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The Islamic State’s Global Campaign of “Economic War” Targeting Infrastructure: An Interview with Jihad Analytics
The Islamic State is conducting an “economic war” against the movement’s various enemies across the globe. In this interview, we ask Jihad Analytics about what exactly this means as well as the past, present, and future of the campaign.
Can you tell us about Jihad Analytics? What is it that you specialize in, and what do you do? How can people find you?
I am a Senior Analyst specialising in global & cyber jihad, open-source intelligence and data. After eight years of work on this theme for the public sector, I created Jihad Analytics in September 2021 to provide decision-makers from the public and private sectors, international organisations, NGOs, and media with detailed and customisable reports on global & cyber jihad.
Based in Geneva and operating worldwide, Jihad Analytics has an Internet site, as well as Twitter and LinkedIn accounts. The company uses primarily open-source intelligence for its reports.
The Islamic State has launched a global campaign of “economic war” — what exactly does this mean? And can you provide some historical background on this strategic concept?
The IS global campaign of “economic war” – as presented by the group itself – refers to the attacks on artesian wells, oil/gas infrastructures, crops, and electricity/water supply.
One can trace back the origins of such attacks to the period 2010-2014 where the Islamic State of Iraq conducted economic attacks against electricity infrastructures. These attacks were minimal though.
How does IS use its media apparatus to promote its strategy of economic war?
In issue 294 of its weekly magazine al-Naba’, the Islamic State dedicated a whole page to promote this “economic war”. An IS military official in Iraq explained the strategy behind the group's campaign on power transmission towers in Iraq between 6 June and 6 July 2021. At that time, the attacks caused blackouts, forced the security forces to protect these towers which enabled the group to launch attacks elsewhere. Obviously, the main reason is to provoke anger among the population and create more chaos.
Where did the economic war campaign begin, and how did it spread geographically?
If one looks at the history of the Islamic State, it seems logical that the first attacks under IS’ “economic war” took place in Iraq. The first IS economic attack outside of Iraq was claimed by the Islamic State’s Sinai Province against a pipeline near al-‘Arîsh on 7 January 2016. Afterwards, the group started to target economic infrastructures in Afghanistan in 2017, in Libya in 2018 and in Nigeria and Pakistan in 2020. On 29 November 2021, and for the first time ever, the group claimed an attack at a tower of electric power transmission in Lanao del Sur in the Philippines.
Where are the attacks concentrated? What kind of targets do they choose, and how does target selection differ between regions?
The attacks against economic targets were concentrated in Iraq (Diyâla, Kirkûk, Salahuddîn) until 2020 and extended to other parts of the world where the group is active. Interestingly enough, the Islamic State’s economic war focuses primarily on electricity infrastructure in Iraq, whereas IS attacks mainly oil and gas infrastructure in Syria (Deir ez-Zor and Raqqa governorates). In Nigeria and Afghanistan, the group targets primarily electricity infrastructures.
Can you explain your research findings on the growth of IS attacks on economic infrastructure over time (since it began)? What are some of the most notable trends you have observed?
Although the Islamic State’s attacks against economic targets only represent 2.03% of the total number of IS operations worldwide over the period 2015-2021, there has been a significant increase of such attacks (312) in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan and Nigeria since July 2020.
Have there been any significant developments or changes over the past year?
The Islamic State started to intensify its global economic war in Iraq in July 2020 and extended it to other parts of the world – where the group is active – between fall 2020 and December 2021.
In terms of the Islamic State’s economic war, what are some things to look for in the year ahead and further into the future?
Let’s see the group's ability to keep pace with the increase of these types of attacks over time. Until July 2020, the economic attacks were rather rare in Syria and Iraq. The sharp increase in the number of economic attacks and the extension to other IS official provinces could indicate that the group intends to continue and even intensify this global campaign in the coming months.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
Anyone taking a close look at the history of the group realises that such IS campaign is intended to last over time, especially once the official provinces of the group emulate the historic province of the Islamic State in Iraq.