The Associated Press has learned today that ISIS has around 400 individual fighters trained and ready to spread throughout Europe like the cell disrupted this week in Brussels, Belgium. According to security officials, including European and Iraqi intelligence personnel, ISIS has trained a series of fighters to operate as “interlocking, agile, and semiautonomous cells” like the one behind the Paris attacks and, more recently, the bombings in Brussels.
As ISIS loses ground in Syria and Iraq, security officials warn that they have uncovered the remnants of training camps used to train operatives like the ones behind the Brussels attacks – tight knit groups of men trained to plan and carry out their own attacks with minimal assistance from a central authority, spurring fears of ISIS fighters who have “gone dark” as they hide in plain sight and wait for the right moment to strike.
Some of the intelligence released today to the Associated Press comes from the mastermind behind the Paris attacks, prior to being killed in a police raid. The ISIS ringleader in Paris claimed that the ISIS fighters are scattered “more or less everywhere.” After Salah Abdeslam was apprehended last week in Brussels, his cooperation with police investigators uncovered some shocking details of just how ISIS operates its secretive “agile and interlocking” cells.
“Not only did he drop out of sight, but he did so to organize another attack, with accomplices everywhere. With suicide belts. Two attacks organized just like in Paris. And his arrest, since they knew he was going to talk, it was a response: ‘So what if he was arrested, we’ll show you that it doesn’t change a thing,’ ” said French Senator Nathalie Goulet, co-head of a commission in France tracking jihadi networks.
French and Belgian intelligence officials speaking with the Associated Press estimate that there are around “400 to 600” ISIS fighters with similar training, expertise, and readiness to carry out attacks on their own terms, spread throughout Europe.
“The reality is that if we knew exactly how many there were it wouldn’t be happening,” said French Senator Nathalie Goulet.
Europol has reluctantly confirmed reports that ISIS has dispatched ‘special forces’ cells like these to the European continent, after receiving extensive training in Syria, Iraq, and other ISIS-held regions. ISIS bragged about their capability to dispatch fighters to Europe just after the Brussels attacks, referring to a “secret cell of soldiers” who were sent to Brussels for the express purpose of creating carnage, of killing civilians.
The 400 ISIS fighters dispatched to Europe are likely a part of a “special-forces style” wing of the Islamic State, says Europol, stating that they believe ISIS has “developed an external action command trained for special forces-style attacks” like those seen in Paris and Brussels.
“The difference is that in 2014, some of these ISIS fighters were only being given a couple weeks of training, now the strategy has changed. Special units have been set up,” said a French intelligence official, speaking with the Associated Press today.
These insights, and the presence of 400 Islamic State or ISIS fighters within Europe paint a portrait of an organization that is adapting to international pressure, and to its own losses on the battlefield. ISIS has continually lost ground in recent months when fighting professional military forces in Iraq and Syria, but applying more rigorous training to their operatives abroad has increased their capability, and changed their tactics.
“The training is longer, and the objective appears to no longer be killing as many people as possible, but rather to have as many terror operations as possible, so the enemy is forced to spend more money or more in manpower, it’s more about the rhythm of terror operations now,” said the same anonymous official.
[Photo by AP Photo, File]