The Al Azhar Observatory for Combating Extremism looks to predict ISIS' potential next venture after its defeats in Iraq & Syria
The Al-Azhar Observatory for Combating Extremism has released a study documenting the prevalence of ISIS militants globally, as well as potential areas for the group to exploit in the future.
Over the past year and a half, ISIS has suffered sustained defeats in the region. In Iraq, the group lost their caliphate capital, Mosul, as well as other prominent strongholds in Anbar Province, such as al-Qa’im on the Iraq-Syria border.
In Syria, the group is now restricted to a small portion of territory in the east of the country. However, this is shrinking daily, as the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and Syrian Arab Army (SAA) take control of further villages. The lost territory for ISIS in Syria is a far cry from 2014 and 2015, when the group boasted control of up to 50% of the country, including prominent strongholds of Raqqa, Deir ez-Zour and al-Bab, near the Turkish border.
And in Libya, ISIS militants formerly had a strong presence in the cities of Sirte and Benghazi. Both of these locations have now been cleansed of various factions on the ground, leaving the group without any territorial base from which to launch attacks.
Subsequently, Al Azhar has asked, ‘where are these militants going?’ According to the study, militants are most prominently heading to Afghanistan, Egypt’s Sinai Province, and parts of West Africa, although others have reached Central Asia and Pakistan.
In Afghanistan, the group has exploited the vast, expansive mountains to hide militants, as well as exploit the fragile socio-political situation in the country. In the Sinai, the group’s affiliate has staged numerous attacks on security and civilian installations, including the bloody attack on a mosque in Arish last November, which left over 200 people dead. While in West Africa, ISIS militants are exploiting the situation in Mali, Niger and Nigeria. The former leader of the infamous group Boko Haram, Abubakar Shekau, pledged allegiance to ISIS in March 2015.
While ISIS’ presence in the Middle East and North Africa region has declined considerably in the last few years, Al Azhar’s report highlights the need to completely eradicate ISIS’ destructive ideology and ensure that the group does not return and inflict yet more misery and suffering on civilians across the region.