Spotlight on Global Jihad (August 11-17, 2016)

Spotlight on Global Jihad

Spotlight on Global Jihad

Russian strategic bomber attacking an ISIS target in Deir al-Zor (Russian Defense Ministry website, August 15, 2016)

Russian strategic bomber attacking an ISIS target in Deir al-Zor (Russian Defense Ministry website, August 15, 2016)

Clashes in southwestern Aleppo.

Clashes in southwestern Aleppo.

Jaysh al-Fateh artillery fire towards positions of the militias loyal to the Syrian regime at the Al-Sheikh Said cement factory in southern Aleppo, near the Al-Ramousah neighborhood.

Jaysh al-Fateh artillery fire towards positions of the militias loyal to the Syrian regime at the Al-Sheikh Said cement factory in southern Aleppo, near the Al-Ramousah neighborhood.

Jaysh al-Fateh car bomb that penetrated positions of the militias loyal to the Syrian regime in the Jam'iyyat al-Zahraa neighborhood.

Jaysh al-Fateh car bomb that penetrated positions of the militias loyal to the Syrian regime in the Jam'iyyat al-Zahraa neighborhood.

Expressions of joy with the liberation of the city of Manbij. Right: A young woman smoking.  Left: A female resident of the city burning a niqab (Twitter, August 13, 2016)

Expressions of joy with the liberation of the city of Manbij. Right: A young woman smoking. Left: A female resident of the city burning a niqab (Twitter, August 13, 2016)

Right: Iraqi Army and Kurdish forces in the area of Qayyarah (Al-Jazeera, August 15, 2016). Left: ISIS fighting against the Iraqi Army and the militias that support it south of Qayyarah (Haqq, August 13, 2016)

Right: Iraqi Army and Kurdish forces in the area of Qayyarah (Al-Jazeera, August 15, 2016). Left: ISIS fighting against the Iraqi Army and the militias that support it south of Qayyarah (Haqq, August 13, 2016)

Infographic showing the situation in Sirte and the progress of the forces fighting against ISIS (Twitter, August 11, 2016)

Infographic showing the situation in Sirte and the progress of the forces fighting against ISIS (Twitter, August 11, 2016)

Forces of the Government of National Accord inside the Ouagadougou Conference Center complex, used by ISIS as its headquarters in Sirte.

Forces of the Government of National Accord inside the Ouagadougou Conference Center complex, used by ISIS as its headquarters in Sirte.

Libyan flag flying at the Conference Center (Twitter, August 10 and 12, 2016)

Libyan flag flying at the Conference Center (Twitter, August 10 and 12, 2016)

Hafiz Saeed Khan, leader of ISIS’s Khorasan Province in Afghanistan (ISIS-affiliated Twitter account, August 13, 2016)

Hafiz Saeed Khan, leader of ISIS’s Khorasan Province in Afghanistan (ISIS-affiliated Twitter account, August 13, 2016)

Tunisian jihadi operative Moez bin Abdul Qadir Fezzani, commander of an ISIS network in the Milan area (Rusiya Al-Youm, August 14, 2016)

Tunisian jihadi operative Moez bin Abdul Qadir Fezzani, commander of an ISIS network in the Milan area (Rusiya Al-Youm, August 14, 2016)

Aaron Driver (Haqq, August 12, 2016).

Aaron Driver (Haqq, August 12, 2016).

