Views

ISIS' plan to divide communities is failing

The more attacks the militant group launches, the less impact it will have

It should not be a surprise that Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) was quick to claim responsibility for Monday's suicide attack in Manchester that killed 22 people.

As its last territory in Iraq's second city of Mosul falls to US-backed Iraqi forces and its Syrian capital Raqqa is encircled, the group is increasingly desperate for legitimacy. Attacks on the West are one of its few remaining options.

Although ISIS claimed the attack as revenge against "Crusaders", neither US nor UK authorities have attributed blame to the group.

Whatever the case, ISIS faces another, more serious, problem. Its attacks on Europe may be monstrous, but they yield a declining political return.

ISIS wants its atrocities to foster divisions, driving a wedge between native populations and Muslim migrants. That would bolster the group's argument that only a radical Middle Eastern caliphate is capable of protecting Muslims, and potentially drive new recruits both to fight its regional wars and conduct attacks further afield.

But that doesn't seem to be happening. Events in Europe suggest ISIS is failing in its mission to divide. Since January 2015, France has been on the receiving end of a higher tempo and intensity of Islamist militant attacks than any other Western state.

In its elections earlier this month, the majority of voters rejected Marine Le Pen's National Front, with its strong anti-Muslim rhetoric.

That was despite a suspected militant attack on the Champs Elysees in central Paris that killed a police officer barely four days before the first-round vote. Despite worries the attack might boost the performance of the far right, there is no evidence it did.

In Germany, a backlash over migration fuelled by several militant attacks last year appears to be fading, despite the December truck attack on a Berlin Christmas market that left 12 dead. Chancellor Angela Merkel looks set to win the September elections, perhaps even cementing her power further.

In Britain, political parties suspended campaigning after the attack. However, it seems unlikely to affect the election.

A heightened police presence can only do so much.

For the Paris attack in November 2015 that killed 130 at a concert and nearby restaurant, ISIS appeared to have been able to get its assailants into Europe from the Middle East.

More recently, however, the group has largely relied on using online propaganda to radicalise individuals whose independent actions it then claims responsibility for afterwards.

To an extent, it has no choice -security forces have become adept at detecting extended militant networks, but inevitably find it harder to track down "lone wolves".

If the Manchester attacker was part of a wider group, its members will probably be identified quickly. Defending "soft" targets like the Manchester concert hall will always be difficult, if not impossible. Improvised explosive devices will always be buildable by those with skills and the required material.

As the Nice truck attack and others show, there are crude but effective ways to strike.

Even with the number of casualties in Paris, Nice, Brussels and now, Manchester, militant groups have had less of an impact on Europe than Pakistan, Nigeria or Iraq. Those nations, too, have shown resilience.

Occasionally, public concern over attacks has had a significant political effect - the abduction of more than 200 girls by Boko Haram was seen as a factor in the defeat of Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan by former military leader Muhammadu Buhari a year later.

More usually, it does not.

Whether such attacks can change domestic political dynamics depends on their shock value. The destruction of the Twin Towers on 9/11, for example, was unprecedented in scale and spectacle. It redefined Western thinking on the Middle East and militancy for years.

America's ongoing acceptance of civilian-related gun deaths is a stark reminder of just how normalised terrible incidents can become.

The Manchester attack is the most serious in Britain since the July 2005 bombings of London's public transport system. After other events on the continent, however, neither it nor the Westminster attack felt surprising.

That doesn't diminish the grief and mourning, but it does limit the broader political impact. ISIS will continue fighting, even as it loses territory.

If it is destroyed outright - or delegitimised through its own failure to achieve its end - then others will take its place.

Ironically, however, the more attacks the group mounts, the less impact each incident will have. - REUTERS.

ISISterrorismeurope