Daesh has since its evolution from Al Qaeda in Iraq concentrated on the “near enemy”, on sectarian killing of Shia Muslims, non-compliant Sunnis, and other minorities, and conquest of contiguous territory to form its “Islamic State”.
The “far enemy” was not a priority for Daesh. Now there is a shift in the style and type of attack that Daesh and its supporters carry out. The downing of a Russian plane, the bombing of Beirut, and the bombings and mass shootings in Paris, are more like Al Qaeda attacks such as the 2004 Madrid bombing.
Daesh do not follow the guidance issued by Al Qaeda in 2013 to avoid attacks that could kill Muslim civilians. It is not that Al Qaeda have more moral compass than Daesh, or that Al Qaeda cells have diligently followed the guidance. The guidance was made to propagandise for a particular kind of reaction from Muslims in Western countries. Whether these attacks were ordered by the Caliphate, and the extent to which Daesh’s leadership in Raqqa had oversight of them, is not clear. However, Daesh soon put out statements welcoming and seeking to justify the attacks. They say they were “targeting the capital of prostitution and vice, the lead carrier of the cross in Europe — Paris”. They “attacked precisely chosen targets in the centre of the capital of France... includ[ing] the Bataclan theatre for exhibitions, where hundreds of pagans gathered for a concert of prostitution and vice. “Let France and all nations following its path know that they will continue to be at the top of the target list for the Islamic State and that the scent of death will not leave their nostrils as long as they partake in the crusader campaign, as long as they dare to curse our Prophet... as long as they boast about their war against Islam in France and their strikes against Muslims in the lands of the Caliphate”.
Yet there is evidence that the Paris attacks were carried out by “sleeper cells” long established there, and had their own motives quite autonomous from reaction to France’s recent bombing in Syria. Daesh’s encouragement for “lone wolf” attacks, as at the Brussels Jewish Museum or the Sousse beach shooting in Tunisia, shows that their tactics have shifted and expanded since their formation. The millions of people fleeing Daesh and their cothinkers in Syria now potentially face the same enemy wherever they go.
No mourning for Emwazi
One of Daesh’s most valuable propaganda assets, Mohammed Emwazi, Jihadi John for much of the tabloid press, was targeted by a US drone strike on 12 November, after being located in Raqqa by MI6. The US military say they are 99% certain they have killed him. Emwazi appeared in numerous videos of killings of hostages and of captured Syrian soldiers. Reportedly, he was heavily protected by Daesh, appearing publicly only in their videos. As Jeremy Corbyn said: “it appears Mohammed Emwazi has been held to account for his callous and brutal crimes”.
No socialist can mourn Emwazi. At the same time we cannot imagine that the licence which the UK and the USA claim to compile “kill lists”, to target with drone strikes, with very little public scrutiny even after the event, is the answer. The death of Emwazi may give some relief to the victims of the gruesome hostage videos, but Daesh continues to recruit new executioners.