, in the following months (Ibid, p.26-31)*. The attack in Nice and St Etienne de Rouvray in July 2016, again led to touristic avoidance not only in the Cote d’Azur (region of Nice) but attendance and occupancy rate remain bad in Paris, at least until September. At the end of the first semester 2016, the number of tourist in France had fallen by 7% since january 2016 (Ibid.). The sector of tourism for the region Ile de France (region around Paris) lost 1 bn euros for the first semester. We may note here that the recurrence of attacks appears to lead to a much longer avoidance compared with flight avoidance and 9/11.

Considering the very direct impact of this specific psychological consequence on business operations, it seems obvious that the corporate sector should definitely consider terrorist attacks and the geopolitical uncertainties from which they stem. As attacks are varied in their modus operandi, the way forward would be to start wondering where and how the activity of a company could become victim of terrorist attacks, considering understanding and knowledge available on the perpetrators, i.e. in our case the Islamic State and other similar Jihadist groups such as Al Qaeda. Contingency plans to face and mitigate avoidance could then be developed peacefully in advance and only activated if the threat materializes. Planning in advance would be even more important in the case of terrorist attacks that CEOs, managers and staff being human beings, they are as susceptible as others to be hit by the various psychological symptoms following terrorist attacks, which may then not be very conducive to think peacefully and strategically. Furthermore, in such dire circumstances, having a plan ready could contribute to a much-needed safety feeling for staff and management.

Rise of aggressive behaviour

Finally, research on the socio-psychological consequences of terrorist attacks points out a probably less known but as important impact: “the impulse to respond aggressively” (Marshall et al., Ibid.) going hand in hand with a “sense of victimhood” (Vaxman, Ibid.)

As a result, at least three interactive collective consequences may be observed.

First, in the case of Israel, a “brutalization of interpersonal relations” was observed through the proxy of school violence and proliferation of firearms (Simha Landau, “Societal Costs of Political Violence: The Israeli Experience“, Palestine-Israel Journal 10, no. 1 (2003); Vaxman, Ibid.).

Second, and relatedly, “violent crime (homicide and robbery) and property crime” increased in a way that is found related to the stress generated by terrorism, as well as to potentially increased hardship as generated by the impact on the economy: between 2000 and 2001 in Israel, criminal homicides increased by 28% and robberies by 11%(Simha Landau, Ibid.; Vaxman, Ibid.).

Finally, it has been showed that terrorism leads to a “hardening of  attitudes” against the group responsible, or perceived as such,  for the terrorist attacks (Nehemia Friedland and Ariel Merari, “The Psychological Impact of Terrorism: A Double-Edged Sword“, Political Psychology, Vol. 6, No. 4 (Dec., 1985). Indeed, as explained by Vaxman, “terrorist attacks increase negative beliefs about and hostile attitudes toward the opposing group the terrorists claim to represent” (Daniel Bar-Tal and Daniela Labin, “The Effect of a Major Event on Stereotyping: Terrorist Attacks in Israel and Israeli Adolescents’ Perceptions of Palestinians, Jordanians and Arabs,” European Journal of Social Psychology 31, no. 3 (2001); Vaxman, Ibid.). This, added to the rising aggression and thus societal brutalisation, as well as to the feeling of “victimhood”, may only lead to a rise in hate crimes, as was also observed in the case of 9/11 (Marshall et al., ibid.).

As far as 9/11 was concerned, the increase in hate crimes seemed to have mainly occurred within 10 days following the attack (Ibid.), which corresponds to the impulsive aggressive reaction. However, in cases where attacks are repeated, then the impulsive reaction might be transformed into the more pervasive brutalization pointed out by Landau (Ibid.).

As a result, we may wonder if the Islamic State’s and other jihadists’ string of attacks does not participate in the contemporary rising polarization of society, which is observable notably throughout the Western world, as is evidenced by the brutality at work during the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign and its aftermath, as well as by the extreme reactions of the media and of the losing side after Mr Trump came President, as again shown by the very controversial cover page of the German magazine Der Spiegel on 4 Feb 2017 (BBC News, “Der Spiegel: Trump beheading cover sparks criticism“, 4 Feb 2017). It is most probably not the only cause, as explained in Lessons from and for the Brexit – Geopolitics, Uncertainties, and Business (2) (Helene Lavoix, The Red (Team) Analysis Society, 22 Nov 2016),  but it cannot either be ruled out that it does not play a part. Feelings of victimization and its corollary of sentiments of entitlement and self-righteousness added to brutalization of societies are certainly not conducive to composed and wise democracies.

As far as violent crime is concerned, businesses should foresee them and take adequate preventative measures. As for the more general brutalization, this should also be considered in details, according to the activity of each business, while a better understanding of the processes at work and how they can evolve in the future should be promoted before policies are decided. Indeed, it may well be that decisions taken too rapidly or without proper analysis were themselves taken under conditions of “aggressive response and victimhood feeling”. Adequate related lobbying could also be endeavoured.

To conclude, studies on 9/11 and the Second Intifada also point out the resilience** of both the American and Israeli Society to terrorist attacks (e.g. among others, Marshall et al.). In the case of the Second Intifada, resilience suggests that a phenomenon of de-sensitisation could take place when terrorism occurs repeatedly and on a long period (Vaxman, Ibid.; Bleich et al., Ibid.). However, first, this potential  de-sensitisation does not consider the brutalization pointed out by Landau (Ibid.). Further research would thus be needed.

Second, since 2001 for 9/11 and 2000-2005 for the second Intifada, eleven years have gone by.  The world and the international system, as well as all the countries targeted and threatened by the Islamic State’s and other jihadists’ terrorist attacks are caught in the unsettling times of transition.  To this should be added the variety of targeted countries in the case of the current and potentially near future attacks, with different societies, values and belief-systems, political systems and interests, compared with past attacks on single countries, heterogeneous yet each being unified by values and beliefs. Thus, the very resilience that was displayed then should not be taken for granted now, but on the contrary cautiously checked. Targeted societies may be now and in the near future more or less resilient to the attacks, terrorism becoming then one of the causes that contribute to the transitional changes, besides potentially feeding polarization as pointed out above. The possible absence or lowered resilience of the victim societies, in turn, would heighten the importance of the socio-psychological impacts of terrorism on society as a whole, as well as, de facto, on its actors, making it even more important to foresee them and to feel concerned by the issue.

*Note that the report to the French Prime Minister does not consider the psychological aspect of avoidance and thus does not take into consideration corresponding measures that could have also been designed to face this specific impact.

**We use here the definition of resilience given by B. Walker, C.S. Holling, S. R. Carpenter, A. Kinzig Resilience, 2004, “Adaptability and Transformability in Social–ecological Systems,” Ecology and Society, 9(2): 5: “The capacity of a system to absorb disturbance and reorganize while undergoing change so as to still retain essentially the same function, structure, identity, and feedbacks.” Note that the choice of the definition will greatly influence what may be seen or not as a resilient behaviour to terrorism.

Featured image: Battling PTSD, Marines, May 24, 2010, United States government work, Public Domain.

About the author: Dr 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.

Scenarios for the Future of Libya – Sc 4.2 An Islamic State Victory

This article focuses on the second of the scenarios depicting a Salafist victory, where the Islamic State (IS) becomes the dominant force on the battlefield, defeats the other actors, and establishes the caliphate. In our previous scenario we detailed the scenario of an Al-Qaida victory where Al-Qaida groups in Libya dominate the battlefield and gradually implement Sharia through a grassroots strategy.

Note: Considering the future names of potential factions that would result from a new split between the unity government, we shall use the label nationalist for those that supported the nationalist-dominated Council of Representatives (COR) and any future anti-Islamist factions; Islamist to note those that supported the General National Congress (GNC) and any future pro-political Islamic movements; and Salafist will remain the label of choice for groups that reject democratic institutions and embrace jihadism.

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Sub-scenario 4.2 An Islamic State Victory

With the Islamists and nationalists settled in a war of attrition and Al-Qaida groups locked in a struggle with Haftar’s forces, the Islamic State in Libya is able to more quickly defeat them on the battlefield and seize control of the country. Al-Qaida fighters are either killed, flee the country, or defect to the Islamic State ranks.

Upon taking control of Libya, the Islamic State hunts down and executes political figures, judges, religious leaders, militia members, soldiers, and military leaders associated with the Islamists and nationalists that refuse to pledge allegiance to the Caliph. In doing so, it effectively neutralizes all political parties, the executive, legislative, and judicial branches, anti-IS fighters – thus allowing it to implement its own form of pure governance untainted by democracy, the Muslim Brotherhood, and everyone else it considers kafir. The execution of prominent political and military leaders is used as propaganda to further the creation of a Libyan Islamic State.

Contrary to Al-Qaida’s gradual and localized strategy for governance in Libya (see our previous post), the Islamic State immediately implements Sharia rule over the population through a centralized form of governance. Cities such as Tripoli, Misrata, and Benghazi begin to resemble Islamic State strongholds like Raqqa and Mosul. The Hisbah [morality police] patrol Libyan communities and cities, ensuring that women adhere to the strict dress code, and that people are not in possession of or consuming cigarettes and alcohol, among a plethora of other rules enforced under Sharia. The Islamic State establishes Sharia courts to maintain a pure caliphate and implements its taxation system (grounded in zakat) to pay for the expenses needed to govern Libya. In addition to the tax revenue, IS holds control of Libya’s oilfields – allowing it to make massive profits.

To maintain control over the Libyan people, the Islamic State uses Sharia courts and the Hisbah, executes dissenters and enemies, reforms the education system to produce the next generation of jihadists, and heavily propagandizes the caliphate. As a demonstration of its ability to maintain the caliphate, the Islamic State provides public services, such as water, electricity, street cleaning, and charity for the poor. To enhance the legitimacy of their state, IS allows local officials to keep their jobs, provided they repent for working for the nationalists or Islamists and pledge their allegiance to the Caliph.

Differing from Al-Qaida’s strategy of garnering domestic legitimacy and influencing the population through decentralized local councils, the Islamic State utilizes a more centralized hierarchy to maintain control by force. As noted by Helene Lavoix in “Understanding the Islamic State’s System – The Calif and Legitimacy” and “Understanding the Islamic State’s System – Means of Violence,” the Islamic State is ruled by a “highly organized and hierarchical structure,” at the top of which are the Caliph, the Shura Council [consultative body] and the Sharia Council [judiciary body], which oversee lower councils, such as the Military Council. The Islamic State divides Libya into Wilayat Barqa [Cyrenaica], Wilayat al-Tarabulus [Tripolitania], and Wilayat al-Fizan [Fezzan] – maintaining a flexible stance on carrying out objectives. Core leadership in Libya relay broad strategic goals from the Caliph and leading councils to its wilayats, who carry out broad directives, but also pursue local objectives to strengthen the Libyan state.

Islamic State propaganda billboard in Sirte, posted by, 6 November 2015

With Libya lacking the strong sectarian dynamic found in Iraq and Syria, the Islamic State focuses on tribes in order to garner support and fill its ranks – ranks that rely primarily on tribal and foreign fighters. Drawing on the minority tribes’ feelings of marginalization, the Islamic State in Libya recognizes the Amazigh, Tuareg and Toubou the same as the rest of Libya’s tribes – provided they pledge allegiance to the Caliph and pay taxes from the lucrative smuggling routes in the south. Now having a guaranteed opportunity to be an equal part of the new state, as well as having protection from hostile Arab tribes, the minority tribes align themselves with the Libyan Islamic State. After seeing the Islamic State execute tribal dissenters, Arab tribes – particularly those that were allied with Qaddafi’s regime during the revolution – submit to the Caliph. Tribes allied with Qaddafi’s regime during the revolution but marginalized by the General National Congress and Dawn of Libya coalition – particularly the Qadhadhfa – pledge their allegiance to the Caliph as a means to restore their tribal influence and power. Smaller tribes, or those with rivals, agree to be part of the Islamic State as a means of protection from stronger or rival tribes.

Considering the Islamic State’s total control of the country, its ability to profit from vast oil resources, and Libya’s strategic geographic location as a smuggling crossroads and launch pad into Europe, the Libyan wilayats of the Islamic State would be the most successful branches in Africa. Libya quickly becomes a vital Islamic State crossroads between Africa and the Middle East, further strengthening the organization’s ability to launch attacks into Europe, Egypt and Tunisia, as well as to expand its presence into the rest of Africa.

