Spotlight on Global Jihad (January 8-14, 2015)

Members of the Al-Shueitat tribe handing over their weapons to ISIS operatives (YouTube, January 11, 2015)

Members of the Al-Shueitat tribe handing over their weapons to ISIS operatives (YouTube, January 11, 2015)

Al-Nusra Front operatives at one of the military camps in Idlib (Sada al-Sham al-Islami, January 2015)

Al-Nusra Front operatives at one of the military camps in Idlib (Sada al-Sham al-Islami, January 2015)

Three of those accused of spying being executed by shooting (, January 8, 2015)

Three of those accused of spying being executed by shooting (, January 8, 2015)

The beheading of a lawyer with a sword.

The beheading of a lawyer with a sword.

The CDs distributed in the Gaza Strip (YouTube, January 11, 2015)

The CDs distributed in the Gaza Strip (YouTube, January 11, 2015)

Main events of the week[1]

  • This week was marked by a series of terrorist shooting attacks in Paris, directed against the satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo and Jewish targets. These attacks killed 17 people. Two jihadi operatives who carried out the attacks were affiliated with Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and a third expressed solidarity with ISIS.At this point, based on preliminary information, the ITIC believes that the attacks were local initiatives of French jihadi operatives who collaborated among themselves and were not directed and guided from the outside.
  • In Iraq and Syria, the fighting continued in the known locations, although the intensity of the fighting decreased due to the stormy weather. In Kobani (Ayn al-Arab) and Deir al-Zor, Syria, the fighting is still ongoing. In Iraq, ISIS is making an effort to tighten its control over the Mosul area and the area south of Kirkuk. In Lebanon, the Al-Nusra Front carried out a suicide bombing attack in an Alawi neighborhood in Tripoli (nine dead and around 30 injured). On the Iraq-Saudi Arabia border, ISIS operatives attacked a patrol of the Saudi border police. The attack included both shooting and a suicide bombing attack. On the “cyber jihad” front, ISIS hackers attacked the Twitter and Facebook pages of the US Central Command.

Series of shooting attacks in Paris

  • Between January 7 and 9, 2015, three French jihadi operatives carried out a series of shooting attacks in Paris. The series of attacks included: a shooting attack at the offices of the satirical weekly magazine Charlie Hebdo, which had long been in the jihadi organizations’ crosshairs (12 killed); a shooting attack at a Jewish school that was not carried out, apparently because of a traffic accident (one policewoman killed); and a shooting attack coupled with a bargaining attempt at a kosher supermarket (four killed, all Jewish). Seventeen people were killed and more than 10 were wounded in the attacks.
  • The attack at the offices of Charlie Hebdo was carried out by two Muslim brothers of Algerian extraction linked to Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). The organization issued a video expressing solidarity with the attack and calling on jihadists to carry out additional attacks in France (although so far AQAP did not officially claim responsibility). The terrorist operative who carried out the attack in the kosher supermarket was a French jihadist who identified himself as an ISIS supporter, although ISIS did not officially claim responsibility for the attack (ISIS-supporting jihadists used the social networks to praise the attack).
  • Initial observations regarding the series of terrorist attacks[2]:
  • France as the preferred country for carrying out terrorist attacks:In the ITIC’s assessment, France is in the crosshairs of ISIS and other jihadi organizations and operatives. That is because it joined the American campaign against ISIS (which led ISIS to call for “the burning of France”), and because the global jihad's operational capabilities in France made such attacks possible. Fundamentally, jihadi capabilities exist because France has a large alienated Muslim population from which jihad operatives emerge. The jihadi threat in France is reflected in the large number of French foreign fighters who joined the ranks of ISIS and other jihadi organizations in Syria, larger than the numbers from any other Western country.[3] The recent attacks have also illustrated the enormity of the additional threat posed by local jihadists who did not join the fighting in Syria.
  • The nature of the chosen targets: The satirical weekly magazine Charlie Hebdo was in the jihadi organizations’ crosshairs. In the past, the weekly was threatened and its offices were firebombed. The kosher supermarket and the Jewish school where an attack was planned indicate (and not for the first time) that Jewish institutions in France (and in Europe in general) are targeted by supporters of ISIS and other jihadi organizations (the attack on the Jewish Museum in Brussels was carried out by a French jihadist with ties to ISIS).
  • A relatively high level of operational capability:In the recent attacks, especially the one on Charlie Hebdo, the terrorist operatives demonstrated considerable daring and operational capability. The two brothers gained access to the Charlie Hebdo offices, which were apparently secured, apparently having intelligence about procedures, and preplanned their escape from the scene of the attack. The attack on the kosher supermarket and the attack on the school which was not carried out involved a lower level of operational capability. It is possible that they were spontaneous and intended to magnify the effect of the attack on Charlie Hebdo and support the perpetrators.
  • The nature of the cooperation between the jihadi organizations:The terrorists expressed solidarity with ISIS and AQAP. These are two rival organizations, the former a branch of Al-Qaeda in Yemen and the latter a jihadi organization challenging the Al-Qaeda leadership. The Kouachi brothers, who carried out the attack at Charlie Hebdo, had previous links to AQAP. However, the collaboration of the terrorist operatives involved in the series of attacks in Paris was, in the ITIC’s assessment, the fruit of local initiatives and interpersonal relations between jihadi operatives and not a function of established collaboration between the ISIS and AQAPleaderships. In the ITIC’s assessment,such local collaboration of operatives from rival organizations couldoccur again in other Western countries.

