The Arab country of Yemen, which lies directly south of Saudi Arabia, has been going through a state of chaos because of the weak government structure and security vacuum that ensued due to this weak central authority. As a result, ISIS has taken advantage of the power vacuum and staged a series of brutal attacks throughout Yemen, asserting their presence in the country. In December 2015, ISIS, also known as Daesh, ISIL, and the Islamic State, executed 24 Yemenis who claimed they were part of the Houthi rebel group and razed several of their mosques. The financial capabilities of ISIS has been enticing to many Yemenis, leading to many joining the militant group, as Yemen is one of the poorest countries in the Arab world. Not to mention, the growing presence of ISIS in Yemen can be attributed to the increased focus of international forces on eradicating the group’s power in their homelands of Iraq and Syria.
Not only does ISIS have a strong presence in the Middle East but also Northern Africa has recently become a hotbed for Islamic extremism. One of the first countries that come to mind is Egypt. As recently as this year, ISIS militants have posted videos of themselves executing several people within Egypt. In the Sinai Peninsula, which is commonly thought to be under ISIS control, a video has been released of the group brutally killing over 20 civilians. After claiming the people were providing information to the government, all of the civilians were executed. As ISIS augments their presence in the Sinai Peninsula, the United States is reviewing their troop presence in Egypt to determine if their troops are now facing too much risk in the North-African country.
8. Saudi Arabia
As one of the most wealthy countries in the Middle East and the birthplace of the Islamic State’s brand of Islam, Saudi Arabia is arguably their most sought after target. ISIS is a Sunni-dominated group while Sunnis in Saudi Arabia make up 90% of the population, resulting in many frustrated citizens of the oil-rich country traveling to fight for the Islamic State. Approximately, 2,500 fighters from Saudi Arabia have left their country and joined ISIS. There has not been a shortage of attacks that have been linked to ISIS within Saudi Arabia as well. In May 2014, 62 members of an ISIS terror cell were arrested in the city of Abha; furthermore, 77 suspected members of ISIS were arrested for an attack that left 7 Shiites dead in the Kingdom. The Islamic State’s leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, has declared the country the “head of the snake and stronghold of disease”.
Jordan is part of the anti-ISIS coalition that is headed by the United States and the Middle Eastern country has had to deal with several attacks by ISIS, although not nearly as much as other countries in the region. In March, a series of raids were carried out that led to the arrests of 13 suspected jihadists linked to ISIS, who planned to attack civilian and military targets within the country. Around that same time, seven other terrorists draped in suicide belts and automatic weapons staged an assault on Jordanian security forces in Irbid, which lies 13 miles from the Syrian border. The attack resulted in the death of all seven terrorists and one member of Jordan’s security force. Moreover, a car bombing was launched from Syrian territory a couple weeks ago, leaving six Jordanian border guards dead. No group has claimed responsibility for the attack, but the southeastern desert where the car blew up is known to be an Islamic State operation area. Jordan has kept extremely tight control of their borders since the breakout of the Syrian war in 2011, but will always remain susceptible since its borders meet with Iraq and Syria.
Libya, also a North-African region, could possibly be the next Iraq and Syria at the rate the country is going on now. Ever since the ousting of Libyan dictator, Muammar Gaddafi, the country has been thrown into complete chaos, drawing many ISIS fighters to the region. In fact, as of April 2016, ISIS militants have doubled in the past year within Libya, according to the top US commander in the region. There are now an estimated 4,000 to 6,000 ISIS fighters in the country and the United States has remained reluctant to establish a more potent attack in the country. As of now, the US is only demonstrating a limited airstrike campaign against ISIS targets in the region despite the fact the militant group controls multiple cities in Libya including Benghazi, Sirte, Nofaliya, and Derna. Notably in Sirte, ISIS beheaded 21 Christians, a religion the Islamic State has continued to target around the globe. The Obama administration has been pressured to send military forces into the country, but, as we all are aware of, President Obama has been publicly unwilling to do so.
