Gunfire directed at Syrian Army positions west of Deir al-Zor (Akhbar al-Muslimeen, February 1, 2016).
Gunfire directed at Syrian Army positions west of Deir al-Zor (Akhbar al-Muslimeen, February 1, 2016).
The truck exploding in the village (Dawlat Al-Haqq, January 28, 2016).
The site of the suicide bombing attack (SANA, January 31, 2016).
ISIS operatives showing the wreckage of the aircraft (Aamaq, January 31, 2016).
Weapons seized by the Egyptian Army in central Sinai (Al-Masry al-Youm, January 30, 2016).
Execution of members of the oil facilities guard unit.
ISIS operative aiming a machine gun in Benghazi’s Al-Saberi neighborhood (Justpaste.it, January 29, 2016).
ISIS operative on a boat that fell into ISIS’s hands in the town of Harawa (dump.to file-sharing website, June 6, 2015).
Children training at the camp, probably in eastern Afghanistan (The Long War Journal, January 28, 2016).
The perpetrators of the attack in Paris: ISIS’s warning of similar attacks, addressed to Western countries (Dabiq 13, January 2016).
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, there were scores of airstrikes using fighter planes, attack aircraft, and UAVs. In Iraq, the airstrikes were concentrated in Ramadi and its environs, and in Syria, they were concentrated in Al-Hasakah and Al-Raqqah. Following are the main airstrikes (according to the US Department of Defense):
- Syria– the airstrikes were concentrated in the following areas: Al-Hasakah, Al-Raqqah, Manbij, Palmyra and Ain Issa. The airstrikes targeted ISIS headquarters, operatives, buildings, vehicles, battle positions and an IED manufacturing facility, among other things.
- In Iraq, the airstrikes were concentrated in the following areas: As’ad, Hawija, Habbaniyah, Mosul, Ramadi, Sinjar, Hit, Baghdad and Kirkuk. The airstrikes targeted ISIS buildings, operatives, artillery, communications networks, roads used by ISIS operatives, vehicles (including car bombs), bunkers and battle positions, among other things.
The United States
- US Secretary of Defense Ashton Cartersaid that acting on instructions from US President Barack Obama, the US would intensify its activities in Syria and Iraq in order to accelerate the war against ISIS. The objective is to retake the two major cities of Mosul and Al-Raqqah, in Iraq and Syria, from ISIS in the coming year (NRP, January 29, 2016).
- Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte announced that the Dutch Air Force would expand its operations. He said they would begin to carry out airstrikes in Syria as well, which would continue until July 1, 2016. Until now, four Dutch F-16s operated only in Iraq (Reuters, January 29, 2016). The US congratulated the Dutch government on its decision.
Russian involvement in the civil war in Syria
- During the week, Russian aircraft attacked a large number of targets in the Aleppo province, mainly around the cities of Jarabulus, Marea, Manbij and A’zaz, north of Aleppo. They also attacked targets in the areas of Hama, Idlib, Homs, Daraa, Al-Raqqah and Latakia. According to the Russian Defense Minister, last week the Air Force carried out 468 sorties in Syria, hitting 1,354 terrorist targets.
- Turkey claims that a Russian aircraft entered its airspace on January 29, 2016, and has demanded that Russia stop doing so (Sky News; Al-Jazeera, January 29, 2016). According to the Turkish Foreign Ministry, before entering Turkish airspace, the Russian pilot was warned several times in English and Russian (Turkish Foreign Ministry website, January 29, 2016).
Main developments in Syria
In the area east of Aleppo, the Syrian Army continues its efforts toadvance towards the city of Al-Bab while establishing its control over the Kuweyres military airbase. On the other hand, ISIS continues to deploy suicide bombers against the Syrian Army. In Deir al-Zor and its outskirts, fighting continues between the Syrian Army and ISIS, with no significant developments on the ground. South of Damascus, ISIS carried out a combined mass-casualty suicide bombing attack in Al-Set Zaynab, a Shiite holy site. The attack is a blow to Iran and Hezbollah in terms of prestige, since they have turned the protection of the holy shrine of Al-Set Zaynab into a source of legitimacy for their fighting in Syria.
