Spotlight on Global Jihad
ISIS video documenting the UAV that crashed (Aamaq, January 8, 2016)
ISIS operatives distributing food to residents in and around the city of Al-Qaryatayn, which the Syrian Army is threatening to take over (Akhbar al-Muslimeen, January 9, 2016)
Thamer Mohammed Matlub Hussein al-Mahlawi (Al-Akhbar, January 6, 2016)
Abu Mohammad al-Adnani (Al-Bayan News, January 7, 2016)
Al-Obeidi as an officer in the Iraqi Republican Guard (Al-Naba News Agency, January 9, 2016)
ISIS IED hitting an Egyptian Army APC east of Al-Arish (Akhbar al-Muslimeen, January 9, 2016)
The result of the terrorist attack in Zliten (Zliten Municipality’s Facebook page, January 10, 2016)
Documentation of the plane that crashed (Aamaq, January 6, 2016)
Abu Saeed al-Baritani: Advice for those joining ISIS (YouTube, November 17, 2015)
Main events of the week
The international campaign against ISIS
US and coalition airstrikes
- This week, the US and coalition forces continued their airstrikes against ISIS targets. During the week, dozens of airstrikes were carried out by means of fighter planes, attack aircraft, and UAVs. According to an American report, the US, Britain and other countries stepped up their airstrikes against ISIS targets in Syria and Iraq over the past few days. According to the reports, airstrikes were carried out on an almost hourly basis (The Mirror, January 8, 2016).
- Following are the main airstrikes (US Department of Defense website):
- Syria – the airstrikes were concentrated in the areas of Ain Issa (north of Al-Raqqah), Manbij (northeast of Aleppo), Al-Raqqah, Abu Kamal, Deir al-Zor, and Marea (north of Aleppo). The airstrikes targeted ISIS battle positions, headquarters, operatives, production sites, oil and gas facilities, bunkers and buildings, among other things.
- Iraq – the airstrikes were concentrated in the following areas: Al-Qaim, Haditha, Erbil, Kisik, Mosul, Ramadi, Sinjar, Sultan Abdullah, Al-Baghdadi, Albu Hayat and Habbaniyah. The airstrikes targeted ISIS operatives, battle positions, artillery, entrances to tunnels, staging zones for operatives, bunkers, command and control posts, oil refining facilities, IED and car bomb manufacturing sites, and sniper positions, among other things.
- CNN reported a US Air Force airstrike in downtown Mosul. The airstrike was directed at a building in the city where ISIS stored a large amount of money for financing its ongoing activity. It is not clear how much money was stored in the building; the amount of money is estimated in the millions. The US has announced its intention to attack other financial centers of ISIS (CNN, January 11, 2016).
Hitting the building where cash was stored is a continuation of the policy of the US-led coalition countries, as well as Russia,to harm ISIS’s economic capabilities. To this end, massive airstrikes have been carried out in recent months, targeting oil tankers, oil production sites and convoys conveying oil for sale (especially to Turkey).In American assessments, ISIS’s revenues from oil and petroleum products dropped by approximately 40% as a result of these airstrikes.
- According to a report by the United States Air Forces Central Command, a United States Air Force UAV crashed on January 7, 2016, near Al-Qaim (near the Iraqi-Syrian border). This was due to the operator’s loss of control. ISIS announced that its operatives had shot down the UAV and even published pictures of the wreckage (Aamaq, January 8, 2016; Sputnik, January 9, 2016).
- Two German Tornado jets took off from their base in Incirlik to carry out a three-hour airborne intelligence collection mission above Syria and Iraq. According to the German Army spokesman, the two aircraft will carry out one flight per day from now on. According to the spokesman, Turkey will have access to the information that is collected, but he stressed that the target of the intelligence collection missions is ISIS, and not the Kurds (RT, January 9, 2016).
