Following ISIS blitzkrieg in which it took over nearly half of Iraq and a third of Syria in the blink of an eye, at which point it created its own Islamic State Caliphate resulting in Obama’s own personal war against the jihadists, some have wondered what is ISIS’ next step: surely its leadership will not merely stagnatte as one after another US predator drone bomb away the capital Reqqa until ISIS figurehead leader al-Baghdadi is killed or gravely wounded. To be sure, the one thing ISIS, which stunned the world with the speed of its ascent, can not afford is to stand still.
So what is next on the strategic timeline for the Islamic State?
According to one source, Al Arabiya, which cites Egyptian experts, the answer is none other than the Suez Canal, and the country it is located in: Egypt.
“There is definitely a threat from ISIS to Egypt,” Mohammed Badr, a professor of political science at the University of Germany told Al Arabiya News, adding that the group has the country in its “line of sight.”
“All extremist groups represent a danger for Egypt,” Badr said, adding that “ISIS, the Muslim Brotherhood, Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis [an Islamist militant group] are all dangerous for Egypt but the level of their threat is different.”
More details from Al-Arabiya:
One alleged ISIS militant took to social media to warn Egypt that it should be expecting a “surprise” soon. “Except a surprise in Egypt within days,” alleged ISIS member Abu Siyaf al-Masry wrote on his personal Twitter account, according to the Cairo-based daily al-Masry al-Youm.
These online threats are seen by some analysts as a means to mark their presence in Egypt, despite their absence on the ground. “They don’t have any presence in Egypt until now, which is why they use the internet and social media platforms to interact with Egyptians and spread their influence,” Mohssen al-Faham, a political analyst and commentator for Cairo-based daily al-Gomhuria, told Al Arabiya News.
In recent weeks, the Islamist group started showing notable signs that it might be interested in expanding its influence in Egypt.
ISIS’ strategy on how to infiltrate Egypt, if indeed that is the case, is simple: ISIS has started to communicate with and coach Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis, Egypt’s deadliest militant group, and share advice with it on how to create secret cells.
“ISIS and Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis are linked on an ideological level even though the group is not believed to be officially linked to ISIS insurgents,” Badr said.
“Their exchange is another sign that shows a clear threat to Egypt from ISIS,” he added.
While the west is traumatized by three beheadings of western journalists in the past month, in Egypt this is almost a daily occurrence, especially if the word “Israel” is uttered. Last week, Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis, which is based in the Sinai Peninsula claimed to have beheaded four men accused of being Israeli Mossad spies in a video that seemed to have been inspired by the methods of ISIS.
Meanwhile Egypt, already deep in political turmoil with the military regime doing its best to cleanse all representatives of the US-backed Muslim Brotherhood (remember them?), appears to not be too concerned about the ISIS threat. Specifically, the possibility of an ISIS offensive was downplayed by an Egyptian Interior Ministry spokesman, who told Al Arabiya News that al-Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood were “the two main terrorist organizations” that threatened Egypt.
“ISIS cannot reach a country like Egypt given the cohesion between people and the unity of the nation,” Interior Ministry spokesman Hany Abdellatif told Al Arabiya News, adding that the group targets weak, failed states.
“But we [the Interior Ministry] are still getting threats of terrorism and must remain vigilant as the region is ablaze,” Abdellatif said.
And while Egypt may or may not be the next territorial expansion for ISIS, a new threat is emerging in the Middle East/North Africa region.
According to Reuters, a new armed group calling itself the Caliphate Soldiers in Algeria has split from al Qaeda’s North African branch and sworn loyalty to the radical breakaway group Islamic State fighting in Syria and Iraq. A breakaway of key Algerian commanders from Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, known as AQIM, would show deepening rivalry between al Qaeda’s core command and the Islamic State over leadership of the transnational Islamist militancy. As we expected several months ago, as Al Qaeda’s reputation in the terrorist world plummets and is replaced by the “bloodthirsty” ISISites, more and more splinter terrorist groups will gravitate to the “cool, new” clique.
In a communique, AQIM central region commander Khaled Abu Suleimane, whose real name is Gouri Abdelmalek, claimed leadership of the new group, joined by an AQIM commander of an eastern region in Algeria, where the al Qaeda wing has its base. “You have in the Islamic Maghreb men if you order them they will obey you,” Suleimane said in reference to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of the Islamic State. “The Maghreb has deviated from the true path.”
The communique was posted on jihadi websites. Algerian officials did not immediately comment on the statement.
The Algeria splinter group is the latest to side with Baghdadi over al Qaeda’s aging chieftain Ayman al-Zawahri, as the Islamic State appeals to younger militants with successes in gaining territory in Iraq and Syria.
Finally, to cement the fact that Al Qaeda is no longer even remotely relevant to anyone, and certainly not the CIA, Site Intelligence reported earlier that Al-Qaeda released its annual video for the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, and in this installment, placed group official Hossam Abdul Raouf in the prominent role of lead speaker, and denied reports of its waning influence and strength. Translated: Al Qaeda is dead, replaced by its even more ferocious, if mostly for populist purposes, spin offs, ISIS and now, the Caliphate Soldiers.
And if and when the Islamic State and its Caliphate Soldiers take over the Suez Canal, watch as all those Brent shorts, many of which are rumored to be originating at Liberty 33 itself, suddenly get a margin call.