The Islamic State’s control of Libya – with its oil resources and close proximity to Europe – forces an international response. Such a response, however, depends on the willingness and ability of the international community to engage militarily. The absence of friendly armed groups on the ground means a military operation would be entirely dependent on the militaries of external actors. If external actors are already engaging Islamic State forces in other countries, involved in additional conflicts, and experiencing domestic instability, they opt for a more limited military engagement that is designed to degrade the Libyan wilayats until a full offensive is feasible. On the other hand, external actors that see Libya as more of an imminent Islamic State threat compared to Syria or Iraq (e.g. Egypt, Italy, etc.) push for a full military campaign to eliminate the Libyan Islamic State. New scenarios would be required to fully understand the depth and details of these potential developments.

Indicators to Monitor

Below are the main indicators we identified that impact the likelihood to see scenario 4.2 occurring. They should thus be monitored.

  1. The ability of the Islamic State to defeat Al-Qaida groups in Libya. In addition to defeating the Islamist and nationalist coalitions, the Islamic State will need to defeat Libya’s Al-Qaida affiliates. If the AQ groups fail to form a united front against the Islamic State and lack external support, the likelihood of this scenario increases. However, if they unite, Al-Qaida groups may be able to prevent the Islamic State from fully governing a city or territorial area. A past indication occurred when a coalition of Al-Qaida affiliates drove an Islamic State force out of Derna (BBC News, April 21, 2016).
  2. The ability of the Islamic State to implement an organized administrative hierarchy across the Libyan wilayats. An Islamic State victory allows it freedom of movement and control of the power vacuum. With wilayats already declared, its leaders would need to agree on governing councils for Libya, as well as communication strategies related to strategic directives from the Caliph and upper-level councils. Once this hierarchy is in place, it can begin organizing local level administrative departments. If Libyan IS leadership is able to implement such a hierarchy, the likelihood of this scenario increases.
  3. The level of the Islamic State’s desire to eliminate Libyan leaders that still oppose the Caliph. If the Islamic State leadership in Libya wants to execute the kafir political leaders, judges, religious leaders, and military leaders for propaganda purposes or to punish them for their opposition to the Caliph during the war, the likelihood of this scenario increases. Executing prominent leaders like General Haftar would be lucrative propaganda pieces for the burgeoning Libyan wilayats. Past indications occurred when IS kidnapped and executed Salem Mohammed al-Namli, who was a judge on the al-Khoms appeal court (KR Magazine, August 6, 2015; Zelin, The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, January 2016), and when IS executed a Salafi imam in Sirte who refused to submit (Zelin, The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, January 2016).
  4. The ability of the Islamic State to implement Sharia law throughout the whole country. Considering the Islamic State’s strategy of quickly implementing Sharia – often by force – once it takes territory (compared to Al-Qaida’s gradual and localized strategy – see previous post), an Islamic State victory over all Libya would signal its ability to impose Sharia across the country. This, of course, would require manpower and a judicial system to enforce. Following the cessation of hostilities as a result of an Islamic State military victory, the Libyan wilayats would have to create Hisbah units to patrol the newly subjugated populations and find those who break the moral code of Sharia, as well as implement a Sharia court system throughout the country. Once the judicial system is in place, the enforcement of Sharia would be able to be standardized throughout Libya. If the Islamic State is able to implement the Sharia courts and create Hisbah units, the likelihood of this scenario increases.
  5. The Islamic State’s ability to provide public services and charity to the population. Maintaining public works and providing charity to the poor allows the Islamic State to “offer a semblance of stability in unstable and marginalized areas,” (Zelin, The Atlantic, June 13, 2014; Lopour, Reuters, November 27, 2015). Once it transitions to a state-building phase, the Islamic State will likely promote its public works projects and its charity for the needy (through zakat, or charity tax) in an effort to further legitimize the caliphate, which could furthermore attract foreign recruits. If IS allows public workers and officials to keep their jobs, or fills the positions with its own people, the likelihood of this scenario increases. Past indications occurred when the Islamic State took control of Sirte and provided public services and charity (Raghavan, The Washington Post, August 23, 2016; Zelin, The Washington Institute, August 6, 2015).
  6. The ability to achieve a balance between enforcing its rule and maintaining a societal recruiting pool. If the Islamic State goes too far in enforcing its rule through widespread killings, populations may be less willing to join its ranks. On the other hand, trying to “win hearts and minds” of the population at the expense of the strict enforcement of Sharia could make the Libyan Islamic state appear weak. If the Islamic State is able to achieve a balance between the enforcement of Sharia and maintaining goodwill with the populations, the likelihood of this scenario increases. A past indication occurred when IS forces killed a Salafi imam in Sirte for not cooperating with them. In response, Farjan tribal members revolted against the Islamic State, who reportedly killed nearly two hundred of the tribesmen (Zelin, The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, January 2016). Furthermore, if the Islamic State is willing to spare the lives of repentant soldiers and police officers, it could increase its recruiting pool while simultaneously enforcing its rule by executing those who refused to repent. A past indication occurred when Islamic State forces in Wadi Zamzam “required regular army and police officers to declare their tawbah [repentance] from formal Libyan state actors,” (Jihadology, May 10, 2016).
  7. The ability to recruit enough local and foreign jihadists to maintain control of the Libyan wilayats. In order to sustain its wilayats, the Libyan Islamic State would have to retain a sufficient number of fighters and support personnel. To do this, it would have to recruit both local and foreign jihadists. Depending on its ability to profit of Libya’s oil resources (see indicator below), the Islamic State could offer decent wages and other incentives to those who join its ranks. The willingness of the tribes to submit to the Caliph (see below) would also determine the Islamic State’s ability to recruit from Libya’s many tribal militias. Furthermore, the state of wilayats in other countries – like Iraq and Syria – would impact how many foreign jihadists could be persuaded to migrate. If other wilayats are militarily conquered, IS leadership could direct foreign recruits to the new Islamic state of Libya. A past indication occurred when IS leadership directed foreign fighters to head to Libya instead of traveling to Iraq and Syria (Taylor, The Washington Times, January 17, 2016). Libya’s Islamic State could also draw on Al-Qaida defectors to bolster its manpower. A past indication occurred when Ansar al-Sharia fighters defected to the Islamic State as it was taking power in Sirte (Zelin, The Washington Institute, August 6, 2015).
  8. The ability to resume Libya’s oil operations and profit from the sale of oil. The Islamic State’s ability to profit from Libya’s oil resources depends on both its ability to maintain oil production and export the oil to buyers. In addition to procuring the right equipment (depending on whether it was destroyed in conflict or not), IS would need to recruit petroleum engineers and managers to restart and maintain oil production. Once the oil is flowing again, the Islamic State will be able to export it to buyers. If the Libyan Islamic State is able to both maintain the production and exportation of its oil, the likelihood of this scenario increases. Past indications occurred when the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria recruited petroleum experts to maintain production, and then sold refined oil to local traders (Solomon, Chazan, and Jones, Financial Times, October 14, 2015; Solomon, Kwong, and Bernard, Financial Times, February 29, 2016).
  9. The willingness of the tribes to submit to the Caliph. Libya’s tribal society will impact the Islamic State’s ability to govern Libya; thus, their willingness to submit to the Caliph would likely be taken into consideration by IS wilayats. If the Islamic State wants to control and or heavily tax the southern smuggling routes, it will want to develop ties with the Tuareg and Toubou tribes. It could use their feelings of marginalization to gain allegiance – giving them the same recognition as the Arab tribes and promising them some of the oil profits from their wilayat. By pledging allegiance to the Caliph and being loyal to their wilayat, the Tuareg and Toubou could also expect some protection from hostile Arab tribes. For the Arab tribes, particularly in Tripolitania and Cyrenaica, the Islamic State might use a combination of brutality and reward to gain their allegiance. Tribes that oppose the new state may incur its wrath – including the execution of some of its leaders or the killing of its people. On the other hand, tribes that became marginalized after the 2011 revolution – notably the Qadhadhfa tribe – see that allegiance with the Islamic State is an opportunity to regain some of its power and influence. Smaller or rival tribes could also align themselves with the Islamic State as a means of protection from enemy tribes. If the Arab and minority tribes pledge allegiance to the Caliph (for any of the above reasons), the likelihood of this scenario occurring increases. Past indications occurred when IS forces violently put down a Farjan tribe uprising (Zelin, The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, January 2016); when tribes from the Sirte area “welcomed rule by ISIS as a counterweight to abuse by forces from Misrata” (Wehrey, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, May 12, 2016); and when the Qadhadhfa tribe became a supporter of the Islamic State for political means and helped it take over Sirte (The Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center, January 2016).
  10. The willingness of external actors to launch a military operation in Libya. An Islamic State victory in Libya would certainly cause a great deal of concern for external actors. Many would likely be willing to participate in a military operation, depending on current global events. If the leading advocates of a military incursion are already involved in military operations in other hotspots, external actors may be less willing to commit to a Libya one – thus increasing the likelihood of this scenario. However, if they are not heavily engaged in other conflicts, or consider Libya a higher threat (e.g. Egypt, Europe), they may be more willing to participate in a Libyan operation – thus decreasing the likelihood of this scenario. Furthermore, the lack of friendly armed actors on the ground may impact their willingness. In the case of an Islamic State victory, no armed groups outside of Islamic State forces would exist, which increases the likelihood of this scenario occurring.
  11. The ability of external actors to launch a military operation. Even if external actors are willing to commit forces to a military invasion of Libya, their ability to do so would impact the likelihood of such an action. With military forces currently engaged in places like Syria, Iraq, Yemen, and Afghanistan, external actors would be forced to prioritize their military commitments to match their current military assets that can be deployed. If these countries lack the ability to deploy sufficient military forces to Libya, the likelihood of this scenario increases. Their ability would also include the level of their munitions stockpiles, which could be dangerously low if they are heavily engaged in airstrikes in other operations. A past indication occurred when the United States was forced to borrow smart-bomb munitions from its other regions to carry on its air campaign against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (Weisgerber, DefenseOne, May 26, 2016).


Feature Photo: Islamic State fighter in Benghazi, posted by, 24 December 2016

Aaron Zelin, “The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria Has a Consumer Protection Office,” The Atlantic, June 13, 2014

Aaron Y. Zelin, “The Islamic State’s Burgeoning Capital in Sirte, Libya,” The Washington Institute, August 6, 2015

Aaron Y. Zelin, “The Islamic State’s Territorial Methodology,” The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, January 2016

Dr. Helene Lavoix, “Understanding the Islamic State’s System – Means of Violence,” The Red Team Analysis Society, June 15, 2015

Dr. Helene Lavoix, “Understanding the Islamic State’s System – The Calif and Legitimacy,” The Red Team Analysis Society, May 25, 2015

Erika Solomon, Guy Chazan, and Sam Jones, “Isis Inc: how oil fuels the jihadi terrorists,” Financial Times, October 14, 2015

Erika Solomon, Robin Kwong, and Steven Bernard, “Inside Isis Inc: The journey of a barrel of oil,” Financial Times, February 29, 2016

Frederic Wehrey, “Struggling to Fight Islamic State in a Fractured Libya,” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, May 12, 2016

Guy Taylor, “Islamic State directs jihadi recruits to ‘Libya Province’ in bid to establish second homeland,” The Washington Times, January 17, 2016

“ISIS in Libya: a Major Regional and International Threat,” The Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center, January 2016

“Islamic State ‘forced out’ of key Libyan city of Derna,” BBC News, April 21, 2016

Jacqueline Lopour, “The scariest thing about Islamic State? Its kinder, gentler side,” Reuters, November 27, 2015

“Libya: Body of abducted judge found, shows signs of torture,” KR Magazine, August 6, 2015

Marcus Weisgerber, “The US is Raiding its Global Bomb Stockpiles to Fight ISIS,” DefenseOne, May 26, 2016

Sudarsan Raghavan, “Inside the brutal but bizarrely bureaucratic world of the Islamic State in Libya,” The Washington Post, August 23, 2016

“Weekly Eye on ISIS in Libya Update – May 9, 2016,” Jihadology, May 10, 2016


The Impact of the Islamic State Terrorist Attacks – Geopolitics, Uncertainties and Business (5)

Since the Islamic State declared a Khilafah on 29 June 2014, it carried out, worldwide, 6 attacks or series of attacks in 2014, which killed 2 and wounded 12 people, 23 in 2015, which killed 1020 and wounded more than 2171, 36 in 2016, which killed more than 1455 and wounded more than 3505 and so far 3 in 2017, which killed more than 109 and wounded more than 169 people, assuming all attacks are known and referenced as such (WikipediaList of terrorist incidents linked to ISIL“). As a whole, we thus faced 68 attacks, during which more than 2586 people lost their lives and more than 5857 were injured.

