ISIS-related arrests in US, Europe, Australia as intel warns of ‘gruesome’ attacks
The effort to clamp down on any affiliation to the terrorist group has reached as far as France, the US, Spain and other countries – even the partially-recognized Kosovo.
Six potential recruits have been arrested in France, a judicial source said on Wednesday, with the number of French nationals traveling to sections of Syria and Iraq partly-controlled by the IS (formerly ISIS or ISIL) continuing to rise.
Two of the detained on Tuesday are minors, while another pair is a brother and sister; one other suspect is believed to be linked to Forsane Alizza (Knight of Pride), an organization calling for France to become an Islamic caliphate. It was banned in 2012.
As in the case with Britain and the United States, France worries its nationals will soon be returning with the training and determination to carry out terrorist attacks on home soil. The number of French having already gone off to fight and come back has risen to 930, according to Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve.
That is a 74 percent increase in just eight months, authorities say. Currently, 175 are being monitored back home. But truly worrying is the French proportion of the total number of Europeans, which is approximately 2,000.
Young girls are being increasingly targeted. A few weeks back a series of detentions of young women around France, including a 16-year-old, took place. In one shocking example, a 15-year-old girl left the country believing herself to be on a humanitarian aid mission. She has not returned.
The National Assembly has just made it a criminal offense “[to plan] to travel abroad to take part in terrorist activities, war crime or crimes against humanity or in a theater of operations of terrorist groups.”
This follows on from Spain, which altered its penal code to prevent Spaniards from traveling to conflict zones to join up with radical groups, punishing those who do with terrorism charges.
José Manuel García Margallo, Spain’s foreign minister, has called on increased cooperation with international efforts on Tuesday, following accusations that the country isn’t doing enough to fight the IS.
"Spain has never been one to watch the bullfight from behind the barriers," he was quoted by the EFE news agency as saying. "We have been and we will be wherever our presence is needed and can be put to good use," he also told parliament, adding that the country has already taken part in a number of missions abroad as part of what he calls “one of the most complex threats of our time.”
The criminal code enactment is yet to come into effect, but the FM did highlight that another, more comprehensive, series will follow in its footsteps.
Over in Germany, it is said up to nine citizens carried out suicide bombings for the IS this year alone. As with the rest of Europe, the government fears the trend for conversion to its ideology is growing fast.
The attacks were mostly carried out in Iraq.
A national research team reported alarm amongst the general public as well.
"We don't want death being sent from Germany to Iraq. Exporting terror is unconscionable and must be stopped," said German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere to the Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper in response to the allegations that attacks were being carried out by Germans.
The German government has already banned the provision of any support to the terrorist group, a move that came on the heels of reports that an estimated 400 Germans have joined IS terrorists in Syria and Iraq.
The authorities have set for themselves the task of preventing further exports of nationals to the Middle East to join up.
"We're looking at the security situation in Germany, but we also have a responsibility toward the people who live in Syria and Iraq," the head of the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution, Hans-Georg Maassen, said, as reported by Deutsche Welle.
His fears are essentially those shared by all other European nations: that extremists will come back with training and plans to inflict terror.
Kosovo is another place where a sudden spike in Islamic State sympathy has resulted in numerous arrests. Authorities on Wednesday arrested a leading Muslim cleric, together with 14 other people, on allegations of operating a recruitment ring for righters heading to Syria and Iraq, the Islamic State’s strongholds.
The arrests spanned 16 locations, including Pristina. This is the second operation since August, when 40 people were arrested on similar charges.
Australia is on high alert for the first time in 11 years. Having upped the security level following serious allegations by the government that an attack is in fact being planned, the government then detained 15 people in suspicion of planning a gruesome, random attack in Australia.
This is the country’s largest counterterrorism operation to date.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott informed the public that a public beheading was supposedly being planned by the group.
"That's the intelligence we received… the exhortations — quite direct exhortations — were coming from an Australian who is apparently quite senior in ISIL to networks of support back in Australia to conduct demonstration killings here in this country," he told reporters.
"This is not just suspicion, this is intent, and that's why the police and security agencies decided to act in the way they have," he continued.
The authorities also issued an arrest warrant for a Sydney nightclub bouncer, Mohammad Ali Baryalei, 33, on suspicion that he’s the country’s most senior member of the Islamic State terrorist group.
Another suspect arrested, a 27-year-old, was reportedly planning to “gruesomely” execute a random person, authorities say, which is part and parcel of the IS’s purported shock tactics.
The Sydney arrests were part of an operation consisting of 800 federal and state police officers, according to Federal Police Deputy Commissioner Andrew Colvin.
"Police believe that this group that we have executed this operation on today had the intention and had started to carry out planning to commit violent acts here in Australia," Colvin said. "Those violent acts particularly related to random acts against members of the public. So what we saw today and the operation that continues was very much about police disrupting the potential for violence against the Australian community at the earliest possible opportunity."
The police declined to give further details, but said the attacks being planned were “very high level.”
As the global crackdown takes place, the US is in the midst of rounding up Middle Eastern countries, partners and rivals alike, to take part in an anti-IS coalition. The initiative has drawn mixed reviews back home.
Secretary of State John Kerry has been talking to a number of regional leaders, including Saudi Arabia and Qatar, while openly denouncing any possibility of an Iranian role in the operation. And yet, no clearly defined roles exist for the coalition members – only a vague idea of who is on board.
Kerry’s trips are also taking place amid American confusion over which language to apply to its anti-terror initiative against the Islamic State. The lingo swayed from “we are at war” to “this is a long, drawn-out counterterrorism effort” from one day to the next.
This reflects poorly on both the opinion of the government at home and the coordination of roles in the Middle Eastern coalition.
“This can’t be America’s fight alone,” US President Barack Obama stressed in his recent ISIS speech.
Indeed, the country has carried out over 150 airstrikes on militant positions so far. However, not everyone appears willing to join the fight.
Turkey and Jordan, key US allies in the region, are thought to be reluctant to intervene directly in the anti-IS fight.
Turkey was also absent during the signing of a joint communiqué on the situation in Iraq on Thursday.
As Kerry was making his rounds, a 30-year-old New York State man has been charged with allegedly aiding the IS. He is accused of helping three individuals travel to Syria to fight with IS and also plotted to murder US troops returning home from the Middle East.
This comes after very direct video threats by the terrorists to harm Americans, in response to Obama’s promise to “downgrade and destroy” the group.