Spotlight on Global Jihad
Residents of the Al-Intisar neighborhood cheering at the Iraqi Army soldiers (Iraqi Army Twitter page, November 7, 2016)
An ISIS terrorist who carried out the suicide attack in Tikrit (Twitter account, November 6, 2016).
An ISIS terrorist who carried out a suicide attack in a staging zone of Shiite security forces in the city of Samarra (Twitter account, November 6, 2016).
ISIS operatives showing off seized weapons in the Aden neighborhood in the city of Mosul (Aamaq, November 6, 2016)
Routine life in the city of Mosul, according to ISIS’s propaganda (Aamaq, November 3, 2016)
The senior command of the Syrian Democratic Forces declares the opening of Operation Euphrates Wrath to take over the city of Al-Raqqah and its rural area (press23, November 6, 2016)
The activity of the Syrian Democratic Forces during the first hours of Operation Euphrates Wrath to take over the city of Al-Raqqah (All4Syria, November 6, 2016)
The devastation in the city of Aleppo (Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, November 4, 2016)
Main events of the week
The campaign to take over Mosul
- Following are the main developments in the various sectors:
- The war effort in the east: Intense fighting continued in Mosul’s eastern neighborhoods, with the Iraqi Army forces advancing slowly as they meet intense resistance on the part of ISIS operatives. The Iraqi Army Special Forces managed to take over at least six neighborhoods on the outskirts of Mosul. An Iraqi security source reported later that the Iraqi forces withdrew from the eastern neighborhoods previously taken by them towards the entrance to the city after they had met with intense ISIS resistance. On November 7, 2016, the Iraqi army announced that its forces entered the neighborhood of Al-Intisar, in the east of Mosul (Iraqi Army Twitter page, November 7, 2016).
- The war effort in the south: The Iraqi forces continued their slow advance to Mosul from the south. This week, the forces took over the town of Hammam al-Alil, about 15 km from Mosul. This town served as ISIS’s last significant stronghold on the way to Mosul (Al-Jazeera, November 5, 2016). The withdrawing ISIS operatives set fire to oil wells and piles of tar (Al-Mayadeen, November 7, 2016). According to the Iraqi forces’ report, they are now at a distance of about 4 km from Mosul’s international airport (Reuters, November 7, 2016).
- The war effort in the north: The Iraqi forces reported that they managed to reach Mosul’s municipal area from the north as well, but they still did not enter the city. On November 6, 2016, it was reported that the Iraqi army reached the town of Bawiza, about 3.5 km north of Mosul, and that there was fighting in the streets (Shafaq News, November 6, 2016).
- Following are the main operations of the Shiite militias and the Kurdish Peshmerga forces west and north of Mosul:
- During the week, the Shiite militias continued their advance to the west toward the city of Tal Afar, with the intention of cutting off ISIS’s supply routes between Mosul and Al-Raqqah in Syria. The Shiite militias reported that they took over 48 villages from ISIS and that, for the first time, they managed to threat ISIS’s supply routes. According to one report, the Shiite militias managed to cut off the road leading from Mosul to Al-Raqqah (Orient, November 3, 2016).
- The Kurdish Peshmerga forcesfought against ISIS operatives around the city of Ba’shiqah, about 15 km northeast of Mosul. The Peshmerga forces announced that they had entered the city and took control of it. ISIS operatives tried to stop the advance of the Kurdish forces by detonating two car bombs (AP, November 7, 2016). According to reports from November 8, 2016, the Kurdish forces are in the middle of the town (Al-Jazeera, November 7-8, 2016).
Senior ISIS operatives killed
- According to Iraqi sources, several high ranking ISIS operatives were killed during the attacks in Mosul and north of Baghdad:
- Abu Hamza al-Muhajer al-Ansari, a senior commander considered “number 3” in ISIS, was killed in battle south of Mosul (Anatolia, November 6, 2016).
- The head of ISIS’s Shura Council, a Jordanian-born operative, was killed in the detonation of a vehicle in which he was riding in the city of Mosul (Khaberni, November 4, 2016).