The international campaign against ISIS

Attacks by the US and the coalition in Syria and Iraq
  • US and coalition airstrikes in Syria and Iraq continued during the week. This week US and coalition aircraft carried out dozens of airstrikes in Syria and Iraq using fighter planes, bombers and unmanned aircraft. Following are the locations of the airstrikes (CENTCOM website):
  • Syria– this week as well, the airstrikes were concentrated in Kobani (Ayn al-Arab) and Al-Hasakah. The airstrikes in Syria destroyed battle positions, deployment areas and oil facilities controlled by ISIS
  • Iraq– the airstrikes were carried out in a number of locations, including Tal Afar, Kirkuk, Fallujah, Al-Assad, Sinjar, Irbil, Ramadi and Mosul. Among other things, the airstrikes destroyed a bridge controlled by ISIS, car bombs, vehicles, and checkpoints, and killed a number of operatives. 
  • nAccording to the Pentagon spokesman, between August 2014 and January 7, 2015, airstrikes by the coalition forces in Syria and Iraq destroyed or damaged3,222 targets. The targets attacked included 58 tanks, 184 Humvees, 36 APCs and 394 other vehicles. Other targets attacked included 79 artillery pieces, 52 bunkers, 29 checkpoints, 637 positions, 980 buildings, 259 oil facilities and more (Reuters, January 7, 2015).
Investigation into the killing of civilians in airstrikes
  • The US Army is investigating several incidents in which civilians were accidentally killed during airstrikes by the coalition forces. This is the first time that the US has admitted that these attacks have taken their toll on human lives. The US Central Command has investigated 18 incidents to date. According to the findings, reports of 13 incidents were not reliable; five of them were investigated further. Of the five, two incidents, one in Iraq and one in Syria, require the opening of an official investigation (AFP, January 6, 2015).
  • The spokesman for the US Department of Defense said that the allegations of possible civilian deaths came from several sources, including internal reports of the US Army, the US State Department, reports on the social networks and reports from NGOs. He said that both investigations currently underway are the direct result of an internal investigation process and not the result of allegations made by outside agencies. He added that the situation in Iraq and Syria makes these investigations highly challenging, since traditional investigation methods as questioning eyewitnesses or examining of the area are impossible (AFP, January 6, 2015).
The Jordanian pilot
  • On January 6, 2015, ISIS’s information office in the province of Deir al-Zor (called Al-Khayr by ISIS) released a video entitled Message from Muslims to the Family of the Pilot. The video shows four people, including a young boy, who conveyed messages to the family of the Jordanian pilot captured by ISIS on December 24, 2014. According to the video, the pilot is a Muslim and therefore he is being treated well by ISIS; but since he went to attack Muslims, he is considered an unbeliever and must die for “his crimes”. The speakers suggest a number of ways of killing him. One of them says that he should be tortured before being killed and the other suggests stoning to death.

