New York City on Monday suffered another terror attack at the hands of a young Muslim man who swore fealty to the Islamic State of Iraq and Al Sham (better known as ISIS). The 27-year-old Bangladeshi national strapped a pipe bomb on himself and attempted to detonate it at the New York City Port Authority in the middle of morning rush hour.
Three people were injured (mercifully, there were no deaths), and the would-be bomber, identified as Akayed Ullah, was taken to a nearby hospital.
It is a good thing for New York City and the country that the terrorist wannabe did not understand how to build a proper pipe bomb. If he had, there likely would be many people dead and maimed, much economic damage, and another wave of fear would grip the city and the nation.
Kill the “Cyber Caliphate”
Since the physical manifestation of the Islamic State’s “caliphate” in northern Iraq and Syria was destroyed, many ISIS fighters who avoided being killed or captured in battle are returning to their “homes” in Europe, Asia, Africa, and even the United States. Their intentions are not to settle down and lead quiet lives of recompense; they are seeking vengeance for the destruction of their caliphate. Therefore, the New York Port Authority terror attack is not an anomaly. Rather, it is a portent of things to come.
Fact is, the Islamic State’s all-powerful internet presence, the “cyber caliphate,” remains nearly unmolested. Information warfare and social media propaganda have been the most pernicious component of the Islamic State’s global agenda. This cyber caliphate is responsible for wooing many young, ideologically vulnerable Western-educated Muslim men (and some women) over the cause.
A few years ago, these radicalized elements would take off for more violent pastures in the Middle East. Today, however, these individuals no longer have anywhere to go. So they either stay at home (where they intend to terrorize their fellow countrymen) or they move to a country with more targets of opportunity.
Because of this, destroying the cyber caliphate must be the top priority for the Trump Administration.
Terrorism Map is Changing
Keep in mind: the attacker in New York City was a young Muslim man from Bangladesh. In the summer of 2016, Bangladeshsuffered a terrible terror attack in which young ISIS fighters stormed a café frequented by Westerners in the capital of Dhaka. When it was all over, 29 people were dead, including 20 hostages, two police officers, two staff, and five gunmen.
The Dhaka slaughter highlighted a large—and growing—problem that had mostly been ignored: the rise of jihadist terror networks throughout south Asia. Of course, we all know about the problems Americans face in Afghanistan; we are mostly familiar with the woes of Pakistan, but Americans don’t know much about the jihadist threat beyond those countries in southern Asia—from Pakistan and Bangladesh to Indonesia and the Philippines.
The Islamic State has spread beyond the Middle East—and continues to exist, even as the caliphate created by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has been incinerated in Iraq and Syria. ISIS elements exist in the borderlands between Pakistan and Afghanistan. In fact, President Trump in April allowed American forces in Afghanistan to drop America’s largest non-nuclear bomb on a mountain in southeastern Afghanistan that was teeming with ISIS fighters. These fighters infiltrated Afghanistan from neighboring Pakistan.
For nearly two years, ISIS elements have competed with al-Qaeda for influence and control in Southern Asia. As this has occurred, the mostly young and unemployed (though devout) Muslim populations of these countries have become radicalized.
To compound matters, a Cuban refugee told me last year that when he was attempting to enter the United States, he was made to wait in Trinidad until the State Department could process his asylum request. While waiting there, he came into contact with scores of mostly young Pakistani, Bangladeshi, and Nigerian migrants who were looking to enter the United States through the broken border with Mexico (since Trinidad is an unofficial part of the route that most illegal immigrants from Asia and Africa take to get into the United States).
Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Nigeria are home to not only Islamic extremism but also to the particular brand of violent Salafist extremism the ISIS espouses. And while we can shrug and say all of those migrants must be looking for work, at least some of them are likely seeking entry into the United States for nefarious purposes. Thus, the Trump Administration’s controversial travel moratorium seems all the more sensible today.
Help South Asia
The Philippine city of Marawi was effectively annexed by the Islamic State earlier this year. A five-week siege ensued, which ended in October with the destruction of the ISIS force by government troops. Yet the fact that ISIS could claim a city in the far-off Philippines—and hold it for as long as it did—is telling. And just because Marawi was liberated does not mean the ISIS threat to the Philippines is over. Far from it.
Indonesia, the world’s most populous (and relatively stable) Muslim country is suffering through a drastic increase in Islamic extremism, as ISIS fighters flee the Mideast and enter that country intending to bring their jihad to a new land.
Meanwhile, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Bangladesh and several other South Asian states are being subsumed by a new wave ISIS-style terrorism. African countries, too, such as Libya, Egypt, Nigeria, and Niger are experiencing an increase in ISIS related activity. Yet the United States remains focused on Iraq and Syria.
Clearly, the fight against ISIS has shifted away from the Mideast. President Trump’s forthcoming National Security Strategy memo rightly focuses on boosting homeland security. But the president’s national security team should also intensify its support of Asian governments where Islamic extremism is on the rise. Further, the United States should expand its special forces activities in Africa and Asia, in an effort to neutralize the Islamic State’s threat before it becomes a real problem, as it did in northern Iraq and Syria in 2014.
We must never again allow for the Islamic State to rise anywhere in the world. America is winning against ISIS, but the fight is far from over.
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