Since the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) violently thrust itself on the world stage in 2013, with its brutal rampage of beheadings, mass murders, and military conquest across the Middle East, it has become the even bloodier and more dangerous successor to Al Qaeda. Yet, despite the terror group being a regular news item, few have properly dissected ISIS to understand its development, organization, Islamist ideology, and reach beyond the Middle East.
In “ISIS Exposed,” investigative reporter, Erik Stakelbeck provides a well-documented tome for the general public (and perhaps some security officials in the Obama administration), to truly understand this frightening new global threat – and how it directly endangers America.
Subtitled, “Beheadings, Slavery, and the Hellish Reality of Radical Islam,” the book describes and footnotes the gruesome truth behind the rosy propaganda myth of a heavenly Caliphate that ISIS promotes to the gullible, disenfranchised youth it targets with its sophisticated social media propaganda. However, the book also goes well beyond that subtitle.
Stakelbeck devotes the first chapter of the book to outlining the recent origins of ISIS as the successor to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi’s al-Qaeda in Iraq following Obama’s ill-conceived, precipitous and total withdrawal of US forces from Iraq in 2012. He also details the rise of ISIS leader, Abu Bakr-al Baghdadi, from his time in a US-run military prison in southern Iraq in 2004, to the merging of his new Islamic State of Iraq with his Syrian offshoot, the al-Nasuri Front in 2013.
The bulk of the book though focuses on the unique threat ISIS poses to both Europe and the US, by providing inspiration to home-grown terrorists and aspiring jihadists, in a way al-Qaeda could never dream of. By systematically cataloguing the numerous examples of home-grown Islamist inspired terror incidents in the US in the past few years, a clear pattern of American terrorist recruitment emerges. Stakelbeck reminds us that the Obama administration has denied, and deliberately tried obfuscate, by listing them as cases of workplace violence or other common crimes.
Stakelbeck also devotes three entire chapters to the frightening growth of Islamist inspired terrorists in Europe, particularly in the UK, France and the Netherlands. The danger having been all too brutally showcased by the recent Charlie Hebdo massacres in Paris.
Some of the book’s more enlightening parts describe the ISIS information warfare operation. Unlike al-Qaeda, ISIS has developed a sophisticated, media savvy propaganda and recruitment machine specifically intended to target disaffected youth in the US and Europe.
This approach, referred to in the book as “online jihad 3.0,” uses Westernized spokespersons employing Twitter, Snapchat, and YouTube videos, in a way never seen before. This well-oiled machine has netted ISIS a slew of Western recruits, including wannabe rappers, boxers, and middle class college graduates, many of whom have flocked to the battlefields of Iraq and Syria.
Due to the European Union’s notoriously lax immigration controls across the 26-country Schengen Area, and the Visa Waiver Program the US maintains with its European allies, these ISIS European recruits returning from battle in the “Caliphate,” may pose the greatest threat to the US. The pipeline from Europe to the Islamic State, and back to Europe, has been called the “jihadi superhighway.” Sadly, that highway may also have off-ramps leading straight into a town near you.
If there is one stylistic flaw with this book, it is Stakelbeck’s tendency to add sarcastic and snarky quips (like mine above) throughout the book. Apparently intended to make his writing more folksy, I found their use at times contrived, and over used, distracting from an otherwise well written book.
I may have preferred more time spent explaining the role ideology plays in the explosive expansion of ISIS, and perhaps more on its tactical organization, but overall this book provides a solid, well-documented, general reference on ISIS and the threat it poses to the West. It is well worth the read.
Written by Paul Crespo, seasoned international security expert, former Marine Corps officer, military attaché at several US embassies, and prior adjunct professor of political science at the University of Miami.