ISIS’s announcement about the terrorist attack carried out against the Canadian police by “one of the soldiers of the Islamic State” (Aamaq, August 12, 2016)

ISIS’s announcement about the terrorist attack carried out against the Canadian police by “one of the soldiers of the Islamic State” (Aamaq, August 12, 2016)


Main events of the week

  • The main event of the week was the liberation of the city of Manbij, west of the Euphrates River, near the Syrian-Turkish border. The liberation of the city after a campaign that began on May 31, 2016, was another blow for ISIS, whose areas of control in Syria and Iraq are gradually shrinking. The loss of the city will impede ISIS’s logistical connection with the outside world, thus jeopardizing ISIS’s other strongholds near the Turkish border (Jarabulus, Al-Bab and Al-Ra’i).
  • In the Aleppo region, the Syrian forces, with Russian air support, failed in their attempt to retake the logistics corridor that the rebel organizations had managed to open in the southern part of the city. Fighting continued in the Aleppo region, especially in the south and northwest, with the participation of the Fateh al-Sham Front (formerly the Al-Nusra Front), which is fighting alongside the rebel organizations.
  • The campaign against ISIS recorded successes this week in other regions as well: in Libya, the battle for the liberation of the city of Sirte from ISIS is nearing its final stages. According to Libyan sources, most of the city’s neighborhoods have been liberated. This week, the Libyan forces, with American air support, took over ISIS’s headquarters in the conference center compound. In Afghanistan, the governor of the Khorasan Province of the Islamic State was killed in a US targeted killing carried out by a drone.

 

The US-led campaign against ISIS

  • During the week, the US-led coalition continued its airstrikes against ISIS targets in Syria and Iraq, although the intensity was relatively low compared to previous weeks.  In Syria, the airstrikes were concentrated in and around the city of Manbij, whose takeover has been completed. Airstrikes were also carried out in the areas of Al-Raqqah and Deir al-Zor. In Iraq, the airstrikes were concentrated mainly in the areas of Erbil and Mosul. In Libya, US airstrikes against ISIS targets in the city of Sirte continued, as support for the forces of the Government of National Accord (US Department of Defense website).
  • Speaking at a briefing for reporters, Lieutenant General Sean MacFarland, outgoing commander of the international coalition campaign against ISIS, summed up the achievements of the fighting so far. He noted that there had been a significant decline in the number and quality of ISIS’s operatives. The flow of foreign fighters to ISIS has also dropped significantly. According to him, ISIS previously had an estimated 19,000-25,000 operatives but now numbers 15,000-20,000 operatives. He added that despite the coalition’s successes in Syria and Iraq, ISIS still poses a threat (nbcnews.com, August 12, 2016).

Russia’s involvement in the fighting

Airstrikes in Syria
  • According to a report by the Russian Defense Ministry, six Russian Tu-22M3 strategic bombers which took off from Russia attacked ISIS targets in Syria this week:
  • On August 11, 2016, an ISIS chemical weapons facility near Al-Raqqah was attacked (RT, August 11, 2016). About 30 ISIS operatives were killed in the attack (AFP, August 11, 2016).
  • On August 14, 2016, bombers attacked ISIS targets near Deir al-Zor. A large number of operatives were killed in the airstrikes, and two command positions, six ammunition depots and a number of vehicles were destroyed (Sputnik, August 14, 2016)..
  • Reporting to the Russian media, Russian Minister of Defense Sergey Shoygu said that on August 16, 2016, Russian planes took off for the first time from Hamadan Airport in western Iran to attack terrorist targets in Syria. According to him, the aircraft in question are Tu-22M3 long-range strategic bombers and Su-34 attack aircraft, which attacked targets of ISIS and the Fateh al-Sham Front in the Provinces of Aleppo, Deir al-Zor and Idlib. These airstrikes destroyed command facilities and training camps, and killed many terrorist operatives (Sputnik, August 16, 2016).
Cooperation between Turkey and Russia in the fighting against ISIS
  • According to Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, Turkey and Russia have similar positions regarding the fight against ISIS. According to the Foreign Minister, both countries have established mechanisms for cooperation between their armies, foreign ministers, and intelligence services. He noted that Turkey previously proposed carrying out joint attacks against ISIS with Russia, adding that the offer is still valid (AFP, August 11, 2016). According to the Turkish presidential spokesman, a direct telephone line has been set up between the chief of staffs of the Russian Army and the Turkish Army, in order to coordinate their airstrikes in Syria (Syrianow, August 10, 2016).