- Fighting continues in the city of Deir al-Zor and its outskirts. According to a report from January 30, 2016, the Syrian Army killed many ISIS operatives and destroyed two ISIS vehicles in the Al-Rashidiyah neighborhood, in the city center. The Syrian Army also reportedly destroyed ISIS positions in the Al-Huweiqa neighborhood in the north of the city, and hit other ISIS targets in the northwest of the city (SANA, January 30, 2016). On the other hand, according to a report by ISIS, two suicide bombers blew up two APC bombs, one after the other, against concentrations of Syrian Army forces in the neighborhoods of Al-Huweiqa and Al-Rashidiyah (Dawlat Al-Haqq, January 29, 2016).
- On February 1, 2016, ISIS published photos documenting gunfire directed at Syrian Army positions west of Deir al-Zor (Akhbar al-Muslimeen, February 1, 2016).
The area of Kuweyres
- The Syrian Army continued to establish its control in the area of the Kuweyres military airbase.On January 29-30, 2016, Syrian troops retook two more villages west of the airbase from ISIS, thereby expanding their control in the area (Islamic World New@A7_Mirza Twitter account, January 29-30, 2016). ISIS, on its part, carried out a number of car bomb attacks near the airbase. Several dozen Syrian Army soldiers were reported killed (Local Coordination Committees, January 29, 2016).
- As part of efforts to advance towards the city of Al-Bab, the Syrian Army took over the town of Tall Hanash, to the south of the city, from ISIS. The Syrian Army received air support from the Russians. Russian aircraft attacked targets in the city of Al-Bab, in ISIS’s hands, and in the town of Tadif, south of the city (ARA News, January 27, 2016).The Kuweyres military airbase, the town of Tadif and the city of Al-Bab (Google Maps).
The area north of Aleppo
- On January 28, 2016, there was an exchange of fire between the Turkish Army and ISIS in the area of the Turkish-Syrian border, near the town of Jarabulus, under ISIS’s control. The incident began when ISIS operatives fired at a Turkish Army patrol moving along the border across from Jarabulus. In response, the Turkish Army forces attacked ISIS with antitank and artillery fire (ARA News, January 28, 2016).
- According to a report by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) from January 31, 2016, following the advance by the Kurdish forces (in the area of the Tishreen Dam), the area under ISIS’s control near the Turkish border has been reduced. According to the report, ISIS currently controls a strip just 70 km in length along the border between Syria and Turkey. Conversely, in the beginning of 2015, ISIS controlled a strip of 250 km in length along the Turkish border.
- According to the report, the strip that ISIS controls (west of Jarabulus) contains three unofficial border crossings between Syria and Turkey (SOHR website, January 31, 2016):
- A military crossing located near Al-Halwaniyah
- A crossing used by operatives, located near the village of Al-Haji Wali
- A crossing used by civilians, located near the villages of Al-Sheikh Ya’aqub and Ayasha
(See map for the location of the crossings).
Terrorist attack at the Shiite holy site of Al-Set Zaynab
- On January 31, 2016, a combined suicide bombing attack was carried in the village of Al-Set Zaynab, south of Damascus, the Shiite holy site of the shrine of Al-Set Zaynab. Nearly 70 people were killed. The attack began when a car bomb exploded at a bus parking lot. Then two suicide bombers blew themselves up with explosive belts among residents who had come to assist the victims of the first explosion (SOHR website, February 1, 2016; SANA, January 31, 2016).
- The Damascus province of the Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack.According to the statement, the attack was directed against “Shiite infidels” so that they would know that they are not protected against attacks by ISIS (Aamaq News Agency, January 31, 2016). The attack is a blow to Iran and Hezbollah in terms of prestige, since the shrine is a Shiite holy site whose protection has become a symbol and a source of religious and political legitimacy for the military involvement of Hezbollah and Iran in the civil war in Syria.
