Spotlight on Global Jihad
ISIS video documenting the destruction caused to the ISIS-controlled town of Qayyarah, 65 km south of Mosul. According to ISIS, the destruction was caused by a US Air Force airstrike (Aamaq, May 7, 2016).
The Russian concert in Palmyra (Russian Defense Ministry website, eng.mil).
ISIS suicide bomber codenamed Abu Ibrahim Al-Mayadeen, who carried out a suicide bombing attack against the Syrian Army in the Al-Tahtouh neighborhood.
Machine-gun fire at Iraqi Army positions north of the city of Ramadi.
Shaker Wahib, an ISIS commander in the Al-Anbar Province, who was killed in a US airstrike (Al-Sumaria, May 6, 2016).
Abu Yahya al-Homsi: Expressing the hope that ISIS operatives in Sinai will be the first to fight against the Jews (drive.google.com, May 7, 2016)
Preparations for the attack on Abu Qarin (justpaste.it, May 8, 2016)
Operatives of the ISIS network killed in Wadi Nu’man. Two of them were killed in a suicide bombing attack and two were killed by the Saudi security forces (Al-Arabiya TV, May 6, 2016).
Main events of the week
Efforts to stabilize the ceasefire
- Russian and US efforts to stabilize the ceasefire in Aleppo continue: on May 5, a 48-hour ceasefire in the Aleppo Province went into effect. The Russian Defense Ministry and the ceasefire coordination center in Hmeymim announced the extension of the ceasefires in Aleppo and north of Latakia for an additional 72 hours (Conflicts, May 5, 2016). Syria announced the extension of the ceasefire in Aleppo for 48 additional hours, beginning on May 10 (AP, May 9, 2016). US spokespersons welcomed the extension of the ceasefire in Aleppo but noted that the aim was to reach a stable ceasefire throughout Syria.
- Sergei Kurylenko, head of the Russian coordination center in Hmeymim, said that the US had managed to persuade opposition groups to maintain the lull and that the American side and the Russian side have developed an effective mechanism for supervising the ceasefire. According to him, the Russian coordination center is in daily contact with the American coordination center in Amman (Sputnik, May 4, 2016). It was also reported that a Russian-American ceasefire coordination center has been established in Geneva, to exchange up-to-date information and to provide an immediate response in the event of a violation in Syria (TASS News Agency, May 4, 2016).
The US-led campaign against ISIS
The ongoing airstrikes
- The US-led international coalition continued to carry out airstrikes in Iraq and Syria against ISIS targets. During the week, many dozens of airstrikes were carried out against ISIS targets in Iraq. The airstrikes were concentrated in the areas of Baiji, Fallujah, Hit, Mosul, Sinjar, Tal Afar, Baghdadi, and Kisik. In Syria, the airstrikes were concentrated in the areas of Deir al-Zor, Marea (north of Aleppo), and Palmyra.
Russia’s involvement in the fighting in Syria
- Russian Air Force planes continued to attack targets of ISIS and additional organizations throughout Syria. Inter alia, targets were attacked in the area of Aleppo, including Khan Tuman and the area of the Al-Sha’ir oil field, west of Palmyra (where battles were waged last week between the Syrian Army and the Al-Nusra Front and ISIS, see below).
Main developments in Syria
The Aleppo area
- After several days of fighting, Jaysh al-Fatah, an umbrella framework of rebel organizations led by the Al-Nusra Front, announced that its operatives had completely taken over Khan Tuman (Khatwa News Agency, May 6, 2016). The Syrian Army and Shiite militias fighting alongside it retreated to the north (Dimashq al-Aan, May 6, 2016). The Syrian regime forces, with the support of Hezbollah and the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, are now preparing for a counterattack to retake Khan Tuman (Syria Mubasher, May 8, 2016).
- According to Iranian media reports, 15 fighters of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards were killed and taken prisoner in the fighting in Khan Tuman. According to another Iranian report, at least 50 Iranian Qods Force soldiers were killed in the fighting in Khan Tuman (Orient, May 8, 2016). According to a senior member of the Iranian Parliament, the rebel organizations captured six Iranian soldiers in Khan Tuman (Zaman al-Wasl, May 9, 2016). According to another report, five Hezbollah operatives and two Afghan fighters were captured by the rebel organizations (Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), May 9, 2016; Sky News in Arabic, May 9, 2016).
