Daesh: Defeating the virtual caliphate

A fighter of Daesh holds a Daesh flag and a weapon on a street in the city of Mosul, Iraq, June 23, 2014. (Reuters)
Updated 06 October 2017

Daesh: Defeating the virtual caliphate

PARIS: Daesh may soon be defeated in Iraq and Syria but a “virtual caliphate” could be harder to conquer, experts and officials have warned.
The jihadist propaganda machine will continue to exist in hidden corners of the dark web, inciting sympathizers to action, they say.
“Defeating ISIL on the physical battlefield is not enough,” General Joseph Votel, the top commander for US military forces in the Middle East, warned in a paper earlier this year using another acronym for Daesh.
“Following even a decisive defeat in Iraq and Syria, ISIL will likely retreat to a virtual safe haven — a virtual caliphate — from which it will continue to coordinate and inspire external attacks as well as build a support base until the group has the capability to reclaim physical territory,” said Votel.
He described this online network as “a distorted version of the historic Islamic caliphate: it is a stratified community of Muslims who are led by a caliph (currently Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi), aspire to participate in a state governed by sharia, and are located in the global territory of cyberspace.”
The Daesh group’s loss of almost all its territory in Iraq and in Syria has damaged its online communication efforts, following a boom in propaganda operations in 2014-2015.
But it has not put an end to it completely.
The Daesh “news agency” and propaganda machine Amaq continues to claim responsibility for attacks and incite further violence.
Most recently, it claimed that Stephen Paddock, the gunman who massacred 58 people in Las Vegas on Sunday, was a Daesh “soldier” — an assertion met with widespread skepticism.
One theory is that Daesh is seeking to keep up publicity efforts to maintain relevance with its sympathizers and continue to recruit support, even as it faces military defeat on the ground in Iraq and Syria.

Researcher Charlie Winter, who wrote a report on Daesh’s web presence for British think tank Quilliam, says the group will work to persuade followers that the idea of a caliphate is more important that its physical presence.
“Censoring the Internet is not going to work,” he told AFP.
“Policy makers are focusing their attention on the wrong part of the Internet, and that’s problematic given that it’s going to be a phenomenon to be dealt with in the next few years.
“Terrorists are now hiding in the deep web using encryption.
“There will always be a safe place for them on the Internet regardless of what politicians like to say.”
Under pressure from public authorities, Internet providers and major online players are beginning to put in place measures and procedures to disrupt IS’s exploitation of the web.
“But despite the increased vigilance of authorities and social networks the Islamic State has demonstrated significant resilience due to its flexibilty and ability to adapt when facing the suppression of online jihadist content,” according to French researchers Laurence Binder and Raphael Gluck.
“It manages to still disseminate sufficiently to reach a pool of sympathizers and recruits.”

Istanbul summit aimed at avoiding new humanitarian disaster in Idlib

Updated 22 October 2018

Istanbul summit aimed at avoiding new humanitarian disaster in Idlib

  • The event will focus on ‘harmonizing joint efforts for finding a lasting solution to the conflict’
  • Germany and France welcomed the Turkey-Russia deal on Idlib that had set Oct. 15 as the deadline for removing all radical groups from a demilitarized zone in the province

ANKARA: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Emmanuel Macron, and Russian President Vladimir Putin are expected to attend a critical four-way summit on Syria in Istanbul next Saturday. 

They will discuss recent developments in the war-torn country as well as projections for a political settlement.

Experts have underlined the importance of this summit in providing a strong push for key EU countries to work together with regional players to end the years-long conflict in Syria as it will gather the four countries’ leaders at the highest level.

The summit will focus on the recent developments in the opposition-held northwestern province of Idlib, and the parameters of a possible political settlement.

The ways for preventing a new refugee inflow from Idlib into Europe via Turkey, which is home to about 3.5 million Syrian residents, following a possible offensive by the Assad regime will also be raised as a topic that mainly concerns France and Germany and pushes them to work more closely with Turkey and Russia.

The summit will also aim at “harmonizing joint efforts for finding a lasting solution to the conflict,” presidential spokesperson Ibrahim Kalin announced on Friday.

Germany and France welcomed the Turkey-Russia deal on Idlib that had set Oct. 15 as the deadline for removing all radical groups from a demilitarized zone in the province. Although the withdrawal of some opposition groups from the zone has not been accomplished in due time, Ankara and Moscow have agreed to extend the deadline for Idlib, which is still a strategic area where the opposition holds out.

“Turkey and Russia want the status quo for Idlib. Although the jihadists have not withdrawn from the demilitarized zone, Russia is turning a blind eye,” said Fabrice Balanche, an associate professor and research director at the University of Lyon II.

“Turkey will make some efforts to save face. Turkish proxies have withdrawn because Turkey pays wages, so they must obey, but for the jihadists it is more complicated,” he told Arab News.

According to Balanche, without the complicity of Turkey, the Syrian regime cannot take over the north of the country.

“In exchange, Turkey wants a buffer zone in the north, all along its border. The main objective is, of course, to eliminate the Syrian Kurdish YPG from the border as it has already done in Afrin. A secondary objective is to protect its opposition allies and the Turkmen minorities, many in the province of Idlib but also between Azaz and Jarablus,” he said.

But the summit also shows that these four countries need each other in the Syrian theater as each of them has stakes regarding the settlement of the crisis.

Emre Ersen, a Syria analyst at Marmara University in Istanbul, said the main goal of the summit is to provide a major diplomatic boost to the ongoing Astana and Sochi peace processes, which have so far been led mainly by Turkey, Russia and Iran.

“A second and maybe even more important goal is to include France and Germany in the reconstruction efforts in Syria once the civil war is over,” he told Arab News.

Considering the cost of the reconstruction, estimated at about $400 billion, Ankara, Moscow and Tehran are not ready to take this enormous financial burden without the financial support of the West, Ersen said.

“Both Paris and Berlin hope that Ankara’s ongoing efforts to prevent a humanitarian crisis in Idlib can be successful. If the settlement in Idlib does not work, everybody is aware that this may lead to a big refugee crisis for both Turkey and Europe once again,” he added.

Martina Fietz, deputy spokeswoman for the German government, told a news conference in Berlin that her country is also hopeful about the forthcoming summit’s potential contribution to the stabilization of Idlib’s de-escalation zone.

“Progress in the UN-led political process, in particular the commencement of the work of the constitutional commission, will be discussed,” she said.

The chief foreign policy advisers of the quartet have met in Istanbul in recent weeks to discuss the agenda of the summit.