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Salafi Jihadism and Chemical Weapons Attacks: Ideological Contrasts and Strategic Constraints

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Salafi Jihadism and Chemical Weapons Attacks: Ideological Contrasts and Strategic Constraints

Cristina Martin Ristori

Introduction

Chemical weapons attacks remain an uncommon choice for militant and terrorist organizations targeting Western countries. Their rarity makes them an attractive option, as the shock factor associated chemical weapons attacks plays into the main goal of any terrorist attack: to instill fear and insecurity in the population. However, in an era of rising “Lone Wolf” attacks, ease and likelihood of success take priority over intricately planned operations. Similarly, as military operations continue their crackdown on terrorism and insurgent movements, a novel tactic such as a chemical weapons attack raises the risk of retribution to a level these organizations may not be able to affront. This is reflected in the choice of the world’s two major terrorist organizations, al Qaeda and ISIS, to continue carrying out and inspiring conventional attacks against Western targets, despite the increased legitimacy that a successful chemical weapons attack would grant them.

Over the past few years, Al Qaeda has taken advantage of the global attention on the rise of ISIS to rebuild itself, creating a decentralized structure that acquires support and affiliates by becoming involved in regional and local conflicts.[i] These affiliates tend to support al Qaeda in order to benefit from its global legitimacy and resources, but are not highly invested in supporting al Qaeda’s global mission.[ii] The retribution al Qaeda affiliates would likely suffer after a chemical weapons attack against a western country would drive the affiliates’ support away, preventing al Qaeda from using chemical weapons in the next three years until its decentralized structure has solidified.

ISIS, on the other hand, has lost control over 98 percent of the territory it held at its maximum capacity.[iii] Its self-declared caliphate has now been decimated, and as a result, ISIS has shifted its strategy from strengthening and expanding its territorial control, to conducting and attempting to inspire terrorist attacks against the West, in order to maintain its global legitimacy as the leading jihadist movement.[iv] Despite the dramatic decrease in ISIS attacks against the West in 2018, ISIS attempts to conduct such attacks appear to remain unchanged, leading analysts to attribute the decrease in attacks to improved counterterrorism efforts.[v] An ISIS-directed chemical weapons attack could be a short-term victory, but would likely jumpstart a western-led campaign to destroy the remains of the caliphate and ensure that ISIS as an organization is destroyed. Additionally, ISIS-inspired conventional attacks, such as IED attacks or vehicle rampages, have been effective in helping ISIS remain relevant, which makes it unlikely for individuals without direct support from ISIS to try to use more complicated techniques.

Al Qaeda and ISIS are therefore unlikely to use chemical weapons in an attack against western states, namely the United States and countries in the European Union, within the next three years. Despite their ideology, which allows and encourages both groups to use WMD weapons to attack the West, the current state of both militant organizations would make the use of chemical weapons counterproductive to their strategic objectives.

Al Qaeda and ISIS: Ideology, Strategy and Structure

Al Qaeda

Since the foundation of al Qaeda, and especially during the time of Osama bin Laden’s leadership, the organization has been characterized by a focus on the “far enemy”—in other words, the West and the United States.[vi] Although al Qaeda’s long-term goal was to create a global caliphate where to implement Sharia law and Islamic rule, it planned to achieve this goal by destroying the United States, and its western allies, through the use of terrorism. The goal behind this strategy was to exhaust and weaken the United States, therefore preventing it from using its influence and power to support the dictatorial Arab regimes that al Qaeda opposed—the “near enemy.” These regimes would then collapse without the support of the United States, leaving a power vacuum for al Qaeda to fill.[vii]

Al Qaeda’s strategy to spread its message was also a defining feature of its ideology. Bin Laden believed in winning hearts and minds, instead of imposing the caliphate on a population. He advocated in favor of unity within the global Muslim community, or Ummah, and therefore rejected the notion of attacking Shias, or Sunni Muslims who would disagree with al Qaeda’s doctrine, arguing that isolating part of the Muslim population would be counterproductive to spreading al Qaeda’s message.[viii] [ix] The possibility of retribution and its marginalizing effect on Muslim communities, therefore, is likely to be of high concern to al Qaeda, given its current presence and active role in local conflicts in several Muslim countries.

