Cells and "provinces" becoming more important
The central organisation of IS has been massively disabled. Mosul is liberated (and in ruins), in Raqqa IS still controls a third of the city. Group leaders have withdrawn to the desert parallel with the middle reaches of the Euphrates. They evidently still maintain contact with individual cells in Europe. But this core leadership group is increasingly taking a back seat. The continued existence of IS depends more and more on the "provinces" in parts of the Islamic world and cells such as the one in Barcelona.
Cut off the head of the IS serpent and many new ones will grow back in its place. In past decades, when terrorist groups were vanquished, new ones have always appeared to replace them. Jihadism is the modern hydra of terror and an act of Islamist vigilante justice against those they claim want to stamp out Islam.
Spy agencies and mosques must recognise threats
Islam used to distinguish between the "House of Islam" (Dar al-Islam) and the "House of War" (Dar al-Harb). The two houses were separated by a clear boundary. Wars could not be waged against any nation entering into a contract with an Islamic ruler. The IS brand of jihadism dispenses with all that. It now postulates a general "territory of war" (Dar Harb), where war is no longer subject to any restrictions.
This makes our war on terror much more difficult. The decisive question is how to reach those young Muslims who are vulnerable and who may represent a potential threat.
If we want to be one step ahead of the terrorists, we need the intelligence services. As "human intelligence", infiltrated or recruited informers must learn about and report anything suspicious at an early stage in any potential plot. But this alone does not go far enough. For example, how can the young North Africans that constitute a large group in many prisons be prevented from running straight into the arms of IS once they are released?
A further key to all this is held by the mosques. A mosque means more to a Muslim than a church does to a Christian. A "djami" is the place that "brings together" and "unifies" Muslims. It is the only place where potentially dangerous individuals can be brought back into ideological line by preachers they trust.
And therein lies the challenge: to permit mosques that operate within our legal framework, that are neither controlled by the state, nor aiming to create a ′preferable′ brand of Islam. Because this is not getting through to those who pose a threat and they are increasing in number. The war against Islamist terror in Europe has only just begun.
© Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 2017
Translated from the German by Nina Coon