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ISIS getting more violent as it loses territory?

The terrorist group that calls itself Islamic State (ISIS) has increased the "tempo and intensity" of operations in Iraq and Syria over the past three months in response to losing vital territory, according to IHS Jane's Terrorism and Insurgency Centre (IHS JTIC).

The global analysis firm noted that in the first three months of 2016 it had recorded 891 attacks and 2,150 non-militant fatalities in Syria and Iraq – an increase of 16.7 percent and 43.9 percent respectively, in comparison to the fourth quarter of 2015. It added that the attack figures for the first quarter of 2016 were the highest since ISIS took the city of Mosul in 2014.

"Following territorial losses, we are seeing a steady upward trend in the tempo of Islamic State operations worldwide, but particularly in Syria and Iraq," said Matthew Henman, head of IHS Jane's Terrorism and Insurgency Centre in a statement accompanying the new analysis published Monday.

"Attack and fatality numbers have jumped. The group is resorting more and more to mass-casualty violence as it comes under heavy pressure from multiple angles."


Smoke rises from the modern city of Palmyra, in Homs Governorate, Syria April 1, 2016.
Omar Sanadiki/Reuters
Smoke rises from the modern city of Palmyra, in Homs Governorate, Syria April 1, 2016.

The radical Islamist group ISIS operates in swathes of Iraq and Syria where it has taken advantage of civil war and power vacuums to expand its territory. Its ambition, to establish a caliphate in the Muslim world and beyond, has seen rival insurgent groups around the world pledge allegiance to it. Still it has managed to extend its reach into Egypt and Libya and has insurgents loyal to it elsewhere.

The expansion of ISIS has not gone unchecked however, with a military alliance of several countries attacking the group's operations in Syria and Iraq. In January, the U.S.-led coalition said that ISIS' territory shrank by 40 percent from its maximum expansion in Iraq, and by 20 percent in Syria in 2015, Reuters reported.

Territory shrinking, everywhere?

While the group's operations in Syria and Iraq are under pressure, there are signs of more sophisticated operations elsewhere. IHS JTIC's latest report said that it had noticed new trends of ISIS violence in Libya and the North Caucasus, giving the coalition new frontiers of extremism to worry about.

"Islamic State attacks are intensifying in Libya after a several-month slump," Henman said. Almost as many attacks were recorded In the first three months of 2016 in Libya, as in the third and fourth quarters of 2015 combined, IHS JTIC said.

"After a seeming period of consolidation and preparation, Islamic State forces in the country launched a series of major attacks on critical energy infrastructure in addition to conducting the deadliest single attack since the overthrow of the government of Muammar Ghadaffi in August 2011."

Significant Islamic State activity was also recorded in the northwest of the country, centered on the town of Sabratha, which has become a key training area and staging ground for ISIS attacks in Tunisia, IHS JTIC noted.

"In Russia's North Caucasus region, new data suggests an evolution of Islamic State capabilities," Henman said.

"The one previous verified operation by the group's franchise in the region (Wilayat al-Qawqaz) in the fourth quarter of 2015 was a small-arms attack. In the first quarter of 2016, the group conducted an IED attack and two suicide car bombings. This evolution indicates a growing capacity to plan, organize and execute more complex operations."

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