The aftermath of 9/11, and the aggressive U.S. efforts to destroy al Qaeda during the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, led to changes in al Qaeda’s organizational structure. Within months after the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, what would become to be known as al Qaeda Core was driven into Pakistan, and in November 2003, al Qaeda’s wing in Saudi Arabia became the first al Qaeda affiliate—al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, or AQAP.[x] Several other branches, such as al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI, which would later become ISIS) were also established, usually through the union between al Qaeda and already existing local jihadist groups. [xi]

These partnerships with regional groups are beneficial to both parties. Al Qaeda Core has managed to diversify its support network, to expand its influence globally, and to prevent the destruction of the organization when the United States attacked its headquarters in Afghanistan.[xii] On the other hand, AQIM, AQAP, Jabhat al Nusra, and other al Qaeda affiliates have benefitted from the resources and added legitimacy that come with being an al Qaeda affiliate.[xiii] The loyalty of these affiliates to al Qaeda Core’s global mission and doctrine, however, is questionable, and has been a source of concern since al Qaeda Core chastised AQI leader Abu Musab al Zarqawi for his extreme tactics in 2005.[xiv] Al Qaeda core later released a memorandum requiring that any regional al Qaeda affiliates consult with “al Qaeda central” before conducting operations.[xv] Despite this contentious relationship, al Qaeda Core continues to benefit from the expansion of the global al Qaeda brand. Its focus has transitioned from attacking the “far enemy” to the “near enemy,” finding it more effective to co-opt regional conflicts in order to divert the West’s attention to a greater threat, such as ISIS. [xvi]

ISIS

The establishment of ISIS was the culmination of the loyalty issues linked to al Qaeda’s decentralization strategy. ISIS, formerly known as al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), was one of al Qaeda’s most important branches, given the fact that Iraq was one of the frontlines in the battle against the West—a “near” approach to fighting the “far enemy.” AQI became Iraq’s leading insurgent group, but it struggled to operate under al Qaeda Core’s doctrine.[xvii] AQI did not only attack U.S. forces in Iraq, but also bombed Shia mosques and conducted mass slaughters of Shia civilians, hoping to deepen the divisions between Sunnis and Shias in Iraq, and to rally support from Sunni Iraqis.[xviii] Al Qaeda Core opposed this strategy, arguing that these kinds of killings would alienate the “Muslim masses,” who would not distinguish between Shias and Sunnis, and would see these types of attacks as Muslims killing other Muslims.[xix]

Zarqawi’s dissenting strategies continued in 2012, when AQI changed its name to the Islamic State in Iraq and al Sham (ISIS) and expanded its area of operations into Syria to exploit the unrest following the Arab Spring.[xx] The inclusion of the term “Islamic State” in AQI’s new name highlighted ISIS’s focus on the establishment of a caliphate, which diverted from al Qaeda’s view that a caliphate would come naturally once its near and far enemies were defeated.[xxi] This desire to establish a caliphate as soon as possible was used by ISIS to justify its brutality against dissenters, further distancing it from al Qaeda’s doctrine.[xxii] Al Qaeda Core officially declared ISIS to not be an affiliate of al Qaeda in January of 2014,[xxiii] and ISIS declared its caliphate in June of that same year.[xxiv]

In Syria and Iraq, ISIS succeeded at establishing a functioning caliphate by expanding its control over territory and enforcing its radical interpretation of Islamic law. It was not concerned with the isolation or opposition of its dissenters, unlike al Qaeda, but rather forced populations to agree, or be brutally killed.[xxv] ISIS also relied on propaganda and recruitment efforts to become the prime leader of the global jihadist movement, especially as al Qaeda seemed to step out of the global stage to become involved in regional conflicts. As it established its caliphate in Syria and Iraq, ISIS publicized its territory as an Islamic utopia, encouraging Muslims from all countries to join its ranks.[xxvi] It also began to focus on carrying out attacks against Europe and the United States, hoping to catch international attention.[xxvii] Although these attacks catapulted ISIS to the center of global media attention, they also prompted a declaration of war on ISIS by a global coalition, which has now helped regain 98 percent of the territory once controlled by ISIS.[xxviii]