Russian involvement in the civil war in Syria
- This week, Russian aircraft attacked targets in the following places: Daraa, Aleppo, Latakia, Deir al-Zor, Damascus, Hama, Idlib and more. US officials continue to criticize the policy of the Russian airstrikes. Regarding the airstrikes in Syria, a US senior official who declined to be named said that only a third of Russia’s airstrikes are aimed at ISIS targets.
- The senior official said that the Russians have carried out more than 5,000 airstrikes since September 30, 2015, but 70% of them were directed against organizations opposed to President Assad. He added that Russia makes use of unguided and inaccurate bombs, causing damage to civilians’ homes. According to him, these inaccurate airstrikes are forcing the population to flee, and this has led to a significant increase in the number of refugees (Al-Arabiya TV, January 9, 2016).
- In an article summarizing the year 2015, the Atlantic Monthly magazine, published in Washington, DC, mentions Russia’s involvement in the fighting in Syria in the last three months of 2015. According to the magazine, Russia’s achievements in Syria include:
- Helping the Syrian Army to defeat the terrorist organizations, for the first time in four years.
- Liberating 80 cities and villages, and an area of over 500 square kilometers, from the hands of terrorist organizations and restoring them to the control of Assad’s army.
- The Russian Air Force’s activity has enabled the Syrian Army forces to “take a break” after fighting continuously for five years.
Main developments in Syria
This week, there have been no significant changes on the ground: southeast of Homs, the Syrian Air Force attacked ISIS positions and fortifications in the area of Al-Qaryatayn, a city that is now in the crosshairs of the Syrian Army. In the area of the Tishreen Dam, recently taken over by the Kurdish forces, and in the area east of Aleppo, ISIS continues to carry out guerrilla warfare against the Kurdish forces and the Syrian Army (detonating car bombs, firing rockets and mortar shells).
- On their official website, the Kurdish forces (YPG) posted a document entitled “The balance of power in the war against hostile groups in northern Syria in 2015”. In a post summarizing the fighting in 2015, the Kurdish forces claim to have carried out 453 operations during the year. In these operations, 5,875 people were killed, most of them apparently ISIS operatives. The post also details the weapons seized by the Kurdish forces during the fighting. According to the report, 680 Kurdish fighters were killed in these battles (The YPG’s official website, January 9, 2016).
- Fighting continued between ISIS and the Kurdish forces in the northeast Aleppo province near the Tishreen Dam, which was recently taken over from ISIS by the Kurds (with the support of local forces). Thirteen Kurdish YPG fighters were reportedly killed in clashes with ISIS operatives near the dam (Khatwa, January 8, 2016).
The area of the Kuweyres military airbase
- The Syrian Army continues in its efforts to establish its control over the area east of Aleppo. From its power base at the Kuweyres military airbase, the Syrian Army is pressuring ISIS and advancing northward, in order totake over the city of Al-Bab. ISIS, on its part, continues to carry out guerrilla warfare against the Syrian Army. This week, ISIS detonated a truck bomb against Syrian Army soldiers in the village of Ayishah, north of the airbase.
Homs province: the area of Al-Qaryatayn
- After taking over the village of Mheen, the Syrian Army began to exert pressure on ISIS’s forces in the city of Al-Qaryatayn, southeast of Homs. This week there were clashes there between the Syrian Army and ISIS operatives. Both sides suffered losses (Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), January 8, 2016). According to the Syrian News Agency report, the Syrian Army killed at least 13 ISIS operatives and destroyed vehicles (SANA, January 8, 2016). The Syrian Army’s activity was supported by the Syrian Air Force, which attacked ISIS positions and fortifications (Twitter, January 10, 2016).
Main developments in Iraq
- The Iraqi Prime Minister claimed that Iraq is the country that carries out most of the airstrikes against ISIS in Iraq. According to him, the US-led coalition countries carry out only around 40% of all the airstrikes. However, he noted that Iraq still needs foreign support (Sputnik, January 11, 2016). In this context, it was reported that the US State Department approved the sale of USD 800 million worth of military equipment to Iraq. The weapons to be sent to Iraq include anti-tank missiles, surface-to-air missiles, and auxiliary equipment. The weapons are intended for fighting against ISIS (Defense Talk, January 11, 2016).