Clashes between ISIS and the Turkish Army
- Clashes continued this week between ISIS and the Turkish Army north of Aleppo, near the Syrian-Turkish border. The Turkish Army attacked ISIS targets in the ISIS-controlled town of Soran (about 18 km southeast of Kilis). Special Forces of the Turkish Army carried out an operation on Syrian territory to destroy ISIS missile launchers that threaten the city of Kilis (dozens of rockets fired by ISIS from Syrian territory have fallen on Kilis). The operation was carried out in coordination with the international coalition forces (Yeni Shafaq; Al-Durar al-Shamiya, May 8, 2016). The Turkish President Erdoğan said that the international coalition had left Turkey alone in the battle against ISIS and that no country was paying as heavy a price as Turkey (Al-Arabiya, May 9, 2016).
Battles in the oil and gas fields west of Palmyra
- Following the takeover of the city of Palmyra, the fighting is now centered on the oil and gas fields to the west of the city. On May 5 and 6, 2016, ISIS managed to take control of the Al-Sha’ir oil field. The Syrian Army’s attempt to advance to the oil field from the north was blocked by ISIS (Khatwa News Agency, May 5 and 6, 2016). At the same time, ISIS managed to take over a number of Syrian Army outposts in the area of the Al-Mahr gas field (Local Coordination Committees, May 6, 2016). According to an announcement issued by ISIS, after fierce battles, its operatives infiltrated the Al-Mahr gas field and took over half of it (Haqq Islamic News Agency, May 6, 2016). The battles in the oil and gas fields are still ongoing.
The Al-Sha’ir and Al-Mahr oil and gas fields are the most developed fields in Syria. There are many other gas fields in the area. All together, they provide about 45% of Syria’s crude gas production. Several times in the past, ISIS managed to take over oil and gas fields, but was driven out (Carnegie Institute website, USA, May 8, 2015). In the ITIC’s assessment, the Syrian regime will invest an effort in cleansing the area of the oil and gas fields from ISIS operatives, thus ensuring a future source of income and territorial contiguity in the area east of Homs (Palmyra-Al-Qaryatayn-Al-Sha’ir).
Russian concert in Palmyra
- To mark the liberation of Palmyra, Russia organized a concert which, in the ITIC’s assessment, was designed to improve Russia’s image in Western public opinion, capitalizing on the takeover of the city for propaganda purposes. The event was held in Palmyra’s ancient amphitheater. The central attraction was a performance by an orchestra flown especially from St. Petersburg, along with senior Russian government officials and members of the media. In a live broadcast during the ceremony, Russian President Vladimir Putin welcomed the audience and expressed the hope that the world would be “cured of the terrible disease of global terrorism” (TASS News Agency, May 5, 2016).
Clashes in additional areas
- Local clashes continued in other areas in Syria. The most prominent are:
- Damascus: In the Al-Yarmouk refugee camp, clashes between ISIS operatives and Al-Nusra Front operatives continued. In the rural area east of Damascus (Eastern Ghouta) there were battles between the Al-Nusra Front and Jaysh al-Islam.
- Deir al-Zor:Clashes continued between ISIS and the Syrian Army in the area of the military airbase. There were also clashes in the Al-Tahtouh neighborhood in eastern Deir al-Zor and in the Al-Sina’ah neighborhood in the city center. In the Al-Tahtouh neighborhood, an ISIS operative carried out a suicide bombing attack against Syrian Army troops north of the airbase.
- Daraa: Clashes continued in the area west of Daraa between the Al-Nusra Front and the ISIS-affiliated Al-Yarmouk Martyrs Brigade. In the area of Saham al-Jawlan in the southern Golan Heights, the rebels attacked positions of the Al-Yarmouk Martyrs Brigade and of the jihadi Islamic Muthanna Movement fighting alongside them (Orient, May 6, 2016).
Main developments in Iraq
- ISIS’s terrorist attacks in Baghdad against the Iraqi government and the Shiite community continued. This week, ISIS claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing attack carried out by a suicide bomber who blew himself up with an explosive belt in a village west of Baghdad. The attack was carried out in the mourning tent set up by the family of a fallen member of the Iraqi security forces. The blast killed four policemen and wounded eleven people (Al-Jazeera TV, May 8, 2016).
- Even after the takeover of the city of Ramadi, ISIS continues to engage in guerrilla warfare against the Iraqi security forces deployed in the city and its environs. ISIS published photos documenting an attack carried out by its operatives against Iraqi Army positions north of Ramadi (Haqq Islamic News Agency, May 6, 2016).