As a result of this loss of territory, ISIS has shifted its strategy from one focused on expansion of territory and of establishing a functioning caliphate, to one centered around defending its last parcels of control.[xxix] [xxx] As it fights for its survival in Syria, it continues to attempt to remain relevant in the global sphere by using propaganda to inspire attacks on western targets.[xxxi] [xxxii] The scope and volume of low-level inspired attacks (those carried out by individuals with no formal affiliation to ISIS) nearly quadrupled in Europe from January 2014 to September 2017, signaling an increasing reliance on individual ISIS supporters to carry out attacks on the West.[xxxiii] As ISIS loses more territory, it is likely to continue to rely on inspiring terrorist attacks in order to stay relevant.[xxxiv] Its defeat in Syria and Iraq, however, is likely to have a negative effect on its ability to inspire attacks, given its lack of ability to capitalize on its previously functional caliphate to assert its global legitimacy.

Capabilities and Interest in Chemical Weapons

Despite al Qaeda’s reservations about attacking disagreeing Muslims, bin Laden had no qualms about using any means necessary to bring down the United States,[xxxv] and the use of chemical weapons was of interest to al Qaeda since the beginning of its war against the West. For example, the World Trade Center bombings of 1993 were supposed to release cyanide gas into the North Tower, but the explosion incinerated the gas, decreasing the number of casualties.[xxxvi] From 1999 to 2001, al Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan conducted basic training on the use of biological, chemical, and radiological weapons.[xxxvii] Throughout 2003, several al Qaeda members were arrested in European countries for planning ricin and cyanide attacks.[xxxviii] It is evident, therefore, that there was no ideological barrier to carrying out a WMD attack against the West, and as al Qaeda sought to conduct the attack that would launch it to the forefront of global jihad, a chemical weapons attack was likely to have been considered as a possibility.

ISIS’s interest and intent to use chemical weapons is clearly demonstrated by its use of them in Iraq and Syria: since 2014 until October 2017, ISIS has conducted 48 chemical weapons attacks in Iraq, and 28 in Syria.[xxxix] 28 of those attacks used chlorine, 17 used Sulphur mustard, and 31 were unspecified.[xl] When ISIS was still AQI, it also detonated a series of crude chlorine bombs in Iraq, from 2006 to 2007.[xli] Despite al Qaeda Core’s opposition to harming other Muslims, in fear of alienating them, AQI injured hundreds of Iraqis with these attacks, either from the explosion or from the effects of chlorine.[xlii] There is no evidence, however, that ISIS has succeeded in producing more lethal chemical agents, such as sarin or other nerve agents,[xliii] which may demonstrate a lack of interest in developing a more advanced chemical weapons program. Furthermore, while the number of ISIS chemical weapons attacks in Iraq and Syria increased every year from 2014 to 2016, it decreased in the first months of 2017, and completely stopped by July 2017, after the fall of Mosul.[xliv]

In its current decentralized state, there is no evidence that any al Qaeda affiliate has conducted or attempted to conduct any chemical weapons attacks against western targets. In fact, in the 2010s, al Qaeda has only conducted one attack against a western target—the Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris in 2015—demonstrating al Qaeda’s intent to stay out of the public eye as it rebuilds and strengthens its organization.[xlv] ISIS, on the other hand, has attempted at least one chemical weapons attack against a western target recently. Two ISIS militants attempted to create an improvised chemical device to release hydrogen sulfide in Sydney, Australia, on August 2017.[xlvi] Given the relatively high number of ISIS-directed chemical weapons attacks in Syria and Iraq, compared to the sole attempt against a western target, it is reasonable to assume that conducting a chemical weapons attack against the West is not one of ISIS’s priorities.