Prospects for the near future look no less grim as reminded by Europol as far as Europe is concerned in its report Changes in Modus Operandi of IS revisited (2 Dec 2016 – main points here). Indeed, a weakening if the terrorism, terrorist attack, Islamic State, scenarios, strategic foresight, warning, geopolitics, uncertainties, political risk, anticipation, sanctions, impact, political impact, forward looking information, forward looking statement, Berlin attackIslamic State in Syria and Iraq is most likely to imply a heightening of terror attacks elsewhere (Europol, Ibid.), as we warned here repeatedly considering the global character of the so-called Khilafah of the Islamic State (see Helene Lavoix “At War against the Islamic State – A Global Theatre of War“, 23 Nov 2015 and following articles, The Red (Team) Analysis Society).  Furthermore, Europol also points out that the weakening of the Islamic State may see a strengthening of its competitors such as Al Qaeda, which are also likely to carry out terror attacks (Changes in Modus Operandi…, Ibid.). This forward looking assessment would be reinforced by one of the latest declaration of Al-Qaeda’s leader al-Zawahiri stressing “the call to our nation and the mujahedeen to raise the jihad against the current idol, and its allies as their priority as long as they can make it” (Sheikh Ayman Al-Zawahiri, “Brief messages to a victorious nation; Part 5: Letter to our nation. For Allah we will not kneel”, 5 Jan 2017 – message and translation shared by Expect Consulting, specialist on jihadist groups, notably in Africa, in the Red (Team) Analysis partner network).

Intuitively, we would expect such numerous attacks, notably by a single (if distributed over territory) player trying to achieve a terrorism, terrorist attack, Islamic State, scenarios, strategic foresight, warning, geopolitics, uncertainties, political risk, anticipation, sanctions, impact, political impact, forward looking information, forward looking statement, Bangladesh, Dhakasingle aim, a Khilafah, to have a deep and wide impact not only on states and societies as a whole, but also on one of their actors, businesses.

This impact would stem from the specific character of terror, which aims at causing not only bodily harm while targeting civilians or non-combatants, as suggested by the 2004 description of terrorism of the High-Level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change of the Secretary-General of the United Nations (U.N., A more Secure World, par. 164, p.52), but also to disrupt the system perceived as enemy (see, for example, for the plethora of official definitions, “Definition of Terrorism by Country in OECD Countries“).

Yet, terrorist attacks only made it to the top five risks of the “Global Risks Perception Survey” of the Global Risk Report 2017 (World Economic Forum) in Autumn 2016*, and only for large-scale attacks (see also report pdf, p.68). Similarly, the terrorist threat is mentioned neither in the May 2017 survey “Geostrategic risks on the rise (Drew Erdmann; Ezra Greenberg; and Ryan Harper, McKinsey & Company, 2016) nor in the latest “McKinsey global survey” (December 2016) regarding potential risks to businesses, even though we may surmise it is implicitly part of “geopolitical risks”.

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Does that mean that businesses do not care about terrorist attacks, beyond, of course, humanitarian concern? Should the corporate sector, whatever the size of the businesses involved, pay more attention to these geopolitical threats or, on the contrary, neglect them as not likely enough or not impactful enough to deserve consideration? Should only some sectors feel concerned, such as obviously tourism? But in that case, which are these sectors and what could be the depth and scope of impacts? These are the questions that this article and the following ones intend to address.

We shall start with seeking to identify the impacts of terrorist attacks, because being able to estimate the full range of potential impacts for uncertainties is a fundamental necessary condition if we are to do a useful thus actionable strategic foresight and warning. Starting with older studies on the economic impact of 9/11, we shall use them to single out potential types of impacts, while beginning to bring in elements of comparison with the current string of attacks. Indeed, 9/11, considering the very characteristics of the attack and the shock it created, may not easily compare with the current Islamic State’s attacks, which are globally distributed but with some countries being more hit than others (when furthermore each country has its own specificities and conditions in terms of stability), which occur over a relatively long time-span and display wide-ranging types of modus operandi, from the murder by stabbing of policemen to killing people in festive gathering by ploughing the crowd with lorries through mass shootings or more classical bombings.

We shall notably point out that the use of confidence indices may not be adapted to the current attacks and to those which are likely to happen in the near future. We shall also outline that states’ policies and answers, thus feedbacks, must fully be integrated in any such impact assessment, thus demanding  an adapted approach. This initial assessment will give us a general framework that we shall refine and further explore with the next articles.

Immediate, short-term and direct impacts

The OECD in its 2002 study (Patrick Lenain, Marcos Bonturi and Vincent Koen, “The Economic Consequences Of Terrorism“, Economics Department Working Papers No. 334) adopted a time-bound framework, distinguishing between immediate and short-term consequences on the one hand, and medium-term impacts on the other. A similar framework was used by a March 2005 IMF Working Paper (R. Barry Johnston and Oana M. Nedelescu, “The Impact of Terrorism on Financial Markets“), unsurprisingly as it grounded its work in the 2002 OECD study. There, the short-term effects are seen as direct economic impacts and medium-term effects as indirect.

Immediate impacts include the destruction of life and property, responses to the emergency, restoration of the systems and the terrorism, terrorist attack, Islamic State, scenarios, strategic foresight, warning, geopolitics, uncertainties, political risk, anticipation, sanctions, impact, political impact, forward looking information, forward looking statement, 9/11infrastructure affected, and the provision of temporary living assistance (OECD: 6; IMF: 3-4). They were evaluated for 9/11 in 2002 to USD 27.2 billion (Ibid.). This figure is lower than what was assessed by the more recent New York Times assessment (Shan Carter and Amanda Cox, “One 9/11 Tally: $3.3 Trillion“, September 8, 2011), which, using a survey of multiple damage estimates,  gives a figure of USD 55 billion for the immediate toll and physical damage (which does not appear to include restoration of systems).

This shows first that impacts evaluation changes over time and may increase. Thus, for the current series of attacks we shall probably need to wait before a full evaluation is available. Furthermore, the fact that we are facing an ongoing series of attacks multiplies the work needed to obtain an estimate.

The OECD study then identifies that short-term general impacts are loss of confidence, potential instability of financial market and “self-fulfilling depression”. It points out that the shock was truly short-term, and emphasises that the major negative impacts were, in a large part, avoided thanks to proper liquidity management integrating “financial support to any sector or industry … [through] short-term loans or guarantees”, while  only some sectors were truly impacted. We see here emerging a crucial point if we are to properly evaluate impacts of terrorist attacks: we must also consider state policy answers to these attacks, as we shall detail further below.

If we take confidence indices as a first element of measure for impacts, and apply them to the current string of attacks, we would expect to see confidence dipping over the period (mid 2014 until today) or right after each attack. However, none of the most commonly used statistics as provided by the OECD (consumer and business confidence indices, see graphs below), shows in an obvious way such a reaction. As far as consumer indices are concerned, Germany, and Turkey appear as displaying the most obvious downward trends, while Belgium, although appearing to have registered the attacks that hit it on 22 March 2016 (see Wikipedia for a summary), shows for the period following the attack a dip which is less strong than what is displayed for the end of 2016.

terrorism, terrorist attack, Islamic State, scenarios, strategic foresight, warning, geopolitics, uncertainties, political risk, anticipation, sanctions, impact, political impact, forward looking information, forward looking statement, consumer index

If we look at the Business Confidence Index for the same countries, the attacks appear to have been even less registered.

terrorism, terrorist attack, Islamic State, scenarios, strategic foresight, warning, geopolitics, uncertainties, political risk, anticipation, sanctions, impact, political impact, forward looking information, forward looking statement, Business Confidence Index, BCI

Surprisingly, France, which has been one of the worst hit countries by the attacks, shows no major dip in confidence.

terrorism, terrorist attack, Islamic State, scenarios, strategic foresight, warning, geopolitics, uncertainties, political risk, anticipation, sanctions, impact, political impact, forward looking information, forward looking statement, Business Confidence Index, BCI

When shown on the longer term, for all countries, the periods following terrorist attacks appear to register less loss of confidence than other events, notably the financial crisis.

terrorism, terrorist attack, Islamic State, scenarios, strategic foresight, warning, geopolitics, uncertainties, political risk, anticipation, sanctions, impact, political impact, forward looking information, forward looking statement, Business Confidence Index, BCI

These curves could thus confirm a lack of corporate interest as well as a disinterest by citizens. We may hypothesise, cautiously at this stage, that a mix of absence of awareness of the threat, including as a result of psyops operations by governments of hit countries, added to the low probability to be hit by an attack contributed to this result. It could also be that the very short-term impact on confidence pointed out by the OECD study is sufficient, furthermore considering the small size of each Islamic State terrorist attack compared with 9/11, to imply that the current string of attacks has no effect on confidence.

However, we should also consider that such indices as confidence may not be suited to measure the real impact of the types of terrorist attacks we are currently facing.

Indeed, assuming that the statistics communicated by each country are trustworthy, it is, first, particularly difficult to attribute a terrorism, terrorist attack, Islamic State, scenarios, strategic foresight, warning, geopolitics, uncertainties, political risk, anticipation, sanctions, impact, political impact, forward looking information, forward looking statement, Turkey, Istanbulsingle cause to an indicator meant to indicate confidence in general. For example, Turkey knows so many upheavals, that imputing a loss of confidence solely to terrorist attacks would be most probably wrong, even though the multiplication of these attacks participates in the evolution of the Turkish situation. A single statistical measure cannot follow such complex dynamics.

Furthermore, on top of the very short-term effect of attacks on confidence pointed out above, as far as 9/11 was concerned, the attack was much larger than each of the attacks we now face, and can be seen as the first in a long series continuing nowadays, hence the shock and thus the fact it registered on confidence index. As far as the current attacks are concerned, the specific character of the distribution of the attacks, may stop any confidence index to register them. We may however wonder why there is not, to the least, a slow degradation of the confidence overtime.

Let us thus compare the confidence measures to a survey investigating relations to the European Union carried out by RedC and Win Gallop International (25 Nov – 7 Dec 2016), which also asked the question: “In general do you think that things in your country are heading in the right direction or the wrong direction?” To this, 78% of Belgium people, 82% of French people and 62% of German people answered that they thought their country heads in the wrong direction.

This does not sit very well with the confidence expected from the confidence index, unless we should also consider some fatalism at work, including a measure of desperation and feeling of terrorism, terrorist attack, Islamic State, scenarios, strategic foresight, warning, geopolitics, uncertainties, political risk, anticipation, sanctions, impact, political impact, forward looking information, forward looking statement, Paris, Bataclan, Sidney, Opera House, Australiapowerlessness. Thus, in our case, the terrorist attacks would participate in an overall negative outlook, which is not expressed through purchasing plans for consumers and “assessment of production, orders and stocks” for businesses (the confidence indices), but could be expressed during elections, as we showed in the case of the Brexit for the U.K. (Helene Lavoix, “Lessons from and for the Brexit – Geopolitics, Uncertainties, and Business (2)“, 7 Nov 2016, The Red (Team) Analysis Society). This implies that the impact of terrorist attacks should be seen from a dynamic point of view, through complex and cascading effects, and not through a single aggregate index. For the corporate sector in general, it is these nth order cascading impacts that should be taken into account as highly likely to largely upset the whole framework within which they operate.