There are dozens of sites in Syria that are sacred to the Shiites, the most prominent of which is the shrine of Al-Set Zaynab (Al-Sayyida Zaynab), the daughter of Imam Ali bin Abi Talib, the founder of Shiite Islam, and the granddaughter of the Prophet Muhammad. The shrine is a Shiite holy site and a pilgrimage site for Shiites from around the world, particularly from Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, the Gulf States, India, Pakistan and Afghanistan. The shrine of Al-Set Zaynab is located in the heart of the Sunni region, around 10 km south of Damascus. A “tourism industry” of Shiite pilgrims from Iran, Iraq and Lebanon has developed around the shrine. At the heart of this “tourism industry” is the village of Al-Set Zaynab. The shrine compound in the village is protected by Iranian operatives and by members of militias from around the Shiite world that are handled by Iran.
Ceasefire in the Hajr Aswad neighborhood and the Al-Yarmouk refugee camp
- A six-month ceasefire agreement has reportedly been signed between the Al-Nusra Front and ISIS in the Al-Hajr al-Aswad neighborhood and the Al-Yarmouk refugee camp. The agreement states that ISIS operatives will withdraw to their outposts in the area of Al-Hajr al-Aswad and will hand over an outpost and a field hospital in the Al-Yarmouk refugee camp to Al-Nusra Front operatives. There will also be an exchange of prisoners between the two sides (Al-Nashra, February 2, 2016).
Main developments in Iraq
- The Iraqi Army continues its efforts to cleanse the city of Ramadi from the presence of ISIS operatives. According to a report from January 31, 2016, the Iraqi Army entered the Al-Sajariya neighborhood, in eastern Ramadi. In addition, the Iraqi Army has reportedly advanced in the area of the Al-Sufiya neighborhood. The Iraqi Army’s cleansing activity was carried out with the support of coalition airstrikes (Al-Sumaria, January 31, 2016). ISIS, on its part, reported that on January 30, 2016, it had repelled an Iraqi Army attack in the Albu Ghanim neighborhood in the eastern part of the city (Akhbar al-Muslimeen, January 30, 2016).
- ISIS continues its guerrilla warfare against the Iraqi forces in the area of Ramadi and elsewhere in the Al-Anbar province:
- The Iraqi Army reported that it had destroyed a tractor bomb in the Al-Sajariya neighborhood in an airstrike, thereby preventing an attack against its forces (Al-Sumaria, January 31, 2016).
- On January 29, 2016, ISIS announced that it had detonated IEDs, killing 10 Iraqi soldiers and destroying several trucks near the Ein al-Assad military base northwest of the city of Hit (Aamaq, January 29, 2016).
- On January 30, 2016, ISIS reported that its operatives had intercepted an American drone designed to gather intelligence. The aircraft was shot down above Al-Karmah, northeast of Fallujah (Aamaq, January 31, 2016).
- According to reports spread by ISIS’s opponents, the situation in Mosul is difficult. According to the reports, the city’s residents are not allowed to leave the city and there is a severe food shortage (Fars News, January 30, 2016; Shafaq News, January 31, 2016). In response to these reports, ISIS published photos designed to show a reality of normal daily life in the city (Akhbar al-Muslimeen, January 30, 2016).
Egypt and the Sinai Peninsula
- During the week, the Egyptian security forces continued their activity against ISIS targets. In this context, intensive security activity was carried out, mainly in the area of Sheikh Zuweid, Rafah and Al-Arish (Al-Watan, January 30, 2016). Egyptian security forces killed eight terrorist operatives and seized IEDs, hand grenades, automatic rifles and walkie-talkies west of Sheikh Zuweid. According to the report, these operatives were trying to plant IEDs near the highway between Al-Arish and Rafah (Al-Masry al-Youm, January 30, 2016).