Not only do neither al Qaeda nor ISIS seem invested in conducting chemical weapons attacks against western targets, but neither of them appear to be using their propaganda to inspire their supporters to do so. Al Qaeda’s Inspire magazine and ISIS’s Rumiyah magazine, which target western audiences and are published in English, both contain sections dedicated to providing information on how to conduct attacks without directions or communication with any jihadist authority.[xlvii] Inspire’s section “Open Source Jihad” contains tactical instructions on how to cause road accidents, make car bombs, or train with AKs.[xlviii] Rumiyah’s “Just Terror” section also contains detailed instructions on how to conduct knife, vehicle, and arson attacks.[xlix] Neither magazine, however, contains instructions or incentives to persuade supporters to conduct a chemical weapons attack, despite the relative ease of manufacturing chemical weapons such as chlorine gas. In general, ISIS’s and al Qaeda’s propaganda lacks any substantial mention of chemical weapons.

Why al Qaeda and ISIS Refrain from Using Chemical Weapons

Fear of Retribution

Chemical weapons attacks are considered to be an especially vicious form of attack in the West. President Obama stated that he was ready to declare war against the Assad regime in Syria if it used chemical weapons against its population, drawing a clear “red line” between all the other brutal forms of attack that the Assad regime used and continues to use against civilians, and a chemical weapons attack.[l] The Trump administration has conducted two airstrike attacks against Syrian chemical weapons stockpiles, in response to two chemical weapons attacks carried out by the Assad regime, despite the United States’ affirmation that its only involvement in the Syrian civil war is meant to combat ISIS.[li] It is safe to assume, therefore, that a chemical weapons attack against a western target could lead to brutal retribution, given that several western countries have conducted airstrikes against Assad after the use of chemical weapons even though their own citizens were not affected by the attacks. 

Additionally, both al Qaeda and ISIS are at critical stages in their development as jihadist organizations, which would likely be negatively affected by the retribution they would suffer after conducting a chemical weapons attack. Al Qaeda is in the process of transitioning into and strengthening its decentralized structure.[lii] It has been capitalizing on the global attention on ISIS to rebuild its forces, using civil wars to increase recruitment and support.[liii] This greater focus on local conflicts will prevent it from carrying out large-scale attacks against western targets, including chemical weapons attacks. Al Qaeda affiliates’ loyalty to its greater objective of global jihad is weak, as most individuals involved in local conflict are likely to be fully involved in local conflict and less to be motivated to carry out attacks against the West.[liv] A chemical weapons attack would draw undesired global attention to al Qaeda, interrupting its quiet process of rebuilding, and would inspire a series of counterattacks that would be likely to drive away the support of its affiliates.    

At the same time, ISIS is heavily involved in a battle for its own survival. Its series of attacks against western targets since 2014 derived in a declaration of war from a global coalition, which has successfully regained control of the majority of the ISIS-controlled territory.[lv] [lvi] A transition into using chemical weapons would be ISIS’s signing of its own death sentence, as the global campaign against ISIS would be highly likely to intensify. The costs of this increase in counter-ISIS operations would likely outweigh the reputational and propaganda benefits ISIS could gain from conducting a successful chemical weapons attack against the West, making such an attack strategically counterproductive and unlikely in the short-term.  

Difficulty

Despite the relative simplicity of producing a chemical weapon and carrying out an attack, it is unlikely to be easier than simply renting a van and running a large mass of people over with it. Jihad against the West has transitioned from large-scale, spectacular attacks like 9/11, to smaller, easier, more frequent attacks.[lvii] Since the objective of these attacks is not necessarily to kill the largest possible number of people, but to instill fear and insecurity in western societies, carrying out easier and more common attacks is likely to be more cost-effective in making people feel insecure in their surroundings than a more large-scale attack that is likely to be more difficult to plan and more likely to be thwarted.  

This rationale partly explains why ISIS and al Qaeda do not seem highly invested in planning or promoting chemical weapons attacks against western targets—they are simply unnecessary. A chemical attack directed or conducted by ISIS or al Qaeda Core is likely to have a higher chance of success than that of an attack conducted by an inspired individual, but the higher likelihood of forceful retribution makes the costs of conducting such an attack too high. [lviii] Furthermore, a failed chemical weapons attack attempt may delegitimize ISIS or al Qaeda and their ability to conduct anything other than simple van or IED attacks. ISIS’s failed attempt at conducting a chlorine gas attack in Sydney is likely to discourage it from steering away from conventional, “easy” attacks. This would also apply to ISIS and al Qaeda-inspired attacks— failed attempts at using chemical weapons would further discredit the organizations, which explains why both ISIS and al Qaeda have only encouraged and explained how to conduct very simplistic conventional attacks.