The city of Ramadi
- The spokesman for the council of the Al-Anbar province claimed on January 11, 2016, that the entire city of Ramadi had been taken over from ISIS operatives. This was after fierce fighting against ISIS’s last bastions in the city (Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, January 11, 2016). On the other hand, according to security officials in Iraq, the Iraqi security forces continue to advance and to cleanse the city, which is still not fully controlled by the Iraqi government. It was reported that most of the residents were evacuated from the city, so as not to be injured during the fighting against ISIS. Among the civilians who were evacuated, 11 ISIS operatives were detained, who were trying to flee the city along with the evacuated families (Al-Hayat, January 10, 2016).
The area of Haditha
- In the area of the city of Haditha, northwest of Ramadi, fighting continues between ISIS and the Iraqi Army. The Iraqi forces reportedly took over the area of Al-Sha’i, south of Haditha. According to a spokesman for the Council of the Al-Anbar province, over the past few days dozens of ISIS operatives were killed in the fighting in the areas of Haditha, Al-Baghdadi and Barwana (Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, January 11, 2016). It seems, therefore, that the Iraqi Army is trying to establish control of cities and towns along the Euphrates River as a preliminary stage for regaining control over the Al-Anbar province (see map).
- According to a report by the Iraqi Army, a number of senior ISIS operatives were killed in airstrikes carried out in the area of Barwana, near Haditha:
- On January 6, 2016, the Iraqi Army announced the death of Thamer Mohammed Matlub Hussein al-Mahlawi, ISIS’s so-called war minister. He was killed along with three of his escorts, including another senior ISIS operative in the Al-Anbar province, codenamed Abu Adwan al-Rawi al-Mahlawi. Thamer al-Mahlawi was a former operative in Al-Qaeda and fought alongside Abu Mus’ab al-Zarqawi. He was recently appointed by ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi as commander of the Haditha area (alarabiya.net, January 6, 2016; Russia al-Youm, January 6, 2016).
- On January 8, 2016, the Iraqi Army announced the killing of ISIS Spokesman Abu Mohammad al-Adnani. (Al-Sumaria, January 7, 2016). At this stage, this report has not been verified. Taha Subhi Falaha, aka Abu Muhammad al-Adnani al-Shami, was senior ISIS operative of Syrian origin, who fought under Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi against the US Army in Iraq. He was arrested by the Americans and was in jail from 2005 to 2010. In early 2013, he was appointed as head of operations and apparently also served on ISIS’s Shura Council. He currently serves as ISIS’s official spokesman. Al-Adnani was the one who announced (June 29, 2014) the establishment of the Islamic Caliphate in the territories conquered by ISIS in Syria and Iraq. According to a media report from November 2, 2014, he was wounded in an Iraqi Army airstrike in the Al-Qaim district, in the Al-Anbar province (All 4 Syria, November 2, 2014).
- According to a report from January 10, 2016, Assi Ali Mohammed Nasser al-Obeidi, aka Abu Omar al-Obeidi, was killed in an Iraqi Air Force airstrike. He served as the military commander of the Al-Jazeera region (the desert region between Syria and Iraq) and as the second deputy of ISIS’s leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Assi al-Obeidi was reportedly staying in Syria recently and was summoned to aid in the fighting in the area of Haditha. Al-Obeidi was a colonel in the Iraqi Republican Guard during the rule of Saddam Hussein. He became acquainted with ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi when the two men were incarcerated in the same American prison. After escaping from prison, he joined the ranks of ISIS (Al-Naba News Agency, January 9, 2016; RT, January 10, 2016).
- The Iraqi announcement about the killing of the three men, mainly Abu Mohammad al-Adnani, requires verification.
