In Brief

"Islamic State Is on the Retreat"

Islamic State (IS) is carrying out attacks in Europe because it’s on the defensive. The attacks are meant to jolt its own fighters, says GIGA Middle East expert Stephan Rosiny in an interview with NZZ am Sonntag.

A member loyal to the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) waves an ISIL flag in Raqqa.
© Reuters / Stringer
A member loyal to the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) waves an ISIL flag in Raqqa.
© Reuters / Stringer

NZZ am Sonntag, Francesco Benini: What is the goal of IS terrorists in carrying out attacks like those in Brussels?

Stephan Rosiny: Al-Qaeda aimed to hit symbolic targets such as the Twin Towers with its terrorist attacks. Islamic State just wants to wreak havoc, to kill as many “infidels” as possible. Its official justification for that is that Muslim territory is being attacked by “crusaders.” IS sees itself as a representative of all Muslims and attacks the West because Western states are trying to destroy it, if we’re going by statements released by IS.

What are the unofficial motives of IS?

IS is increasingly losing territory in Syria and Iraq, it’s on the defensive. But in its own narrative it’s a permanently growing Islamic empire. The attacks are meant to suggest that IS is continuing to expand. They’re about making up for the defeats. They’re supposed to motivate and mobilise Islamic State’s own fighters. There are clear indicators that IS fighters’ faith in the organisation is dwindling. They are realising that the assurances made to them that the Islamic empire would always be victorious are not coming to fruition. The attacks are meant to jolt them. There is an additional motive as well.

And that is?

IS wants fear of Muslims to be whipped up and the image of Islam as an enemy to be reinforced in the West. It was a disaster for IS that, on its very account, hundreds of thousands of Muslims fled to Europe: the “territory of the infidels.” Aggravated cultural conflict between Muslims and non-Muslims in Europe leads to discrimination against Muslims, which is supposed to spur them to return to Islamic State. That is a goal of the terrorist attacks. ...

The interview was published on 27 March 2016 in NZZ am Sonntag.

Publications on the topic:

Rustum Mahmoud / Stephan Rosiny Opposition Visions for Preserving Syria’s Ethnic-Sectarian Mosaic GIGA Working Paper, No. 279, October 2015

Stephan Rosiny Vergeltung ist noch keine Strategie gegen den IS! Inamo, Journal On the Middle East, 21, 2015, 84, 2

Stephan Rosiny Aufstieg und Fall des IS? Politikum, 1, 2015, 3, 16-25

Stephan Rosiny The Rise and Demise of the IS Caliphate Middle East Policy, XXII, 2015, 2, 94-107


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