Main developments in Syria

The Aleppo campaign

This week, the rebel organizations managed to maintain the corridor which was opened last week south of Aleppo and used for sending limited supplies to the rebel organizations in the city. The Syrian forces, with massive Russian air support, made an unsuccessful attempt to retake the corridor leading to Aleppo. The fighting around Aleppo, especially in the south and northwest, is still ongoing. The Fateh al-Sham Front is taking part in these battles, alongside the rebel organizations.

 

  • The fighting is still concentratedin the Al-Ramousah neighborhood in southwestern Aleppo. The Syrian forces, supported by Hezbollah, managed to regain control of large parts of the neighborhood, with local but inconclusive achievements. The opposing sides, including many Hezbollah operatives who came to support the Syrian forces, suffered heavy losses. Some of the losses sustained by the Syrian forces and their supporters were caused by car bombs detonated by the rebel organizations.
  • Another scene of fighting was the Jam'iyyat al-Zahraa neighborhood in western Aleppo. Jaysh al-Fateh, the umbrella framework of the rebel organizations, stormed the neighborhood that had been defended by the militias loyal to the Syrian regime, with the support of Hezbollah. Jaysh al-Fateh reportedly destroyed targets of the Syrian regime in the neighborhood (Orient, August 15, 2016).

The Jam'iyyat al-Zahraa neighborhood (also known as Al-Zahra) is located in northwestern Aleppo. It is inhabited by residents who support the Syrian regime.  There are a number of Syrian Army and government buildings there, such as the courthouse, the air force intelligence headquarters, an anti-aircraft base, an artillery base and a military research center.

 

 

The liberation of the city of Manbij

This week saw the end of the campaign for the liberation of the city of Manbij, which began on May 31, 2016. The forces of the Syrian Democratic Front (SDF) completed the takeover of the city, although there were still some final pockets of resistance. Dozens of ISIS operatives retreated from the city to the ISIS-controlled city of Jarabulus, near the Syrian-Turkish border. US Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter congratulated the forces that liberated Manbij, adding that the success of the operation would deepen the isolation of Al-Raqqah, making it possible to liberate the city (US Department of State website, August 16, 2016).

 

  • The SDF forces were received with a warm welcome from the city’s residents, who had been under ISIS’s control since 2014. According to Sharfan Darwish, spokesman for the Military Council of Manbij, during the fighting, ISIS operatives abducted nearly 2,000 residents (including women and children) of the Al-Sarb neighborhood in northern Manbij, using them as human shields. According to him, this tactic on ISIS’s part prevented the SDF forces from attacking the ISIS operatives (Reuters, August 12, 2016; Al-Jazeera, August 13, 2016).

The fall of the city of Manbij represents another blow for ISIS, whose areas of control in Syria and Iraq are gradually shrinking. The loss of the city will impede the logistical connection between ISIS’s control core in Al-Raqqah and Mosul and the outside world, which passes through Turkey. It marks further weakening of ISIS’s position in northern Syria and strengthens the military, political and public relations position of the Kurdish forces leading the attack against it[1].

 

  • What next? After the takeover of Manbij, the SDF forces announced their intention to establish the Military Council of Al-Bab, a body comprising local fighters, like the Military Council of Manbij. In the ITIC’s assessment, this is an indication that the strategic goal of the Kurds, the dominant force in the SDF, is to take over ISIS’s strongholds west of the Euphrates River (Jarabulus, Al-Bab and Al-Ra’i) and to promote the establishment of Kurdish territorial contiguity along the border with Turkey. This is likely to meet with opposition on the part of Turkey, which is strongly opposed to the establishment of an autonomous Kurdish entity along the Syrian-Turkish border.On the other hand, the declaration by US Secretary of State Ashton Carter (see above) may indicate that from the perspective of the US, Al-Raqqah, ISIS’s so-called capital in Syria, is the next priority target.

