Why ISIS Is Acting -- or Claiming To -- Outside of Its 'Caliphate'

04/01/2015 11:39 am ET | Updated Jun 01, 2015

ISIS initially claimed its "caliphate" focused on an "Islamic State" in Syria and Iraq. Today though, roughly nine months after last year's initial June 30 announcement, ISIS is acting -- or claiming to acting -- outside of its "caliphate."

ISIS has taken responsibility for and labeled the recent attacks in Tunisia, which left 23 dead, as "just the start" of its campaign in Tunis. U.S. officials don't believe orders for this attack came from ISIS's central command, but instead believe it was more than likely from a locally promulgated "franchise" that sympathizes with ISIS. Still, this is alarming.

In Nigeria, an alliance between ISIS and Boko Haram is troubling -- even though the CIA believes it won't last due to cultural difference and ISIS leaders' racism towards blacks.

The Sanaa, Yemen attacks, however, for which ISIS has also claimed responsibility, may be the most significant in the current landscape. These attacks, which killed over 130 civilians, were geographically closest to ISIS's current sphere of control in Iraq and Syria, indicating ISIS may have an easier time influencing future attacks.

"A weakened Yemen will likely foster ISIS's recruiting efforts in the region."

Likewise and more destructively even, these attacks have threatened to spiral sectarian strife in Yemen to matters beyond governmental control or containment into a potential "all out civil war." And now, the Saudi Arabia-led coalition's airstrikes against Houthi rebels in Yemen could destabilize the country further.

A weakened Yemen will likely foster ISIS's recruiting efforts in the region. ISIS history demonstrates this. Afghan President Ashraf Ghani believes ISIS may expand into Afghanistan, he said to CNN, because "the collapse of Yemen, Syria, Iraq has created an environment where instead of one weak link in the interrelated system of states, now there are wider spaces."

The White House has declined to confirm whether ISIS actually carried out the Sanaa attacks, with spokesman Josh Earnest saying ISIS could be "falsely claiming responsibility." Earnest said, "It does appear that these kinds of claims are often made for a perception that it benefits their propaganda efforts." Considering its detailed propaganda videos, it is logical that ISIS is claiming responsibility for such attacks to appear more influential and powerful than they actually are.

"It is logical that ISIS is claiming responsibility for such attacks to appear more influential and powerful than they actually are. "

And though the broad concept of a "global war of terror" alone isn't entirely clear in terms of if ISIS seeks to expand internationally, it seems ISIS is most concerned with those areas it feels Western nations have attacked Muslims. Of course, this is contradictory considering ISIS itself extensively attacks and kills Muslims. And yet, an ISIS recruiter in Afghanistan recently said before an attentive audience, "Jihad is now obligatory not only in Afghanistan, but also in many other places in the world. The Christians and Jews have not only attacked Afghanistan, but they have also attacked Muslims in Syria, Iraq and Palestine. So Jihad is obligatory on us in these places."

If what he said is being followed, then "at risk" locations may reasonably include those Muslim majority countries that have been bombed by Western nations -- Yemen as we have seen, and likewise Somalia, Pakistan and Palestine. Such nations have civilians already angry at Western powers for bombing them, and ISIS intends to exploit this anger and disenfranchisement for their own violent purposes.

Likewise, each of these nations has either corrupt, non-existent or dysfunctional governments who are already experiencing ongoing terrorism and a growing, frustrated and unemployed youth. In other words, each of these nations may have the necessary "wider spaces" Afghan President Ghani has warned about that ISIS is drawn to for recruiting.

"In light of heavy losses of fighters, ISIS is likely desperate to recruit more extremists from other countries."

The U.S. Navy and Airforce has killed over 8,000 ISIS fighters during targeted attacks. Therefore, it is also likely ISIS is desperate to recruit more extremists, especially in light of these heavy losses. This would not only explain increased efforts to recruit internationally but also the recent "kill list" ISIS issued encouraging sympathizers to kill the servicemen they believe have debilitated ISIS defenses.

Whether or not ISIS continues to act outside of its caliphate remains to be seen, as this new change in course is still in its infancy. But one thing in certain: ISIS's success and failure materially depend on whether the international community fulfills its ethical responsibility to fight the group.

Women of Isis