In this, it is important to keep in mind that ISIS is not al Qaeda. For one, the ISIS-sponsored network in Europe includes at least 90 well-trained, well-supported, and well-supplied operatives. Their tactics were honed on hot battlefields and in the bombed-out basements of war-torn Syria, not at terrorist boot camps or in the caves of the Hindu Kush, as was the case for al Qaeda. And whereas al Qaeda members mainly carried Middle Eastern passports, many ISIS members travel on European documents; the majority of those who attacked Paris in November are thought to have been citizens of European Union countries. The same is likely true of the Brussels bombers. That gives ISIS an advantage as it strikes at harder and harder targets.
Second, beyond ISIS’ core Western network are scores of unaffiliated or loosely affiliated jihadists. In fact, many of the so-called ISIS attacks have no direct logistical links to the group and are mainly inspired by propaganda and online resources. All of the ISIS-related attacks in Australia, Canada, and the United States thus far fit into this mold, including the December 2015 San Bernardino assault that killed 14 people and injured 21 others. Al Qaeda kept tighter control of those it allowed to claim its brand.
In short, the ISIS threat is more akin to the state-sponsored terrorism emanating from Iran, Iraq, Libya, the Soviet Union, and Syria during the 1970s and 1980s. Groups with the known backing of states (such as Hezbollah and many of the Palestinian groups) had access to greater resources, more logistical support, better intelligence, better weapons, and wider networks than those that operated on their own (such as the Weathermen or the French group Action Directe). State-backed groups were always more dangerous. The parallels today should come as no surprise, thanks to ISIS’ provenance in Syria and