Spate of attacks masks a weakening ISIS: Experts

A French policeman patrols at the Champs Elysees avenue in Paris, April 2017.
A French policeman patrols at the Champs Elysees avenue in Paris, April 2017.PHOTO: EPA

PARIS (AFP) - The steady drip of Islamic militant attacks in Europe, including the slaying of a policeman on Paris' world-famous Champs Elysees on Thursday (April 20), might give the impression the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group is thriving - but experts say that's wrong.

Under the pressure of the international coalition in Iraq and Syria as well as improved efforts by intelligence services, ISIS has seen its ability to mount complex, group attacks weaken.

So, it has fallen back on encouraging - or simply claiming - assaults executed by people experts term "losers".

While a large-scale strike remains a possibility, "the deadly tenacity of Daesh (ISIS) against France poorly masks a continuing degradation of its ability to strike our nation," Jean-Pierre Filiu, a researcher at Paris' Sciences Po university, wrote on his blog on Friday.

ISIS militants have claimed deadly attacks in London, Berlin, Nice and now the bloodshed on the Champs Elysees. But none had the logistical complexity of the 2015 assault on Paris that killed 130 people and the 2016 strike on Brussels airport and underground train system.

 

"It seems Daesh has reorganised its European networks after major blows struck against it in France," Filiu added.

Filiu pointed to security services hitting "critical mass" after collecting data essential to thwarting plots.

At the same time, coalition air strikes in ISIS territory in Iraq and Syria have killed or forced into hiding many organisers of the attacks.

Turkey's shutting down the migrant route to Europe has also made it much harder for ISIS followers to move within striking distance of targets like Paris and London.

'A CRIMINAL ORGANISATION'

On Thursday, 39-year-old Frenchman Karim Cheurfi pulled out an automatic weapon and opened fire on a police van just a few hundred metres from the iconic Arc de Triomphe.

ISIS claimed the perpetrator as one of its "fighters" and a note praising the militant group was found near his body.

It was the first deadly militant attack in France since July.

The attack that killed five people outside the Houses of Parliament in London last month, and others carried out by individuals, "are above all indications of ISIS' disintegration," radicalisation expert Farhad Khosrokhavar wrote last month.

These events serve to terrorise the public, "but they are symbolic last stands, which mark the end of a jihadist state that followers... want to be endless but which is coming to an end," he said.

Into the void left by the smashing of organised rings, have stepped "rather unstable, even marginal, individuals who police have trouble linking to Daesh," Olivier Roy, a specialist in political Islam, wrote last month.

The militants, though, are only too happy to take credit for these crimes in order to appear a group with global reach.

"The only ones left are losers," he wrote.

Yet those attackers come with another dimension of dangers because they often act alone, making them harder to detect. They also do not need anything more than a vehicle or a knife to kill.

It is too early to say if the Champs Elysees attack will have an impact on the outcome of the French election - Sunday is the poll's first round - but far-right leader Marine Le Pen, her centrist rival Emmanuel Macron, and scandal-hit conservative Francois Fillon cancelled campaign events on Friday.

Filiu, the Sciences Po researcher, urged the French public to resist "jihadist blackmail", saying "it's not an army, but a criminal organisation that carries out acts of terror."