Why al Qaeda and ISIS Might Use Chemical Weapons in the Future

Despite al Qaeda’s and ISIS’s current likely restrictions on the use of chemical weapons against the West, nothing prevents these groups from attempting to carry out a chemical weapons attack in the future, once the risk is lower. In al Qaeda’s case, this could happen once the organization considers that it has fostered a strong enough partnership with its affiliates, guaranteeing their loyalty and dedication to al Qaeda’s global mission, and once it can assess that retribution against its affiliates would not destabilize al Qaeda’s decentralized structure. This may occur once the regional conflicts that al Qaeda affiliates are involved in start to diminish, granting different al Qaeda branches a greater capacity to carry out attacks against the West without disproportionate fear of retribution.

Al Qaeda could also be persuaded to use chemical weapons if it changes its structure again in order to center it around al Qaeda Core, as it was before 9/11. This would direct any counterattack towards al Qaeda Core, which would likely be prepared for the costs. These two scenarios are only likely to take place in the medium and long-term, reasserting the low likelihood that al Qaeda will conduct a chemical weapon attack against the West in the short-term.

ISIS is also likely to conduct a chemical weapons attack if its position is strengthened, or if it reaches a point where it considers the propaganda benefits of conducting such an attack to be greater than the costs of the retribution the attack would lead to. If ISIS resurges and expands its territorial control after the current counter-ISIS operations come to an end, it may be tempted to conduct a large-scale spectacular attack to symbolize its return, as opposed to simply inspiring individuals to conduct low-scale attacks in its name.[lix] A chemical weapons attack would be an attractive option for this purpose, given the rarity of such attacks, especially against western targets. A significant ISIS resurgence is unlikely to take place in the short-term, however, and it is only likely to be prepared to handle a large-scale counterattack after years of rebuilding and strengthening its organization.

ISIS could also be tempted to conduct a chemical weapons attack against a western target if it loses enough territory and strength to believe its own short-term resurgence is highly unlikely. If it assumes that it is not likely to be able to uphold the operational tempo and control over territory that it has held since 2014, it could try to conduct a spectacular attack, or a chemical weapons attack, as a last resort attempt to increase recruitment, inspire further attacks, and continue to present itself as a successful terrorist organization.[lx] This has a small chance of occurring in the short- to medium-term, but the risk would be extremely high for ISIS, as the western country it attacks and its allies are likely to capitalize on ISIS’s weakness to counterattack with superlative strength, in hopes of militarily destroying the organization. The propaganda benefits of successfully carrying out such an attack could still be exploited by ISIS for years to come, in a similar way to al Qaeda’s references to 9/11 decades after the attack took place.[lxi] However, ISIS’s cost-benefit calculations are unlikely to deem such an attack to be worth the risk, given its current weakened state.

Conclusion

Despite the low probability of a chemical weapons attack in the short-term, Western governments and defense institutions must keep in mind that one of the most important factors of militant organizations is the need to stay relevant. Their reputation significantly affects their ability to recruit and raise support, which arguably sustain an insurgency or terrorist movement and ensure its longevity. A chemical weapons attack, which exhibits ability to innovate and carry out complicated attacks successfully, is therefore likely to remain or become more of a focus for terrorist organizations in the long-term. In the event of an al Qaeda or ISIS resurgence, these two groups are likely to consider a large-scale chemical weapons attack as a way to declare their triumphant comeback, knowing it would be immortalized in history. Western governments must ensure that strategic concerns for retribution will continue to be a deterrent for terrorist organizations’ chemical weapons aspirations, as ideology and long-term objectives will not stand in their way.

End Notes


[i] Beauchamp, Zack. “16 years after 9/11, al Qaeda is back.” Vox, September 11, 2017.

