Brussels bombings are a sign of Islamic State’s panic

March 23, 2016
A soldier is seen at Zaventem airport after a blast occurred, in Belgium March 22, 2016.    REUTERS/Jef Versele/Handout via Reuters  ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. REUTERS IS UNABLE TO INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THE AUTHENTICITY, CONTENT, LOCATION OR DATE OF THIS IMAGE. FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS. FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVE. THIS PICTURE IS DISTRIBUTED EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS. MANDATORY CREDIT. TEMPLATE OUT.      TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY - RTSBQ8B

A soldier at Zaventem airport after a blast occurred, in Belgium, March 22, 2016. REUTERS/Jef Versele

The death count from Tuesday’s separate bombing attacks in Brussels continued to climb Wednesday, with Belgium police reporting at least 31 dead and nearly 270 injuried. The atrocities are tragic and unacceptable. But the West should understand that this is what winning may look like in the battle against Islamic State. The attackers’ coordinated strikes could well stem more from a sense of weakness, than strength.

Islamic State has recently taken a series of serious hits at its power and prowess. First, and most important, its territory in Iraq and Syria — the “caliphate” that has attracted foreign fighters from around the globe — has been steadily diminishing in size over the past 15 months, and the territorial losses are escalating. Since January 2015, the militant group has lost an estimated 22 percent of its territory in Iraq and Syria — with 8 percent of those losses in 2016.

This past month, a cache of thousands of Islamic State documents was leaked to the European media. In Arabic, the documents consisted of Islamic State member forms, including such biographical information as names, ages, education, skills and whether or not the individuals were still alive.

ATTENTION EDITORS - VISUAL COVERAGE OF SCENES OF INJURY     A French policeman assists a blood-covered victim near the Bataclan concert hall following attacks in Paris, France, November 14, 2015. Gunmen and bombers attacked busy restaurants, bars and a concert hall at locations around Paris on Friday evening, killing dozens of people in what a shaken French President described as an unprecedented terrorist attack   REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer   FOR BEST QUALITY IMAGE ALSO SEE: GF20000081138 - RTS6X0S

A French policeman assists a blood-covered victim near the Bataclan concert hall following attacks in Paris, France, November 14, 2015. REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer

Then, four days before the Brussels bombings, the supposed mastermind of the November Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam was captured in the neighborhood where he grew up in Belgium. Authorities have announced that he is cooperating,with law enforcement presumably providing them with information about his network, its plans and potentially the names and plans of individuals who pose an imminent threat to the safe and security of Europe.

This combination of circumstances — severe territorial losses in Iraq and Syria, leaks of revealing documents and the capture of someone who likely knows the extent of the wider network and its future plans — may have pushed the Brussels cell to the point of panic. True, the network’s plan had been laid out, its weapons amassed, its suicide bombers chosen. Yet the Brussels attacks may still have been a sign of a group feeling cornered and on the run.

One reason the West may be missing this point is that the Brussels bombings trigger fears associated with the now iconic details of previous al Qaeda attacks. The images of an internationally known target, with mass civilian casualties, multiple suicide bombers and the use of explosives — this is the al Qaeda playbook, which those who call themselves the Islamic State have now taken up.

Passengers walk on underground metro tracks to be evacuated after an explosion at Maelbeek train station in Brussels, Belgium, March 22, 2016, in this handout courtesy of @OSOSXE via twitter. REUTERS/Courtesy @OSOSXE via Twitter/Handout via Reuters ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS PICTURE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. REUTERS IS UNABLE TO INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THE AUTHENTICITY, CONTENT, LOCATION OR DATE OF THIS IMAGE. FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS. FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVE. THIS PICTURE WAS PROCESSED BY REUTERS TO ENHANCE QUALITY. AN UNPROCESSED VERSION WILL BE PROVIDED SEPARATELY. - RTSBN2G

Passengers walk on underground metro tracks to be evacuated after an explosion at Maelbeek train station in Brussels, Belgium, March 22, 2016. REUTERS/Courtesy @OSOSXE via Twitter/Handout via Reuters

The attacks on transportation systems in Brussels, the airport and the subways, recall the London bus and subway bombings in 2005 and the Madrid train station bombing in 2004 — which together resulted in hundreds of deaths. Pointedly, as an attack on a world-renowned international center, home of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the European Commission, where individuals of many different nationalities were destined to be among the victims, it is reminiscent of 9/11.

But there is a noteworthy difference between the earlier al Qaeda attacks and this Islamic State attack in Brussels. With 9/11, as well as in Madrid and London, al Qaeda was on the rise, waking up the world to its destructive capacity.

Osama bin Laden tried several times before 9/11 to get the attention of the United States — but failed. The coordinated bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998; the bombing of the USS Cole, a guided-missile destroyer, in 2000; and the bombing of the U.S. Air Force barracks at Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia in 1996 — all were taken in stride, the concern largely of U.S. law-enforcement officials and journalists. The destruction of the World Trade Center on 9/11 changed all that.