- ISIS’s terrorist activity in Baghdad and its environs continues. This week, a car bomb exploded near a shopping center in the area of Al-Ghadeer, in eastern Baghdad. According to the reports, 18 people were killed and dozens were wounded. Some of the shoppers at the mall were reportedly taken hostage by ISIS operatives. Fighters from Iraq counterterrorism force broke into the building, killed two ISIS operatives and released the hostages. Some of the perpetrators of the attack managed to escape (Al-Arabiya; BBC; Aamaq; Reuters, January 11, 2016).
- In the area of Al-Miqdadiyah, northeast of Baghdad, there were two attacks. As a result, several dozen people were killed and around 50 were wounded. One attack was carried out by a suicide bomber armed with an explosive belt, and the other was carried out using a car bomb (Al-Ahed; Al-Sumaria, January 11, 2016). ISIS claimed responsibility for the attacks.
Egypt and the Sinai Peninsula
- During the week, Operation Martyr’s Right continued, with intensive activity by the Egyptian security forces against ISIS targets. According to a security source, the Egyptian Army destroyed a warehouse in southern Rafah containing large quantities of weapons (Al-Watan, January 7, 2016). The Egyptian security forces also killed some 20 operatives of ISIS’s Sinai province in southern Sheikh Zuweid, detained 25 operatives and confiscated a large quantity of equipment and weapons. In southern Rafah, the security forces killed Mohammed Ramzi Al-Aati, a Palestinian ISIS operative who had infiltrated from the Gaza Strip into Sinai through the tunnels in order to join ISIS (Veto portal, January 8, 2016).
- Despite the intensive activity, ISIS’s Sinai province continued its guerrilla activities against the Egyptian security forces, some of which were foiled by the security forces:
- On January 11, 2016, the Egyptian security forces blew up two IEDs on the airport road in southern Al-Arish (Twitter, January 11, 2016).
- On January 9, 2016, an officer and four soldiers were wounded in an explosion of two police APCs in central and southern Al-Arish (Sky News, January 9, 2016).
- On January 8, 2016, an officer and a soldier were wounded in an explosion of an APC in western Rafah (Al-Watan, January 8, 2016).
- On January 8, 2016, ISIS operatives detonated an IED against an Egyptian Army APC near Karam al-Kawadis, east of Al-Arish (Akhbar al-Muslimeen, January 9, 2016).
- On January 8, 2016, the Egyptian security forces reported that they had prevented a terrorist attack using a car bomb in a village south of Rafah (Al-Watan, January 8, 2016).
- On January 7, 2016, the main gas pipeline of Al-Arish, in the western part of the city, was blown up. Based on the initial investigation, ISIS’s Sinai province was behind the blast. There were no casualties (Al-Youm al-Sabea, January 7, 2016). ISIS’s Sinai province later published a claim of responsibility for blowing up the pipeline (Twitter account affiliated with ISIS’s Sinai province, January 7, 2016).
- On January 7, 2016, the Egyptian Army foiled an attempted attack on an Army outpost in southern Rafah. Three gunmen were killed and eight others were injured (Sky News, January 7, 2016).
- On January 7, 2016, ISIS operatives launched several rockets at an Egyptian Army force in Al-Arish (Akhbar al-Muslimeen, January 8, 2016).ISIS documented the incident (shortwiki.org file-sharing website, January 8, 2016).
- On January 5, 2016, ISIS’s Sinai province claimed responsibility for the killing of a journalist named Alaa Ahmed Salim in northern Sinai. The journalist was abducted by ISIS several days earlier. His body was found with signs of gunshot wounds east of Al-Arish (Veto portal, January 5, 2016).
- In Egypt itself and in southern Sinai, there were a number of attacks directed against tourists and members of the security forces. ISIS was apparently behind these attacks:
- On January 7, 2016,around 15 masked gunmen opened fire at a tour bus waiting for a group of Israeli Arabs (from Um al-Fahm, Kafr Qassem and Jaffa), who were touring in the Giza area of Egypt. The bus was empty. There were no casualties. Some of the shooters were caught by the Egyptian authorities. ISIS’s Egypt province claimed responsibility for shooting at the bus. According to a statement issued by ISIS, the attack was carried out in response to ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s call to attack Jews everywhere (Aamaq, January 8, 2016; Akhbar al-Muslimeen, January 8, 2016; Al-Youm al-Sabea, January 7, 2016).