The OECD report then points out that a direct negative impact hit airlines and aircraft manufacturers, the insurance sector, tourism-related industries, the upscale retail sector and U.S. postal service, whilst businesses in security and information technology were positively impacted. The negative impacts are constituted by business interruption and business reduction, evaluated by The New York Times for 9/11 to USD 123 billion, notably for airlines, to which should be added other costs such as interests to finance all activities related to the impacts of the attacks (estimated for 9/11 at $185 billion), and social costs (between $300 billion and $400 billion, including immediate damage) (NYT, Ibid, “What’s not shown in this tally?“).

This outlines the importance of the target and of modus operandi of the attack(s) to identify those that will see their operations impacted. We may also point out that little foresight is used by those reacting to terrorist attacks and contributing to business reduction (for example avoidance of some places or activities). Indeed, the highly likely possibility that future attacks may take various forms – as terrorists also follow a learning curve – obviously is not considered in the reaction. This is all the more important in the Islamic State attacks’ case, as we have here a series of diverse attacks and not a single large one. We shall look more in detail to these specific impacts for the current Islamic State – or more generally jihadist attacks –  in the next articles.

Medium term and indirect impacts

According to the OECD report, on the medium term, first, insurance premiums were raised while coverage was lowered.

Second, as transportation systems were disrupted and border controls were tightened, the “just-in-time supply chain management system” was threatened (Ibid. pp.23-27). As pointed out by the terrorism, terrorist attack, Islamic State, scenarios, strategic foresight, warning, geopolitics, uncertainties, political risk, anticipation, sanctions, impact, political impact, forward looking information, forward looking statement, Belgium, Zaventem, Germany, Brandenburg, BerlinOECD, a trade-off between security on the one hand, costs on international trade on the other thus appears. Interestingly, the authors stress that terrorism through this cost estimated to 1 to 3 percent ad valorem re-introduces tariffs that globalisation and liberalism strove to abolish (Ibid. p. 25). Seen from the point of view of 2017 and not anymore 2002, after the Arab Spring, which is also a child of globalisation, among other causes (for a review, Ella Moore, “Was the Arab Spring a Regional Response to Globalisation?” July 2012, e-IR students), with the U.S. of President Trump and the post-Brexit U.K. now actively looking for new models of socio-economico-political developments beyond pure liberalism, it might be worth reflecting if thinking in terms of a trade-off between security and international trade is still possible or relevant. As a result, supply-chain management might change or need to be reassessed.

Finally, the OECD underlined that public and “private sector spending [was] likely to be on the rise … to improve the security of premises, employees and information”, with still debated economic consequences, as far as military spending is concerned. The New York Times (Ibid, What’s not shown in this tally?) estimates this cost for 9/11 at “$200 billion in increased state, local and private security spending”, which may also constitute a profit for security companies.

At business level, this last impact will depend first upon the sector of activity. Second it will depend upon the answers designed and implemented by the state hit by terrorist attacks, to which we shall now turn.

Integrating state answers and related impacts

We progressively saw emerging that, in the case of terrorist attacks, it was impossible to neglect answers given at state level as they were having a large impact. This is confirmed in the case of 9/11 by the estimates given by the New York Times (Ibid.):  the overall cost of the 9/11 attacks to the United States ̋for all actors did not only include, as we saw, USD 55 billion for toll and physical damage and USD 123 billion for economic impact (business interruption and business reduction, notably airlines), but also USD 589 billion for homeland security, USD 1649 billion for war, and USD 867 billion for future war and veterans’ care, for an overall cost of USD 3,3 trillion. Hence, the cost of answers is far higher than the rest.

The impacts related to answers are numerous and far-ranging. The OECD report (Ibid: 13-16) pointed out the importance of the management of liquidity in facing the most immediate impacts of terrorist attacks. Further, we had the implementation of border controls impacting the supply chain management, as seen.

We must also consider all the anti-terrorism and counter-terrorism legislations (e.g. for a worldwide list Wikipedia “Anti-terrorism legislation” )terrorism, terrorist attack, Islamic State, scenarios, strategic foresight, warning, geopolitics, uncertainties, political risk, anticipation, sanctions, impact, political impact, forward looking information, forward looking statement, G20, and the compliance measures they entail, which deeply impact business activities, notably in the financial sector. Anti-terrorist financing obligations will then impact all companies and citizens through the regulations banks and financial institutions must follow. Each successful attack is highly likely to prompt legislators to review laws and regulations and possibly to change them, with new consequences added to previous obligations.

Furthermore, and in an even more complex way, if we have, as the New York Times did, to look at supplementary public spending generated by the answer to attacks, and from there deduce an overall cost, which is then born by tax-payers, we cannot limit ourselves to this. For example as far as military spending is concerned, the overall impact will also depend upon the capability of the state – where business operations are based and taxes paid – to ripe dividends from the novel insecurity, not only in showcasing thus selling more arms, which may lower the overall cost of security spending (and even allow for surpluses), but also in acquiring or losing international influence. This may be considered as being the case in terms or arms sales for Russia and its Syrian campaign (e.g. Mansur Mirovalev, “How Russia’s military campaign in Syria is helping Moscow market its weapons“, Los Angeles Times, 25 Nov 2016), while a rising Russian influence in the Middle East is debated (e.g. Joshua Landis, interviewed by John Judis, “America’s Failure — and Russia and Iran’s Success — in Syria’s Cataclysmic Civil War“, 12 January 2017, Syria Comment; Anna Borshchevskaya and Philip Gordon, “Putin’s Middle East Policy: Causes and Consequences“, March 23, 2016, The Washington Institute; Nikolay Kozhanov,Arms Exports Add to Russia’s Tools of Influence in Middle East“, 20 July 2016, Chatham House; Walter Russel Mead, “Russia Re-Emerges as a Great Power in the Middle East“, 12 Sept 2016, The American Interest).

As another example, the ability of the host polity to let emerge through its policies a new and adapted model of socio-political organisation able to win against the aggressor carrying out the terrorist attacks  will also have important consequences on impacts. Indeed, societies that will be able to reorganise themselves, from systems of values and beliefs to political authorities through economic interactions and adequate regulations as seen previously, to win against the enemy carrying out the terrorist attacks, will be stronger, more influent and wealthier and those actors inhabiting them will benefit from these favourable conditions.

To be able to identify precisely and then estimate these multiple impacts, we need to adopt a complex framework, which allows us to address feedbacks and cascading effects. We must be able to include the various impacts identified for previous attacks, yet not become dependent upon frameworks that may have been adapted to these attacks but are unsuited to what we face now and are highly likely to face in the future. Considering the needs, the approach to the evaluation of impacts will most probably be best done through mapping the network of impacts, which will allow us to look at first, second, third and nth order effects and at feedbacks in a multi-disciplinary way, as we practice and recommend (e.g. “Assessing Future Security Threats” series;  online course “From Process to Creating your Analytical Model for Strategic Foresight and Warning, Early Warning, Risk Management and Scenario-building“).

Considering the multiple impacts we have started identifying, it seems obvious that businesses indeed should feel concerned by terrorist attacks. Building upon these initial findings and identification of impacts, with forthcoming articles, we shall turn to more specific cases such as the tourist and transportation industries and wonder if and how strategic foresight and warning, anticipation and risk management may practically help actors and notably businesses in addressing current and future terrorist threats.

*conducted between early September and mid-October 2016 (GRR 2017, p.65)

About the author: Dr 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.

Featured image: Before the start of the G20 summit. A minute of silence to honour the memory of the victims of the terrorist attacks in Paris. 15 November 2015 – Russian Presidential Press and Information Office – [CC BY 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons.

Fighting the Islamic State’s Terrorism at Home – Truly Defend and Strike Back

This is the second part of the series looking for a third way to – truly – fight against the Islamic State’s – and other salafi-jihadi’s – terrorist attacks at home, away from polarisation. Unfortunately, in the light of the spat of terrorist attacks in Bangladesh, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and finally in France again, in Nice, especially considering the way these attacks were carried out, even though the responsibility for these attacks is sometimes disputed, this series of two articles becomes even more salient (e.g. “1–2 July 2016 Dhaka attack“, Wikipedia; “Istanbul airport attack: Isis behind deaths of at least 41, PM says“, The Guardian, 29 June 2016; “Nineteen people arrested over Saudi Arabia attacks“, Al Jazeera, 8 July 2016, “Nice attack: At least 84 killed during Bastille Day celebrations“, BBC News, 15 July 2016).*

Previously, we underlined that a false lull had been taking placing, when the threat and its impacts were still very high. Then, we stressed the main characteristics of the threat and suggested that, should it last and increase, as possible, it could not be properly faced without involving the population of the target societies. Now, considering these specific elements, we shall envision possible options available, not only to defend oneself but also to strike back. Continue reading Fighting the Islamic State’s Terrorism at Home – Truly Defend and Strike Back

Fighting the Islamic State’s Terrorism at Home – The Third Way

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

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

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:
Iss. 1, Article 1

The Islamic State in Libya – When Libyan Tribes Pledge Allegiance to the Khalifah

The coming Battle for Sirte to defeat the Islamic State in Libya is principally seen from the perspective of the struggle between the U.N.-backed new government supported by some militias including Misrata, and those who refuse that government’s legitimacy, such as nationalist Haftar (e.g. “The scramble for Sirte”, The Economist, 14 May 2016. In the meanwhile, the Islamic State becomes an insignificant threat. Similarly, the situation on the ground, notably the tribes and related politics, are quasi ignored.

Yet, it is crucial to have an understanding of what is happening, which goes beyond a top-down approach, and to consider also the perspective of the enemy, through red team analysis for example, as we are doing here. The consequences for not doing so may be deleterious, notably for companies which do not have the easy choice to “avoid risk” as advised in risk management, i.e. for all those companies bound to a territory located on Libyan ground, be it because of infrastructures, exploitation of resources or because they deliver security advice of a very tactical and local nature nonetheless influenced by larger and more strategic developments. Humanitarian organisations are no less concerned as they need to prepare and deploy on the ground, to say nothing, of course, of Libyan people, which have to live with war.

If proper courses of actions are to be chosen, then a red team approach must be used, the complexity of the terrain must be considered, analysis must be added to mere collection of information and alternative hypotheses must be examined.

tribes allegiance, gates of misratah, Misrata, islamic State, war, Libya, war in Libya, Tribes, pledge, bay'ah, Warfalla, Qadhadhfa, Awlad Sulayman
“On the Gates of Misratah” – Wilayat Tarabulus – 12 May

This is what we shall endeavour here, building upon the last article which, seeking to evaluate the Islamic State forces in Libya, started also underlining the importance of the Islamic State’s connection to tribes (see The Islamic State in Libya – Force, Fighters and Tribes). Linkages to the Qadhadhfa tribe outlined potentials in terms of the creation of a truly Libyan component to the Khilafah’s presence in Libya, through the integration of people who were previously members of Gaddafi state’s security apparatus. Meanwhile, they also added, for the Islamic State, potential strategic depth to the south notably towards the town of Sebha, which could then be declined through trade, logistics, and strategic expansion towards and linkages with the Sahel and sub-Saharan Africa.

We shall now continue our focus on the Islamic State and tribes. We shall first point out indications that confirm the importance of the tribal connection for the Islamic State in Libya. We shall then enlarge our enquiry to also consider two other tribes besides the Qadhadhfa, the Awlad Sulayman and the Warfalla Tribes, notably pointing out the relationships between the three. Finally, we shall examine threats that could emerge from potential connections between the Islamic State and these three tribes and relate them to events on the ground.

Fighting over Libyan tribes

Interestingly, new indications of the importance of the elements favouring connections between some tribes and the Islamic State have been recently given by the conjunction of a couple of articles and news. The latter stressed either the willingness of ex-Gaddafi supporters to fight against the Islamic State or an Islamic State willingness to kill them. With these assertions, those fighting the Islamic State try to counter and deter any potential support any tribal member could give to the Islamic State.