- An Iraqi “security source” announced the death of Shaker Wahib, a senior ISIS operative killed in an airstrike, apparently by the US. His car was hit while he was driving west of the city of Rutba, near the Iraqi-Syrian border (Al-Sumaria, May 6, 2016). The US Department of Defense announced that an ISIS commander in the Al-Anbar Province was killed as a result of a US airstrike (Dimashq al-Aan, May 9, 2016).
Egyptand the Sinai Peninsula
- During the past two weeks, the Egyptian security forces continued their activity against ISIS’s Sinai Province in the areas of Sheikh Zuweid, Al-Arish, and Rafah. Suspects were detained and vehicles and weapons were confiscated. The security forces also uncovered a number of tunnels in the area of Rafah and Sheikh Zuweid. On the other hand, ISIS operatives continued their guerrilla activities against the Egyptian security forces, mainly by planting IEDs.
- According to a report in the Arab newspaper Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, due to measures taken by the Egyptian Army against ISIS in Sinai, dozens of fighters and a number of commanders fled to Libya by land and by sea in the past three months. Some of them joined ISIS-affiliated groups in Libya and others joined groups that support Al-Qaeda or the Muslim Brotherhood. The article states that according to a number of sources, some of the ISIS operatives in Sinai were trained in the Gaza Strip before fleeing to Libya (Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, May 9, 2016).
Attack in Helwan, south of Cairo
- An attack in the city of Helwan, south of Cairo, killed a police officer and seven policemen from the Helwan police detective squad. At least four masked men armed with assault rifles attacked the vehicle carrying the policemen, who were in plainclothes, and shot them dead (Reuters; Al-Youm al-Sabea; Al-Ayn; Al-Ghad TV, May 8, 2016). According to Egyptian media reports, the perpetrators of the attack had accurate information about the movements of the police patrol.
- ISIS’s Egypt Province published an official statement claiming responsibility for the attack.The statement says that the attack was part of a series of attacks known as the “Sheikh Abu Ali Al-Anbari offensive” (named after a senior ISIS operative who was killed recently) in retaliation for the women held in prison in Egypt (Aamaq, May 8, 2016). According to Egyptian media reports, the attackers belonged to terrorist organizations operating in Helwan, including organizations belonging to the so-called Helwan Battalions (Al-Youm al-Sabea, May 9, 2016). According to an editorial in Al-Ahram (May 9, 2016), there is a connection between the Helwan Battalions and ISIS.
ISIS media campaign supporting the Sinai Province
- ISIS has launched a media campaign supporting the struggle waged by the Sinai Province against the Egyptian security forces and against the regime of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.As part of the campaign, ISIS has released around 15 videos issued by the media foundations of its various provinces in Syria, Iraq and Libya. The videos attack the regime of El-Sisi (“the Pharaoh of Egypt”), condemn the regime’s cooperation with Saudi Arabia and Israel, and call on the residents of the Sinai Peninsula to join the ranks of the Islamic State. Some of the videos call on ISIS’s Sinai Province fight against Israel and the Jews. In the ITIC’s assessment, the campaign is intended primarily to raise the morale of ISIS operatives in Sinai, who are carrying out a prolonged campaign against the Egyptian security forces.
- In one of the videos, released by the Deir al-Zor Province, an operative codenamed Abu Yahya al-Homsi notes that ISIS operatives in Sinai are attacking the Egyptian Army forces and El-Sisi’s regime. He adds that the operatives of ISIS’s Sinai Province would be honored to be the first to fight against the Jews as well. He notes that ISIS operatives in Syria long for the moment when they will fight against the Jews alongside ISIS’s branch in Sinai (drive.google.com, May 7, 2016).
- One of the videos, released by the Damascus Province, calls on residents of the Islamic State to join the struggle against Israel, which occupies the Al-Aqsa Mosque and attacks Muslims in Sinai (the videos reiterate the claim that Israeli aircraft are attacking ISIS operatives in Sinai).Another video, released by a media foundation affiliated with the Islamic State, is entitled “Sinai, soil of jihad and cemetery for the Jews.” In the video, ISIS threatens Israel in Hebrew.
