IntelBrief: Islamic State Threat to the West and New Campaign Targeting Sporting Events

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Intelbrief / IntelBrief: Islamic State Threat to the West and New Campaign Targeting Sporting Events

AP Photo/Lewis Joly

Bottom Line Up Front

Islamic State, particularly its South Asian affiliate IS-Khorasan (IS-K), and pro-IS propaganda outlets IS-K directly collaborate with, launched an aggressive and concentrated information operation to encourage violence against sporting events throughout the West, and Europe in particular.
IS-K, in its latest video, threatened the West and showed footage of attacks in the US, France, Germany, Spain, Canada, Belgium, and more, while in its Eid statement a few weeks ago, IS-K implored its supporters to “join the battlefield in your country and emulate the historic operations in Moscow.”
The pro-Islamic State Halummu propaganda outlet told sympathizers to attack the “bleachers and games in stadiums,” and an Arabic-language poster encouraged attacking the Paris Summer Olympics with dynamite, explosives, Molotov cocktails, and knives.
The new concentrated campaign to threaten and target sporting events in the West will require significant security preparation and vigilance given the stated intent and ability of IS to carry out directed operations and inspire violence.

Capitalizing on momentum and global media coverage of the large-scale attack on Moscow’s Crocus City Hall music venue in March, Islamic State (IS), particularly the organization’s Afghanistan-Pakistan branch, IS-Khorasan (IS-K) and pro-IS propaganda outlets IS-K directly collaborates with, launched an aggressive and concentrated information operation to encourage violence against sporting events throughout the West, and Europe in particular. This should be taken seriously as there is a historical precedent in IS-K’s plot targeting the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar. IS-K has emerged as the spearhead of Western-targeted propaganda production and, since January 3, has been involved in all three of IS’s major external operations. These developments are taking place within the greater context of IS’s post-October 7 campaign to tap into hostile sentiments in the Islamic world stirred up by the Gaza War to both intensify its violent incitement efforts and increase its emphasis on officially directed international terrorism attacks. The initiative has sought to channel mounting anger over Gaza toward the West, emphasizing how the United States, France, and other states support Israel politically, financially, and with weapons provisions. IS also continues to draw attention to past and present Western military interventions in the Middle East, South Asia, and Africa while still leveraging animosity over the Quran-burning incidents in Scandinavia, tying all of these grievances together for greater potency. At the same time, jihadists are galvanized in this post-October 7 security environment.

Days after the Hamas attack on October 7, IS called for attacks against Western and Jewish populations in an article titled “Practical Steps to Fight the Jews” in its official al-Naba weekly newsletter. In it, IS urged supporters to conduct attacks inside Israel, against Israeli embassies, and “target the Jewish presence throughout the world, whatever the form of this presence, especially the Jewish neighborhoods in America and Europe.” IS encouraged followers to “arm themselves with whatever military equipment is available to them, especially the explosive belts that were absent from the arena of confrontation with the Jews.” Moreover, it urged supporters in the West to carry out acts of violence as revenge for the US-led Global Coalition to Defeat IS/Daesh, as well as Western support for Israel. IS-K, in addition to emerging as the leading external operations branch, has likewise been intensifying its efforts to incite violence against the West and Jewish populations. In its flagship English language Voice of Khorasan Magazine, IS-K followed up on IS’s al-Naba editorial with an instructional infographic titled “Practical Ways to Confront the Jew,” directing supporters to target Jewish communities, business interests, and Westerners overall. It advised targeting popular music events, tourist sites, and educational institutions, suggesting the use of knives, petrol bombs, Molotov cocktails, guns from illicit markets, nail guns, pipe guns, and vehicles. Islamic State-affiliated media in Pakistan recently circulated a poster inciting attacks on New Zealand supporters at a cricket match in Lahore.