One of the most notable hotbeds for Islamic extremism, Afghanistan, is starting to attract many Islamic State fighters to the region. The Taliban may have the largest presence within the Middle Eastern country, but ISIS has gained some ground, as there is an estimated 1,000 to 3,000 ISIS fighters in eastern Afghanistan. It has been reported the ISIS fighters in the country are trying to establish a base of operations in the Nangahar Province, which has come to the attention of the Obama administration. Somewhere around 20 airstrikes were conducted recently, targeting Islamic State fighters in the aforementioned region; however, the US still remains more focused on the growing capabilities of the Taliban in Afghanistan. Much like the other Middle Eastern countries, outside of Iraq and Syria, where ISIS has some type of presence, the increased presence stems from the militant group losing territory in their homelands of Iraq and Syria. Several groups that are resisting the US-led coalition against ISIS have pledged allegiance to the militant group and the group’s black flag has been spotted in the cities of Farah, Helmand, and Zabul.
Another North-African country, Algeria, has become saturated with Islamic extremism upon the announcement of the Islamic State’s leader saying the group would expand into other countries. Unlike other countries that has become hotbeds for Islamic extremism, Algeria did not play a part in the Arab Spring, but that did not stop the spread of jihadists in the region. The Jund al-Khilafah group, also known as Soldiers of the Caliphate in Algeria, took their allegiance to Al-Qaeda and put their allegiance in the Islamic State. The newly aligned group with ISIS has taken part in small-scale attacks within the country along with kidnappings and recruiting. However, their most gruesome attack came against a French mountaineer guide, Hervè Gourdel, whom was beheaded because of the French role in the US-led coalition against ISIS. Another extremist group within Algeria, known as Al-Mulathameen, which translates to “Those who Sign wit Blood”, has pledged allegiance to the Islamic State; veteran jihadist Mokhtar Belmokhtar leads the group. Some have referred to Algeria as the “new Syria”, while others believe the situation is overblown because the Algerian government has dismantled most of the armed militant groups.
Amid the growing migration crisis in Europe, Germany has become a base of ISIS support. ISIS has been actively recruiting in the country for some time and has seen hundreds of fighters travel to Syria to fight for the group. It is estimated that almost 800 German citizens have traveled to Syria to fight for the caliphate with about 150 of them returning home in 2015. The German government has been active in deterring ISIS support within the country’s borders, being able to say they have not experienced a large-scale attack by ISIS. Compared to other European countries such as France and Belgium, Germany is doing a good job to combat the ISIS threat, but the militant group reportedly has plans to attack German cities. The head of the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution, Hans-Georg Maassen, said “We see the security situation as very serious, though we have no immediate intelligence in planned attacks in Germany.” ISIS has already attack major European cities, killing mass amounts of people in Paris and Brussels.
Unfortunately, France has been the unluckiest country when it comes to countering the ISIS threat within their borders. Recently, ISIS staged one of the deadliest terror attacks in history when simultaneous assaults resulted in the death of over 100 people in the city of Paris. The attack shook the European nation and France has been in a state of worry and paranoia ever since. There have been reports ISIS is planning to attack France during the Euro 2016 Soccer Tournament, which is taking place this month. It is conceivably not extremely difficult for ISIS to attack France, considering there are almost 645 French citizens in Syria or Iraq, 400 of them believed to be fighters. The head of the French DGSI internal intelligence agency, Patrick Calvar, came out and stated, “Clearly, France is the most threatened and we known that Daesh is planning new attacks”. France is perhaps the most vulnerable country in Europe to ISIS attacks and the fact that several groups of Muslims within France continue to send money to ISIS fighters does not help the cause against the militant group.
Something no one wants to hear, but must be said: ISIS is in the USA. Surprisingly, the United States is one of the largest sources of outside income for ISIS, as millions of dollars are sent to the group from US citizens. With these large sources of income that ISIS receives from Americans, ISIS sympathizers come with that. Everyone knows about the ISIS sympathizer, Syed Farook, who killed 14 of his co-workers in San Bernandino last year. Additionally, not too long ago, Omar Mateen, a supposed ISIS sympathizer, stormed into a nightclub in Orlando and killed 49 people in the process. The US has not only dealt with several terror attacks on its soil that are linked to ISIS, but a numerous amount of arrests have been made as well. On June 22, three American citizens were charged or convicted of trying to join ISIS. Earlier this year, US intelligence officials warned that ISIS is likely to attempt attacks on US soil in the coming year with the director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, Vincent Stewart, asserting, ISIS “will probably attempt to conduct additional attacks in Europe and attempt to direct attacks on the US homeland in 2016.”
–Contributed by R.A.