Spotlight on Global Jihad
Trucks from the aid convoy the day after the attack (Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, September 20 2016).
Aleppo industrial zone as seen from one of the ISIS positions.
An ISIS combat position, consisting of a heavy machine gun, on a hill overlooking the Aleppo industrial zone - Shaykh Najjar (Haq, September 16, 2016).
The ISIS’s claim of responsibility for the stabbing attack in Minnesota (Haq, September 18 2016).
Main events of the week
US-Russian arangement for the cessation of hostilities in Syria (as of the morning of September 21, 2016)
Main features of the situation on the ground during the seven-day ceasefire
In the past week, during which the arrangement for the cessation of hostilities was implemented, reports came in of many dozens of violations on a daily basis. Fighting continued in the various hot spots throughout Syria, albeit with a certain measure of reduced intensity (the fighting resumed as intensely as ever once the seven days of the ceasefire were over). The Syrian regime, the rebel organizations, the U.S. and Russia all blamed one another for being responsible for the violations of the ceasefire. However an analysis of the situation on the ground indicates, that all sides committed violations, including the Syrian army and the rebel organizations. The ICIC therefore believes it is impossible to point the finger of blame at one side or another, nor is it possible to credit any one side with making a genuine effort to hold its fire and give the arrangement a chance.
- The ceasefire violations were characterized by exchanges of light weapons fire, artillery fire, and aerial attacks, without attempts to make new territorial advances (the exception was the Free Syrian Army, supported by the Turkish army in the region north of Aleppo). Clashes were concentrated mainly in Aleppo and in the rural area south of the city. Russian and Syrian aircraft also carried out aerial assaults in the Aleppo region. Other foci of armed clashes were in the regions of Damascus, Hama, Daraa, and to a lesser extent in Lattakia and Homs. Fighting also continued in the northern Golan Heights, near the border with Israel.
Delivery of humanitarian aid to Aleppo (as of September 19)
- The admission of humanitarian aid convoys into Aleppo was supposed to be one of the main hallmarks of the cessation of hostilities. In practice this did not happen. The failure was due to sharp differences between the Syrian regime and the rebel organizations as to how to implement the arrangement, which required demilitarization of the Castello Road, the supply route north of Aleppo. John Kerry, the U.S. Secretary of State accused the Syrian regime (prior to the attack on the humanitarian aid convoy) of preventing the aid passage and called on Russia to apply pressure to Syrian president Bashar al-Assad.
- On September 19 2016 a UN and Red Crescent humanitarian aid convoy was attacked from the air on its way to eastern Aleppo. The attack took place west of Aleppo in a place named Urum al-Kubra. A warehouse belonging to the Syrian Red Crescent was also attacked. The International Red Cross reported that about twenty civilians in the convoy were killed and 31 trucks were hit. The trucks were destined for eastern Aleppo, where an estimated 250,000 civilians have been short of food, medicine and water. (CNN, September 20-21).
- The area where the convoy was attacked is under the control of the rebel organizations and is regularly subjected to Russian and Syrian aerial attacks. ICIC therefore believes the attack was carried out either by Russian or by Syrian aircraft. However, the assault on the convoy led to exchanges of accusations between the U.S. and Syria. The White House accused Russia saying it was responsible, whether it was Russian planes – or the Syrian regime's (although U.S. officials told CNN the U.S. had reached a preliminary conclusion that Russian warplanes attacked the convoy) (CNN, September 21 2016). On the other side, Igor Konashenkov, Chief of the Directorate of Media service and Information of the Russian Ministry of Defence, responded that "No airstrikes were carried out against a humanitarian aid convoy in a southwestern suburb of Aleppo by Russian or Syrian aviation. Seeing as the convoy’s route lied through the territories controlled by militants in control of the territory”. He added that “Only the militants controlling this area know details of the convoy’s location" (Sputnik, September 20 2016).
Russian-American Accusations and Counter-Accusations over the Airstrike at Deir ez-Zor
- On September 17 2016 U.S. warplanes unintentionally struck a Syrian Army site near the Deir ez-Zor military airport. The airstrike was intended to target ISIS but in fact it hit a Syrian Army force, resulting in the deaths of dozens of Syrian army soldiers (see below). United States Central Command said that there was no intention to strike at Syrian forces and emphasized that the matter was under investigation. The U.S. expressed their regrets to the Syrian government and Russia for the unintentional loss of life of Syrian forces, which was unintentional (New York Times, September 17 2016).
- The air strike at Deir ez-Zor caused a sharp diplomatic confrontation between the U.S. and Russia, with both sides exchanging allegations on who was to blame for violating the ceasefire. Below is a selection of Russian statements:
- Maria Zakharova, Director of the Information and Press Department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation,in an interview to Russian television, demanded full and detailed explanations about whether this was deliberate support of the ISIS or another mistake. She said this move leads to the conclusion that the United States is protecting ISIS. Zakharova added that, if this were indeed the case, it would explain why the United States did not want to reveal the arrangement with Russia on the cessation of hostilities (Russian Television, channel 24, September 18 2016).
