Even as ISIS was plotting major terror attacks in Europe and the Middle East in recent months, it was also displaying a voracious appetite for conventional military conquests, an expansion into other countries such as Bangladesh — and a reliance on new techniques like targeted assassinations.
The details of those ISIS activities are contained in the most recent version of its magazine Dabiq, which was released online Wednesday and contained a photo of the explosive device allegedly used to take down a Russian jet over Sinai.
The ISIS claims of credit for all of these attacks and other information in the 65-page magazine have not been corroborated. But U.S. and allied counterterrorism officials are scrutinizing the publication for indications of what ISIS might do next. The various articles, for example, boast about ISIS plans to take over a military base in Iraq, kill "all Japanese citizens and interests — wherever they may be found" and expand operations in Bangladesh, a strategic U.S. ally in South Asia with a majority Muslim population of 170 million.
But the latest issue of Dabiq also provides new clues about how ISIS has evolved into a sophisticated military operation that has won what the magazine calls a "string of victories." Using a choreographed combination of conventional and guerrilla tactics, the terror group has taken over entire towns and military bases in Iraq and Yemen, capturing huge caches of weapons — some of them American — including missiles, artillery cannons, wireless devices, and night-vision scopes.
Conrad Crane, a historian at the Army War College, said the new developments add to the already worrisome trajectory of ISIS as a growing military power. "Their expanded capabilities greatly increase the difficulty in dealing with the problem set that they present. They are not just a regional problem anymore," said Crane, a retired Army lieutenant colonel who co-authored the U.S. military's Iraq War counter-insurgency field manual.
"They have been pretty adept at capturing important sites, including weapons," Crane said. "They are glad to use our technology when they can get it. And they are expanding their capabilities, which is what insurgents do."
The magazine also provides additional details about attacks in Paris and Beirut, the downing of the Russian passenger plane, and the slaying of Italian aid worker Cesare Tavella, 50, who was shot while jogging in Bangladesh.
In an article called "A Selection of Military Operations By the Islamic State," the magazine says an ISIS "security cell" targeted and killed Tavella, "following him on one of the streets of the city of Dhaka and shooting him with a silencer."
Just five days later, it added, ISIS members struck again, killing Kunio Hoshi in the Bangladeshi city of Rangpur because he was a citizen of Japan, a country that has supported U.S. anti-ISIS actions.
The article describes other terrorist strikes in Bangladesh, which ISIS calls by its historical name of Bengal, including one that killed and wounded nearly 100 people at a historic Shiite mosque.
In a separate article, ISIS describes Bangladesh as a new battleground as it continues its strategic expansion.
Bangladesh has been grappling for more than a year with attacks on journalists and others who have written critically about Islam. Counterterrorism officials say that the terror group's move into the country is of concern because it might suggest it is also moving into neighboring India.
"This is deeply worrisome, and very significant for the simple reason of Bangladesh's proximity to India and the porousness of the border," said Sumit Ganguly, director of the Center on American and Global Security at Indiana University Bloomington, who is a South Asia expert who consults various U.S. government agencies.
"If indeed ISIS is taking root in Bangladesh, it bodes ill for the future of a very fragile democracy, and it is one more major Muslim country in danger of radicalization."