Main developments in Iraq

ISIS’s terrorist activities and guerilla warfare continue
  • ISIS continues its terrorist attacks and guerrilla warfare against the Shiites, the Iraqi security forces, the Iraqi government, and residents opposed to ISIS residing in the various provinces in Iraq:
  • August 15, 2016: A suicide bombing attack was carried out near the city of Rutba (in the western Al-Anbar Province). Twenty Iraqi Army soldiers were killed (Al-Jazeera, August 15, 2016).
  • August 10, 2016: Three suicide bombers detonated three car bombs in an Iraqi police outpost in Qayyarah, south of Mosul. Two policemen were killed (Al-Nashra, August 10, 2016).
  • August 9, 2016:ISIS operatives reportedly burned 20 Iraqi residents of the Kirkuk area because of their refusal to join its ranks (janobia.com, August 10, 2016).
The town of Qayyarah and its environs
  • The Iraqi Army, supported by the Kurdish forces, continues to fight in the town of Qayyarah and its environs, about 60 km south of Mosul. According to an announcement by the Iraqi Army, it has taken over several villages in the area that had been controlled by ISIS, and ISIS sustained many losses. ISIS announced that it had carried out three suicide bombing attacks in the area of Qayyarah, two of them against the Kurdish forces and one against the Iraqi Army (Haqq, August 14, 2016).
The killing of a senior ISIS operative
  • Sami Jassim al-Jabouri was killedin a joint operation by the Kurdish forces and US Special Forces in the area of Al-Qaim (near the Syrian-Iraqi border).He was a senior ISIS operative and one of its financial experts (BBC in Arabic, August 11, 2016). According to a Kurdish source, he had been in charge of ISIS’s natural resources (Kurdistan24, August 11, 2016).

The Sinai Peninsula

  • The Egyptian security forces continued their extensive security operations against ISIS targets in the northern Sinai Peninsula: ISIS operatives were reportedly killed and cars and motorcycles destroyed in a helicopter attack south of Rafah. In the area of Al-Arish, the security forces raided a number of apartments and arrested operatives (Al-Watan, August 14, 2016). In the area of Sheikh Zuweid, several ISIS targets were destroyed. On the other hand, ISIS operatives in the Sinai Peninsula continued their guerrilla activities against the Egyptian security forces, mainly by planting IEDs and sniper fire.

The global jihad in other countries

Libya
The campaign for the liberation of the city of Sirte

The campaign for the liberation of the city of Sirte, which began in late May 2016, is now apparently in its final stages. According to reports by Libyan sources, most of the city’s neighborhoods have now been liberated. This week, the Government of National Accord reported that the Libyan forces had taken control of an ISIS headquarters inside the Ouagadougou Convention Center complex (AP, August 10, 2016).

 

  • The Libyan forces fighting in Sirte have received American air support for around 10 days. So far, the US has carried out more than 40 airstrikes against ISIS targets in the area of Sirte (US Africa Command (AFRICOM) website, August 15, 2016).According to US media reports, senior US and Libyan officials spoke about deploying an elite US force in the city of Sirte, which would operate on the ground alongside the British combatants stationed there. According to senior American officials, the elite force operates out of a joint operations center in the Sirte suburbs and its role is limited to supporting the Libyan government forces (The Washington Post, August 10, 2016).
The fighting against ISIS’s branch in Afghanistan (Khorasan Province)
  • According to General John Nicholson, Commander of US and NATO forces in Afghanistan, the Afghan forces, with US support, have mounted a large-scale operation against ISIS in the Nangarhar Province, in eastern Afghanistan (near the border with Pakistan). About 300 ISIS operative were killed in the operation. Nicholson estimates that they represent about one quarter of the ISIS operatives in Afghanistan (Reuters, August 10, 2016).
  • According to a US report, Hafiz Saeed Khan, governor of the Islamic State’s Khorasan Province, was killed by a drone in the Nangarhar Province on July 26, 2016. Other senior ISIS commanders and several operatives were killed together with him (Reuters, August 12, 2016). 
  • Hafiz Saeed Khan was born in 1972 in Pakistan, in the region near the border with Afghanistan. He studied Islamic sciences. After the September 11 attacks in 2001 and the international coalition’s campaign in Afghanistan, Hafiz Khan joined the Taliban movement in Afghanistan and was a co-founder of the Taliban movement in Pakistan (BBC in Arabic, August 12, 2016; Al-Arabiya, August 13, 2016).
  • On August 15, 2016, ISIS’s Khorasan Province claimed responsibility for killing an American commander and two Afghan Army officers. The terrorist attack was carried out with an IED attached to their car in the Afghan capital, Kabul (Haqq, August 15, 2016). According to the British newspaper The Daily Mail (August 16, 2016), US sources have denied the report, claiming that it was false.

