"If Isis falls, where will its fighters flee?" PBS NewsHour 10/13/2016
SUMMARY: If the Islamic State group is driven out of Iraq and Syria, where will the remaining militants go? William Brangham learns more about the current state of the militant group from Rukmini Callimachi of The New York Times and Peter Neumann of King's College.
WILLIAM BRANGHAM (NewsHour): At its peak between November of 2014 and May of 2015, ISIS controlled large parts of Iraq and Syria, but, since then, ISIS has taken serious losses on the battlefield and has lost critical territory.
To understand what this means for the group's future, I'm joined by two people who studied ISIS in great detail.
Peter Neumann runs the International Center for the Study of Radicalization at King's College in London. And Rukmini Callimachi is a reporter at The New York Times.
Welcome to you both.
Rukmini, I would like to start with you, if you don't mind.
RUKMINI CALLIMACHI, The New York Times: Sure.
WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Give us a status report. How is ISIS doing right now? Where are they operating? And how are they doing?
RUKMINI CALLIMACHI: They have certainly lost some territory both in Iraq and also more recently in Libya.
And we have seen that there has been a significant dip in their output in terms of their propaganda. They're putting out less videos, less images, et cetera.
But I wouldn't be quick to declare victory of any kind. This is a group that has shown itself to be very nimble. And despite their losses on the battlefield, we're seeing that attacks in the West are continuing to proliferate. Just in the last couple of days, German officials were able to dismantle a plot in Germany that was meant to be against the Berlin Airport possibly, and that, according to the officials I have spoken to, could have looked as bad as the Brussels attack that we saw in March of this year.
WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Peter Neumann, is there anything you would add to that about how ISIS is doing globally?
PETER NEUMANN, King's College: Right now, there are still an estimated 10,000 foreign fighters in ISIS territory.
If Syria and Iraq fall, those 10,000 will have to go somewhere. Some will go to Turkey. Some will try to return to their home countries. Others will try to go to other battlefronts. So I think the story of ISIS is not over once ISIS is defeated in Syria and Iraq.
WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Peter, just staying with you for a moment, your center just put out a study that showed how ISIS is increasingly recruiting individuals who have criminal backgrounds. And I wonder, just tell me, what is it that you have found?
PETER NEUMANN: So, if you speak to European security agencies, they will tell you that, in Germany, for example, 66 percent of ISIS recruits were known to police.
The same picture in Norway, the Netherlands, Belgium, France. A lot of former criminals are becoming attracted to ISIS. The head of Brussels police is talking about ISIS as the super gang, and it's kind of true, because ISIS offers in many ways what gangs are offering, a strong sense of identity, power, a sense of strength. And it kind of recruits in the same areas, often very deprived, socioeconomically marginalized areas, the suburbs of Paris and those of Brussels.
It's a very different type of recruit from the more sort of intellectual types that we saw in al-Qaida 15 years ago.