The would-be killers in Wurzburg (Muhammad Riyad) and Ansbach (Mohammed Daleel) and the murderers in Normandy (Adel Kermiche and Abdel Malik Petitjean) had all passed video footage of themselves swearing allegiance to Isil’s caliph, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, to Amaq, Isil’s “news” agency before their attacks; that Isil played these videos afterward can be taken as testimony that IS approved this terrorism in advance.
So far, messages between Bouhlel and Isil in advance of the Nice attack have not been found. It is crucial, however, to understand how early in the investigation France is, and how much they have already got wrong with the bias toward the “lone wolf” thesis. For example, the Interior Minister initially asserted that the Bouhlel must have “radicalised very quickly”.
It is now clear the slaughter was months in the making. Given the scale of the attack, it is also reasonable to assume greater Isil resource investment in operational security and with the nature of encrypted communications, the contact between Bouhlel or his co-plotters and Isil might never be found.
Even more interesting is the Ansback suicide bomber, Mohammad Daleel, who appears to have conducted a directed attack. According to Isil’s newsletter al-Naba, Daleel was a long-term secret agent of Isil’s, having joined the organisation in 2006 and infiltrated Europe after an injury as early as the spring of 2013.
Daleel is alleged by al-Naba to have built his bomb over three months and been in constant contact with an Isil handler in Syria during this time. The level of centralised coordination from Isil that has often heretofore been dismissed is of real-world importance.
The downplaying of Isil’s direct role in the European attacks had deadly consequences last year when the connections between a series of plots in France were missed, and the diversion of the security forces helped open the way to the devastating 13 November 2015 attacks in Paris that struck at the Stade de France with suicide bombers, shot-up restaurants, and slaughtered concert-goers at the Bataclan, leaving 130 people dead.
Britain has understandably alerted churches in the wake of the Normandy attack, but there is little that can be done to protect soft targets in free countries without the countries ceasing to be free. And there are costs no matter how the West proceeds now.
There are measures related to immigration and integration that can help, but their rewards would not be seen for some years. Allowing jihadists to leave—putting aside the cruelty they inflict on foreign populations—allows them to train and return even more lethal.
But as Kermiche, who had twice been prevented from joining Isil in Syria, showed, there are costs to preventing emigration, too. In his Ramadan speech in May, inciting this wave of attacks, Isil’s spokesman Taha Falaha (Abu Muhammad al-Adnani) said: “If the [governments] have shut the door ofhijra (emigration to the caliphate) in your faces, then open the door of jihad in theirs.” Kermiche did exactly that in Normandy.
The destruction of Isil’s statelet will still leave Isil networks in Europe, but it would remove the training field that allows those networks to be replenished. The crucial component of this is the stabilisation of Syria that will prevent Isil’s revival and achieving this requires the West to alter course and finally implement the policy as it exists on paper: the removal of the Assad regime and the formation of a representative transitional government that can unite the country against terrorism, rather than massacring civilians and all armed groups except the terrorists.
The perception—that has an increasing basis in reality—of Western complicity with the pro-regime coalition feeds straight into Isil’s narrative of a global conspiracy against which only it can defend Sunnis, granting it the legitimacy it will need to recover and in the meanwhile enabling Isil to mobilise foreign sympathisers for terrorist strikes in the West and beyond at an unprecedented rate.