We thus find that, according to the Libya Herald, in Sirte, the Islamic State has executed an army captain, Ahnaish Qaddafi (“IS continues killings as LNA claims offensive against Sirte ready”, 1 May 2016), reportedly a “leading member of the Qaddadfa tribe”, which would imply that “ISIS is likely to target more Gaddafi loyalists and sympathisers as it fears a new uprising in the town especially if arms make their way to these dissidents in the city”. (Eye On ISIS in Libya, Jihadology, 4 May 2016). Then, according to the International Business Time (William Watkinson, 7 May 2016), “Colonel Gaddafi’s henchmen join the West to purge Isis from North Africa“.  Finally, we learn that “Gaddafi’s widow [is] allowed back to Libya as part of ‘reconciliation’ drive” prompted by a “new program of national reconciliation” (Colin Freeman, The Telegraph, 9 May 2016).

tribes allegiance, gates of misratah, Misrata, islamic State, war, Libya, war in Libya, Tribes, pledge, bay'ah, Warfalla, Qadhadhfa, Awlad Sulayman

The Islamic State answer was to publish a psyops product (see above and below) showing elders and leaders of the Qadhadhfa, the Awlad Sulayman (or Awlad Sulaiman) and the Warfalla tribes pledging allegiance (bay’ah) to al-Baghdadi (Photo report, Wilayat Tarabulus media, 8 May 2016; @wellesbien, 8 May tweet; @Libyen_Insider, 9 May tweet).

tribes allegiance, gates of misratah, Misrata, islamic State, war, Libya, war in Libya, Tribes, pledge, bay'ah, Warfalla, Qadhadhfa, Awlad Sulayman tribes allegiance, gates of misratah, Misrata, islamic State, war, Libya, war in Libya, Tribes, pledge, bay'ah, Warfalla, Qadhadhfa, Awlad Sulayman tribes allegiance, gates of misratah, Misrata, islamic State, war, Libya, war in Libya, Tribes, pledge, bay'ah, Warfalla, Qadhadhfa, Awlad Sulayman

Considering what we saw previously, notably the findings of the U.N. “Final report of the Panel of Experts on Libya established pursuant to resolution 1973 (2011)” (S/2016/209 9 March 2016) indicating notably the cooptation of members of the Qadhadhfa tribe within the Islamic State, these are indications of a psyops battle being fought around and for the loyalty of and support by members of Gaddafi security apparatus from the U.N.-backed government’s and its supporters’ point of view, for allegiance (bay’ah) by these three tribes from the Islamic State’s perspective. Considering the tribal characteristics of Libya, both perspectives are congruent.

This struggle for influence also shows the crucial importance of securing tribal support in the battle against the Islamic State in Libya, and more generally for any operation in Libya, including by private and corporate actors, all the more so in the complex context of the war.

Towards a revisited al-Suff al-Fugi [al-Fuqhi] (Qadhadhfa, Awlad Sulayman and Warfalla Tribes)?

Against the backdrop of the struggle for this tribal “support” (pledging bay’ah is more than support), considering the Islamic State new psyops product, we do not only have to consider members or families of the Qadhadhfa tribe but also two other tribes, the Awlad Sulayman (or Awlad Sulaiman) and the Warfalla.

The Islamic State’s statement regarding bay’ah pledged by the Awlad Sulayman’s elders may appear as strange at first glance, as Sirte was meant to be captured partly from them (U.N. report, ibid., par. 57).

Yet, if we look back to the recent history of Libya, we find that “Qaddafi drew his strongest supporters from his own tribe, the Qadadfa, and many of its traditional tribal allies which once composed the Saff Awlad Sulayman confederation” (Bell and Witter, “Roots of Rebellion: Part I,” Institute for the Study of War, September 2011). According to Ali Abdullatif Ahmidain, during the 19th century, “this tribal confederation [the tribal suff of the interior, al-Fugi] included the four clans of the Awlad Sulayman and the Gadaddfa, the Warfalla, and the population of the Hunn-Waddan oases of Waddan and Hunn” (The Making of Modern Libya: State Formation, Colonization, and Resistance,  1994, 2009, pp. 53-54). It was mainly led up to 1927 by the Awlad Sulayman tribe (ibid.).

Thus the cooptation by the Islamic State of some members of the Qadhadhfa, as seen, may have eased association with some members of the Awlad Sulayman – and of the Warfalla – considering past alliances.

What we may be witnessing is an attempt by the Islamic State to recreate the kind of ancestral tribal alliances that allowed Gaddafi to remain in power and to develop a polity, itself grounded into much older Libyan political dynamics.

We should not forget, however the challenges related to such an endeavour. For example, the Awlad Sulayman, ruling notably over Sebha, was the leading tribe until the advent of Gaddafi (John Oakes, “Libya – Tribes and Tribulations“, Berenice Stories, March 2014). Gaddafi, while also integrating it, nonetheless favoured his own tribe, the Qadhadhfa (Ibid.). As a result, attempts to reassert past power by the Awald Sulayman may still exist, which could mean that only lukewarm or facade support may be given.

As far as the Warfalla is concerned, this very large tribe counts more than 1 million people and is composed of more than 50 sub-tribes (Bell and Witter, “Roots of Rebellion”, ibid., 18). It is thus most unlikely to act as a unique body. For example, Bell and Witter emphasise that the Warfalla “often aligned with the Qadadfa, and thus Qaddafi, due to blood ties, but the relationship is more than kinship. The Warfalla and the Qadadfa are long-established military allies” (Ibid.). Yet, in 2011 during the civil war against Gaddafi, some Warfalla defected (Arturo Varvelli, “The role of tribal dynamics in the Libyan future“, ISPI Analysis No. 172, May 2013, p.7). This is an instance of the variety of alignments and behaviour one may find within one tribe.

Nonetheless, Varvelli also underlines that “In post-Gaddafi Libya, some tribes – such as the Warfalla, Qadhadhfa, Warshafana, Tarhouna, Asabia and Mashashiya – are threatened by the revolutionary militias or suffer exclusion in the new political order” (ibid.), which implies that not most Warfalla did not defect. Indeed, many of the Warfalla, chiefly among them those in Bani Walid, remained faithful to Gaddafi, and suffered afterwards at the hand of the winning factions and tribes, first among them their arch-enemy the Misratans  (Peter Cole, “Bani Walid: Loyalism in a Time of Revolution”, 2015). Then, facing both state collapse, isolation and reprisal, they fell back on the old tribal identities and notably revived the old idea of “al-Suff al-Fuqhi” (al-Fugi) (Ibid., 286).

What we see here outlined is that some Warfalla, as we detailed previously for the Qadhadhfa (see Force, Fighters and Tribes), may find interest in links with the Islamic State, which would then capitalise on both the destruction of Gaddafi Libya with the support of NATO and feelings of injustice and alienation afterwards. Thus some of the Warfalla may be neutral or sympathetic to the aims of the Islamic State, while others may not.

Meanwhile, even the Qadhadhfa tribe is composed of 6 sub-tribes and thus sub-tribes – or families within them – may choose different paths.

We thus have older and deeper tribal identities and alliances which were revived before the Islamic State’s declaration of the Khilafah, mixed with at least a modicum of feeling of “Libyan-ness”, which remains and is expressed mainly as rejection of foreign intervention (note that the insistence on Tunisian, Chadian or any non-Libyan identity of Islamic State’s fighters is an effort at leveraging this feeling, further research and development on what it means to be foreign, from a Libyan point of view is needed here). The two can now meet and coalesce with the Khilafah’s objective in Libya, whilst inner feuds as well as sub-tribes’ and families’ independence may, on the contrary, play against such a revival in support of the Islamic State.

We should thus consider the Islamic State’s probable aim to embed itself within and link with a renewed al-suff al-Fugi as a dangerous emerging potentiality to monitor and not as an already fully actualized situation. Even if the links forged were already strong, considering the fluid character of tribal politics, we would need to monitor this tribal aspect closely.

Potential Threats in al-suff al-Fugi linkages with the Islamic State

What are thus the new threats outlined by the latest psyops product of wilayat Tarabulus, i.e. potentialities stemming not only from the linkages with and bay’ah by the Qadhadhfa, but also by some sub-tribes of the Awald Sulayman and of the Warfalla, and can we link them to events on the ground?

Keeping the road to the west and southwest opened while protecting Sirte western flank … and expanding?

If we look at the map depicting the implantation of tribes we see that the area south of Misrata and west from Sirte is home to the Warfalla.

tribes allegiance, gates of misratah, Misrata, islamic State, war, Libya, war in Libya, Tribes, pledge, bay'ah, Warfalla, Qadhadhfa, Awlad Sulayman
Distribution of major tribes in Libya by Giacomo Goldkorn, March, 18th, 2015, Geopolitical Atlas (click map to access – Sources: Libyan tribal system, Fergiani, – 09/22/2011.

We thus find a convergence, in the absence of direct evidence besides the Islamic State photos, between the early May 2016 Islamic State’s breakthrough to the west of Sirte, against Misrata, and the area under Warfalla rule.

On 5 and 6 May, the Islamic State moved west against Misrata and took the crossroad of Abu Grein (Abu Grain) as well as six other town and villages around the area (Abu Nujaym, Wadi Zamzam, Al Balgha, Al Washka, Wadi Bey and Al Buwirat (, 7 May 2016; Libya’s Channel, 7 May;  “Weekly Eye on ISIS in Libya Update”,, 10 May 2016), as shown on the detailed map (by @ArtRosinski updated 13 May) below:

map, ISIS west expansion libya, tribes allegiance, gates of misratah, Misrata, islamic State, war, Libya, war in Libya, Tribes, pledge, bay'ah, Warfalla, Qadhadhfa, Awlad Sulayman
Islamic State Western expansion 5 to 13 May 2016. Click on image to access large original file in HD. By @ArtRosinski

At the time of writing, fighting continues between Misrata and the Islamic State. On 12 May 2016, we had “clashes between #Misrata forces and #ISIS near the Sadada checkpoint” (@alwasatengnews, 12 May tweet), with vehicles and weapons being reportedly seized from the Islamic State by the 604th infantry (@Chief_MarshallR, 12 May tweet), forcing them to retreat towards Boukran (@libyaalaan, 12 May tweet). On 13 May, Misrata forces would have captured fifteen fighters of the Islamic State (Libya Akhbar). Meanwhile, Libya Dawn claims it has “performed more than 40 airstrikes in the vicinity of #Abugrein area” since 8 May (@Arn_Del, 12 May tweet) and air strikes would be ongoing (@Oded121351 12 May tweet).   

On 15 May, some forces ofLibya Dawn were still reportedly moving towards Abu Grein ((@Chief_MarshallR, 15 May tweet), and on 16 May 2016 the areas previously seized by the Islamic State were apparently still under its control.

We are not here in a “hit and run” context but in one where the Islamic State seeks to assert control, while being on the offensive. The map (by @Libyen_Insider) depicting the various forces in Libya thus now looks as below for 5 May, to which should be added the Islamic State move further west as depicted on the area map above:

map, libya 5 may war,
Map of the War in Libya by @Libyen_Insider – Click to access original map

Or, alternatively, as below, as for 13 May ( @ArtRosinski): The Islamic State corridor to the south depicted here seems to be much more in line with the pledge given by the three tribes as well as with the known move of fighters and weapons from the south through Sebha (see Force, Fighters and Tribes).

map IS all corridor south, map Islamic State Libya 13 May
Map of the war in Libya, situation by 13 May 2016, enlarged from the small map of the “Islamic State Western expansion 5 to 13 May 2016”. by @ArtRosinski

These Islamic State western attacks take place as the uncoordinated offensive against the Islamic State in Sirte is imminent, the new UN-backed government being about to attack from the west, with and through Misrata (e.g. TRTWorld, Reuters, “Libya prepares military operation on DAESH stronghold“, 11 May 2016), while the army of nationalist Haftar (not recognising the legitimacy of the U.N. backed government) is marching on Sirte from the east along the coast and from the southeast through Zalla (Libya’s Channel, “Haftar orders army to move on IS-held Sirte, clashes in Zalla“, 4 May 2016).

sirte deserted at night, night in Sirte, Sirte, islamic State, war, Libya, war in Libya, offensive sirte
Sirte deserted at night – 12 May 2016 – by @mohamed7elmahde

In this framework, and considering the Islamic State is certainly preparing itself to sustain a siege in Sirte, witness the refugees leaving the city and report of increased defences (Jamahiriya News Agency, 9 May 2016; TRTWorld, Reuters, Ibid; “Weekly Eye on ISIS”, Ibid.), the surprise attack to the west is probably a way to protect the western flank of the city, as well as to keep opened the road to the southwest, should a retreat be necessary. However planning for all options, including a retreat, is not the same as choosing to leave Sirte for the south as best strategic option, nor as a deliberate choice to abandon Libya, as argued by Emily Estelle, who states: “ISIS is laying the groundwork to abandon Sirte and will then pursue an alternate course of action to continue its campaign in North Africa without its Libyan stronghold.” (“ISIS’s Courses of Action – Out of Sirte“, Critical Threats, April 29, 2016).