- The Iraqi government’s counterterrorism force announced on November 7, 2016, that ISIS’s emir of the Baghdad Province, codenamed Abu Mariam, was killed in an airstrike north of Baghdad (Facebook page of the Iraqi antiterrorism apparatus, November 7, 2016).
ISIS's military response
- ISIS operatives carried out a number of suicide attacks against the Iraqi forces in the area of Mosul (Al-Jazeera, November 7, 2016). In addition, on November 6, 2016, two suicide bombing attacks were carried out in Samarra and Tikrit, north of Baghdad:
- On November 6, 2016, a double terrorist attack was carried out in southern Tikrit through the detonation of an explosive barrel and a car bomb. The attack was carried out against an Iraqi army headquarters. At least 15 people were killed, and 33 others were wounded (Al-Rafidain Live YouTube Channel, November 6, 2016). An Iraqi brigadier general and his son were reportedly among the victims (Al-Sumaria, November 6, 2016). ISIS announced that one of its operatives, a suicide terrorist named Abu Suhayb al-Shammari, carried out a suicide bombing attack against a staging zone of the Iraqi security forces.
- On November 6, 2016, a suicide attack was carried out in the city of Samarra through the detonation of a car bomb at a staging zone of Shiite security forces, killing and wounding about 40 people (Al-Rafidain Live YouTube Channel, November 6, 2016). ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack.
ISIS's propaganda response
- Apart from the announcements on military achievements, ISIS’s media foundations published articles, pictures, and videos intended to show that in spite of the attack on Mosul, life goes on as usual in the city. Thus, for instance, an article published by Al-Haqq cites “an eyewitness account” of a person who visited Mosul. The visitor notes that the city is full of immigrants and foreigners, the restaurants are open, the mosques are full, and all are united in their will to defend the city. In contrast to these propaganda messages, ISIS operatives have reportedly put up checkpoints on the border between Syria and Iraq to prevent the residents of Mosul from fleeing to the Syrian territory. Dozens of families who tried to flee Mosul and its environs were forced to go back (Al-Durar al-Shamiya, November 7, 2016).
- An indication of ISIS’s predicament and pressure and of the efforts the organization is making to raise the morale of its operatives and residents can be found in the audiotape of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. The audiotape was released by the Al-Furqan media foundation on November 2, 2016, entitled “This is what we were instructed by Allah and His Messenger.” The messages that appear there are mostly addressed to ISIS operatives and the Islamic State’s Sunni citizens and they try to raise the morale and encourage them to stand fast. Statements by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s are rarely released (the last time Al-Baghdadi released an audiotape was in December 2015).
- Following are the main points made by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi on the audiotape (YouTube, November 2, 2016):
- A call to stand fast in Mosul: Al-Baghdadi called on ISIS operatives in Mosul to continue fighting, stand fast, be patient and adhere to their faith in Allah and their just path. He called for the “caravans of suicide bombers”: “Go on your way with Allah’s blessing, turn the night of the disbelievers into day, destroy their houses, turn their blood into rivers…”
- Presenting ISIS as the defender of Sunni Muslims in their fight against the Shiites: Al-Baghdadi noted the pressure and wrongdoings against Sunni Muslims in Syria and Iraq: “Don’t you see that the cities of Iraq become empty of Sunni [Muslims]… Here is [the city of] Aleppo coping with a Nusayri [i.e., Alawite] fighting campaign, cruel and without restraint, under Russian and Magi [i.e., Iranian] support.
- Calling on ISIS’s supporters abroad to escalate their activities against the coalition countries: Al-Baghdadi called on the organization’s operatives to attack “secular Turkey”, which allegedly abandoned Islam. He also called on ISIS operatives in Saudi Arabia to attack the “corrupt” royal family who fights against Islam in Iraq and Syria and pushes the residents into being “infidel.”
