Defeated on the battlefield, ISIS steps up terror attacks

There's no coincidence that the number and ferocity of ISIS terror attacks have increased in recent weeks as their losses on the battlefield mount. John Yang discusses the significance of the timing with Joby Warrick, author of "Black Flags: The Rise of ISIS," and Rukmini Callimachi of The New York Times.

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    We take a closer look at the increase in attacks by ISIS around the globe with two reporters who have covered the insurgency very closely.

    Joby Warrick covers national security for The Washington Post. His book "Black Flags: The Rise of ISIS" won this year's Pulitzer Prize for Nonfiction. It's his second Pulitzer. And Rukmini Callimachi is a correspondent with The New York Times and joins us from Paris.

    Welcome to you both.

    Rukmini, I would like to start with you.

    This spasm of violence that we have seen over the past week, three attacks, three countries, what do you make of this? Are they sending a message? Is this a coincidence? Were they planning it this way?

  • RUKMINI CALLIMACHI, The New York Times:

    ISIS, like all jihadi groups, considers Ramadan to be a sacred time for doing jihad.

    And before the start of the holy month of Ramadan, which began roughly three weeks ago, the spokesman of the group issued once again a call for an increase in violence. And so the way I read it is that these attacks and the heightening of them in this period is a response to that call.


    And, Joby, how do they do this? How do they get these attacks going? Some of them, are they directed by ISIS? Are they just inspired by ISIS?

    JOBY WARRICK, Author, "Black Flags: The Rise of Isis": Yes, it's a mixed bag.

    And as Rukmini said, they have been issuing the call to do something during Ramadan. And the call specifically says whatever is available to you. Don't wait for orders, don't wait for instructions. If you have an opportunity to do something nasty, do it.

    And so you have see a lot of lone wolf attacks. You have seen some gangs getting together and doing some of these attacks. It's not necessarily coordinated, but it's very effective.


    And, Rukmini, were these attacks in any way — you said that they sent the word out that they wanted this to happen. But is it just that the opportunities came up in this cluster?


    If you are an adherent to this group, you know the rhythm and you know that Ramadan is a period when these attacks almost like a prayer are supposed to be viewed more holy than at other times of the year.

    And so I think it's reasonable to expect that the attacks we have seen have been in the planning stages for some time and that they use Ramadan as a time to hit. And adding to what Joby said, we have seen in this period of Ramadan both inspired attacks. So, we had Omar Mateen in Orlando, Florida, and we had a guy called Larossi Abballa here in France who stabbed to death a policeman in the name of ISIS.

    We saw attacks that they directed themselves and carried out themselves, like Baghdad yesterday. And then we have seen attacks like Bangladesh, which are being carried out basically by their territories abroad.

    Bangladesh has been one of their territories that they have spent a lot of time hyping in their publication. And the attack in the cafe that happened a few days ago was the 19th attack in Bangladesh claimed by ISIS in less than nine months.


    Is there a danger, Joby, that there is going to be a backlash? The Turkey attack, Turkey has never really taken a lot of action against ISIS. Is this going to trigger a big response from Turkey?


    The Turks are certainly indicating that it will.

    They have been trying to track down on recruits, for example, and weapons going across the border. But now it's obviously full-scale war. So yet to be seen what they will do that is different from what they are doing now, perhaps some more shared resources, allowing others to use their soil for attacks against the caliphate.

    But I think that the Turks are really in the game now. So, in that sense, there is blowback. There will be a price exacted with ISIS for doing these kinds of attacks. And you will see it in other places too such as Bangladesh. The whole world really is rallying in a way that is unprecedented against this organization.


    And, Rukmini, a lot has been made about the fact that the attacks in Turkey and in Bangladesh were carried out by groups, rather than individuals, that it was sort of coordination among these people. Is this something new? Is this sort of a new development, taking this to a next stage?


    Not really.

    You have to look back to the November 13 attack in Paris, which was carried out by 10 ISIS attackers, nine of whom traveled from Syria to carry out those killings. The Brussels attacks were a mixed bag. It included people that had traveled from Syria and then locals that they joined up with there.

    Turkey, we're still in that fog where we don't exactly know how these people entered Turkey. Did they come from Syria? Did they come from somewhere else? But the indication has been that they were most likely sent by ISIS central.

    And then Bangladesh, you have a growing network that I think has gone unnoticed because until a couple of days ago they hadn't had a catastrophic attack like we have seen now. But if you are watching their publication and their propaganda, Bangladesh was very much a place that was in their crosshairs. They have been very much amping up their rhetoric there.


    And, Joby, this also comes as they have been losing territory. They have been losing ground in Iraq, in Syria. They just lost Fallujah this past week.

    Is this in any sense ISIS saying we don't — it doesn't matter? They're going to project their force outside that territory in a way?


    It is interesting that the weaker they get in their caliphate, in their home territory, the more they do seem to lash out.

    And whether this is really them just trying to still be relevant, or if it's something that suggests that they're really moving to a new phase, that is something we — still has to be seen, because even though they are losing territory, they are losing personnel in the caliphate, they are growing their organization other places.

    You see these other inspired groups. We see cells. We see real organized ISIS organizations in other places. And some of those are getting big instead of smaller, so this campaign is not over by any stretch.


    Joby Warrick, Rukmini Callimachi, that's a very sobering note to end on. Thanks for being with us.


    Thank you.