- According to a report from January 30, 2016, the Egyptian Army discovered in central Sinai a weapons stockpile belonging to a “terrorist organization”, probably ISIS’s Sinai province. The stockpile included, among other things, two RPG rocket launchers, 18 rockets, an anti-aircraft machine gun, and ammunition (Al-Masry al-Youm, January 31, 2016).
- According to the Egyptian security forces, Attallah Abu Reteima, deputy commander of ISIS’s Sinai province, was killed in clashes with operatives of ISIS’s Sinai province on Mount al-Haram (in the central Sinai Peninsula). According to them, he was in charge of transferring logistical aid to ISIS operatives in Rafah and Sheikh Zuweid, transferring operatives, and storing weapons and explosives (Al-Bawaba, January 27, 2016).
- The Egyptian security forces have adopted a series of preventive measures following the proliferation of IEDs used against them. These measures included placing security cameras on the main and side streets of cities in northern Sinai. Security cameras have also been installed at checkpoints. In addition, the Egyptian forces have reportedly obtained vehicles equipped with advanced means for neutralizing IEDs (Al-Masry al-Youm, January 31, 2016.
- Despite the Egyptian security operations, ISIS continued to carry out attacks, mainly planting IEDs against Egyptian armored vehicles carrying out security activity. Several noteworthy incidents:
- January 31, 2016 – Two policemen were killed and several policemen were injured in an IED explosion during a police patrol in southern Rafah (Al-Bawaba, January 31, 2016).
- January 29, 2016 – ISIS’s Sinai province claimed responsibility for blowing up a police armored vehicle. According to the announcement, the blast killed eight policemen, including two officers, one of whom was the head of the investigations unit at the Al-Arish police station (ISIS-affiliated Twitter account, January 29, 2016).
- January 29, 2016 – Security forces neutralized an IED consisting of around 100 kg of explosives, planted on the Al-Arish to Qantarah highway (Al-Watan, January 26, 2016).
- January 29, 2016 – Two officers were killed and several soldiers were injured in an IED explosion near an armored vehicle in Al-Arish (Al-Youm al-Sabea, January 29, 2016).
- January 29, 2016 – Four soldiers were injured, including a senior officer, by an IED explosion near an armored vehicle in southwest Sheikh Zuweid (Rassad, January 29, 2016).
- January 26, 2016 – An officer and four soldiers were killed and 12 others were injured when an IED exploded, hitting an Egyptian Army armored vehicle in southern Al-Arish (Sky News, January 26, 2016).
- ISIS’s Egypt province claimedresponsibility for an attack carried out at the Al-Munib checkpoint in the city of Giza. According to the statement, the attack killed five members of the Egyptian security forces who were manning the checkpoint, including an officer (ISIS-affiliated Twitter account, February 1, 2016).
The global jihad in other countries
- According to various Libyan media reports, ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi hassent Abu Sufyan al-Ghazali, aka Abu Omar the Iraqi, to head ISIS’s Libya branch. Abu Omar the Iraqi, originally from Tikrit, is considered to be a close crony of Al-Baghdadi’s ever since the two men were incarcerated together in Camp Bucca in Iraq. According to reports, Abu Omar the Iraqi specializes in assembling IEDs and came to Libya accompanied by 30 senior ISIS operatives. Muhammad al-Naas, deputy defense minister in Libya’s Salvation Government, confirmed the report at a press conference that he held (Ajwa.net, January 21, 2016; Al-Bawaba News, January 28, 2016; Rai al-Youm, January 24, 2016). ISIS’s leadership sending senior operatives to Libya to take command is a phenomenon familiar to us from the past.
