The number of attacks attributed to the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) globally has jumped by 42 percent in the third quarter of 2015 compared to the preceding quarter, according to study results released Thursday, even as U.S.-led airstrikes in Syria and Iraq have stopped the armed group from seizing more territory.
The study by London-based security consultancy IHS tallied a total of 1,086 attacks carried out by or attributed to ISIL and its global network of affiliates, in the three months from July through September. That represents, on average, about 12 attacks per day, compared to 8.3 from April to June.
U.S. officials have emphasized that airstrikes across ISIL's heartland in Syria and Iraq have rolled back the group’s territorial gains. But the new data suggests the frequency of ISIL attacks has continued unabated, in part through affiliates outside Iraq and Syria.
“On a global scale there was relatively little in the way of nominal territorial expansion by the Islamic State in the past three months,” said Matthew Henman, head of IHS’ Terrorism and Insurgency Centre. “Instead, [ISIL] maintained its strategy of expanding and consolidating local territorial control within its existing structure of provinces.”
Outside its heartland in Syria and Iraq, ISIL operates affiliates in Egypt, Libya, Nigeria, Yemen, Afghanistan, Pakistan and the Caucuses. The group has struggled to gain traction in other parts of the Muslim world, including South and Southeast Asia. But in late September, ISIL claimed its first attack in Bangladesh, where people claiming to act on behalf of the group killed an Italian aid worker and a Japanese farmer.
Some of the increase in ISIL-linked attacks may be related to shifting allegiances. Over the past year, a number of groups that were previously affiliated with Al-Qaeda, or that operated independently of any transnational network, are now rallying under ISIL’s black banner.
Based on publicly available reports of attacks, the study defines an “attack” as “any action by a non-state armed group, conducted with a political or ideological motivation that causes casualties, damage, or disruption," meaning that it includes ISIL operations in war zones like Syria.
IHS noted that one of ISIL’s newest affiliates, the Nigerian insurgent group once known as Boko Haram, appears to be growing deadlier and shifting toward “mass-casualty operations” against civilians in northeastern Nigeria. Now called Wilayat Gharb Afriqiyyah since pledging allegiance to ISIL, the group had the highest average fatalities per attack of any ISIL “wilaya,” or “province,” including in Syria.
In Nigeria, too, attacks are rising despite efforts to stop them. A multinational coalition of forces has been engaging the group since March. This month, the United States deployed 300 troops to help the fight.