A view shows the Funerary Temple in the historical city of Palmyra, Syria, August 5, 2010. The hardline Islamic State group has destroyed part of an ancient temple in Syria's Palmyra city, a group monitoring the conflict said on August 30, 2015. The militants targeted the Temple of Bel, a Roman-era structure in the central desert city, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. Picture taken August 5, 2010.   REUTERS/Sandra Auger  - RTX1QG47

The Funerary Temple in the historical city of Palmyra, Syria, August 5, 2010. Syrian forces are fighting there against Islamic State, which reportedly destroyed some of the ancient ruins in 2015. REUTERS/Sandra Auger

Shortly before the Paris attacks, which claimed the lives of 137 people, President Barack Obama remarked on the West’s successes against Islamic State in Syria and Iraq. Some analysts surmised, after the deadly attacks, that these territorial setbacks in the Middle East had frustrated Islamic State and led its members to turn to Europe as a more accessible venue for their portfolio of destruction.

Why does it matter whether this possible shift in focus is a sign of weakness or strength, of frustration or confidence? Because it provides insights into how the West should react to the Brussels attacks.

For starters, law enforcement — the front line of this asymmetrical war outside of the Levant — should do exactly what it has been doing: find the perpetrators, identify the members of their wider network and seize the weapons and the persons responsible for the bombing attacks.

But the larger question of fear is at issue here. If the Brussels attacks are indeed a desperate sign of panic on the part of Islamic State, then the proper response to Brussels is not fear, but a sense of sorrow and loss. We — the public, the media, public officials and politicians — would do well not to yield to the inaccurate and inflame our sense of vulnerability and weakness. The defensiveness of Islamic State on the run may well reap far more violence before the group’s death throes. But the West should not be deterred from keeping up its pressure on Islamic State at home and abroad.

The realities of terrorism call for constant vigilance as a fact of life, and will for a long time to come. No more and no less.

11 comments

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Western media, Reuters explicitly included, told us for months that all the migrants pouring into Europe were fleeing “war, poverty and climate change” We now know this is completeb ullshit and jihadis were marching en masse into the heart of Europe.

Now the media will fret and worry about the rise of “fascism and intolerance” when conservative parties dominate elections.

Face the facts, the media is particularly complicit in concealing the invasion of Europe by Salafist Jihadis.

You have lost all credibility.

Posted by GetReel | Report as abusive

After the terrorist attacks in Paris and Ankara all European intelligence services were constantly on their feet. What happened in Brussels was orchestrated with a high degree of professionalism and brazen defiance.
This begs a (rhetorical to me) question: who would benefit from these attacks and what country “professionals” could be behind them?..

Posted by UauS | Report as abusive

Right, their slaughter of hundreds over the past several months shows, what, that we’re winning? What would losing look like? This is of a piece with the liberal attitude toward fighting – if we smash the terrorists, then they ‘win’, because they’ll recruit more people. In other words, the best way to fight terrorists is – don’t fight them!! No wonder Obama is so nonplussed – he’s actually a military genius!

Posted by DasVeed | Report as abusive

I guess after they nuke London we’ll know we’ve truly won!

So silly…

Posted by EndlessIke | Report as abusive

Islam needs to self-police better. If these acts truly are “perversions of Islam,” then the same top clerics who issue fatwas against cartoonists and have them hunted down….. should be hunting down ISIS. And Boko Haram. And Al Shabaab. And Al Qaeda.

Posted by Solidar | Report as abusive

Interesting take; but are not the victims just as dead regardless is ISIS is on the run or not?

The fact is that the govt’s of Europe have, and are, failing to protect their subjects. Importing large numbers of unvetted “immigrants” who have absolutely no allegiance to the host gov’t and with a faith belief that is diametrically opposed to freedom and acceptance of other beliefs.

No. The European solution to the Middle East was to bring the war to Europe; in that, you have succeeded.

Posted by Andy_Whitehead | Report as abusive

Lefty point of view…so full of S–

Posted by Visionar | Report as abusive

This was a not highly professional job. So much more could have been done to instill terror. Whomever thinks these folks are on the run or panicked is mistaken. Their supplies and guides are in place and spread out just waiting for the doers to come. Intelligence will play a big part in the outcome.

Posted by LTRich | Report as abusive

Muslim Clerics are the trump. Muslim Terrorists are the rally thugs.

You can not solve the problem by hope. You need assassins.

Posted by Solidar | Report as abusive

It’s time for Merkel to take a long walk –
What an incredible screw-up.

Posted by rodent | Report as abusive

Islam, like all religion, is a choice. It is not a race. It is not an ethnicity. It is not a sexual identity. Islam and Christianity should be illegal in modern countries. If you want to live in a Christian nation, move to Guatemala. Plenty of churches there, and they have outlawed abortion. If you want to be Muslim, move to Saudi Arabia. They’ll love you.

Leave the developed world out of your idiotic religious lifestyle choices.

Posted by Solidar | Report as abusive