Poster issued by ISIS’s information office in the province of Deir al-Zor with the inscription Message from Muslims to the Family of the Pilot
Poster issued by ISIS’s information office in the province of Deir al-Zor with the inscription Message from Muslims to the Family of the Pilot

  • In the ITIC’s assessment, this is psychological warfare on the part of ISIS, designed to pressure the Jordanian government to release jihadi operatives imprisoned in Jordan. Exploitation of prisoners and hostages for purposes of propaganda and psychological warfare is a course of action used by ISIS, mainly in the context of the Western captives in its hands.

Hackers affiliated with ISIS attacked CENTCOM websites
  • On January 12, 2015, CENTCOM’s official Twitter and Facebook pages were attacked by hackers affiliated with ISIS, as part of the so-called Cyber Jihad (or Cyber Caliphate). CENTCOM’s YouTube page was also hacked. On the websites, used by the coalition forces, the hackers planted a message claiming that ISIS had taken control of their computers. According to CENTCOM, the hackers took over just two sites, which were consequently disabled for about half an hour (CENTCOM website, January 12, 2015).
  • On the Twitter page, the hackers posted information on various topics, including the Chinese Army and North Korea. They also published the names, addresses and telephone numbers of senior US Army officers, transcripts of Congressional hearings, presentations, maps and other information. A Pentagon source told NBC that there is no doubt that the attack on CENTCOM's Twitter page is embarrassing, but it does not constitute a security risk. CENTCOM headquarters said that it is taking the necessary steps to deal with the attack (AP and Reuters, according to Haaretz Israeli daily, January 13, 2015).

The messages planted by ISIS hackers on the American websites
The messages planted by ISIS hackers on the American websites

Main developments in Syria

  • The intensity of the fighting in Syria was low, probably due to the poor weather conditions.
Kobani (Ayn al-Arab)
  • This week as well, the coalition forces’ airstrikes in Syria focused on the area of Kobani. On January 9, 2015, it was reported that Kurdish fighters have managed to regain control of 80% of the city (Al-Arabiya TV, January 9, 2015).
Deir al-Zor
  • Fighting between the forces of the Syrian regime and ISIS operatives in the area of the Deir al-Zor airfield continues. Syrian security forces and members of the Al-Shueitat tribe, who live in East Syria, reportedly joined forces in fighting off ISIS and managed to kill dozens of ISIS operatives. At the same time, the Syrian Air Force attacked ISIS positions and caused losses (Al-Watan, January 7, 2015).
  • On the other hand, it was reported that ISIS had permitted some members of the Al-Shueitat tribe, who cooperate with the Syrian regime, to return to their homes. This was after they promised to refrain from fighting against ISIS and to recognize the authority of the Islamic Caliphate. As part of this promise, ISIS ordered them to hand over their weapons (YouTube, January 11, 2015).
  • Battles took place in the towns of Nabal and Al-Zahra in the province of Aleppo.  Rebel forces took control of them. Several Al-Nusra Front commanders were killed in the battles.
  • On January 10, 2015, a Twitter account affiliated with Al-Qaeda claimed that dozens of operatives from the Al-Nusra Front and Ahrar al-Sham in the Aleppo area had pledged allegiance to ISIS. A video posted on YouTube showed a local commander (Emir) codenamed Ibn Al-Khattab, who announced that he had left the Al-Nusra Front because the organization does not conduct its daily life in accordance with Islamic law. In the video, he also calls on his former friends in the Al-Nusra Front to join ISIS (Abu Abdullah al-Jazrawi’s Twitter account; YouTube, January 10, 2015).  ISIS customarily exploits the defection of local commanders from other rebel groups into its ranks for propaganda purposes, even when it is of no great significance.

