The Islamic State: Be Afraid, Be Very Afraid

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If you think the oil industry is already too powerful, imagine that power under the control of already powerful terrorists whose aim is political supremacy over multiple territories.

For the group of Islamist militants that has captured large swaths of land stretching across Syria and Iraq -- the one formerly known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant that now call itself "the Islamic State" -- the war that began in Syria and has since spilled over in neighboring Iraq has the potential of turning into an extremely lucrative, and highly dangerous, endeavor with a very high margin of return, given the initial investment.

If they succeed in their goals, the result would be high-octane terrorism, the sort that would make everything we have seen until now seem tame by comparison. The slim possibility of this becoming a reality has some of the most powerful minds in law enforcement terrified and on alert, because they know that it is only a matter of time before the battle waged by the Islamic State moves into Phase Two.

In June, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius confirmed that the Islamic State has been selling Syrian oil back to Syria. The sale was evidence of the "confusing" nature of the escalating conflict in the Middle East in which Syrian President Bashar Assad and the jihadists are, in theory, on opposing sides.

"We have proof that when [ISIS] has taken over oil, it has sold oil to the (Assad) regime," Fabius said, without offering more details. Referring to how the rebels in Syria and the Assad regime use each other to derive legitimacy, Fabius said, "Officially they are combating each other but in fact they are very often helping each other."

The situation in Iraq is "very, very, very worrying," he added. "Why? Because it is probably the first time that a terrorist group -- and a ferocious terrorist group -- is in a position, if there is no reaction, to take over the whole country, and a rich country, with enormous consequences for the region and the world," he said.

Days ago, reports surfaced that the Islamic State is also selling oil from Iraq.

The very idea of this group with millions, if not billions, of dollars (stolen from banks in cities they conquered) is frightful enough. And with billions of dollars more on the way from the oil they are about to sell, will give them a continuous source of serious income that will make them the most potent -- and the most dangerous -- group of armed fighters anywhere on this planet.

Speaking from London on ABC News' "This Week with George Stephanopoulos," U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said he was very worried by what was happening in Syria. The typically understated Holder said intelligence that terrorists are working to build undetectable explosives is "something that gives [Washington] really extreme, extreme concern."

Terrorists are constantly trying to invent more ingenious ways in which to smuggle explosives on board airliners for two reasons. First, given the ever-increasing security at airports, it's almost a point of pride for terrorist groups to circumvent all the safety measures and still manage to smuggle weapons or explosives onto airliners. Second, it sends a message to the world that 'no matter what you do, you will never be safe from us.'

Bombing an aircraft in flight is a psychologically more powerful terrorist act than blowing up a bus or a train because of the total sense of helplessness experienced by its passengers. There is little one can do at 32,000 feet other than pray.

Groups like the Islamic State realize that sooner or later they are bound to clash with the United States and Western powers, and with that in mind are very likely preparing to attack or counterattack the U.S.

"In some ways, it's more frightening than anything I think I've seen as attorney general," said Holder.

Holder's comments follow a major change in U.S. air safety rules. Passengers taking international flights into the United States must now submit their cell phones and other electronic devices to additional inspections before they will be allowed to bring them onboard. The suspicion is that a bomb could be hidden inside an empty cell phone or laptop.
The Transportation Security Administration said personnel at certain foreign airports – trained by U.S. officials – would be required to conduct the new inspections. Devices that fail to turn on will be further tested with a charger, and if they still don't work, be confiscated. Owners of non-starting devices might have to undergo extra screening.

The tighter security is almost certainly a response to recent intelligence reports suggesting that Al Qaeda-linked terrorists in Syria are working with members of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula to blow up a commercial aircraft headed to the U.S. or Europe, as first reported by ABC News.

Terrorism experts believe thousands of people living in the West – including Americans -- have traveled to Syria in the past year to join the Islamists' fight against the Syrian government. The influx has given rise to fears that fighters with a U.S. or European passport – passengers who are typically screened less stringently -- could carry a bomb onto a U.S.-bound plane.

Ariel Cohen, a leading U.S. energy and geopolitics expert and the principal of International Market Analysis, said the Islamic State has an "ambitious agenda" to try and conquer large territories, setting up violent clashes with multiple armies, governments and civilian fighters.  "We may be, for all intents and purposes, looking at a multi-century conflict," he said.

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