Indeed the new territory captured by the Islamic State, added to the fact it is in Warfalla territory may also outline other possibilities. We should note here that the Islamic State wilayat Tarabulus psyops video stressing the support of the Warfalla was published on 8 May 2016, thus after the operation around Abu Grein took place. Although we do not know how much coercion and how much influence and cooptation could have been exerted, it is nonetheless likely that some results in terms of tribal politics were achieved with some Warfalla sub-tribes – or families, as shows the pledge of bay’ah and without which hold on an area would be quite impossible.

Two factors may be operative here. First, the deep-seated enmity between Misrata and the Warfalla may strongly be playing (Cole, Ibid.; Jon Mitchell, Tribal Dynamics and Civil War (3) (Toubou and Arab Tribes), 11 May 2015, RTAS; Oakes, Ibid). Second, The UN-backed character of the new GNA, added to covert support already given by the U.S., U.K. and France, are likely to enhance the perception of the U.N.-backed government as linked to foreign invaders (note that a few U.S. forces would be stationed in Misrata Missy Ryan, “U.S. establishes Libyan outposts with eye toward offensive against Islamic State“, Washington Post, 12 May 2016; see also Chris Stephen, “Secret US mission in Libya revealed after air force posted pictures“, The Guardian, 17 December 2015; Reuters, “French special forces waging ‘secret war’ in Libya: report“, 24 February 2016). This refusal of foreign intervention is most probably a very important aspect for the Warfalla,  as the tribe was vocal in 2012  to counter a GNC seen as the puppet of NATO (e.g. Alexandra Valient, “The Warfalla Tribe Are Leading The Revolt Against NATO’s Occupation ForcesLibya 360, 18 Oct 2012). Indeed the President of the Social Council of the tribes Warfalla in independently minded Bani Walid, in a recent interview, stresses he “has no communication with these [the three] governments”. However, he was also there describing the dire situation of the people displaced because of “Daesh”, which is far from full support (Jamahiriya News Agency, Ibid. 9 May 2016).

As a result, the current ability to remain in Warfalla territory probably signals not only the intention to fight as much as possible to “remain and expand” – to use the Islamic State motto, but also an enhanced ability of the Islamic State to do so, even if the latter depends also upon a host of other factors.

Short of unknown elements and black swans events (for an explanation of what are Black Swans events and of Taleb’s related book see H. Lavoix, “Taleb’s Black Swans: The End Of Foresight?“, RTAS, 21 Jan 2013), always possible especially at war, and without forgetting the damage airpower may cause, the Warfalla will most probably not help Misratans, and may see their interest in “allowing” the Islamic State to at least try stopping Misratans and the U.N.-backed government to obtain a too easy victory. The Islamic State may lose again Abu Grein and surrounding villages, but it will be because of a successful Misratan counter-offensive. It will change nothing to the fact that they have been able, however briefly, to start settling in the area.

At worst, the Warfalla may also, with time, see in an assertive Khilafah an opportunity to participate in and promote a revived al-Suff al-Fugi. The involvement and position of the Qadhadhfa and of the Awald Sulayman would most probably be also crucial here. We could even wonder if the al-Suff al Fugi could not become the representative of the Khilafah in Libya, ruling over its wilayat. In that case, we would be seeing not the premises of a final relatively rapid defeat of the Islamic State, notably qua state in Libya, but the some new steps of an expansion to the west and southwest.

map al naba Libya, Islamic State western expansion Libya
The Islamic State shows its new expansion to the west with an article in al-Naba (weekly newsletter) #30 – 10 May 2016 – p.5 Click to access the newsletter (in Arabic) on Jihadology.

As a result, the already existing sleeper cells in the west, the training camps in Sabratha and the road to and from Tunisia (see U.N. report, ibid.) – and potentially Algeria – would all take renewed tactical, operational and strategic values. Tripoli, as well as the U.N.-backed government would be in a more precarious position – despite alleged success in eradicating Islamic State’s sleeper cell in Tripoli, as on 14 May (“Tripoli IS terror cell planning operations, captured by Rada“, Libya Herald).  Potentially intervening powers would hence be placed into a conundrum that would need to be handled with high tribal political savvy.

The risks entailed are too high, even if the Islamic State is defeated in Abu Grein, and too fraught with strategic and operational consequences in terms of decisions for all actors, not to consider the possible range of alternatives and not to monitor also in depth this tribal perspective.

Connection to the Hunn-Waddan oases, a key to Libya?

Another very interesting aspect of the al-suff al-Fugi is that it includes or is related, as we saw above, to the population of the Hunn-Waddan (Houn-Waddan) oases (see map below), part of al-Jufra region.

Hunn-Waddan oases, tribes allegiance, gates of misratah, Misrata, islamic State, war, Libya, war in Libya, Tribes, pledge, bay'ah, Warfalla, Qadhadhfa, Awlad Sulayman
Click to access Google maps

Needless to say, obtaining connections to oases is absolutely crucial in a desert country. Furthermore, one may observe that the Hunn-Waddan oases are critically located almost in the center of Libya. It is a strategic place holding the south and Sebha, the west through Abu Grein and Ash Shawrif, the east though Zalla (Zillah), and the center north with Sirte.

It may indeed not be by complete chance that, historically, the tribes of the al-suff al-Fugi have consistently played such a crucial military role (Ahmida, Ibid; Cole, ibid.).

We shall not come back here to the importance of Sebha (see Force, Fighters and Tribes), but nonetheless shall underline that linkages between the Islamic State and the Awlad Sulayman, traditionally “ruling” over Sebha may only fortify the capabilities of the Khilafah to benefit from Sebha.

We saw above the importance of Abu Grein and the road to the West. The connection to the west is also reinforced by the fact that on 6 May, the Islamic State “seized governmental buildings in Abu Nujaym” (@Chief_MarshallR, 7 May tweet). Abu Nujaym is not so much located south of Sirte as on the road between Abu Grein and Waddan.

Now, regarding the defence of Sirte, the advantages of tribal connections to the oases, notably Waddan, are strategic. Indeed, Haftar’s armies are also advancing through the southern road. On 3 May 2016 they were reportedly in Zalla. That said, the Islamic State may also be protected by the fractious character of the Libyan war, as Haftar’s forces were attacked by “Forces loyal to Ziyad Belaam, a senior commander” allied with “Benghazi’s Revolutionaries Shura Council” itself “allied with Libya Dawn”, while Misratan air force also attacked them, the two sides then sending reinforcements to fight each other (Libya Channel, 4 May 2016). Nonetheless, rumours of a 6 May Islamic State’s attack “on a checkpoint in Jufra, which was also the sight of clashes between Dawn affiliated groups and the Libyan army, under the orders of Colonel Khalifa Haftar, the day before” were reported (Libya Channel, 7 May 2016). An attack West of Waddan was also denied (Abdulkarim Alduwayni, Fezzan Libya, 7 May), which may accredit the fact it was only a rumour, assuming the two are the same attack. Fear is not only creeping in, but also these rumors may prefigure the possibility to see an enhanced capability by the Islamic State to cut off retreat or arrival of reinforcement from the east, and ultimately a capacity to move towards the east, should, of course, the connection to the al-suff al-Fugi develop and be strengthened.

The fate of the Islamic State in Libya may very well be also in the hands of the Qadhadhfa, the Awlad Sulayman and the Warfalla Tribes. Should it be defeated and its capabilities degraded towards “hit and run” and “terrorist attacks” operations, the potential key role of these three tribes should be noted and remembered, as vital for a still hypothetic return to peace in Libya.

Featured image: from the photo report the pledge of allegiance of Tribes– Wilayat Tarabulus, 8 May 2016.

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.

Ali Abdullatif Ahmida. The Making of Modern Libya: State Formation, Colonization and Resistance, 1830–1932. By  Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1994 [2009].

Peter Cole, “Bani Walid: Loyalism in a Time of Revolution”, in The Libyan Revolution and Its Aftermath, e.d Peter Cole, Brian McQuinn, Oxford University Press, 2015.

The Islamic State in Libya – Force, Fighters and Tribes

What is the current state of play for the Islamic State in Libya, and, most importantly, how can it evolve? The question is increasingly relevant considering the rising possibility of an international intervention in Libya against the Islamic State, a complex matter considering notably the questioned domestic legitimacy of the new U.N.-prompted Government of National Authority (GNA) (e.g. APA, “Libya unity gov’t approval postponed indefinitely“, 19 April 2016), despite strong pressure imposed on Libyans to recognise it, such as the U.S. President “Executive Order — Blocking Property And Suspending Entry Into The United States Of Persons Contributing To The Situation In Libya” (White House, 19 April 2016).

cyrenaica, al-Barqah, Islamic State, Liyan war, Islamic State forces in Libya
Advertising image for the Islamic state psyops video “The Raid of Shaykh Abū al-Mughīrah al-Qaḥṭānī – Wilāyat al-Barqah” – 14 Feb 2016

Is the Islamic State’s threat in Libya hyped and “not a realistic fallback” for a Khilafah, furthermore pummelled in Mesopotamia, as argued by Geoff Porter (“How Realistic Is Libya As An Islamic State “Fallback”?”, CTC Sentinel, 17 March 2016)? Or, on the contrary, as stated by the Council of the European Union “Council conclusions on Libya” (18 April 2016), are we faced with the “growing threat of terrorism including by Daesh and affiliates”, which echoes the concern expressed in the U.N. “Final report of the Panel of Experts on Libya established pursuant to resolution 1973 (2011)” (S/2016/209 9 March 2016), according to which “The political and security vacuum has been further exploited by Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), which has significantly expanded its control over territory”? Should we believe, the deputy Prime Minister designate Musa al-Koni of the GNA when he warned that the Islamic State “could take over two-thirds of the country” (BBC News, 18 April 2016), or is this estimate not only motivated by genuine fear of a worst case scenario but also by a wish to ensure continuous support of the proponents of international intervention?

Depending on the answer to this question the range of impacts, as well as their durations, will vary, as, for example, some of the petroleum companies still operating in Libya had to further evacuate three fields for fear of attacks by the Islamic State, while the problems of migrants, not only to Europe but also within Libya does not relent (Reuters, 10 April 2016, Fezzan Libya, 10 April 2015; Ibrahim Hiba, “The danger coming from the West“, Fezzan Libya, 24 April 2015.

Sirte Drone
Sirte, image taken by a drone, from Islamic State psyops video “Of their Goods, take Alms”, Wilāyat Ṭarābulus”, 27 February 2016

We are dealing here, as so often lately, with the uncertainties of the future, furthermore shrouded by the fog of war. It would thus be unrealistic to expect a clear-cut, black and white, easy answer. Nonetheless, we may aim at improving our estimates, stressing notably dynamics and weak signals. We shall here focus on the Islamic State forces in Libya. After reviewing the existing quantitative assessments of Islamic State fighters in Libya, we shall dive deeper into what could be the overall human strength of the Islamic State in Libya. Considering the Islamic State’s state-building component, we shall thus look at the population under the Khilafah’s rule, at the way inhabitants are coerced and coopted and, as a result, at the tribal links the Islamic State is potentially forging. Finally, using the geographical distribution of tribes, we shall stress potential consequences in terms of use of foreign fighters and trade for the Islamic State in Libya.

A still relatively small yet rising force despite setbacks

In November 2014, when Derna fell, it was estimated that the Islamic State counted 800 fighters, operating “half a dozen camps on the outskirts of the town, as well as larger facilities in the nearby Green Mountains, where fighters from across North Africa  [were] are being trained”, including 300 fighters from the al-Battar Brigade (CNN, 18 Nov 2014). The latter had returned during Spring 2014 from fighting in Syria, called themselves the Islamic Youth Shura Council (IYSC) and had pledged allegiance to the Khalifah in September (Wehrey and Ala’ Alrababa’h, “Rising Out of Chaos: The Islamic State in Libya”Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. 5 March 2015).