[ii] Ibid.

[iii] Global Coalition to defeat Daesh website. “Mission: Military Progress.” Undated. http://theglobalcoalition.org/en/mission-en/#military-progress

[iv] El-Ghobashy, Tamer. “Berlin Attack Echoes ISIS Propaganda Shift.” The Wall Street Journal, December 23, 2016.

[v] Callimachi, Rukmini. “Why a ‘Dramatic Dip’ in ISIS Attacks in the West is Scant Comfort.” The New York Times, September 12, 2018.

[vi] Byman, Daniel L. and Williams, Jennifer R. “ISIS vs. Al Qaeda: Jihadism’s global civil war.” Brookings, February 24, 2015.

[vii] Ibid.

[viii] Byman, Daniel L. “Comparing Al Qaeda and ISIS: Different goals, different targets.” Brookings, April 29, 2015.

[ix] Byman, Daniel L. and Williams, Jennifer R. “ISIS vs. Al Qaeda: Jihadism’s global civil war.” Brookings, February 24, 2015.

[x] McCormick, Ty. “Al Qaeda Core: A Short History.” Foreign Policy, March 17, 2014.

[xi] Byman, Daniel L. “Breaking the Bonds Between Al-Qa’ida and its Affiliate Organizations.” The Saban Center for Middle East Policy at Brookings, Analysis Paper, Number 27. August 2012, pp. 3-7

[xii] Ibid, pp. 1-2

[xiii] Ibid, pp. 11-13

[xiv] McCormick, Ty. “Al Qaeda Core: A Short History.” Foreign Policy, March 17, 2014.

[xv] Ibid.

[xvi] Jones, Seth G. “Will Al Qaeda Make a Comeback?” RAND Corporation, August 7, 2017.

[xvii] Chapman, Geoffrey. “Islamic State and Al-Nusra: Exploring Determinants of Chemical Weapons Usage Patterns.” Perspectives on Terrorism, Vol. 11, No. 6, 2017.

[xviii] Byman, Daniel L. and Williams, Jennifer R. “ISIS vs. Al Qaeda: Jihadism’s global civil war.” Brookings, February 24, 2015.

[xix] Ibid.

[xx] McCormick, Ty. “Al Qaeda Core: A Short History.” Foreign Policy, March 17, 2014.

[xxi] Byman, Daniel L. and Williams, Jennifer R. “ISIS vs. Al Qaeda: Jihadism’s global civil war.” Brookings, February 24, 2015.

[xxii] “Iraqi al-Qaeda chief rejects Zawahiri orders.” Al Jazeera, June 15, 2013.

[xxiii] Hubbard, Ben. “The Franchising of Al Qaeda.” The New York Times, January 25, 2014.

[xxiv] “Isis rebels declare ‘Islamic state’ in Iraq and Syria.” BBC News, June 30, 2014.

[xxv] Byman, Daniel L. and Williams, Jennifer R. “ISIS vs. Al Qaeda: Jihadism’s global civil war.” Brookings, February 24, 2015.

[xxvi] Martin Ristori, Cristina. “Online Jihad: ISIS’s Foreign Recruitment—Who, What, and How?” Columbia University Journal of Politics & Society, October 17, 2016.

[xxvii] Callimachi, Rukmini; Lai, K.K. Rebecca, and Yourish, Karen. “ISIS Attacks Outside Its Self-Proclaimed Caliphate.” The New York Times, March 23, 2017.

[xxviii] Global Coalition to defeat Daesh website. “Mission: Military Progress.” Undated. http://theglobalcoalition.org/en/mission-en/#military-progress

[xxix] Clarke, Colin P. “How ISIS Is Transforming.” RAND Corporation, September 25, 2017.

[xxx] Reinares, Fernando. “De yihad defensiva a ofensiva.” El País, April 9, 2017.

[xxxi] Clarke, Colin P. “How ISIS Is Transforming.” RAND Corporation, September 25, 2017.

[xxxii] Reinares, Fernando. “De yihad defensiva a ofensiva.” El País, April 9, 2017.