- January 9, 2016: Ahmed Fahmy, head of the traffic police in Al-Munib (south of Giza) and another policeman were killed when shots were fired at their car (Al-Masry al-Youm, January 9, 2016). ISIS Egypt province claimed responsibility for the shooting (ISIS-affiliated Twitter account, January 9, 2016).
- On January 9, 2016, two armed men entered the Bella Vista Hotel in Hurghada, southern Sinai, and fired at tourists who were there. Two tourists from Denmark and Germany were reportedly injured (Sky News, January 9, 2016). The two gunmen were killed by the security forces. The gunmen were wearing explosive belts (Al-Arabiya, January 9, 2016). According to security sources, the gunmen had an ISIS flag in their possession and they chanted Allah Akbar while breaking into the hotel (Sky News, January 9, 2016).
The global jihad in other countries
- At least 70 people were killed and more than 200 were injured in a car bomb attack at the police training camp in the city of Zliten (located between Tripoli and Misrata in northwestern Libya). ISIS’s Tripoli province claimed responsibility for the attack.
- A suicide bomber driving a booby-trapped oil tanker blew himself up at the entrance to the camp in the morning, during roll call. In its claim of responsibility, ISIS notes that the attack was carried out by an operative codenamed Abdullah al-Muhajer, and that the attacks will continue until all of Libya is conquered (Al-Wasat, January 7, 2016; Libyan interior ministry website, January 7, 2016; aljazeera.net, January 7, 2016; Akhbar Libya 24, January 7, 2016; Akhbar Dawlat al-Islam, January 8, 2016).
- ISIS posted a video that it claims documents the crash of a fighter plane belonging to the Libyan Army, which supports the Tobruk government, in the city of Benghazi. ISIS claims to have shot down the plane on January 4, 2016, using anti-aircraft fire (Aamaq, January 6, 2016).
- On the morning of January 12, 2016, there was a powerful explosion in Sultan Ahmet Square in Istanbul, near the Blue Mosque. According to initial reports, 10 people, all of them tourists, were killed in the blast, and 15 others were wounded. Nine of the dead were German. So far, no organization has claimed responsibility for the attack. According to the Turkish prime minister, the attack was carried out by an ISIS suicide bomber. In the assessment of the Turkish security services, the terrorist was Nabil Fadli, 28, who was born in Saudi Arabia and stayed in Syria. They said he had recently crossed the border from Syria to Turkey as a refugee. Ahmet Square is one of Istanbul’s most famous tourist attractions, with many tourist spots, and it is crowded most hours of the day.
- On the afternoon of January 7, 2016, a man whose identity is unknown entered a police station in Paris’s 18th arrondissement, waving a meat cleaver and shouting Allah Akbar. Fearing that he was wearing an explosive belt, the police shot and killed him. After he was shot, a team that examined him determined that the explosive belt he was wearing was not real. A letter with an ISIS flag printed on it was found in the terrorist’s possession, along with a note in Arabic claiming responsibility. This may be the latest in a long series of local attacks carried out in France and other Western countries, inspired by ISIS but not carried out by it.
The United States
- On a crosswalk in Philadelphia, a man dressed in a long white garment stormed a police car driven by a police officer and shot at him with a pistol. The police officer managed to shoot the assailant and injured him. After his arrest, the attacker said that he had acted for the sake of ISIS. According to the security tapes, he apparently intended to kill the police officer (CNN, January 9, 2016). This attack may also have been inspired by ISIS.
- According to an announcement by ISIS from January 7, 2016, its operatives stabbed a Christian missionary to death in the Jhenaidah District, about 132 km southwest of the capital Dhaka (Aamaq, January 7, 2016).
