What does Islamic State want to achieve by attacking Europe?

Islamic State claims responsibility for attacks in Brussels but so far it is very hard to judge how much was ISIS really involved in planning this. But in general with attacking Europe what does want ISIS to achieve? Read few comments.

Christopher Anzalone, Ph.D. Candidate, Institute of Islamic Studies, McGill University

The Islamic State seeks, like Al-Qa’ida and its regional affiliates before it, to substantially disrupt the economies and “ways of life” of those countries targeting it or which they see as enemy states.  This mirrors earlier Al-Qa’ida strategies to force countries such as the U.S. to spend billions of dollars to implement new security measures and bureaucracy as well as change the ways that they do things, forcing them to change not only security measures but also to disrupt the “way of life” from before a given attack, whether those on September 11, 2001 or London in 2005 and Madrid in 2004.  Al-Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula, for example, bragged about how for only several thousand dollars it managed to cause major economic costs and burdens, both financial and bureaucratic, to enemy states such as the U.S. when they sent explosive devices hidden in computer printers.

Similarly, Islamic State media operatives, after the Paris attacks last year, also highlighted the organization’s desire to negatively impact the flow of people across different European countries as well as “bring the war home” to Europeans, making them realize that their involvement in the military campaign against Islamic State is not necessarily cost free or something abstract happening “over there.”  Al-Shabab leaders have made similar statements with regard to attacks carried out in Kenya and Uganda, two of the states contributing thousands of troops to the African Union Mission in Somalia military forces on the ground in Somalia.  So, in summary, militant organizations such as Islamic State and Al-Qa’ida and its regional affiliates seek to impose a variety of costs (economic/financial, potentially security and physical safety, and, importantly, psychological) to the civilian populations in states engaged in the war against them so as to, from their perspective, hopefully pressure them to in turn pressure their countries’ governments to change their foreign policies and operational decisions.

James J.F. Forest, Professor, Director of the Security Studies Graduate Degree Program, University of Massachusetts Lowell

Honestly, all we can do is speculate on the reasons why ISIS is encouraging – and in some cases directly supporting – attacks in Europe. But based on the classic definition of terrorism as a means for coercing a society’s behavior through fear and violence, my sense is that ISIS may have at least a couple core objectives, including 1) showcase to its own cadres and potential supporters/potential recruits that it can hit, and hurt, European infidels in their home cities, and in doing so bolster morale and a sense of powerful, global reach;

and/or 2) compel increasingly fearful societies in European countries to oppose government policies and actions against ISIS, and force the government to withdraw military forces from the coalition in Syria and Iraq.

Rodger ShanahanNonresident Fellow, Lowy Institute for International Policy

It is likely that IS provides technical training and then seeds some operatives back into Europe to make operationally capable cells. The selection of their targets and timing of their attacks are probably left largely up to the local commander although IS would be able to initiate if they wished.

They seek to sow discord in the population, impose costs (financial and social) on Western governments and show the world that they are still relevant and capable.


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