As the month of June 2018 was entering its final week, U.S.-backed forces in control of the one-time capital of the Islamic State caliphate in Syria, Raqqa, declared a 3 day curfew on the battered city. ISIS militants, the Syrian Defense Forces command declared, had penetrated the city and were planning a bombing campaign. Bad news from the front lines of the American war on terrorism, and its leading international practitioner.
Meanwhile, south and east of Raqqa, in the desert areas straddling the Iraq-Syria border, SDF fighters on the ground and American airplanes in the sky continued their pursuit of scattered IS units, foreclosing their last areas of territorial control.
Neither of these would be considered “headline stories” by most American news media. In fact, a search of news coverage from the months of June showed little of substance to report on the terrorism front.
In Paris, additional terrorism charges were filed against Osama Krayem, who prosecutors say was linked to major terrorism attacks in Paris in 2015 and Brussels in 2016…and north of Paris, 2 men, 21 and 21 years of age, were charged with plotting terrorist attacks after police found knives, a detonator and Islamic State propaganda in their apartment.
In the United States this June, a middle-aged woman was charged with recruiting terrorists for the Islamic State and teaching how to make bombs and suicide vests, while in Nevada one man was charged with terrorism for blocking a highway near Hoover Dam in a home-made armored car that was also stocked with weapons.
Also in Nevada a man was charged with terrorism for putting on a mask and carrying a toy AK47 and frightening shoppers at a mall, and another plead guilty to terrorism for setting off several small explosives in his Las Vegas neighborhood. The explosions caused no casualties, but again, police investigators found the bomber had more explosives stored at home.
In Lancaster, Pennsylvania, an angry citizen with a beef with local politicians was arrested after he allegedly tried to set fire to City Hall. He, too, has been criminally labeled a terrorist.
The other terrorism news in June was that Orlando and Las Vegas, both victimized by mass killings in 2017 got fresh Federal anti-terrorism funding for 2018 and the National Counter-Terrorism Center got a new boss, a former Navy Admiral and special forces expert Joseph Maguire.
So what does all this tell us about terrorism today? Is the threat on the diminished scale of the past month’s events, or are terrorist organizations just taking a time out?
Brian Michael Jenkins serves as the Senior Advisor to the President of the RAND Corporation. He is also the Director of the National Transportation Security Center at the Mineta Transportation Institute. From 1989 to 1998, Mr. Jenkins was the Deputy Chairman of Kroll Associates, an international investigative and consulting firm. Responsible for the firm’s crisis management practice, he directed the responses to kidnapping and extortion cases worldwide. Before that, he was Chairman of RAND’s Political Science Department where, from 1972 to 1989, he also directed RAND’s research on political violence.