When we think of Islamist extremism, twisted ideology or horrific terrorist attacks, Daesh is at the forefront of our minds. The group has hogged the headlines over the last few years with their bizarre mix of medieval beheadings and fondness for 21st century social media to groom would-be jihadi fighters. We became transfixed as they conquered vast swathes of territory, subjugating the local population and wantonly destroying priceless treasures.
Now Daesh’s fighters are deserting and defecting in high numbers. Its hard-won territory is being wrestled away. We are watching the group vanish into the dust. But we must be careful not to think that their bloodthirsty aims are about to die too. Daesh’s contorted Islamist ideology is at risk of seeping deep into the consciousness of some young people in the west. We must remain as vigilant as ever to the threat of radicalisation of our vulnerable friends and relatives.
We must also remember that Daesh are not the only terrorists in town. While they’ve been shrinking, other groups, notably Al Qaeda have been quietly making gains in the shadows. Recent reports suggest that Osama bin Laden’s old outfit is a “force to be reckoned with”.
Al Qaeda has been watching and learning from Daesh – taking note of what worked for them and what didn’t. For example, they will have noticed that Daesh significantly furthered their aims through social media. We can expect Al Qaeda to do the same.
Liberation of Daesh stronghold imminent
When the Daesh stronghold of Mosul is liberated – as seems imminent - we can be thankful that our Muslim brothers and sisters will be free of the terrifying regime they have suffered under for more than two years. Their lives can slowly return to normal.
But we can’t afford to sit back.
Terrorism expert Bruce Hoffman recently warned that: “al Qaeda’s main achievement over the years has been that it has rehabilitated its image, and it’s been very deft at using the global opprobrium of ISIS to burnish al Qaeda’s credentials and to portray itself as a more moderate, acceptable alternative to ISIS [Daesh].”
Of course, there is nothing “acceptable” about al Qaeda. There is nothing “acceptable” about Daesh.
What’s clear is that we are facing new challenges, new threats. As Daesh falls, we must continue our vigilance. We must remain on alert to prevent our children falling under the spell of any terrorist group, under any name or in any guise.