Counterterrorism and preventive activity

Discovery of an ISIS network in Milan
  • According to Italian media reports, the Libyan authorities have informed the Italian government of the existence of an ISIS network in the city of Milan. The existence of the network was revealed in documents found at the ISIS headquarters in the city of Sirte (the Conference Center), which recently fell into the hands of the Libyan forces (AFP, August 14, 2016). 
  • The leader of ISIS’s network in Milan is Moez bin Abdul Qadir Fezzani, aka Abu Nassim, 47, a Tunisian. He arrived in Italy in 1989 and went to Pakistan to fight in the ranks of Al-Qaeda. He was arrested by US forces in 2001 and sent to Italy in 2009, where he was acquitted of recruiting terrorists and deported to Tunisia. He fought in Syria in 2013 and then moved to Libya. In 2014, he became an ISIS commander in Sabratah, Libya (France24, August 14, 2016; Rusiya Al-Youm, August 14, 2016).
  • nAccording to the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera, ISIS documents found by Libyan intelligence indicate that dozens and perhaps hundreds of ISIS operatives fled from Sirte to Italy. They fled on smugglers’ boats, posing as refugees. Some of these operatives are reportedly in Europe. Libyan intelligence is prepared to disclose their names to the Italians (Libyan TV Channel 218, August 13, 2016; The Telegraph, August 14, 2016).
Prevention of an ISIS-inspired terrorist attack in Canada?

Aaron Driver, a 25-year-old Canadian, was killed in a clash with the Canadian security forces in the Province of Ontario. His family was informed that he was killed when an IED exploded in the backseat of a taxi in which he was riding, wounding him and the taxi driver. Another IED was found in his possession, which he had apparently intended to detonate (CBC News, August 11, 2016). ISIS announced that one of its soldiers had carried out an attack against the Canadian police.

 

  • Aaron Driver was born to a Canadian Christian family and converted to Islam some years ago. His family background was problematic: his mother died when he was seven. He had no contact with his father, who remarried and enlisted in the Canadian Army. In 2015, his father reported that he was concerned about him, since he had become a Muslim and was liable to become radicalized. Aaron Driver attracted the attention of the Canadian police as long ago as October 2014, due to tweets of support of ISIS on his Twitter account (Canadian Broadcasting Authority website, August 10, 2016).
  • ISIS’s news agency announced that “one of the soldiers of the Islamic State of ISIS carried out an attack against the Canadian police” (Aamaq, August 12, 2016). The wording of ISIS’s announcement is similar to the claims of responsibility for ISIS-inspired attacks carried out recently in Western countries (Germany, France and the US). It is possible, therefore, that this was an ISIS-inspired attack, but this requires authentication.

[1] For further information about the implications of the takeover of Manbij, see the ITIC’s Information Bulletin from June 22, 2016: http://www.terrorism-info.org.il/en/article/21025http://www.terrorism-info.org.il/en/article/21025