Left: Announcement that operatives from the Al-Nusra Front’s Al-Farouq camp had joined the Islamic state (YouTube, January 10, 2015) Right: Twitter posting about operatives from the Al-Nusra Front and Ahrar al-Sham joining the Islamic State (YouTube, January 10, 2015)
Left: Announcement that operatives from the Al-Nusra Front’s Al-Farouq camp had joined the Islamic state (YouTube, January 10, 2015) Right: Twitter posting about operatives from the Al-Nusra Front and Ahrar al-Sham joining the Islamic State (YouTube, January 10, 2015)

  • According to media reports, ISIS has established its control in the Al-Hajr al-Aswad neighborhood (south of Damascus) and has expanded its control eastward. It was reported that ISIS appointed an operative known as Abu al-Huda al-Suri as the “Emir” of the Damascus and Al-Qalamoun area (Al-Nashra, January 9, 2015).
Idlib (northwest Syria)
  • On January 10, 2015, a website affiliated with the Al-Nusra Front posted photos of its camp in the province of Idlib, where the organization has recently made headway. The photos show dozens of the organization’s operatives and give the clear impression that they are well equipped and are operating in an organized manner (Sada al-Sham al-Islami, January 2015).
  • On January 9, 2015, a website affiliated with the Islamic State reported that the Hama area was declared a new province of the Islamic State. According to the announcement, the names of the cities included in the province will be published at a later date (Al-Platform Media, January 9, 2015). Despite the announcement, the province of Hama is not under the control of the Islamic State, but the pressure on it by jihadi organizations is expected to increase after their recent achievements in the province of Idlib.

Main developments in Iraq

The Mosul region
  • On January 9-10, 2015, ISIS carried out a surprise attack in the area of Gwer, near Mosul, which is controlled by the Kurds. During the attack, some 160 ISIS operatives crossed the Tigris River in boats. According to the reports, ISIS managed to take control of the region within an hour. Kurdish forces subsequently carried out a counterattack and regained control of the area of Gwer. According to Kurdish sources, 60 ISIS operatives were killed in the fighting.
  • On January 10, 2015, ISIS operatives attacked several villages in the area south of Mosul. It was reported that 30 ISIS operatives were killed in the clashes. The next day, Kurdish forces regained control of the villages.
The Kirkuk region
  • On January 11, 2015, ISIS operatives attacked Kurdish forces southwest of Kirkuk. After severe clashes, the attack was repulsed. ISIS apparently intends to take over the road leading from (Kurdish-controlled) Kirkuk to Baghdad, possibly with a view to cutting off Kirkuk from the capital.

Main developments in Lebanon

Double suicide bombing attack in Tripoli
  • On the evening of January 10, 2015, a double suicide bombing attack was carried out at a café in Jabal Mohsen, an Alawi neighborhood in Tripoli, northern Lebanon. As a result of the attack, nine people were killed and 30 injured.First, a grenade was thrown at the café, and then a suicide bomber went inside and blew himself up. A second suicide bomber blew himself up outside the café.
  • The Al-Nusra Front, which carried out attacks in Lebanon in the past, claimed responsibility for the attack.According to the organization, it carried out the attack because the café is affiliated with the Alawi Assad regime. The two suicide bombers were identified by the Al-Nusra Front as Abu Hussein al-Tarabulsi and Abu Abd al-Rahman al-Tarabulsi. They were apparently Lebanese jihadi operatives from the city of Tripoli (Daily Star, January 10, 2015). 

Announcement claiming responsibility for the attack in Tripoli posted on a Twitter account affiliated with the Al-Nusra Front in Al-Qalamoun
Announcement claiming responsibility for the attack in Tripoli posted on a Twitter account affiliated with the Al-Nusra Front in Al-Qalamoun

The conduct of the Islamic State

The ISIS economy
  • ISIS announced the gradual resumption of production at a number of plants in the provinces of Al-Anbar and Mosul in western and northern Iraq respectively (Al-Arabi al-Jadeed, January 11, 2015). Resumption of work in factories whose operation was terminated due to the fighting was part of ISIS’s efforts to revive the economy in areas that it has taken over, restore the daily routine and establish its control.
  • According to UPI, ISIS is expected to have a budget surplus of USD 250 million in 2014, out of its overall annual budget of USD 2 billion. ISIS plans to invest its budget surpluses in military activity in 2015. The budget includes assistance to the poor, the disabled and families of those killed in airstrikes (UPI, January 4, 2015).