Raid in the area south of Ra’s Lanuf
- ISIS’s media foundation in the Barqa province published photos documenting a raid using ATVs, carried out by ISIS against a checkpoint in the area of Marada, where there are oil fields (30 km south of the port of Ra’s Lanuf). The photos show ISIS operatives preparing to attack. The photos also show three members of the oil facilities guard unit, who were seized and executed in the area of Nofaliya(justpaste.it file-sharing website, January 28, 2016; Al-Wasat portal, January 22, 2016; Al-Wasat portal, January 28, 2016; ISIS-affiliated Facebook page, January 30, 2016).
- According to Sirte Mayor Mukhtar Khalifa Al-Maadany, ISIS has taken control of all the money in the city’s banks. He said ISIS took control of all the money even before taking over the city. The sum in question is around fifty million Libyan dinars. He also said that in consequence, the city’s residents are having trouble withdrawing money from the banks (Al-Wafd, January 27, 2016). According to previous reports, upon entering Sirte (February 2015),ISIS operatives took over the local banks and confiscated tens of millions of dollars.
- ISIS summoned Sirte’s traffic policemen and ordered them to return to work and to transfer the fines that they collect to ISIS. ISIS also reportedly seized all government vehicles in the city (Al-Bawaba Ifriqya, January 26, 2016). ISIS is known to have taken over the government institutions in Sirte and used them to establish its control in the area.
- On January 29, 2016, ISIS’s media foundation in the Tripoli province released photos from a course in Islamic law (Sharia) held by ISIS for the residents of Sirte (justpaste.it file-sharing website, January 29, 2016).
- On January 29, 2016, ISIS’s media foundation in the Barqa province released photos documenting battles waged by ISIS operatives in Benghazi’s Al-Saberi neighborhood against the forces of Khalifa Haftar, commander of the Libyan Army that supports the Tobruk government (justpaste.it file-sharing website, January 29, 2016).
- The scope of the Libyan Army’s presence in Benghazi and the extent of its control there are unclear. The city of Benghazi is controlled mainly by jihadi and Islamic factions. Some of them are affiliated with ISIS, some are affiliated with Al-Qaeda and some are independent. These factions are divided in their support for the rival governments and, at the same time, they are conducting power struggles amongst themselves.
ISIS’s maritime activity
- Vice Admiral Clive Johnstone, Commander of NATO’s Allied Maritime Command (MARCOM), warned that ISIS intended to expand its presence in the coastal cities in northern Libya.This is to enable ISIS to send booby-trapped speedboats to attack commercial and tourism targets in the Mediterranean Sea. According to VA Johnstone, ISIS is working to acquire speedboats to set up a maritime suicide bomber unit, which would operate against large tourist ships, cargo ships, oil rigs and warships. He said that all the intelligence reports indicated that ISIS was developing its (maritime) capabilities in Libya in order to obtain more advanced weapons (The Telegraph, January 28, 2016).
|ISIS controls a strip of about 260 km along the Libyan coast, where there are several ports and anchorages, including the port of Sirte. ISIS has circulated photos of patrol boats that fell into its hands when it took over Sirte and its surrounding areas. It is likely that ISIS is indeed trying to improve its maritime capabilities. This is in order to secure the ports and facilities under its control and possibly also to make use of its maritime capabilities in carrying out attacks against Libyan ports controlled by its enemies or against civilian and military targets in the Mediterranean Sea.|
- On Janury 29, 2016, ISIS announced that it had killed two Algerian soldiers and wounded four others in an IED explosion in the area of the Skikda groves, during an Algerian Army patrol (Aamaq, January 29, 2016). A local jihadi network that pledged allegiance to ISIS’s leader in September 2014 and became ISIS’s branch in the area was probably behind the attack. The network is known as “Supporters of the Caliphate Battalion” (Katibat Ansar al-Khilafah). It used to be called the “Unity of Allah Battalion” (Katibat al-Tawhid) and belonged to Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). The network operates in the Skikda ridges and numbered some 50 operatives last year (Algerian Al-Khabar, May 11, 2015; aljazeera.net, May 13, 2015).
