In a new twist, the Islamic State is reportedly controlling smaller terrorist groups from distant locations in order to distract from bigger, more intricate plots.
High-level officials across the globe are concerned that small-scale terror attacks in Europe not only showcase the ability of ISIS to effectively administer terror attacks from afar, but also its capacity to increase its operational complexity and maintain a robust communications system.
The fragmented and far-flung attacks could allow the Islamic State to divert law enforcement attention away from its more centralized planning.
Investigators believe that the foiled terrorist attack which occurred adjacent to the the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris last week was a prime example of ISIS capabilities.
“The young women were remotely controlled by individuals located in Syria within the ranks of the terrorist organization Daesh,” Paris Prosecutor François Molins said in an interview with The Wall Street Journal. (Daesh is an alternative name for the Islamic State, or ISIS).
U.S. officials worry that such attacks are no longer inspirations, but direct manifestations of ISIS work and control.
“We know there is a command and control structure behind some of these attacks,” a U.S. official told The Wall Street Journal. “Islamic State has filled up the pipeline with militants in Europe.”
The extremist group originally conducted its communications on social media services like Twitter and mobile devices with standard security technology. But Twitter claimed in mid-August to have terminated more than 235,000 accounts associated with terrorism in just six months. Now ISIS is using several different methods, including encrypted messaging applications like WhatsApp and Telegram, to create more concrete links to proxy missions.
The terrorist organization is also reverting back to more traditional means of communicating, like face-to-face meetings and penned notes, to circumvent law enforcement surveillance. ISIS employs simple misdirection mechanisms like long periods of silence and leaving a cellphone with a separate collaborator as a decoy to throw off the location to investigators, according to The WSJ.
Some members of the terrorist organization also just trash cheap cellphones every once in a while.
“Try to make it so that even if the idolatrous dogs intercept and decrypt your messages … the only information they will be able to find is your username and password,” the Islamic State French magazine Dar Al Islam reportedly read.
ISIS militant Abdelhamid Abaaoud, a key conspirator in the infamous Paris terrorist attacks in 2015, kept quiet enough to obscure his true location, which ultimately allowed him to coordinate the attack in person.
“By the time these guys re-entered Europe, the plan was good to go such that the communications necessary to decide on the plan and get it ready could be kept to a minimum,” Rob Wainwright, director of Europol, which coordinates the various law enforcement departments across the European Union, told The WSJ.
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