After losing its territorial holdings under the Trump administration, the Islamic State has reportedly come back with double the number of fighters it had in 2014, according to a Kurdish leader who witnessed the militant group’s first rise and fall.
Although the terrorist organization has lost leaders and most of its land, the prime minister of the autonomous region of Iraqi Kurdistan, Masrour Barzani told The Atlantic that ISIS has 20,000 fighters in Iraq and Syria and is actively recruiting more.
“ISIS is still very much intact,” Masrour Barzani, the prime minister of Iraqi Kurdistan, said in the interview. “Yes, they have lost much of their leadership. They have lost many of their capable men. But they’ve also managed to gain more experience and to recruit more people around them. So they should not be taken lightly.”
The U.S. military on Oct. 26 killed the leader of ISIS, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, but he was soon replaced by the terror group’s current leader, Amir Mohammed Abdul Rahman al-Mawli al-Salbi.
In the terror group’s initial in 2014, ISIS quickly claimed 36,000 square miles of territory from Aleppo to Baghdad. By 2016, U.S. officials estimate they had lost more than 40 percent.
After years of fighting the terror organization, President Donald Trump declared victory over ISIS in a video he posted on Twitter on Dec. 19, 2018, saying, “After historic victories against ISIS, it’s time to bring our great young people home!”
After historic victories against ISIS, it’s time to bring our great young people home! pic.twitter.com/xoNjFzQFTp
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 19, 2018
However, the terrorist group has been making headlines recently, claiming responsibility for a number of attacks including a knife attack in London on Feb. 2 that injured three and another in Russia on Dec. 31 that killed a police officer and left another three wounded.
ISIS has threatened to continue the attacks and has specifically targeted Israel in a message in late January, saying it has begun a new war against the Jewish people.
“Today, we have begun a new stage in our war against you,” said ISIS spokesman Abu Hamza al Qurayshi. “Go for the Israeli settlements and marketplaces. Turn them into lands for testing your weapons and chemical rockets and other types [of weapons].”
“To the Muslims in Palestine and all countries: Be a spearhead in the war against the Jews and in thwarting their plans and their ‘deal of the century,’” he added, in an apparent reference to Trump’s recently released Middle East Peace Plan.
While reconstruction efforts in the Middle East continue to repair the damage caused by ISIS, many people remain displaced by the chaos of recent years, according to Barzani. That could lead more dispossessed Muslims in the region to consider joining the terror group.
“If people are jobless, if people are hopeless, if people have no security, if people have no opportunity, if there is no political stability, it’s always easy for terrorist organizations to manipulate local populations,” Barzani said. “ISIS is a by-product. So as long as these factors are still valid, there will always be either ISIS or something similar to ISIS.”