After the double suicide bombing in Kerman, Iran, in early January, in an audio statement titled “And kill them wherever you find them,” top IS spokesman Abu Hudhayfa al-Ansari directed supporters to target “Jews, Christians or their allies, on the streets and roads of America, Europe, and the world.” Further, he told them to “detonate explosives, burn them with grenades and fiery agents, shoot them with bullets, cut their throats with sharp knives, and run them over with vehicles.” On March 29, al-Ansari framed the campaign against the West, Jews, and Israel into its greater global existential war. He stated, “We renew and reiterate our incitement to the lone lions, to make efforts to target the Crusaders and Jews everywhere, especially in Crusader America and Europe, as well as in the heart of the Jewish quasi-state in Al Quds and the territories of the Palestinian interior.” Immediately after the Moscow attack, Islamic State, IS-K’s Al-Azaim Foundation for Media Production, and a plethora of pro-IS propaganda networks immediately moved to capitalize on the momentum to increase threats and calls for attacks against the West. IS-K has been leading this campaign with a high volume of such propaganda released through Al-Azaim and jointly produced with several of its pro-IS outlet partners. One IS-K image asked, “After Moscow … Who is Next?” listing Paris, Rome, London, and Madrid as possible targets. English language pro-IS outlet Halummu lionized various individuals who conducted independent attacks in the West in past years, saying to “follow the example of your brothers who came before you” and to “create the next news … yourself, and show them your anger at what is happening in Muslim countries.” In its Eid statement a few weeks ago, IS-K asked Muslims to “join the battlefield in your country and emulate the historic operations in Moscow.”

IS-K explicitly threatened the European Cup in Germany, the Olympic Games in France, and Champions League matches. The pro-Islamic state Halummu propaganda outlet told sympathizers to attack the “bleachers and games in stadiums,” and an Arabic-language poster encouraged attacking the Paris Summer Olympics with dynamite, explosives, Molotov cocktails, and knives. Earlier this week, French authorities announced the arrest of a 16-year old who said on social media that he wanted to “die a martyr” at the Paris Olympic games. In addition, IS-K images listed specific venues to attack, including Emirates Stadium in London, the Metropolitano Stadium and Santiago Bernabéu Stadium in Madrid, and Parc des Princes in Paris. Other productions by IS-K and its pro-IS outlet partners direct supporters to simultaneously attack “three entrances” of the Emirates Stadium and the “players’ point of arrival.” One IS-K image advocated drone attacks while another says “My Muwahhid Brother: Recreate the glory of the Paris 2015 raid and subdue the Crusaders in masses,” displaying an image of Parc des Princes in Paris.

IS has conducted a number of attacks against sporting events across multiple continents since 2015. On November 13, 2015, IS jihadists carried out a multi-pronged attack in Paris with suicide bombers detonating their explosive vests outside the Stade de France during a football match as another group assaulted a music concert. In June 2016, two IS supporters in Malaysia tossed a grenade into a viewing of the UEFA Euro game between Italy and Spain. In April 2017, a suspected IS supporter in Germany detonated pipe bombs near a bus transporting the Borussia Dortmund team, and in July 2018, IS sympathizers attacked foreign cyclists in Tajikistan. On October 16, 2023, an IS supporter shot Swedish soccer fans in Brussels as revenge for the Quran burnings in Stockholm in 2023. The new concentrated campaign to threaten and target sporting events in the West will require significant security preparation and vigilance given the stated intent and ability of IS to carry out directed operations and inspire violence. The rising threat against the West, and specifically Europe and sporting events on the continent, is comprised of the potential for directed external operations from IS Central in Syria and, increasingly, its Khorasan branch in Afghanistan/Pakistan. The Kerman and Moscow attacks show that organizationally-directed external operations tend to cause much higher casualty rates than inspired attacks. However, the threat from inspired sympathizers acting on their own accord in response to IS’s calls for violence is more frequent and can, at times, be more challenging to thwart due to the often-lower sophistication, albeit with lower casualty counts on average. Given the three external operations carried out by IS/IS-K since January 1 in Iran, Turkey, and Moscow, and the four IS-inspired attacks in Europe since October 7 – in Aras, France, Brussels, Belgium, Paris, France, and Zurich, Switzerland, it is highly likely that the IS organization and/or its supporters will attempt to attack sporting events and other targets in Europe in the coming months.

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