In August, I wrote an analysis on an increasingly evident aim by the Islamic State (ISIS) “to establish a more substantial base in the Philippines.” My assessment was based on recent events in the country, the most notable of which being the July 31 suicide bombing by Moroccan fighter “Abu Kathir al-Maghrebi” on Basilan island, which ISIS claimed. The attack was a landmark event for the Philippines: for the first time, a foreigner fighter from outside of the Southeast Asia region had been attributed to an attack in the Philippines—the first suicide operation there, at that.
During the last year, the Islamic State’s (ISIS) presence in the Philippines has fallen into the emerging narrative of the group’s defeat. Filipino forces ended ISIS’ months-long siege on the city of Marawi in October of 2017, just three months after the group’s loss of Mosul and roughly a week after its loss of Raqqah. From here, the comforting narrative sold itself: the mess of ISIS in the Philippines, like in other countries, was finally being cleaned up.
But perhaps not.
On February 27, pro-al-Qaeda (AQ) Telegram channels began distributing a statement from a group calling itself “Hurras al-Deen” (“Guardians of the Religion”). In its inaugural message, the group demanded action regarding besieged Eastern Ghouta, chiding Muslims for “eating and drinking and living joyfully” during such humanitarian atrocities. It promised Muslims in Ghouta:
…we shall do the best of our efforts to relieve your siege or to stab your oppressor in the waist to paralyze him or distract him from you, for we give our necks to save yours and our blood to save your blood.
The Islamic State (IS/ISIS) has desired to attack New York City for years, and there is no doubt that ISIS-pledged Manhattan attacker Sayfullo Habibullaevic Saipov committed his devastating attack in response to the group’s incitements.
But contrary to reporting by some prominent news outlets, the group didn’t actually take responsibility for Saipov’s attack, and its message regarding the attack was not atypical. ISIS' report about the Manhattan attack, actually, was well in line with those of other ISIS-inspired attacks.
The following article analyzes ISIS’ response to Saipov and his attack by the following variables: ISIS’ language and statement formatting for coordinated attacks vs. inspired attacks; timings in which ISIS releases statements on attacks; the outlets through which ISIS issues statements on attacks; and the group’s history of claiming or endorsing attackers while they are still alive.
Americans are still trying to processes the horrid damage left behind by 29-year old Sayfullo Habibullaevic Saipov, who killed eight and injured at least ten people on Monday. It’s a painfully familiar scenario: an Islamic State (ISIS)-inspired young man plowed a rented truck through a crowd of innocents—this time on a bike path in Manhattan.
Emerging from recent discussions on the tragedy, which ISIS has not as of yet claimed, is a new narrative: Saipov’s attack is the result of ISIS desperation as it rapidly loses ground in Iraq and Syria; in other words, ISIS is losing, so it instead hits us at home.
But is this the case?