US warns of spreading ISIS threat

WASHINGTON • The United States warned judicial and law enforcement officials from around the world of the dangers posed by an increasingly decentralised Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group spreading to new regions.

At a two-day conference in Washington that concluded on Wednesday, the US State Department designated seven ISIS-linked groups as terrorist threats - underlining the reach of the network.

The ISIS group's former stronghold in its so-called "caliphate" in eastern Syria and northern Iraq has been all but destroyed by US-backed military operations, but the militants are adapting.

And, with overt military targets harder to find, the next stage in the fight against the extremists will lean more heavily on law enforcement and civilian prosecution of suspected militants.

"I think what we're seeing is ISIS becoming increasingly decentralised," said the State Department's counter-terrorism coordinator Nathan Sales, who addressed the meeting.

"ISIS is evolving and adapting," he said, explaining the decision to blacklist the ISIS regional groups under separate designations.

"You're seeing groups from all corners of the world motivated by the same bloody and deadly ISIS ideology, using the same sort of techniques targeting innocent men, women and children."

In Nigeria and the Lake Chad region, a group that split from the local Boko Haram armed group and is led by Abu Musab al-Barnawi, son of the militant group's founder, is now designated as ISIS-West Africa.

In the Philippines, the list now includes ISIS-Philippines and its ally the Maute Group, which triggered the siege of the city of Marawi in May last year and has attempted to bomb the US embassy in Manila.

The ISIS-Somalia group began as a small 20-strong splinter from the Al-Shabaab movement under Abdiqadr Mumin and his deputy Mahad Moalim, but has grown in strength and imported arms from Yemen.

Washington is also concerned about the group's growing foothold in the Indian subcontinent, where the now designated ISIS-Bangladesh launched its campaign by killing an Italian aid worker in 2015.

In Egypt, the US terror designations now list ISIS-Egypt as a separate group from ISIS-Sinai province, with both having carried out attacks and the former claiming responsibility for a deadly church bombing in 2016.

The new designations also include Jund al-Khilafa, a Tunisian armed group that has pledged allegiance to ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

The conference was hosted jointly by the State Department, Interpol and the International Institute for Justice and the Rule of Law.

Washington is also urging reluctant partners such as Britain and France to take custody of their citizens who joined the ISIS group and were captured in Iraq or Syria and bring them up for prosecution.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 02, 2018, with the headline 'US warns of spreading ISIS threat'. Print Edition | Subscribe