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Desperate measures: What the Bastille Day attack tells us about IS

By Jacinta Carroll

A 60-year old Tunisian Muslim mother appears to have been one of the first person randomly murdered on the Promenade des Anglais in Nice in an attack now claimed by IS.

Fatima Charrihi's son, Hamza, spoke for many when he said, "she…practised Islam in the proper way. A real Islam, not the terrorists' version".

As the casualties from the Nice attack are gradually identified as individuals with lives and loved ones, the flawed logic of Islamist propaganda is revealed.

Islamist extremists tell themselves and the world that theirs is a just cause, offering a pure and complete vision of a higher, noble calling, carried out in a targeted and sophisticated manner.

The extremists are not looking as strong as they did in November. The attacks now are focused on soft targets and rely upon people such as Bouhlel who appear to feel they have nothing to lose.

IS's vague claim of responsibility - perhaps by design, perhaps by indirect inspiration - has been celebrated as a victory by its ghostlike cyber fan club.

But what IS has achieved doesn't match up to the hype.

Islamists' identify their enemies in terms that are broad and vague, representing a simplistic view of a world that has never existed.

They claim their attacks to be targeted against particular countries and religions in justified response to specific grievances. While attacks have occurred within these countries, their victims have been of varied nationality, citizenship and religion.

Fatima Charrihi shared the same nationality and religion as her killer Muhamed Lahouaiej-Bouhlel, who is so far known to have killed at least two others who shared his Tunisian nationality, as well as three Algerians, including two children.

Muslims were killed and injured in the attacks in Brussels and Paris. Most of the victims in Istanbul were Muslim, including Palestinians, Tunisians, Algerians and Saudis.

The clumsy attack in Jakarta in January, where it appears the attackers accidently blew themselves up together, killed four Muslims.

The Taliban's attack on an amusement park in Lahore - asserted by them as an attack on Christians - tragically again killed mostly Muslim families.

The extremists are not looking as strong as they did in November. The attacks now are focused on soft targets - pedestrians returning from an evening fireworks show on a public road in a holiday destination; police officers murdered at their homes - and rely upon people such as Bouhlel who appear to feel they have nothing to lose.

Sadly, we can expect more unsophisticated attacks like Nice before the threat of Islamist terrorism is diminished.

While IS has claimed and celebrate the attack in Nice, it was unable to achieve the major attack on France it had called for during Ramadan (which ended a week earlier).

Redoubling its efforts, IS then released its first French-language nasheed - a religious chant - accompanied by its signature slow-motion footage and still shots of the Middle East conflict and terrorist attacks.

Early last week, the French Government released a statement made in May by its head of domestic intelligence, Patrick Calvar, stating they were aware of IS plans to use a vehicle to conduct a terrorist attack. They knew of the intention, but not the location, and will be poring over what might have been missed, and where else to focus their information collection efforts.

Paris itself, the focus of world media attention as it celebrated Bastille Day with pomp and ceremony, remained unharmed. This means counter-terrorism officials had succeeded in securing against attacks in the capital, likely disrupting plots.

The multiple-location coordinated series of attacks seen in November last year have not resurfaced.

This is not to say that France is not being hit or that it is not suffering. The last few days have shown that this is taking its toll, as a resource-intensive state of emergency is extended, and citizens are called upon to help.

Sadly, we can expect more unsophisticated attacks like Nice before the threat of Islamist terrorism is diminished.

Defeating IS in the Middle East is key

The greatest challenge remains an ideological one: how to remove the profile and appeal of a movement that claims to legitimise any act of violent thuggery made in its name.

As French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian has stated, "Even when Daesh [ISIL, or IS] is not the organiser, Daesh breathes life into the terrorist spirit that we are fighting."

The Middle East remains the key.

While terrorist groups retain any substantial territory and attract funding and members including fighters, they can continue to feed the propaganda machine that gives them credibility, draws in recruits, inspires plots and challenges political authority.

But defeating terrorism in the Middle East is challenging and will take time. And it cannot be imposed from outside.

Western countries can provide support, but only the countries of the region can put in place the mechanisms to ensure long-term stability and deny terrorism a foothold.

France along with other European and Western countries, including Australia, is part of the military coalition fighting terrorism in the Middle East.

The coalition is winning, and IS is on the run. This month it is two years since IS proclaimed a so-called caliphate from Mosul's Grand Mosque. Having taken Iraq's second-largest city without a fight - due in large part to the locals' disdain for the Baghdad government - and made inroads elsewhere in Sunni Iraq and Syria, the group has now largely dispersed. The 'caliphate' will be no more.

IS went on the defensive last year, with many members moving wherever they could to get away from the losing battle. Some were European citizens and residents so went there. Attacks in Brussels and Paris are a direct result.

Others moved to safe havens in North Africa and elsewhere. Some, such as the Indonesians who were reported to have gone to the Middle East for well-paying jobs, simply packed up and moved home when their wages started drying up.

Defeating the current threat of Islamist extremism will not be easy, and defeating IS and Al Qaeda on the battlefield alone will not lead to victory.

But telling the true story of their misdirected violence can go a long way to undermining the self-serving image of their propaganda. Most importantly, the territory that provides safe haven, resources and the vestiges of legitimacy needs to be taken back.

In the meantime, we do need to be prepared for small, desperate and horrific attacks, as extremist groups vying for attention from potential recruits and funders are denied the high-profile targets they desire.

As the stories of those affected by Nice are showing, however, the violent and simplistic ideology of Islamist extremism does not match what Islamist groups claim to be achieving. And it will never exceed the power and attraction of humane and inclusive society.

Jacinta Carroll is senior analyst and director, Counter Terrorism Policy Centre at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute.

Originally published: ABC News online. 18 July 2016

Originally published by: ABC News Online on 18 Jul 2016