Peter Brookes: Islamic State’s ‘dark days’ are here, darker days may be ahead
It’s understandable to put a laser-like focus on the horrific bombings in Brussels that resulted in more than 30 deaths and hundreds of injuries to innocents, including Americans, at the hands of Islamic State terrorists.
But it’s also important to step back and survey the broader Islamic State (aka ISIS and ISIL) scene. Unfortunately, like the news from the Belgian capital this week, it’s a tremendously troubling one to take in.
But first a few words on Belgium.
While we can all appreciate the difficulty of preventing an act of terror, it’s tough to comprehend how the Belgian authorities were unable to run down one of the most-wanted men in Europe, Salah Abdeslam, for four months.
Abdeslam, of course, was one of the masterminds of the ISIS terror attacks in Paris last November who was able to flee France to Belgium, where he seemingly disappeared into a network of supporters and sympathizers.
Indeed, it was reported that he was captured last Friday just a short distance from his childhood home in Brussels. Making matters worse, it appears the terror cell had built a “bomb-making factory” under the noses of the Belgian police.
This is a true testament to the challenges that law enforcement and intelligence face from ISIS and its terror cells – not forgetting that this week’s terrible times for Belgium might not be over yet.
Then there is the world beyond Belgium. Almost two years after ISIS stormed out of Syria and into Iraq, the battle to “degrade and destroy” the world’s largest terrorist group ever continues with questionable progress.
Beyond its brutality in Iraq and Syria, since last January we’ve seen ISIS-related mass casualty terror attacks (in some cases more than one) in Yemen, Tunisia, Kuwait, Lebanon, Turkey, Libya, Egypt, the United States (San Bernardino) and France.
We’ve also seen the Islamic State spread its influence with acolytes abroad swearing allegiance to its “Caliph” and proclaiming areas in the Middle East, North Africa and South Asia as “provinces” of ISIS, perhaps most notably Libya and Afghanistan.
(See my Boston Herald, “Fear grows as Islamic State spreads: Terror network digs in deep in Afghanistan, Libya,” February 04.)
The U.S. director of national intelligence, James Clapper, told Congress in February that ISIS “has become the preeminent terrorist threat.” He added that Sunni violent extremism (that would be ISIS) “has more groups, members and safe havens than at any point in history.”
The director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, Lt. Gen. Vincent Stewart, predicted at the same Capitol Hill hearing that ISIS “will probably attempt to conduct additional attacks in Europe, and attempt to direct attacks on the U.S. homeland in 2016.”
That’s chilling considering the Brussels attack.
Claiming “credit” for this week’s Belgium bombings, ISIS warned: “We are promising the Crusader nations which have aligned themselves against the Islamic State that dark days are coming,” according to The New York Times.
Assuming that the translation of ISIS’ words is correct, “dark” days are already here – from the terrorism it conducts abroad to the genocide it practices in its occupied lands.
If we don’t do better in preventing and ending Islamic State evil, the dark days – which we already face – will seem like nothing compared to unquestionably darker times ahead.
This article first appeared in the Boston Herald. Peter Brookes is a Heritage Foundation senior fellow, a former deputy assistant secretary of defense and a Fort Valley resident. Follow him on Twitter @Brookes_Peter. Email: BrookesOutdoors@gmail.com.