Don't be deceived, the Islamic State group is losing

Don't be deceived, the Islamic State group is losing
Comment: IS thrives on our fear, writes Gemma Fox. But it is being systematically weakened, and does not have the power it claims.
5 min read
25 May, 2017
There is little evidence IS ordered the Manchester atrocity, though it likely inspired it [Getty]

The Islamic State group claimed responsibility over the terrorist attack in Manchester on Monday night. They said they were behind the murder of 22 people, and the injuries caused to 59 others.

In its statement, posted on Telegram, the group said a "soldier of the Caliphate" had attacked the "Crusaders" in their "shameless" venue, striking in act of "revenge for Allah's religion" for the West's "transgressions about Muslim lands".

What was next, they promised, would be even more severe.

In the darker realms of social media, as events were still unfolding and before the official announcement was posted, Telegram accounts sympathetic to the group were also quick to celebrate the attack, and rejoice in the deaths.

But a closer look at the group's statement reveals a number of omissions and inaccuracies.

Salman Abedi, a 22-year-old Mancunian form a Libyan family has now been confirmed as the suicide bomber.

Details of his murky past are starting to emerge, stories of possible drug use, involvement in local gangs. His name, however, wasn't included on the statement from IS. Instead, his name came to light only after his identity was leaked by Americans intelligence agents to US media. 

By contrast, the attacker responsible for this week's suicide bombing in Bossaso, Somalia, was named by IS as Abu Qadaama al-Marihani. In a similar statement, the group detailed the number of those killed: seven, with ten wounded, and the target - the army.

Whereas the Manchester statement included more pontificating and threats, the Somalia statement was more blunt and to the point

Whereas the Manchester statement included more pontificating and threats, the Somalia statement was more blunt and to the point.

The group also seemed to get a few of the facts behind the Manchester attack incorrect. Firstly, they report the number of dead as 30, not 22, and 70 others are said to have been wounded, rather than 59. The group may have been exaggerating for effect, but it nevertheless suggests a level of inaccuracy and misinformation.

There also appears to be a lack of knowledge in the statement about how the attack took place. There is no reference to Salman Abedi being "martyred", nor is the attack described as a suicide attack, as it typically does in other such atrocities.

Instead, the group talks of multiple devices being placed in the crowd - even though it is understood to have been one single improvised explosive.

How Salman Abedi was "radicalised", or even trained, is still being investigated. Several men have now been arrested in connection with Monday's attack, and there are a number of ongoing investigations looking into his connections with Libya - and whether he was radicalised by al-Qaeda operatives there.

Arrested yesterday in Tripoli, it has been alleged that his father, Ramadan Abedi, had a number of links to the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group. Indeed, on his Facebook page, he has posted a picture of Abu Anas al-Libi, who he has described as "a lion". Al-Libi worked as a computer specialist for al-Qaeda and was under a US indictment for his part in the 1998 US embassy bombings.

Salman's brother Hashem was also reportedly arrested yesterday in connection with Islamic State group activity.

From the statement, there is little to suggest that the group had any real foreknowledge of the attack, or indeed knew or were in contact with Salman Abedi

There is little doubt that Salman was radicalised and was acting on these beliefs, but exactly to whom he was aligned is still not confirmed. While at this stage he is considered not to have been working alone, we do not know the extent to which he was directed by any "jihadist group". This is important if we are to understand the IS operational capacity in the UK - and the extent to which it is able to direct, organise and give orders to individuals to carry out terrorist attacks.

From the statement, there is little to suggest that the group had any real foreknowledge of the attack, or indeed knew or were in contact with Salman Abedi. He may have been inspired by their warped and twisted worldview, but this is quite different from taking direct orders from them.

We know that the "Crusaders" targeted by Salman Abedi were overwhelming young children and teenage girls - the typical cohort that would have been expected to attend an Ariana Grande concert. Among the dead, victims are as young as eight years old.

The tactic of targeting children is of course not new, as the Beslan School Siege, Andrea Breivik's attack in Norway and the 2014 Peshawar school massacre attest - yet it speaks to our darkest fears for our children growing up in the world, in equal measures innocent and vulnerable.

Despite what it wants its followers to believe, IS is weak and losing relevance

It is terrifying to feel that, even at a pop concert, an event that symbolises the pure unadulterated joy than only the young can feel, we are defenceless before a group that transcends all borders, and whose operational capacity to carry out attacks continues to grow as increasing numbers of young men are drawn to its hateful, extremist ideology.

But this is of course the exact fearful narrative on which the Islamic State group feeds, that it needs to justify its ever-diminishing power and influence in the world.

Despite what it wants its followers to believe, it is weak and losing relevance. It is rapidly losing territory, having already lost the cities of Dabiq, Ramadi and Fallujah and soon to be completely driven out of Mosul.

We need to be careful that, until a direct link is established, we do not act as the group's propaganda machine. The statement seeks to be terrifying, warning of more attacks to come, but it should be read as a sign of how weak the group has become.

Its misinformation demonstrated that the group was just that, largely misinformed, even if it does surface that there was some element of training. And while this does not take away from the fact that lives were lost in a senseless act of violence, the Islamic State group does not have the power and means of guiding operations that it would like us to believe.

Gemma Fox is a Royal Television Society award-winning journalist who writes and produces film on the Middle East. Follow her on Twitter: @gemmafox257

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.