The self-proclaimed caliph and his barbaric caliphate, bywords for savagery witnessed in horrifying forms over the past five years - through videotaped mass beheadings, genocide, sexual slavery, vehicle rammings and stabbing sprees by brainwashed lone wolves - are no more. The last territorial holdout of the so-called Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) was captured in March after a four-year battle, and its chief, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, blew himself up during a United States-led raid in north-western Syria last weekend. Still, no one can claim that ISIS is dead. The fight against terror, perhaps the most important war of our times, needs to continue across the globe with unwavering focus and redoubled stamina.
By the Pentagon's estimates, between 14,000 and 30,000 ISIS fighters are on the loose across Iraq and Syria. US President Donald Trump's decision to pull American troops out of the area will weaken the defences, especially as the Middle East is enveloped in rising geopolitical and sectarian tensions and continues to face challenges from an absence of stability, law and order. It is equally evident that the fight must now be taken to the digital arena where ISIS has been adept at poisoning minds with its toxic but seductive ideology. The group was able to establish legitimacy and shore up its influence with slick campaigns, astutely using social media to attract sympathisers and mobilise both fighters and finances for its brutal operations. In the past, ISIS has gloated over the church bombings in Sri Lanka, featured the siege of Marawi in its magazine and used Bahasa Indonesia to broaden its appeal. After Baghdadi's death, efforts to counter its virulent tactics with a sustained campaign to inform, educate and engage the impressionable and the disenchanted require new urgency. It is worth noting, too, that support for ISIS would not have taken root if local patronage did not exist for its divisive message, posing a grave risk to today's multicultural societies.