On June 29, 2014, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, leader of the Sunni extremist group known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), or Islamic State, declared himself caliph of a new Islamic empire stretching from Diyala, Iraq to Aleppo, Syria. Since that time, ISIL forces have overtaken swathes of territory within both countries. U.S. airstrikes and Kurdish and Iraqi government forces have deterred further ISIL advances in Iraq. In Syria, however, some estimate the militant group now controls up to one-third of the country. A concern of a long-term threat against the U.S. and Europe also exists, as some Westerners have joined ISIL’s ranks. Elsewhere, as U.S. and NATO combat troops withdraw from Afghanistan, the Taliban are on the offensive, and al Qaeda may attempt to reconstitute as quickly as it did in Iraq after the U.S. departure.
On September 3, the Intelligence Project at Brookings hosted a discussion with National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC) Director, Hon. Matthew G. Olsen to discuss the current state of the terrorist threat posed by ISIL, al Qaeda and other groups. He also outlined the current relationship between ISIL and al Qaeda, and the efforts being made by U.S. and European intelligence and law enforcement communities to apprehend Westerners who have joined ISIL’s forces.
Brookings Senior Fellow Bruce Riedel, director of the Intelligence Project, provided introductory remarks and moderated the discussion.