122 marauding camp sc
From photo report “Sheikh Abu Al-Qahtani training camp – accepted by God” Wilāyat al-Barqah, 13 April 2016

In 2016, the estimates of the Islamic State forces vary between 2000-3000 for “a U.N estimate” (Tribune de Genève, 14 Dec 2015), 3000 for the French Minister of Defence (Atlantico, 8 Feb 2016), 3000-6000 (Stars and Stripes, 19 Feb 2016) or 3250-6500 for U.S. military intelligence sources (CNN, 4 Feb 2016) to 10000 fighters, the latter figure, however, according to unnamed and unspecified French sources quoted by Issandr El Amrani (How Much of Libya Does the Islamic State Control?“, Foreign Policy, 18 Feb 2016 – note that Porter, Ibid, misquote El-Amrani, referring to 12000 fighters).

If we compare briefly these figures with past estimates for other forces existing then on the Libyan ground, focusing on those forces supporting the nationalist or non-Islamist Tobruk based House or Council of Representatives, we have 18000-21000 men for the Petroleum Facilities Guard, out of which 2000 are militarily trained, 20000 fighters for the Cyrenaica Protection Force, 20000 soldiers for the Libyan army, 5000 commandos for Al-Saiqa (Special Forces), 2000 men for the Al-Sawaiq Brigade, up to 18000 well-armed fighters for the Zintani-composed al-Qaqa Brigade (see Mitchell, “Nationalist Forces -1“, RTAS, Oct 2014), and up to 6000 fighters for Haftar’s Libyan National Army, etc. (see Mitchell, “Nationalist Forces -2“, RTAS).

reading an naba2 scThe Islamic State forces are thus still a small faction even though obviously determined. Considering the fractious landscape of the war in Libya, this is, nevertheless, a force that can wreak considerable damage, and use not only hit and run types of operations but also conquering then defensive ones, aiming at state-building. Such conquering and defensive operations are exemplified first in Derna, where the Islamic state lost full control of the city in June  2015, then was most probably fully expelled by the al-Qaeda linked Derna Mujahideen Shura Council (DMSC) on 21 April 2016 (BBC News, Islamic State ‘forced out’ of key Libyan city of Derna, 21 April 2016; Thomas Joscelyn, “Islamic State fighters retreat from bases outside Derna, Libya“, the Long War Journal, 20 April 2016). We then have the example of Sirte and its nearby surrounding territory, including Bin Jawad, which is the only territory currently fully held by the Islamic State (Ibid., Libya Prospects, “IS forces Sirte inhabitants to attend Sharia lessons“, 30 March 2016; U.N. Final report, ibid.; Thomas Joscelyn, “Islamic State releases photos from captured Libyan town of Bin Jawad“, the Long War Journal, 7 January 2016).

Despite the presence of the Islamic State forces on the Libyan territory, the latest spat of defeats for the Islamic State, in Derna, as seen, or in Ajdabiya then Benghazi, this time against the nationalist forces of the Tobruk government (Thomson Reuters, “Libyan National Army claims ISIS pushed out of Ajdabiya, parts of Benghazi“, 21 Feb 2016; Euronews, “Libya’s eastern army gains ground in Benghazi“, 20 April 2016), could signal the beginning of the end for the Islamic State. The Islamic State forces would thus have reached their apex and, defeats leading to loss of appeal, we would start to see a declining yet dangerous threat.

If this scenario is possible, we are under the fog of war and, however uncertain, the potential exists within the current situation for another less optimistic scenario, as we shall now see.

Beyond fighters’ numbers: population and quality of fighters

Because the Islamic State aims at state-building and not only at attacking and wounding a foe, to fully evaluate the Islamic State’s forces and threat we also need to consider the population that is subjected to its rule. Indeed, it is out of this population that the Islamic State will extract part of the resources needed for its sustenance agric14 sc– besides the current tropism, oil is not the only resource and wealth available to political actors* – potentially recruit new fighters, as well as meet challenges that could lead to defeat or reinforcement, as exemplified in both Derna and Sirte with defeat in the first case and “successful repression”  – i.e. not leading to demise and loss of territory – in the second (see below).

Wielding coercion and cooptation

It is currently considered that the present entrenchment of the Islamic State in Sirte stems from the latter’s capacity to ally with, coopt and coerce the Qadhadhfa tribe, including recruiting young fighters among them (U.N. Final report, ibid: par. 57 to 60).

Both cooptation and coercion are two crucial elements of state-building and governance, and one would be very naive and ignorant of history and political dynamics to ignore these components. However unpalatable, notably to some current strands of ideology in the West, what makes the difference between a successful use of these fundamental instruments of political authorities’ power is the way these tools are exerted i.e. following historically constructed norms and belief-systems or not (Moore, B., Injustice: Social bases of Obedience and Revolt, London: Macmillan, 1978), as well as the efficiency of repression, as explained by Andrew Turton in his work on Thailand and everyday politics (according to Turton, we often tend to underestimate the power of coercion and violence).

Derna presents us with an instance of a use of violence by the Islamic State perceived as illegitimate when the Islamic State did not have the strength to face the consequences of the consequent uprising: following the assassination of the local leader of the Abu Salim Martyrs Brigade, the “Mujahedeen Shura Council of Derna declared jihad” on the Islamic State, which led to the loss of control of the city by the Islamic State in June 2015 (e.g. “ISIS Loses Libyan Stronghold“, ISW, Jun 24, 2015), and ultimately to the current ousting from the city (see above).

On the contrary, in Sirte, in August 2015, the Islamic State managed to repress a rebellion that followed the killing of an Imam of the Furjan Tribe, killing more than 50 members of the tribe (“IS detains elders from Al-Furjan tribe“, Libyaprospect, 12 April 2016; U.N. Final report). No further uprising followed. As a result, the Islamic State’s control over Sirte was likely strengthened.

However, one may not rule by the sword alone, hence also the need for cooptation, besides other crucial dimensions of governance. We find such an instance with a recent Shari’ah course conducted by the Islamic State in Sirte, and concluded by a large “graduation ceremony” publicised through a photo report (Photo report Wilayat Tarabulus, “Graduation Ceremony in Sirte”, 18 April 2016; see sirte graduation105 scexplanation on the type of propaganda or psyops in An Updated Guide to the Islamic State Psyops, 18 April 2016). The course would have reached out to more than 4000 people and some cash rewards would reportedly have been used as award for the best students (Jason Pack, “Weekly Eye on ISIS in Libya Update – April 20, 2016“, This cash reward may be seen as an example of cooptation.

What appears also as most striking during this ceremony, although one should not discount a specific choice of timing and images by the photographer, is that people laugh.** Indeed, in photographs and videos of people subjected to the rule of the Islamic State, notably in Mesopotamia, the emotions shown by the faces and especially the eyes of the people (not the fighters but the “subjects”) photographed are often hidden fear or resignation. If a group, including children, is shown rejoicing, an attentive examination tends to always find a grown-up looking away, showing uncertainty or being plainly afraid. Here, on 2 pictures, people laugh, and most probably not out of convenience or embarrassment. Although one definitely needs to remain cautious here, all the more so that one instance of “negative emotion” at least can be found in a past Islamic State video (“And What Is To Come Will Be More Devastating and Bitter – Wilāyat Ṭarābulus”, 26 March 2016), this may be a weak signal indicating that the Islamic State’s rule in Sirte would be relatively less heavy to bear for citizens, despite the Furjan repression mentioned above and, of course, the usual use of executions (e.g. Islamic State psyops video, “To Establish the Religion – Wilāyat Ṭarābulus”, 30 March 2016,; Pack, ibid.).

night in sirte, Sirte, islamic State, war, Libya, war in Libya
Islamic State Wilayat Tarabulus, Photo “Night Portrait of a street in the city of Sirte” – 13 April 2016

We may thus estimate that the Islamic State has possibly learned from its mis-governance in Derna and is possibly improving the way it handles coercion and cooptation. Should this hypothesis and evaluation be correct, then the potential to see the Islamic State benefitting from its state-building in Sirte is enhanced. As a result, it would also be more likely to use successfully the tribal connections thus created to move forward, as we shall now see. As a consequence, the potential threat the Islamic State represents in the short to medium or even long-term – should no proper action be taken – would also increase.

Tribal Connections

Although we should not over-simplify tribal connections (families and sub-tribes may feud within one tribe, for example), the importance of tribal relationships in Libya should also not be underestimated (see Jon Mitchell, War in Libya and Its Futures – Tribal Dynamics and Civil War, 13 April 2015 and Tribal Dynamics and Civil War (3) (Toubou and Arab Tribes), 11 May 2015, RTAS).

tribes, Libya, Islamic State
Distribution of major tribes in Libya by Giacomo Goldkorn, March, 18th, 2015, Geopolitical Atlas (click map to access – Sources: Libyan tribal system, Fergiani, – 09/22/2011.

The Qadhadhfa, an Arab tribe, was the tribe of Muammar Gaddafi and its estrangement from the new post-Gaddafi Libya is most probably instrumental in its attitude to the Islamic State (U.N. Final report, ibid; Mitchell, Ibid.). The Qadhadhfa would count around 100.000 people (Bell and Witter, “Roots of Rebellion: Part I,” Institute for the Study of War, September 2011), even if most probably not all members react similarly to the Islamic State. The Qadhadhfa is present not only in Sirte but also, as shown on the map above, in the region of Sehba, one of the two major southern nodes, with Ghat, for the various smuggling routes in and out of Libya (Norwegian Center for Global Analysis (NGCA) and Global Initiative against Transnational Organized Crime, Libya: Criminal economies and terrorist financing in the trans-Sahara, May 2015).

Thus, short of major mis-governance (see above), the Islamic State may count on economic activity generated by the members of this tribe and related taxes first, and second on a level of support ranging from diplomacy and absence of hostility to more active support, such as facilitation of transactions including movement, logistics and trade, up to the recruitment of fighters and participation in administrative, police and security tasks. The involvement of the Qadhadhfa in the Gaddafi administration may also be an asset in terms of skills for the Islamic State.

Indeed, the U.N. final report underlines that “It [ISIL] has also recruited military officers from the former regime” (par 57). As we also know that fighters were recruited not only from the Qadhadhfa, but also from the Magharba tribe (Ibid.), and that the Magharba was another tribe previously supporting Gaddafi (Cherif Bassiouni, ed. Libya: From Repression to Revolution, 2013, p. xlv), while Qadhadhfa and some members of the Magharba held key positions in the security apparatus of the Gaddafi regime (ibid.), then what we see emerging is a genuinely Libyan component of the Islamic State’s administrative and security apparatus for wilayat Tarabulus, skilled and experienced as far as the Libyan idiosyncrasies are concerned.

Furthermore, we face a phenomenon that is not dissimilar to what happened in Iraq, with the inclusion of former Saddam Hussein security officers within the Islamic State’s security apparatus (e.g.Christoph Reuter, “The Terror Strategist: Secret Files Reveal the Structure of Islamic State“, Der Spiegel, 18 April 2015). The ease with which a similar narrative can be created for the two experiences, Libyan and Iraqi, as well as most probably the existence of comparable feelings of injustice for both the Libyan and Iraqi officers, may only favour the inclusion of Libyans within the Islamic State system, as well as create feelings of shared fate and common enemies.

As a result, the likelihood to see a rapid and full decline of the Islamic State in Libya decreases.  On the contrary, the overall threat is likely enhanced, despite defeats.

We should also note that the Magharba’s territory lies from the south of Benghazi to Sirte (Bell and Witter, Ibid; see map above), and also has a share in the oasis town of Jalo (“Libya – The Zawiya Tribe“, Berenice Stories, 14 Feb 2013). Thus, mentions of recruitment of members of the Magharba could potentially prefigure further attempts towards expansion in Magharba territory through alliance and allegiance and needs to be monitored.

Tribal connections, foreign recruitment and trade

The geographical presence of the Qadhadhfa in the region of the smuggling node of Sebha may also be a crucial advantage for the Islamic State. It most likely eases the move of weapons and fighters towards Libya to reinforce the ranks of the Islamic State first, then allow for reverse flow towards the Sahel countries and Sub-Saharan Africa both towards the west and the east.

