Beware of An ISIS Family Christmas!

On the war in Syria and Iraq, the US has just announced plans to reduce military support for groups fighting the Islamic State (ISIS) in both countries. ISIS has been largely defeated on the battlefield and lost all its major strongholds in Syria and Iraq, including its de facto capital of Raqqa in October. Earlier this month, the Iraqi border town of Rawa, the last ISIS urban stronghold in the country, was freed, indicating the collapse of the ISIS caliphate. But random attacks continue with two suicide bombers blowing themselves up at a market on Baghdad's suburbs on Monday, leaving 11 people dead and wounding 31 others. While the ISIS Caliphate dream lies in shambles on the battlefields of Iraq and Syria, it continues to burn in the hearts and minds of its fighters and supporters even as they return home. Several so-called ISIS brides recently gave interviews to western journalists that it was their intent to raise the next generation of the Caliphate to be jihadis and take over North America and Europe from within.

In Africa ISIS is becoming more active in challenging governments of all stripe, African Union and other peacekeeping forces and al-Qaeda-linked groups for dominance. On Friday, ISIS detonated a bomb inside a Sufi mosque in the Sinai Peninsula and then sprayed worshipers with gunfire as they fled. The ISIS attack killed at least 305 people and wounded another 128 others in the deadliest terrorist attack in Egypt’s modern history. Attacks on mosques are not common in Egypt, where the ISIS has targeted Coptic Christian churches and pilgrims until now. ISIS has in the past carried out attacks on Islamic minorities in much of Iraq and Syria. Sufi Muslims, practice a mystical form of Islam that the ISIS and other Sunni extremist groups view as blasphemy and we can expect to see more attacks on religious minorities of all religions as ISIS tried to destabilize North Africa. The ISIS terror group appears to be growing in strength in Egypt, Libya, Somalia and neighboring Yemen on the Arabian Peninsula.

In Southwest Asia, new fighting has erupted between ISIS and the al-Qaeda-linked Taliban forces and displaced more than 200 families in the Khogyani district of eastern Nangarhar. Some 2,000 families were displaced and at least eight civilians were killed in October in fighting between ISIS and Taliban forces in the Waziro Tangi region of the Khogyani district. The Waziro Tangi Valley is considered an important economic corridor used by militants for smuggling of Afghan mineral supplies to neighboring Pakistan. ISIS terrorists have repeatedly targeted local villages in Nangarhar and barred children from attending school in areas under its control. The group has also claimed responsibility for numerous deadly attacks in major Afghan cities, including attacks on mosques and worshipers reportedly planned to establish a “caliphate” in Afghanistan, with Jalalabad as its capital.

In Southeast Asia and the Pacific, ISIS continues to grow in both Indonesia and the Southern Philippines. Last month, Philippine security forces declared an end to the siege in Marawi, exactly five months after hundreds of pro-ISIS militants stormed the city, in what has become the Philippines' biggest national security crisis in years. Recently, Australian authorities foiled a plot to carry out an attack on New Year’s Eve by an ISIS lone wolf in the city of Melbourne. ISIS regularly calls supporters to attack Australia, and the country has foiled several potential lone wolf-style attacks including, a bomb plot that targeted an airliner flying from Sydney to Abu Dhabi, with the explosive device hidden inside a Barbie doll, a planned knife, gun, and explosive attack on Federation Square on Christmas Day, and a bomb plot targeting Melbourne on Anzac Day.

As well, ISIS appears ready to carry out terrorist attacks in Europe and North America over the Christmas holidays. Turkey has warned the European Union that several ISIS fighters have been smuggled into the country headed to Western Europe and beyond. British security forces have warned of the increased risk of terror attacks over Christmas holidays and even taken to the fortification of Christmas markets against vehicle attacks. In German a group of Syrian men were arrested on suspicion of plotting Christmas market attacks in Northwestern Germany like the 2016 Berlin Market attack and then released by police. ISIS supporters are reportedly sharing a new image on-line threatening an attack on New York at Christmas time. The image shows Santa Claus standing on a low roof next to a box of dynamite looking out over a crowd of shoppers in Times Square.

This is the latest ISIS propaganda image warning of terror attacks during Christmas time with ISIS members and supporters using encrypted communications of images of London's Regent Street and Christmas lights, and Paris' Eiffel Tower with a Christmas markets in the foreground. Images of ISIS fighters and blood have been superimposed on the holiday scenes, with a message in English, French, and German stating, “Soon on your holidays.” A recent ISIS poster emerged of a terrorist overlooking St Peter's Square in the Vatican with rocket launcher, along with a message, “Do not hold back with your blood, the reward is paradise” and warned that 'the crusaders' feast is approaching.' Gilles de Kerchove, the European Union’s Counter-Terrorism Coordinator, has warned that ISIS could use drones in Europe to drop biological weapons on crowded public spaces. ISIS insurgent forces used drones in their battle to hold on to Raqqa, Syria and the Mosul, Iraq for surveillance, to spot enemy positions, and drop explosives on enemy forces.

On a final note, Christmas markets, concerts, shows, shopping malls and districts, tourist resorts and Church and worship services would make for a target rich environment for ISIS terrorists and their lone wolfs over the Chanukah and Christmas Holiday period where the targets continue to be families with young children, religious minorities, and the LGBTQQ community.

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