Islamic State, losing territory and on the retreat in Iraq and Syria, has claimed credit for a surge in global attacks this summer, most of them in France and Germany.
The wave of attacks followed a call to strike against the West during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan in June and July, in an apparent shift in strategy by the jihadist group, which has been hammered by two years of U.S.-led coalition air strikes and ground advances by local forces.
Instead of urging supporters to travel to its self-proclaimed caliphate, it encouraged them to act locally using any means available.
“If the tyrants close the door of migration in your faces, then open the door of jihad in theirs and turn their actions against them,” said an audio clip purportedly from spokesman Abu Muhammad al-Adnani, referring to Western governments’ efforts to keep foreign fighters from travelling to the join the group.
Radicalised followers have responded to that call repeatedly in the past two months, in countries part of the international coalition battling Islamic State, including shooting people at a Florida nightclub, running them over with a truck in the French Riviera, and hacking them with an axe on a train near Munich.
The perpetrators had varying degrees of connection to the Middle East-based jihadists. Some had tried to travel to Syria and were on the authorities’ radar, while others displayed few outward signs of radicalism until their deadly acts.
“There’s a growing understanding that the idea of the caliphate is dying and more and more the leadership is calling on foreign fighters not even to come to Iraq and Syria but to go elsewhere or to commit violence locally,” said Max Abrahms, a professor at Northeastern University in Boston who studies extremist groups.
Looking ahead, security experts and officials in the Middle East and the West predict the military campaign against the group in Iraq and Syria will ultimately end its goal of establishing a caliphate but in doing so may lead to a sustained increase in militant attacks globally.