- Following an emergency session of the UN Security Council on September 17 2016 called for by Russia, which discussed the airstrike in Deir ez-Zor, Vitaly Churkin, Russian UN Ambassador, said it seems the United States is losing control on the situation in Syria. He said the American choice to strike ISIS at that specific timing (five days into the ceasefire), made it hard for the Russians to believe that the strike by the U.S. had been intended against ISIS (Sputnik, September 18 2016).
- Below is a selection of American statements:
- Samantha Power, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, said in response to the accusations made against the U.S. for striking the Syrian forces: Imagine how often this Council would be meeting if we were to gather every time the regime or Russia struck a hospital. In her words, Russia must stop dwelling on disgusting, irrelevant issues and focus on the important, achievable issues (Wall Street Journal, Reuters, September 19 2016).
- John Kerry, U.S. Secretary of State, said in a television interview, that “the Russians need to be more serious” about getting the Assad regime to abide by the terms of the ceasefire. According to him, the ceasefire is fragile and there are reports of strikes against opposition groups in Aleppo. He said “Russia is being hypocritical about who had done what, after they’ve bombed schools, bombed civilians, bombed hospitals” in Syria. That being said, Kerry added he remains optimistic and called for a continuation of the work necessary to make the process work (BBC, September 19 2016).
Main developments in Syria
The area of Aleppo
The violations of the truce agreed between the United States and Russia were centered in the city of Aleppo and in its surrounding rural area. Exchanges of fire in these areas took place between rebel organizations and the Syrian forces. There were also American and Russian airstrikes (including in several of the eastern Aleppo suburbs).
- ISIS takes part in the fighting in and around Aleppoalthough it is not one of the dominant forces in the region. On September 19 2016 ISIS published pictures showing the daily routine of its operatives, who are positioned opposite the “industrial zone” (northeast of the city). The ISIS operatives are seen making observations on the Syrian government forces, digging trenches, undergoing light weapon training, praying, and reading the Quran (Haq, September 16, 2016). It must be noted that some of the factories in the “industrial zone” have resumed operations following its recapture by the Syrian government forces.
The area north of Aleppo
After losing most of its urban strongholds in the region west of the Euphrates River, ISIS retains its control over the city of al-Bab and in Dabiq, northwest of al-Bab, as well as in the rural area around the city of al-Rai. Last week these areas were targeted for a military campaign by the Turkish military and its rebel organizations affiliated with it, despite the ceasefire.
- On September 17 2016 the Free Syrian Army, assisted by Turkish army artillery and air power, began a campaign to capture the city of al-Bab. The Free Syrian Army captured several villages west of al-Rai. From al-Rai the force moved south and it has been reported that it is now 10 km from the city of al-Bab (cumhuriet.com.tr, September 20 2016). This move is portrayed by the Turks as the third stage of its Operation Euphrates Shield. Turkish media has reported that this move was preceded by military coordination between the U.S. and Turkish defense ministers and between the two armies’ chiefs of staff.
The area of Deir ez-Zor
- On September 17 2016 international coalition warplanes unintentionally attacked Syrian forces. Reports indicated the force which came under attack belonged to a Syrian army artillery battalion, which was deployed near the Deir ez-Zor military airbase. As a result of the airstrike many dozens of Syrian soldiers were killed (the estimates run between sixty and more than ninety dead).
- In Jabal Turdah, a high ground near which the Syrian force was unintentionally assaulted, there had been running battles between ISIS operatives and the Syrian army, supported by allied militias. Reports said that following the aerial assault ISIS operatives took control of Syrian army positions on Jabal Turdah, however later on they were retaken by the Syrian army (Elnashra, Almayadeen, September 17, 2016). Russian warplanes carried out heavy bombardments of Syrian positions taken earlier on Jabal Turdah in an effort to help them regain control of them.
The northern Syrian Golan Heights
- Exchanges of fire between rebel organizations and the Syrian forces continued in the northern Syrian Golan Heights even during the cessation of hostilities declared by the United States and Russia. The Fateh al-Sham Front (Al-Qaeda’s branch in Syria) is among the rebel organizations taking an important part in the bighting. The rebel organizations claim that as a part of the “Southern Qadsiya Campaign”, their forces advanced toward the town of Beit Jinn (east of Hader), to break the siege around it. They assured the residents in the Druze town of Hader they would not be harmed if they abstained from supporting the Syrian regime forces (Asharq al-Awsat, September 16 2016).
Targeted killings of senior ISIS figures continue
- The United States Department of Defense reported September 16 2016 that ISIS operative Wael Adel Hasan Salman Al-Fayad, a.k.a.Abu Mohammad Furqan, so-called ISIS “information minister”, was killed in an airstrike. The operative, killed on September 7, 2016 in a coalition airstrike against his home in Raqqa, ISIS’s stronghold in Syria (ABC News, The Telegraph, 16 September 2016). His death is yet another blow to ISIS and its propaganda infrastructure, after the killing of ISIS spokesman (and the “number 2” man in the organization), Abu Mohammad al-Adnani.