Counterterrorism and preventive activity
The United States
- US President Barack Obama has approved the establishment of a special task force to combat the propaganda machine operated by ISIS via the Internet. The task force will be called the Countering Violent Extremism Task Force. The establishment of the Task Force was announced after President Obama declared at the United Nations General Assembly that ISIS’s brainwashing activity must be stopped and ISIS must be prevented from recruiting operatives. The sum of USD 5 million has been allocated for the program (Daily Star, January 9, 2016). Senior White House officials and US President’s Homeland Security team met with experts in Silicon Valley to discuss ways of fighting terrorism and violent extremism on the Internet (White House website, January 8, 2016).
- The federal police have detained two Iraqi-born Palestinian migrants accused of having links with ISIS in Syria. One was detained in California and the other in Texas. One of them had experience in fighting against the Assad regime in Syria and immigrated to the US in 2012. He then left the United States to fight and returned to the United States in January 2014. The intention of the two men was to go to Syria. It is unclear how they met. To do this, they made use of social networks (AP, January 8, 2016).
- John Kelly, commander of the Southern Command of the US Army, said that last year, around 150 radical Islamic operatives left the Caribbean to join the fighting in the ranks of ISIS in Iraq and Syria. Some of them have been killed. He expressed concern about the impact that those operatives could have when they return to their homes. According to him, it is enough for a small number of them to carry out terrorist attacks. He said that the danger in the Caribbean region is greater because there are no law enforcement agencies there like those in the US. He said the United States is doing its best to help these countries (caribbean360.com, January 10, 2016).
- The investigation of the attack carried out by ISIS operatives in Ankara in October 2015, in which 102 people died, has revealed that 450 people joined the ranks of ISIS from the city of Ankara alone. About a hundred of them were trained to manufacture IEDs. The investigation also revealed that eight terrorist squads operated in Ankara concurrently. They were preparing to carry out attacks at entertainment centers, the residential complex of the Navy headquarters, at the military school, the Ja’fari sect’s mosque, and elsewhere. Two operatives were detained on suspicion of collecting information about entertainment spots on New Year’s Eve with the intention of carrying out an attack at that time (sozcu.com.tr, January 9, 2016).
- In a police operation carried out by the Turkish security forces in the province of Mersin in southern Turkey (after the attack in Istanbul), 31 people were detained on suspicion of having ties with ISIS. The detainees included 25 Syrians (Today’s Zaman, January 13, 2016).
The United Arab Emirates
- According to a report from January 10, 2016, the State Security Court in Abu Dhabi imposed the death sentence on a United Arab Emirates citizen who had joined ISIS. Two other citizens were sentenced to seven years in prison for helping him join ISIS. A fourth defendant was sentenced to three years in prison (Al-Arabiya, January 10, 2016).
The battle for hearts and minds
Al-Qaeda’s threat to carry out attacks in the West
- On January 7, 2016, Al-Qaeda’s Andalus province (i.e., Spain) issued a video in which its operatives threaten to carry out attacks in Naples, Rome and Madrid. The video shows a number of suicide bombing attacks carried out by Al-Qaeda operatives. It also includes sermons by operatives encouraging viewers to die for Allah and to carry out Hijrah, i.e., to join the ranks of Al-Qaeda in the places where it operates (Twitter page affiliated with Al-Qaeda, January 9, 2016).
ISIS publishes online guide for young people interested in joining its ranks
- According to a report from January 7, 2016, an ISIS operative codenamed Abu Saeed al-Baritani (i.e., the British) or Supermarket Jihadi has published an English-language guide for people who join ISIS. The guide is called: Advice for Those Doing Hijrah. It contains a large quantity of information on various topics, including: first aid, keeping fit, learning Arabic, and even advice to readers not to tell their parents about their intention to join ISIS, and to tell them only after the fact (foreigndesknews.com, January 7, 2016).