As ISIS prepares for holiday terror, we must prepare to smoke them out

As ISIS prepares for holiday terror, we must prepare to smoke them out
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Cyber Jihadists have posted a surge of terrorist threats against American and European targets as we enter the holiday season.

An ominous poster of Santa Claus standing next to a box of dynamite in Times Square appeared in a pro-ISIS forum earlier this week with the headline “we meet at Christmas in New York soon.” A picture of a masked jihadi, with a rifle in the front seat of a car driving toward the Vatican marked with the banner “Christmas Blood so wait” appeared a few days before that. Christmas markets in Germany and Queen Elizabeth of England have also been the targets of Islamic State threats over the past month.

While all of this is likely pro-ISIS bluster, such threatening propaganda is part of a broader, long-term Jihadist strategy. The Jihadists escalate their online calls to bloodshed at this time of year as a psychological operation. ISIS wants us all to be afraid. That’s why in advance of the holidays, there are so many reports about specific ISIS terror targets. They are posting this information so that we will find it and react.

But in addition to threats and propaganda, the possibility of an actual terror attack is indeed elevated as we approach our most celebrated season.

ISIS wants to hit us on the holidays for many reasons. At a tactical level, civilians tend to congregate in larger numbers in public, which increases the chances of a devastating mass casualty attack, especially one using vehicles. Any strike against a transportation venue such as a railway or airport, has the additional effect of creating chaos during the busy travel season.

It is symbolism, however, that would be the biggest driver of ISIS’s holiday terror. Thanksgiving, Christmas, and other festivities celebrated at year’s end are a special time for America and Europe. For the fanatics of ISIS, there is no better time to inflict their misery and hatred upon us. Our holiday joy is an affront to their nihilistic sadism. They not only hate us for our freedom, but for the displays of happiness, prosperity, and unity from now until 2018.  

The Jihadists are also desperate for a major attack to counter the growing narrative of their failure in Iraq and Syria. ISIS has just finished its worst year since the group shocked the world with its black-flag blitzkrieg into Mosul in 2014. Now the Trump administration has adopted a more aggressive posture against ISIS, and the results speak for themselves.  A U.S.-backed coalition has helped rout the Islamic state in Iraq, and even taken back ISIS’s capital city of Raqqa in Syria.

ISIS’s ideology of global Jihad, however, is far from defeated. And it retains a formidable capacity for terror operations abroad. ISIS still has countless adherents around the world as well as dangerous affiliate organizations stretching from Nigeria to the Philippines. As we just witnessed in the Sinai peninsula, where what appears to be an ISIS-affiliated attack killed over 300 worshippers at a mosque last week, those branches of the Islamic State that remain are every bit as vicious and capable of mass murder as the original organization in Iraq and Syria.

In response to this elevated holiday threat, western security and intelligence services are on high alert. German police are so intent on disrupting any effort to mimic the lethal vehicle attack on a Christmas market on December 19th of last year that they recently conducted a series of raids involving 500 officers across multiple cities. Six Syrians were initially detained in that operation, but were released for lack of evidence. Clearly, Germany is on edge, as are other close U.S. allies.

Counteracting this holiday terror surge is complicated. That the uptick in identified high profile terror targets during the holiday season has included specific instructions for vehicle attacks reminds us that this is the preferred method for ISIS true believers to strike at civilians in the West. Law enforcement has to provide protection for parades and public gatherings against such attacks, whether in New York, Berlin, or any other major city, which remains a daunting task.

But there is only so much that vehicle barriers and an enhanced presence of officers on the streets can do. The most effective anti-terror actions often require catching would-be Jihadists in the planning phase. Otherwise, once the Jihadists go operational, police and first responders are usually only able to limit casualties instead of preventing any from occurring.

There are no easy answers here. We have to balance our concerns about terrorism during the holidays with the need to avoid overreacting or giving in to fear. There are countless threats already out there, and more coming. Despite them all, we must go about our lives and celebrate this holiday season — while remaining vigilant.

Buck Sexton is a political commentator, national security analyst and host of the nationally syndicated radio program, “Buck Sexton with America Now.” He is a former CIA officer in the Counterterrorism Center, appears frequently on Fox News Channel and CNN and has been a guest radio show host for Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity. Follow Buck on Twitter @BuckSexton.