Main developments in Iraq
ISIS continues its terrorist attacks and guerrilla warfare
- This week was relatively quiet in the capital Bagdad. The main events this week were: detonation of an IED in the south of the city against an Iraqi army patrol; killing of a suicide bomber strapped with an explosive belt in the southwest of the city before he blew himself up; and the uncovering of a weapons and explosives cache in the north of the city (Alsumaria, September 18 2016).
- In addition, ISIS claimed responsibility for other attacks throughout Iraq. Following is a rundown of some of the ISIS reports:
- On September 18 2016 ISIS published pictures from an attack carried out by its operatives against an Iraqi army camp south of Al-Shirqat (south of al-Qayyarah). Three Iraqi soldiers were killed in the attack.
- On September 18 2016 ISIS reported the killing of six Iraqi army soldiers in an ambush north of Rutba.
- On September 18 2016 an ISIS operative blew himself up with a suicide vest at a Peshmerga post south of Irbil.
- On September 17 2016 ISIS claimed responsibility for killing a Peshmerga operative with sniper fire northwest of Mosul.
- On September 16 2016 ISIS attacked an Iraqi army force in the Al-Shirqat area. The assault included a suicide attack and light weapons fire.
- On September 16 2016ISIS operatives attacked Iraqi army soldiers south of al-Qayyarah, recently liberated from ISIS occupation.
- On September 14 2016 ISIS claimed responsibility for a suicide car bomb attack against the Shia militias north of Baqubah.
The global jihad in other countries
- Following about two weeks of relative calm, fighting resumed on September 18 2016 in Sirte, The fighting is currently concentrated in two neighborhoods in which ISIS operatives have barricaded themselves (“Neighborhood 3” and the “marine neighborhood”). The forces of the Government of National Accord captured ISIS strongholds and facilities, including a car bomb making workshop.
- On September 17 2016 nine people were injured in a stabbing attack in a Minneapolis, Minnesota mall. The attacker, who was wearing a private security uniform, was killed by an off-duty police officer, who opened fire on him. Nine people were injured in the attack. The attacker was Dahir A’dan, 22, a student of Somali origin, who had worked as a private security guard (Reuters, September 19 2016).
- ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack in Minnesota.In its message ISIS used the rhetoric of its “ISIS-inspired attacks”. The message said “the attacker last night in Minnesota is a soldier of the Islamic State, who responded to the calls to target citizens of countries belonging to the crusader coalition” (Haq, September 18 2016).
- On September 13 2016 three women entered a police station in Mombasa, Kenya, appearing to want to report a theft. Once inside they called “Allahu Akbar”, stabbed two policemen and threw an incendiary bomb.The three were killed by policemen. The police said a sheet of paper was found in the house the three women had been staying in containing a handwritten oath of allegiance to ISIS. According to the police two of the women were Kenyan. One of them was wearing a suicide vest, which failed to go off.
- ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack.In its message ISIS stated that the attack was carried out by women supporters of the organization, “who had heeded the calls to target the crusader countries” (Aamaq, September 13 2016). This is the first attack on Kenyan soil, for which ISIS assumes responsibility. According to local police, an attempted attack by ISIS supporters was thwarted in Kenya in May 2016. Intelligence services in Kenya estimate some one hundred women and men have joined ISIS in Libya and in Syria. At the same time experts claim there is no organized ISIS presence in Kenya (Reuters, Gulf News Kenya, September 15 2016).
- As a part of the police terrorism prevention activity in Syrian refugee homes in the northern state of Schleswig-Holstein, three Syrians aged 17-26 were arrested. According to police sources the three arrived in German in mid-November 2015 intending to carry out a mission they had received from in advance from ISIS. Alternatively they were to set up “sleeper cells” and prepare themselves for future instructions. The three had been under police surveillance for several months.
- One of the three (the 17-year-old) joined ISIS in Raqqa in September 2015 and underwent weapons and explosives training. In October 2015 he was put in contact with two more Muslim suspects, who had been in contact with the ISIS operative responsible for operations and attacks abroad. The three arrived in Germany via Turkey and Greece in mid-November 2015. They had been given passports and a sizable sum in dollars, as well as mobile phones installed with special communication apps (The Star, September 13 2016).
- According to the German Interior Minister, Thomas de Maiziere, the three arrived via the same network and with the same documents used by two of the terrorists who carried out the Paris attacks in November 2015. The arrest of the three once again raises the issue of the use ISIS makes of the stream of refugees arriving in European countries, sending operatives to set up the organization’s cells and to carry out attacks (such as the Paris and Brussels attacks). The German police said it has received over 400 pieces of information about refugees who have arrived with a terrorist background and about 60 investigations have been opened on this matter.