Shia, Christians, Alawites, Sunnis, Kurds, Sufis and Yazidis are amongst the many sects that have suffered at the hands of the violent jihadi Sunni extremists of al Qaeda and ISIS. ISIS attracts youth to fight in part by claiming an existential threat for Sunnis posed by Alawite and Shia oppressors. ISIS encourages its followers to carry out attacks in their own countries, where ISIS's presence is limited, such as in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. Along sectarian lines, ISIS (Sunni) recently claimed responsibility for a horrific bombing of a Shia mosque in Kuwait that killed 27 people and injured more than 200.
ISIS's strategy seems to be making a major shift from expanding in the failed states of Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Libya to destabilizing members of the anti-ISIS coalition that was formed to counter it. ISIS is betting that there is a degree of support for it within some of the Middle Eastern states taking part in the coalition that it can call on to carry out attacks.
The group has dedicated a large amount of resources towards indoctrination via its social media arms and its propaganda magazine Dabiq. And ISIS's bet on recruiting youth from member states of the coalition against it may be working better than these states care to admit. It is, after all, working in a conducive environment -- the Arab region has the highest rate of youth unemployment in the world, at 23.2 percent(versus a global average of 13.9 percent)
A security-only minded strategy in tackling ISIS will likely fail. We need a more comprehensive solution that tackles incitement on television and social media as well as in educational curriculums. It is difficult to see how a solution to many of the region's problems will be achieved as long as Iran and Saudi Arabia maintain a zero-sum game approach with each other. In a widely-circulated video, Iraqi Shia cleric Jafar al Ibrahimi warned, "Sectarianism is worse than the atomic bomb." Given this, the world is in desperate need of a binding sectarianism non-proliferation treaty.