ISIL ramps up attacks in response to territorial losses

“The group is resorting more and more to mass-casualty violence as it comes under heavy pressure from multiple angles,” said Matthew Henman, head of IHS Jane’s Terrorism and Insurgency Centre.

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BAGHDAD // ISIL has stepped up its attacks this year, particularly in Iraq and Syria, in response to substantial territorial losses by the extremist group, according a new report.

There were 891 attacks in Iraq and Syria during the first quarter of 2016, more than in any three-month period since the militants’ sweeping advance in mid-2014, the US-based analysis firm IHS said.

The attacks killed 2,150 people, a 44 per cent rise over the previous three months and the highest quarterly toll in nearly a year.

“The group is resorting more and more to mass-casualty violence as it comes under heavy pressure from multiple angles,” said Matthew Henman, head of IHS Jane’s Terrorism and Insurgency Centre.

The US military estimates ISIL’s territory in Iraq has shrunk by about 40 per cent from its 2014 peak, and 20 per cent in Syria.

Iraq’s military drove the militants from the western city of Ramadi four months ago and then pushed farther west towards the Syrian border. The northern offensive has been slower, with army and Sunni Arab tribal forces taking only four villages south of Mosul over the past month.

In Syria, government-aligned forces backed by Russian air power have recaptured territory from ISIL, including the ancient city of Palmyra. The group is also under pressure from a separate US-led air campaign in the north and north-east, where Kurdish fighters have advanced.

The IHS report also noted a rise in ISIL attacks in Libya, where the militants have grown in strength, taking over the central city of Sirte and attacking oilfields. Analysis showed almost as many attacks in the first three months of this year as in the preceding six months.

IHS said ISIL activity has also spiked around the north-western town of Sabratha, which it described as a key staging ground for attacks in neighbouring Tunisia.

“High profile, mass casualty attacks are a tried and tested method of changing the narrative and deflecting attention away from the problems it is facing,” said Mr Henman. “This is done for internal consumption just as much as external.”

* Reuters