The global jihad in other countries
- According to a report by ISIS’s Tripoli Province, its operatives have taken over the town of Abu Qarin, south of Misrata. According to the report, the attack began with a suicide bombing attack carried out by a truck bomb carrying eight tons of explosives. The attack was directed against a military position of Libyan Dawn (an umbrella framework of Islamic militias that generally operate in coordination with the Tripoli government). The ISIS operatives then split into two forces: one took control of the villages of Abu Najim and Wadi Zamzam, and the other took control of the town of Abu Qarin and the villages of Al-Washakah and Buwayrat al-Hasun. This expanded ISIS’s area of control in the area of Sirte towards the city of Misrata.
- ISIS operatives waved their flags on the mosques and government institutions in the areas that they have taken over, and ISIS has begun to deploy its morality police (Hisba) in these areas. ISIS has reportedly begun a wave of arrests in Abu Qarin and built a platform for executions (Twitter, May 5, 2016; Al-Wasat Portal, May 5-7, 2016; The Turkish Anatolia News Agency, May 6, 2016).
Involvement of Special Forces from the West
- According to a report from May 2, 2016, an Italian intelligence officer and two Italian Special Forces soldiers were killed in an ambush set by ISIS operatives on the road linking Misrata and Sirte (Daily Mail, May 1, 2016; Libyan News Agency, May 2, 2016). Around 90 soldiers and officers of the Italian Special Forces and intelligence are reportedly staying at the Misrata Air Force Base. Military experts from the United States, Turkey and Britain are also staying there. The British Defense Ministry responded that it could not confirm or deny reports about British Special Forces operations in Libya (Daily Mail, May 1, 2016; Libyan News Agency, May 2, 2016). An Italian journalist tweeted that the Italian Defense Ministry had denied the report (Matteo Pugliese’s Twitter account, May 2, 2016).
The conduct of the Islamic State
Issuing passports of the Islamic State
- ISIS has reportedly begun to issue passports to residents living in the areas under its control. The passports are intended for residents engaged in commerce and for sick residents who want to travel to other provinces of the Islamic State (Dimashq al-Aan, May 4, 2016).
Counterterrorism and preventive activity
- According to a Russian report, “a terrorist group” of Russian nationals from Central Asia was arrested by the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB). According to the Russian authorities, the group planned to carry out a terrorist attack against a means of transportation in the city of Krasnoyarsk, near Moscow. The attack was planned for the Victory Day celebrations held in Russia on May 9 to mark the victory over Nazi Germany. Large quantities of weapons and explosives in the squad’s possession were also seized. According to the report, the terrorist network operated under the instructions of international terrorist organizations operating in Syria and Turkey (a possible reference to ISIS?) (TASS News Agency, May 6, 2016).
- The Saudi security forces killed two ISIS operatives in the area of Wadi Nu’man, about 24 km southeast of Mecca. In the same incident, two other operatives detonated their explosive belts (Al-Arabiya TV, May 5, 2016). On May 6, 2016, photos of four members of the ISIS network who died in Wadi Nu’man were published. Two of those killed were involved in terror attacks directed at Shiite mosques in Saudi Arabia (Al-Arabiya TV, May 6, 2016).
The battle for hearts and minds
Al-Qaeda leader’s audiotape addressing the fighters in Greater Syria
- Al-Qaeda recently released an audiotape of its leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri. The audiotape, entitled “Enlist on behalf of Al-Sham (Greater Syria),” was released by Al-Qaeda’s Al-Sahab media foundation. Al-Zawahiri’s main points:
- The importance of Greater Syria (Al-Sham) for jihadists:Al-Zawahiri stresses the importance of Al-Sham, which is now the “hope of the Muslim nation”. This is because the revolution in Al-Sham was the only one of the revolutions in the Arab world that went “the right way”. This way, the jihadi way, leads to implementation of Sharia (Islamic law) and the establishment the “right caliphate,” which is different from the one established by ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
- The Al-Nusra Front is Al-Qaeda’s branch in Al-Sham: Al-Qaeda is proud of its connection with the Al-Nusra Front and hopes that it will grow stronger. However, Al-Qaeda does not impose its rule on the residents of Al-Sham (“We are not power hungry”). According to al-Zawahiri, when the residents of Al-Sham establish an “Islamic government” and choose their leader, their choice will be acceptable to Al-Qaeda.
- Threatening Israel and striving for the liberation of the Al-Aqsa Mosque: TheIslamic government that will be established in Al-Sham will work for the liberation of the Al-Aqsa Mosque. In the meantime, the fighters of Al-Sham are stationed on the border of Palestine and are threatening what they call “Israel,” which is the 51st state of the United States and the largest American base outside the United States.