Flashback 2016: When Islamic State went global

From being a terror group limited to Iraq and Syria region, the dreaded outfit has gradually shifted its strategy to focus on major cities in the Western European region.

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When the Islamic State came to be in 1999, its battle was restricted to the neighbourhood of Syria and Iraq. The IS, which was battling the establishment, eyed the seat of power in these two countries. This past year, however, saw a gradual shift in strategy and the outfit directed its fighters, especially those based in Europe, to focus on major cities in the Western European region.

The attacks in Paris, Nice and Orlando showed that there was a clear shift in strategy by the IS top brass. Losing ground in Syria and Iraq focused the groups attention at taking the fight outside of their home base.

"Go back to your home country and strike," was the directive of the outfit's supreme commander, Abu Bakr al-Bhagdadi. This was always part of the strategy and the IS knew it would not be able to battle the allied forces in Iraq and Syria.

Deserted markets after Paris attack

Shoes and other belongings are seen in front of Ke Carillon Hotel after panic broke out among mourners who payed their respect at the attack sites at restaurant Le Petit Cambodge  and the Carillon Hotel in Paris.

French police officers storm a church

French police officers storm a church after a raid in Paris suburb Saint-Denis.A woman wearing an explosive suicide vest blew herself up as heavily armed police tried to storm a suburban Paris apartment where the suspected mastermind was believed to be holed up

Damaged building in Paris suburb of Saint-Denis

Paris : The damaged building during raid on an apartment is pictured in the Paris suburb of Saint-Denis. Abdelhamid Abaaoud, the Belgian extremist suspected of masterminding the deadly attacks in Paris died a day ago along with his female cousin in a police raid on a suburban apartment building.

Leaders paying tribute

Paris: Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, his wife Sophie Gregoire, French prime minister Manuel Valls, and Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo pay their respects to victims of the Paris attacks in front of the Bataclan concert hall

Police captured Salah Abdeslam

Brussels: In this framegrab taken from VTM, armed police officers take part in a raid in the Molenbeek neighborhood of Brussels. After an intense four-month manhunt across Europe and beyond, police captured Salah Abdeslam, the top fugitive in the Paris attacks in the same Brussels neighborhood where he grew

Manhunt in Brussels

Special intervention forces sit on top of a roof as they prepare to enter a house in Brussels. A major action with heavily armed police was undertaken in the Brussels neighborhood of Molenbeek amid a manhunt for a suspect of the Paris terror attacks.

Soldiers patrol in Brussels

Belgian Army soldiers patrol outside the Central Station in Brussels.

Zaventem airport

The blown out windows of Zaventem airport are seen after a deadly attack in Brussels.

The 'war' online

Security experts say that the IS has mastered the art of propaganda. It does not want to invest in attacks outside of Iraq and Syria. It would spread its propaganda on the web and ensure that its followers strike in cities. Attacks are normally carried out by terror groups close to the IS or individuals assailants, deemed by security forces as 'lone wolves'. Following the attack, the IS would be quick to claim the attack. This trend was most evident in the attacks at Paris, Nice and Dhaka all of which were claimed by the IS.

The first half of 2016, saw IS sending its foreign fighters back home. Several foreign fighters had been asked to return home following the spate of defeats the outfit faced in both Iraq and Syria. The IS bastion in both countries had gone out of the outfit's control and hence a contingency plan had been adopted.

No end in sight

Western media largely hailed the decline of the IS in Iraq and Syria. However, this allied success had a dark side with the IS deciding to strike at the heartland. There were a lot of foreign fighters who returned home and this was at first considered to be a strategic retreat.

It was only following the Paris attack did security agencies realise that this was part of a larger IS strategy.

The IS had instructed its foreign fighters to gain entry into their home countries and stage attacks. The idea was to execute revenge in Europe for the defeats in Iraq and Syria.

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