From photo report : “raiding the Dawn of Libya May 28th battalion in the south”

Indeed, it would seem that fighters from Nigeria’s Boko Haram have contributed, notably over the last months, to beef up the ranks of the Islamic State in Libya. According to Callum Paton, an activist in Sehba estimates, using sources in both Sebha and Sirte, that “the number of Boko Haram fighters in Sirte could be as high as 1,000” (“Isis in Libya: How Boko Haram jihadis are flocking to join Daesh’s holy war in North Africa“, IBTimesUK, 5 March 2016). Always according to this activist, the Islamic State would use its own specific network, and not the usual smugglers for migrants. The Islamic State route and people would nonetheless go through Sebha (Ibid.). Furthermore, according to al-Ghwell of the Rafik Hariri Centre, Islamic State fighters in Sirte also include people from Chad and Niger (Ibid.), most probably coming through the same route. We also find trace of fighters from Somalia (H Lavoix, “At War against a Global Islamic State – Facing a Strategic Trap in Somalia?“, RTAS, 14 December 2015) and from Senegal (e.g. Emma Farge, “From Senegal to Libya – an African student joins Islamic State“, Reuters, 30 March 2016).

As a result, the Qadhadhfa’s connection for the Islamic State also means most probably an eased mobilisation, recruitment and access to radicalised people initially located south beyond the Libyan border.

Similarly, trade between Libya and the Sahel and sub-Saharan Africa is favoured, as already exists with Nigeria (Callum Paton, Ibid.), which, again, may enhance the Islamic State resources, in turn increasing its capacity to attract fighters as well as to wield cooptation.

22 car sales sc

Sirte, car sales, Islamic State, Libya
From photo report “car market taking place in Sirte”, 14 April 2016

In this light, the emphasis found in the psyops of wilayat Tarabulus on a car market taking place in Sirte (photo report, 14 April 2016) or on sales of fodder (see photo above) may also be part of a wish to demonstrate the Islamic State’s wealth as well as its trading capabilities. Similarly the video “Of their Goods, Take Alms”, (wilayat Tarabulus, 27 February 2016) even though focused on zakah and thus succour given to the poor (see for a detailed explanation Money, Wealth and Taxes, Ibid), also displays wealth mainly as cattle, crucial in a land of desert, as well as money, and thus could also be seen as broadly favouring trade.

The second better known route and connection towards Tunisia, as well as the Islamic State’s activities in Bani Walid will be examined with a forthcoming post.

In conclusion, the consideration of the forces of the Islamic State in terms of numbers of fighters stresses an important but still relatively small threat. Once one moves beyond the solely quantitative and look at state-building and connections to tribes, the potential threat becomes severe, while the likelihood to see a full and rapid decline of the Islamic State in Libya decreases (which does not mean disappears). At this stage of our analysis, the situation displays dynamics specific to the Libyan terrain which may conjugate not only with the Mesopotamian battlefield but also with a regional African one. It is thus more than “just a fallback” for the Mesopotamian theatre of operation.

Featured image: 14th photograph of the photo report – Wilayat Tarabulus, “Graduation Ceremony in Sirte”, 18 April 2016.

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.


*Indeed, oil and gas only represents for the Islamic State in Mesopotamia around 40% of its income, Jean-Charles Brisard and Damien Martinez, Islamic State: the Economy-Based Terrorist Funding, Thomson Reuters Accelus, Oct 2014; IHS “Islamic State Monthly Revenue Drops to $56 million” 18 April 2016 – note the difference in break-down between the two evaluations. See also H Lavoix, “Understanding the Islamic State’s System – Money, Wealth and Taxes“, RTAS, 13 July 2015.

**Out of concern for the individuals mentioned in this paragraph, be it in Libya or Mesopotamia, and to avoid increasing the chance they could be victims of future reprisals by one faction or another, no image is given here.

The Islamic State and Terrorist Attacks: License to Kill

As the Islamic State loses ground in Mesopotamia, in the west in Syria with the defeat in Palmyra (e.g. Adam Withnall The Independent, 27 March 2016), in the north with an increasingly large territory recaptured by the Kurds (e.g. Avi Asher-Schapiro, Vice News, 22 Dec 2015) and in the east in Iraq, first with the battle of Ramadi (“Battle of Ramadi (2015–16)“, Wikipedia) and now with the start of Iraqi “Operation Conquest” to free Mosul (Paul D. Shinkman, US News, 24 March 2016), it could be tempting to discard the Islamic State and its Khilafah as a bygone threat and a now inconsequential enemy  .

If this string of victories against the Islamic State is definitely important and crucial in the war against the Khilafah, uncertainties nonetheless remain. First, even in Mesopotamia, the Islamic State has not given up, but may be, for example, trying to open a southern front, as well shown by Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi (“The Fitna in Deraa and the Islamic State Angle“, Jihadology, 26 March 2016). Then, the Islamic State will most probably attempt to consolidate, develop as well as open new fronts, as underlined previously in “At War against the Islamic State – A Global Theatre of War“. The increasing use of terrorist attacks on various “ribat“* is likely to be part of their defensive strategy, as expected (see An Updated Guide to the Islamic State Psyops, 14 March 2016) and as indeed unfortunately shown by the latest attacks in Istanbul and Brussels (“March 2016 Istanbul bombing” and “2016 Brussels bombings“, Wikipedia).

In the light of this potentially rising number of terrorist attacks, it is thus crucial to understand the perspective and position of the Islamic State as far as these attacks are concerned. That will contribute to define the framework for the Islamic State’s – and its members’ – intentions, as well as to identify sensitive points in terms of legitimacy. From there, we may notably deduce a number of elements and factors that could be useful, in particular to intelligence services and political authorities, to screen and prioritize entities that could be, or not, possible targets, and to identify potential new threats. Conjointly, sensitive points, and discrepancies in messages, may also be used, as we shall point out at the end of the second part and in the third part below, to craft counter-psyops, counter-radicalisation and even psyops messages.

We shall here analyse the long article, “Attentats sur la voie prophétique” (“Attack on the prophetic path” – 32 pages, pp.7-38) devoted to the Islamic State’s justification for the 13 November attacks in Paris, published in Dar al Islam #8 (Al-Hayat Media Center, 6 Feb 2016), the magazine of the Islamic State in French. The very length of the article – one of the longest published in both Dabiq and Dar-al-Islam since their creation – is in itself an indication of the importance of this document for the Islamic State, and thus warrants our attention. This is all the truer that this article is only the first part of two. A second part, meant to be a “case study of the 13 November attacks” (p.38), should be published in the next Dar-al-Islam, assuming the military pressure in Mesopotamia does not disrupt or cancel publication.

We shall use this article as indicating points that are particularly important to the Islamic State. We shall focus first on the Islamic State’s defence of their Islamic status. We shall then turn to they way they seek to establish it is lawful to kill civilians, with a particular attention given to women and children, meanwhile understanding better how the Khilafah categorizes the world, identifying a possible new threat as well as important themes in terms of (counter-)psyops. Finally, we shall look at the Islamic State’s position regarding self-defence and defensive or attacking jihad, and outline possible disagreements thus weakness to exploit in the Islamic State’s discourse.

We shall not, of course, take position on Islamic doctrine and argument, best left to Muslim religious scholars and their authoritative assembly (ulema). Continue reading The Islamic State and Terrorist Attacks: License to Kill

An Updated Guide to the Islamic State Psyops

 last update: selected 10 videos… updated dates for all the latest issue of magazines, Amaq in Bengali, al-Bayan in Bengali.

The defeated attack by the Islamic State on Ben Guerdane in Tunisia on 7 March 2016 probably indicated a worrying shift in tactics and strategy, which must be considered (e.g. Vanessa Szakal, “Mainstream Media on Ben Guerdane: victory and foreboding in Tunisia“, Nawaa, 11 March 2016). This attack may be seen as having been heralded by a significant call made by the Islamic State to the Islamic Maghreb through five psyops videos published over two days (19-20 January 2016).

In parallel, Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb started  to copycat the Islamic State’s type of videos (Andrea Spada, “Al-Qaeda tries to imitate Daesh in new threatening video“, Islam Media Analysis, 8 January 2016), as well as earlier attacks, as occurred tragically on 13 March 2016 in the Ivory Coast (e.g. BBC News, “Ivory Coast: 16 dead in Grand Bassam beach resort attack“, 13 March 2016).

Meanwhile, warning signals sent by Western officials of impending major attacks by the Islamic State, notably on European territory, have never been so strong. On 7 March 2016, during a media briefing, Mark Rowley, U.K. national head of counter-terrorism (Scotland Yard), warned that the Islamic State “has big ambitions for enormous and spectacular attacks, not just the types that we’ve seen foiled to date.” (Vikram Dodd, The Guardian, 7 March 2016).

Previously, on 19 February 2015, Europol head Rob Wainwright, reiterated that Europe faced “its largest terrorist threat for the last ten years” by “the Islamic State or other terrorist group” (NeueOsnabrücker Zeitung), as he had previously stressed on 13 January 2015, when answering questions in a committee of the British House of Commons (House of Commons, Committee Room 8, Parliamentary TV, 15:48 to 15:56:40). According to him thousands of those january 2015 estimated 3000 to 5000 Jihadist EU nationals Jihadist fighters (video 15:55 to 15:56:40) were now returning or had already come back (NeueOsnabrücker Zeitung).

On 1st March 2016, U.S. General Breedlove, Commander of the U.S. European Command and NATO Supreme Allied Commander of Europe at a news conference after testifying to the Senate armed services committee (transcript) mentioned “news reports saying as many as 1,500 fighters have returned to Europe”, as he could not use intelligence reports  (Alan Yuhas, The Guardian, 1 March 2016), even though, initially, all may not have the intention to carry out terrorist attacks (transcript p.54).

Rowley notably stresses the importance of the effect the Islamic State’s propaganda has in terms of radicalization, and thus in increasing the terrorist threat. Meanwhile, Dodd (Ibid.) pointed out that “privately, counter-terrorism officials see no sign of Isis’s internet propaganda campaign being thwarted”.

It is thus time to update our knowledge and understanding of the psyops products used by the Islamic State, beyond the infamous videos and Dabiq magazine. Building upon and completing what was gathered previously, in December 2014, we shall revisit the concept used for the Islamic State psyops, notably in the light of the Islamic State’s very perceptions thanks to new as well as recently published Islamic State’s documents. Then, we shall present the now wide array of products and channels found to date, from infographics to cell phone app, with concrete examples. Finally we shall turn to the sources, i.e. major “official media” centers, including the way the “media administration” stands in the overall state structure of the Islamic State.
Continue reading An Updated Guide to the Islamic State Psyops

Understanding the Islamic State’s System – Wilayat and Wali in Yemen

When we started our series to better understand the Islamic State system, we identified the wilayat (“what is taken charge of”, “what is ruled”) as unit of analysis and as a system, which can then be monitored to foresee and warn about the overall developments of the Islamic State (see Understanding the Islamic State’s System – Structure and Wilayat, 4 May 2015). Since then, evolution has taken place on the ground, while the body of knowledge gathered by students of the Islamic State has grown. This is notably the case for Yemen. Back in May 2015, our understanding, grounded in the evidence available then, was that there was one wilayat in Yemen, wilayat Sanaa, loosely categorised as part of those wilayat where fighting was preeminent and only extremely sparse administrative/Sharia’h activity took place (in light grey on our map). We now have seven wilayat in Yemen and, since 20 March 2015, the Islamic State has carried out there at least 29 attacks, which killed at least 389 people (see references in bibliography – the detailed spreadsheet of the attacks is available here for members only).

We thus focus here on the Islamic State in Yemen, to enhance our understanding of what is happening on the ground, start evaluating what could happen in the future, while using developments to test and update our understanding. We shall first look at what appears to be a “country-level” organisation for the Islamic State in Yemen. We shall then turn to the seven wilayat existing in Yemen, and analyse the situation there in a forward-looking way. We shall conclude with an assessment regarding the Islamic State in Yemen – an incomplete one as a full assessment would demand considering all actors on the ground – while reviewing main findings from the Yemeni case regarding our understanding of Islamic State’s wilayat for strategic foresight and warning.  Continue reading Understanding the Islamic State’s System – Wilayat and Wali in Yemen