- The “Aden Abin province” of the Islamic State in Yemen claimed responsibility for a blast which occurred near the presidential palace in Aden, the residence of the Yemeni president.According to the announcement, the attack was carried out by an ISIS operative codenamed Abu Hanifa the Dutchman, who detonated a car bomb near the presidential palace, the residence of Yemeni President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi. According to ISIS, around 10 presidential palace security guards were killed, including several officers, and around 20 were injured (Aamaq, January 28, 2016).
- According to a report from January 29, 2016, four people were killed and 18 wounded in a terrorist attack carried out in a Shiite mosque in the city of Al-Ahsa, in eastern Saudi Arabia (around 305 km east of the Saudi capital, Riyadh). A suicide bomber blew himself up with an explosive belt when he was stopped by security guards for inspection at the entrance to the mosque. Another terrorist wearing an explosive belt opened fire but was arrested (Al-Arabiya TV, January 29, 2016).
- The Saudi Interior Ministry announced that the perpetrators of the attack at the mosque were Abdul Rahman Abdullah Suleiman al-Tuwaijri, a Saudi national, and Talha Hisham Muhammad Abduh, an Egyptian national (Al-Arabiya, January 30, 2016; CNN in Arabic, February 1, 2016). At this stage, the identity of the organization that carried out the attack is unknown. It can be assumed that it was ISIS, which frequently carries out terrorist attacks against Shiite places of worship.
- The Khorasan province, ISIS’s branch in Afghanistan and Pakistan, reported the opening of a new training camp for training teenage boys.ISIS’s media foundation released a video entitled “Camp of the Lion Cubs of the Caliphate”. The video shows a training camp where boys train. The boys shown in the video are very young, and most of them are armed. It is not clear where the training center is located, but it is apparently in eastern Afghanistan. In addition to this training camp, there are at least three other training camps in the region (The Long War Journal, January 28, 2016).
Counterterrorism and preventive activity
Operatives passing through Turkey to join ISIS, and Russian preventive measures
- According to the advisor to the head of the committee on terrorism in Russia, there is an organized infrastructure in Turkey whose purpose is to send new fighters to ISIS. According to him, the new fighters pass through Istanbul. The fighters are taken by taxi to safe houses, where they meet with a representative of ISIS. They fill out forms and undergo a security check. In the event of suspicion, the would-be fighter is isolated, punished and executed. Russia’s intelligence and legal authorities know how Russian citizens join the ranks of ISIS. Thanks to preventive measures adopted by the authorities, 100 Russian citizens have been prevented from joining the ranks of ISIS in Syria and Iraq (TASS, January 29, 2016).
The battle for hearts and minds
New issue of the organ Dabiq
- Issue No. 13 of Dabiq, ISIS’s English-language organ, came out on January 19, 2016. The issue summarizes ISIS’s activities in the past month. Below are some topics that are covered by the issue:
- Criticism of Shiite Islam and Iran:Two articles in the issue were devoted to the topic. One article, entitled “Know Your Enemy,” depicts Iran as the modern incarnation of the “infidel Safavid regime” (the Persian regime in the 16th century). The second article compares Shiites and Jews and says that Shiites should be treated like Jews.
- Criticism of Saudi Arabia:The article calls on readers to carry out jihad against Saudi Arabia in retaliation for the execution of dozens of jihad operatives (mainly Al-Qaeda operatives). The article also criticizes Al-Qaeda’s leader’s reaction to the execution of these operatives, as he called to attack the West rather than Saudi Arabia.
- Threat against the West: An article praising the deadly attack in Florida, which mentions the terrorist attack in Paris. The article presents the terrorist attack in Paris as an example of why Western countries should be careful (of ISIS).
Some historians claim that Al-Set Zaynab was buried in Egypt, while others claim that she was buried in northern Iraq. The accepted opinion is that she died in Damascus and was buried south of the city.
Abin is a province in southern Yemen near the city of Aden. ISIS has a presence in the city of Aden and in the Abin province, and is active there.