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Mozambique Attacks Underscore ISIS Threat Outside Old Caliphate, Says U.S. Envoy

ISIS-claimed attacks in Mozambique are “clear indicators” that the terror group “continues to actively seek to spread its malign activity to new fronts” where the coalition against ISIS must meet the threat, the top U.S. envoy said.

Foreign ministers of the 83-member Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS Small Group plan to virtually meet Tuesday in a session co-hosted by Secretary of State Tony Blinken and his Belgian counterpart, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Sophie Wilmes.

Acting U.S. Special Envoy for the Global Coalition John Godfrey told reporters on a call today that the meeting agenda includes stabilization funding goals for this year for Iraq and Syria, with “some time” reserved for “discussing the growing threat of ISIS outside of Iraq and Syria.”

“I think as you all know, since the defeat of ISIS’s fraudulent territorial caliphate in 2019, ISIS has intensified its focus on the activities of its branches and networks. That’s perhaps most clearly demonstrated by the events that occurred just this past weekend in the town of Palma in the Cabo Delgado Province of northern Mozambique,” he said. “The situation there is still unfolding, but the U.S. government is closely monitoring events on the ground, and the attacks there are horrific, frankly, and show a complete disregard for the life, welfare, and security of the local population.”

Godfrey stressed that “ensuring the enduring global defeat of ISIS will entail effectively countering ISIS branches and networks outside of Iraq and Syria, and we as a coalition recognize that.”

“I think that in general it comports with what we’ve seen from ISIS-Mozambique in a couple of important and disturbing ways. One, just the sheer brutality of the events on the ground there. The horrific killings of civilians is something that we’ve seen elsewhere in attacks,” he said later when asked about ISIS’ claim of the Palma attack. “And the second is the sort of increased brazenness of ISIS-Mozambique, and that’s principally reflected in the fact that they’ve gone from conducting sort of hit-and-run raids, which is really what characterized their initial activities in 2017 and ’18 when they were emerging onto the scene, and now are seeking to take and hold at least for some initial period of time some of the towns that they’ve conducted these attacks against. And I’m thinking here also of late last year when we had Mocimboa da Praia, which was also occupied briefly by ISIS elements.”

The State Department is aware of one American citizen who was in Palma at the time of the attack and made it out of the town.

In Iraq and Syria, Godfrey said, ISIS “remains a threat” but “the group’s capabilities have been significantly degraded.”

“In Iraq, the recent series of attacks are just the latest reminder that ISIS does indeed remain a threat, one that can still metastasize if left unchecked,” he added. “That being said, Iraqi Security Forces have become increasingly capable in their efforts to counter ISIS operations.”

ISIS in Syria “does continue to constitute a significant security threat, both to local partners in Syria as well as more broadly to the region, particularly across the border into Iraq, and even beyond that, ranging further afield to Europe and potentially to North America.”

“One of the reasons for that is that there continues to be a cadre of capable ISIS actors in Syria who have experience with plotting attacks further afield, and who we assess retain aspirations to continue doing that,” Godfrey said. “And they’ve demonstrated some connectivity to actors further afield that we’re very closely focused on, but argues I think for a sustained pressure – counterterrorism pressure, that is – against those elements, working in partnership with the local partners on the ground.”

While expressing concern for the “persistent threat” at the al-Hol camp, Godfrey said the U.S. is confident in the Syrian Democratic Forces “maintaining positive control of the foreign terrorist fighters who are held in the network of detention facilities in northeast Iraq.”

“And in addition to that, the SDF I think has also demonstrated an ability to really carry a disproportionate share of the burden with respect to the internally displaced persons camps that also fall in that geographic space,” he said. “That is not to say that they don’t continue to need significant assistance from the international community in the form of principally resources to help enable them to do that, but I think in terms of actual management of those facilities on the ground, they’ve shown themselves to be quite capable.”

Bridget Johnson
Bridget Johnson is the Managing Editor for Homeland Security Today. A veteran journalist whose news articles and analyses have run in dozens of news outlets across the globe, Bridget first came to Washington to be online editor and a foreign policy writer at The Hill. Previously she was an editorial board member at the Rocky Mountain News and syndicated nation/world news columnist at the Los Angeles Daily News. Bridget is a terrorism analyst and security consultant with a speciality in online open-source extremist propaganda, incitement, recruitment, and training. She hosts and presents in Homeland Security Today law enforcement training webinars studying a range of counterterrorism topics including conspiracy theory extremism, complex coordinated attacks, critical infrastructure attacks, arson terrorism, drone and venue threats, anti-Semitism and white supremacists, anti-government extremism, and WMD threats. She is a Senior Risk Analyst for Gate 15 and a private investigator. Bridget is a senior fellow specializing in terrorism analysis at the Haym Salomon Center. She is an NPR on-air contributor and has contributed to USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, New York Observer, National Review Online, Politico, New York Daily News, The Jerusalem Post, The Hill, Washington Times, RealClearWorld and more, and has myriad television and radio credits including Al-Jazeera, BBC and SiriusXM.

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