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ISIS proves it doesn't need territory to be deadly

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The Islamic State (ISIS) has been taking a serious beating over the last year and a half, yet according to a new report, it drastically increased its attacks and body count last year.

ISIS carried out more than 1,400 attacks in 2016, resulting in more than 11,700 fatalities, representing a 19 percent increase in attacks and a remarkable 39 percent increase in deaths between 2015 and 2016, according to the University of Maryland's National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START). The increase in attacks coincided with several major territorial losses in the group's so-called caliphate in Iraq and Syria. Combined Joint Task Force Operational Inherent Resolve, the U.S.-led coalition fighting ISIS, retook several key cities, including Fallujah in Iraq and Manbij in Syria.

"The thing that's very interesting about ISIL ... as they've lost territory, clearly they are in a crisis right now, they're showing how resilient they are," Kieran Quinlan, a researcher at the University of Maryland's National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism, told me in an interview. "Losing territory doesn't necessarily end them completely."

Several factors contributed to the phenomenon. First, ISIS's affiliate groups across the globe, including Bangladesh, the Philippines and Yemen, drastically increased their kill counts. As the affiliates expanded, they were able to kill more people in more locations as well. ISIS engaged in attacks in seven new countries in 2016 alone.

Quinlan noted that ISIS's innovative propaganda has been effective in securing these affiliate groups, and inspiring attacks abroad.

A change in tactics may have also played a part. ISIS's infamous spokesman, Abu Muhammad al-Adnani, who was killed in an air strike last year, called upon followers to engage small-scale attacks that can be easily accomplished with little skill or preparation. ISIS also issued how-to guides on how to carry out an easy knife or vehicular attack, as well as suggested targets, like parades and festivals.

"I think the unfortunate thing is that defeating ISIL [ISIS] is probably going to take some more time, at this point," noted Quinlan. "I don't think youre going to get a surrender from them any time soon. And the thing about these fighters is that they've mixed with a lot of different people from different parts of the world and have made connections with people across the world and its possible for these individuals to move to other theaters."

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