Today, ISIS is an economically independent terrorist organization and does not rely on outside contributions. It owns assets whose value was estimated in mid-2014 at approximately USD 1.3-2 billion. Its many assets and large revenues distinguish it from other terrorist organizations (including Al-Qaeda, from which it emerged) and allow it to grow rapidly and develop its capabilities and its infrastructure. Although ISIS’s revenues have suffered due to airstrikes by the US and the coalition on its oil facilities, its revenues still enable it to maintain its military buildup and the establishment of its administration.

Thwarting efforts and Sharia implementation
  • ISIS continues its thwarting efforts and brutal application of Sharia law. Following are a number of examples:
  • ISIS’s Islamic police forces executed five people in the Aleppo area accused of spying. Four of them were shot and a fifth (a lawyer) was beheaded with a sword ( website, January 8, 2015).
  • The Islamic court in the city of Al-Raqqah ordered the beheading of a drug dealer and of another man who “abandoned his belief in Allah”. The sentence was carried out before a crowd that included many young people and children (Isdarat al-Dawla al-Islamiyya, January 8, 2015).
  • In the city of Manbaj, in the Aleppo province, a couple accused of adultery were beaten (Al-Platform Media, January 8, 2015).

Left: Sentencing of the adulterous couple before they were beaten (Al-Platform Media, January 8, 2015) Right: Beheading of the man accused of drug dealing (Isdarat al-Dawla al-Islamiyya, January 8, 2015)
Left: Sentencing of the adulterous couple before they were beaten (Al-Platform Media, January 8, 2015) Right: Beheading of the man accused of drug dealing (Isdarat al-Dawla al-Islamiyya, January 8, 2015)

Palestinians and Israeli Arabs

Arrest of an Israeli Arab who travelled to Syria
  • About a month ago, Israeli security forces arrested another Israeli Arab who went to Syria to join one of the jihadi organizations fighting against the Assad regime.The man who was arrested, Yousef Yaaqub Mohammad Nasrallah, 20, a resident of Qalansuwa, traveled to Jordan on April 18, 2014, and from there he entered Syria. A few hours after entering Syria, Yousef Nasrallah was detained by Syrian security forces. He was taken for interrogation, during which he was questioned about Israeli military bases, ways to enter the Palestinian Authority territory from Israel, and about the medical care provided by Israel to Syrian rebel forces. He was apparently tortured during his interrogation. A few months later he was transferred to the “Embassy of Palestine” in Damascus and from there to Jordan. When he returned to Israel, he was arrested immediately and charges were pressed against him (Israel Security Agency website, January 12, 2015).

Enlistment of Israeli Arabs into the ranks of the rebels in Syria is a familiar phenomenon (the first Israeli Arab left for Syria in November 2012), although its extent has been relatively limited to date. It is difficult to determine the precise number of Israeli Arabs who go to Syria because their families refuse to disclose the information for fear it will jeopardize their sons. Their number was estimated at around 40 a few months ago, but the extent of the phenomenon may have been increased since then. The arrest and interrogation of Israeli Arabs who returned from Syria illustrates the danger inherent in the phenomenon, since at least two of them were asked by jihadi organizations to carry out terrorist activities in Israel after their return.

Jihadi network affiliated with ISIS in the Gaza Strip
  • An entity calling itself The Mujahideen Shura Council in the Environs of Jerusalem and Gaza has declared its support for the Islamic State led by ISIS. Other jihadi networks in the Gaza Strip joined in support of ISIS. An operative by the name of Abu al-Walid, who is known to be a leading supporter of ISIS in the Gaza Strip, said that Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi had rejected the pledge of allegiance made by jihadi networks in Gaza because they are divided. Abu al-Walid added that the split between Al-Qaeda and ISIS caused a split among the jihadi networks in the Gaza Strip. He said that over 100 Palestinians from the Gaza Strip had gone to fight alongside ISIS (Al-Monitor, January 7, 2015).
Distribution of propaganda materials to residents of the Gaza Strip
  • Forums affiliated with Al-Qaeda have posted photos documenting the distribution of around 5,000 CDs to residents of the Gaza Strip by Salafist-jihadi operatives in the Gaza Strip. ISIS’s activities were documented in the CDs. 

