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'Like al Qaeda on steroids': Intelligence officials warn that ISIS is again growing rapidly in Iraq

'The reorganization stage is over'

DELIL SOULEIMAN/AFP via Getty Images

Two years after losing its last territory in Iraq, the Islamic State is now rapidly growing a new and more sophisticated presence in the country, intelligence officials told BBC News Monday.

According to Lahur Talabany, a top Kurdish counterterrorism official, the ISIS militants have also now become more skilled and more dangerous than al Qaeda.

"They have better techniques, better tactics, and a lot more finances at their disposal," he said. "They are able to buy vehicles, weapons, food supplies and equipment ... technologically they're more savvy. It's more difficult to flush them out. So, they are like al Qaeda on steroids."

Talabany, who is head of the Zanyari Agency, one of two intelligence agencies in Iraqi Kurdistan, said he is not sure where exactly the terrorist organization's treasure trove of money has come from but that ISIS seems to have "a lot more money than al Qaeda had in the old days."

ISIS has apparently taken advantage of the dispute between Baghdad and the Kurdistan Regional Government by taking control of large swathes of land that have been left unmanned during the conflict. The huge territory, from Diyala to Mosul, which encompasses nearly all of northern Iraq, is now being patrolled by ISIS forces, he said.

Learning from past mistakes, ISIS has gone underground to avoid being targeted, preferring to conduct operations from Iraq's Hamrin Mountains.

"This is the hub for ISIS right now," Talabany said, according to the BBC. "It's a long range of mountains, and very difficult for the Iraqi army to control. There are a lot of hide-outs and caves."

What's the background?

At its height, ISIS controlled roughly a third of both Iraq and Syria. But in March, the terrorist group was driven from its last territory in either country when Syrian Democratic Forces in a U.S.-led coalition defeated ISIS at Al-Baghuz Fawqani. Later, in another major blow to the terrorist group, leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was killed during a U.S. special forces raid in Syria.

ISIS had been defeated as both a standing army and a caliphate with their territory gone and leader dead, but many feared that the terrorist group would soon reorganize and grow again.

In an announcement regarding the news of ISIS' territorial defeat in March, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced that the mission "hasn't changed" and that "we still have work to do to make sure radical Islamic terrorism doesn't continue to grow."

If the recent intelligence is accurate, then it appears that ISIS has indeed changed tactics and rebuilt.

"We see now the activity increasing, and we think the reorganization stage is over now," Talabany said.

One last thing…
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