[xxxiii] Cafarella, Jennifer and Zhou, Jason. “ISIS’s Expanding Campaign in Europe.” Institute for the Study of War, September 18, 2017.

[xxxiv] Reinares, Fernando. “De yihad defensiva a ofensiva.” El País, April 9, 2017.

[xxxv] Mowatt-Larssen, Rolf. “Al Qaeda Weapons of Mass Destruction Threat: Hype or Reality?” Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, January 2010, p. 13

[xxxvi] Ibid, p. 11.

[xxxvii] Ibid, p. 13.

[xxxviii] Ibid, p. 25.

[xxxix] Strack, Columb. “The Evolution of the Islamic State’s Chemical Weapons Efforts.” CTC Sentinel, Vol. 10, Issue 9, p. 20. Combatting Terrorism Center at West Point, October 2017.

[xl] Ibid, p. 20

[xli] Bergen, Peter. “Al Qaeda’s track record with chemical weapons.” CNN, May 7, 2013.

[xlii] Ibid.

[xliii] Strack, Columb. “The Evolution of the Islamic State’s Chemical Weapons Efforts.” CTC Sentinel, Vol. 10, Issue 9, p. 20. Combatting Terrorism Center at West Point, October 2017.

[xliv] Ibid, p. 21.

[xlv] “Charlie Hebdo attack: Three days of terror.” BBC News, January 14, 2015.

[xlvi] Williams, Jacqueline. “Australia Details ‘Sophisticated’ Plot by ISIS to Take Down Plane.” The New York Times, August 4, 2017.

[xlvii] Reed, Alistair and Ingram, Haroro J. “Exploring the Role of Instructional Material in AQAP’s Inspire and ISIS’ Rumiyah.” 4-5

[xlviii] Ibid 6-7

[xlix] Ibid 7-8

[l] Kessler, Glenn. “President Obama and the ‘red line’ on Syria’s chemical weapons.” The Washington Post, September 6, 2013.

[li] Borger, Julian and Beaumont, Peter. “Syria: US, UK and France launch strikes in response to chemical attack.” The Guardian, April 14, 2018.

[lii] Beauchamp, Zack. “16 years after 9/11, al-Qaeda is back.” Vox, September 11, 2017.

[liii] Ibid.

[liv] Ibid.

[lv] Lister, Tim; Sanchez, Ray; Bixler, Mark; O’Key, Sean; Hogemiller, Michael and Tawfeeq, Mohammed. “ISIS goes global: 143 attacks in 29 countries have killed 2,043.” CNN, February 12, 2018.

[lvi] Marshall, Crystal. “U.S.-led coalition forces make decisive gains against ISIS in 2017.” CENTCOM, December 28, 2017.

[lvii] Beauchamp, Zack. “The London attack is the new face of terrorism—and it’s very hard to stop.” Vox, June 5, 2017.

[lviii] Hummel, Stephen. “The Islamic State and WMD: Assessing the Future Threat.” CTC Sentinel, Vol. 10, Issue 9, pp. 20-21. Combatting Terrorism Center at West Point, October 2017.

[lix] “Europol: ISIS Planning Large Scale Attacks in Europe.” Jerusalem Post, January 25, 2016.

[lx] Ibid.

[lxi] Ferran, Lee. “Al-Qaeda Leader Marks 9/11 Anniversary With Ominous Message.” ABC News, September 9, 2016.

About the Author(s)

Cristina Martin Ristori is recent graduate of the Security Studies M.A. Program at Georgetown University, where she focused on Terrorism and Sub-State Violence. She received a B.S. in International Relations and Politics from Carnegie Mellon University, with an additional major in Global Studies and a Minor in Arabic. She has interned at the Iraq team at the Institute for the Study of War (ISW), the Middle East Department at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), the Libya team at the Critical Threats Project of the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), the Political Department at the Spanish Embassy in the United States, and the Middle East practice at Albright Stonebridge Group. She has studied security and politics in the Middle East for the past seven years, and her main areas of interest include radicalization processes, the study of Salafi Jihadist groups, and the Libyan conflict. Follow Cristina on Twitter @cmartinristori.