In the past, there were expressions of support for ISIS in the Gaza Strip on the part of Salafist-jihadi elements influenced by the organization’s achievements in Syria and Iraq. In addition, there are scores of jihadi operatives from the Gaza Strip in Syria, most of them in the ranks of ISIS. Hamas perceives Salafist-jihadi activity as a potential risk and as a practical and ideological challenge to its rule in the Gaza Strip. At this stage, the Salafist-jihadi infrastructure as a whole still does not pose a real threat to the rule of Hamas, and it possesses the tools to suppress any operational or ideological activity that deviates from the rules of the game made by Hamas. So far, expressions of support for ISIS in the Gaza Strip have been dealt with aggressively by Hamas, even though it avoids overall confrontation with Salafist-jihadis.


Egypt and the Sinai Peninsula

Activity of Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis (which has pledged allegiance to the leader of ISIS)

  • An Egyptian police officer was abducted in the Sinai Peninsula by Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis operatives. Egyptian security sources reported that on January 10, 2015, Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis executed three Bedouin youths on the grounds that two of them collaborated with the Israeli intelligence and the third with the Egyptian Army. The youths had been abducted five days earlier. Egyptian security forces found their bodies in the area of Sheikh Zuweid and in southern Rafah (Ma’an News Agency, January 10, 2015).

Attacks by global jihad organizations in other countries

Terrorist attack in Saudi Arabia, near the border with Iraq, apparently by ISIS
  • On January 5, 2015, three members of the Saudi border police, including a senior commander, were killed in a suicide bombing attack in northern Saudi Arabia on the border with Iraq. Armed operatives, apparently from ISIS, attacked a border police patrol moving along the Saudi border with Iraq. According to the Saudi interior ministry spokesman, the terrorists opened fire on the patrol and the members of the patrol returned fire. One of the attackers detonated the explosive belt that he was wearing. This is the first terrorist attack along the border between Saudi Arabia and Iraq since Saudi Arabia joined the coalition forces fighting against ISIS (Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, January 6, 2015). 
  • On January 7, 2015, websites affiliated with ISIS revealed the identity of the perpetrators of the attack against a Saudi border police patrol which they claimed was carried out at the Suweif border terminal near the Iraqi border. Both perpetrators are of Saudi descent: Mamdouh al-Mutairi, AKA Abu Dhirr al-Shalahi, who blew himself up with an explosive belt, and Abdallah al-Shammari, AKA Abu Fajr al-Shammari, who was killed by Saudi security forces after he opened fire at them.
Execution of journalists in Libya
  • The Libyan faction of ISIS claimed responsibility for the execution of two journalists from Tunisiareported missing since September 2014. A statement posted on the organization’s website shows photos of the two journalists, Sufiene Chourabi and Nadhir Ktari (Al-Akhbar, January 9, 2015).

Expressions of support and sympathy in the West

  • Al-Hayat Media Center, the media wing of ISIS, posted a video in Arabic with English subtitles, which was distributed on Twitter and jihadi forums. The video clip shows an operative, known as Abdullah Moldovi, praising the establishment of the Islamic Caliphate and detailing its advantages over the Taliban in Afghanistan. He said that the Taliban in Afghanistan have not established a caliphate because their area of control has been reduced to the borders of Afghanistan. On the other hand, he said, the Islamic Caliphate does not recognize national borders and is waging an international jihad.

Abdullah Moldovi praising the Islamic Caliphate and noting the difference between it and the Taliban-controlled area (Al-Hayat Media Center, January 2015)
Abdullah Moldovi praising the Islamic Caliphate and noting the difference between it and the Taliban-controlled area (Al-Hayat Media Center, January 2015)

[1]The weekly publication Spotlight on Global Jihad monitors developments among ISIS and global jihad organizations in the Middle East and terrorist activities around the world, directed, supported or inspired by the global jihad organizations in the Middle East.
[2]For details see the ITIC’s Information Bulletin: “Jihad Operatives in France Affiliated with Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and ISIS Carry out Shooting Attacks Killing 17”.
[3]In September 2014, the French minister of the interior reported that approximately 930 French citizens were either fighting in the ranks of ISIS in Syria and Iraq or planning to join them. It is the largest number of foreign fighters from any Western country (Britain is second with 500 foreign fighters). For further information, see the ITIC’s Information Bulletinfrom November 27, 2014, “ISIS, Portrait of a Jihadi Terrorist Organization.”