- Encouragement for the various provinces of the Islamic State: Al-Baghdadi addresses jihad fighters in Khorasan (Afghanistan/Pakistan), Bangladesh, the Caucasus, Indonesia, the Philippines, Yemen, the Arabian Peninsula, Egypt and Sinai, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, Somalia and West Africa: “Remember that you are the pillars of Islam and the pegs of the Islamic Caliphate […] You have proved yourselves […] Be patient, stand fast and do not be afraid…You should know that if your commanders die, Allah will substitute them with better ones […] Do not be disheartened.” Al-Baghdadi mentions the firm resistance of the jihad fighters in the city of Sirte in Libya, where, he claims, they taught their enemy a lesson.
Main developments in Syria
- For the time being, the campaign focuses on the rural area north of Al-Raqqah. Clashes took place between the SDF forces and ISIS south of the city of Ain Issa (about 50 km north of Al-Raqqah) and in several villages south and southeast of Ain Issa (Dimashq al-Aan, November 6, 2016). The SDF forces reportedly took over several villages and a few ISIS positions. Planes of the US-led coalition provide the forces with support through airstrikes against ISIS targets (Dimashq al-Aan; the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, November 6, 2016).
US involvement in the campaign to liberate Al-Raqqah
- Before the beginning of the campaign to take over Al-Raqqah, Joseph Dunford, Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, arrived for a visit in Turkey and met with the Turkish General Staff for coordination talks (Anatolia, November 6, 2016). Brett H. McGurk, Special Presidential Envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter ISIL, confirmed the US involvement in the operation. According to McGurk, the United States is acting in close cooperation with Turkey to coordinate the operation.
- Alexander Khrolenko, senior military commentator for RIA Novosti, the official Russian news agency, criticized the operation for the liberation of Al-Raqqah. According to Khrolenko, this operation is different from the campaign to take over Mosul because the Americans did not bother to ask for the Syrian government’s official permission and thus violated the Syrian sovereignty. In addition, the operation reveals that the Americans ignore the interests of Turkey, as the latter considers the Kurdish armed groups “terrorists” (RIA Novosti, November 7, 2016).
The city of Aleppo and its environs
- On November 4, 2016, Russia and the forces of the Syrian regime announced an 8-hour humanitarian pause in the east of the city. According to the announcement, eight “humanitarian corridors” will be open during the pause for the exit of operatives and civilians. The operatives were asked to seize the opportunity (allegedly, the last one) to leave the city with their personal weapons (Syrian Army Spokesman’s office; Reuters, November 4, 2016). According to human rights organizations, the call to leave went almost unheeded and no civilians or rebel groups were recorded leaving east Aleppo.
Egypt and the Sinai Peninsula
- ISIS's Sinai Province continues its intense military activity against the Egyptian security forces. On November 4, 2016, three gunmen assassinated Hisham Mohammad Mahmoud Abu al-Azm Shahin, a brigadier general in the Egyptian Air Force. The assassination occurred in the city of Al-Arish (Al-Masri al-Youm, November 4, 2016). ISIS’s Sinai Province claimed responsibility for this action (Aamaq, November 4, 2016). This is the third assassination of Egyptian Army officers in the last two weeks (two others occurred on October 22, 2016, in north Cairo, and on October 29, in North Sinai).
The global jihad in other countries
- The forces of the Libyan Government of National Accord continue their slow advance in the Marine neighborhood(ISIS's last stronghold in the city of Sirte). This week, they have taken over several more positions in the Marine neighborhood. According to an announcement by the spokesman for the operation on November 2, 2016, the forces cleansed dozens of buildings out of the seventy buildings in the neighborhood. ISIS’s Tripoli Province claimed that over 50 soldiers were killed and injured in the battles between its operatives and the forces of the Libyan Government of National Accord (justpaste.it, November 2 and 5, 2016; Aamaq, November 5, 2016).
- On November 4, 2016, there was an explosion near the police headquarters in downtown Diyarbakir, the capital of the Kurdish province in southeast Turkey. At least 11 people were killed, including two policemen, and about a hundred were injured. The attack was carried out through a car bomb, which parked in front of the building. ISIS claimed responsibility for this action. The attack was carried out two days after ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi called on ISIS operatives to attack targets in Turkey due to the latter’s participation in the campaign against ISIS.
- On November 6, 2016, ISIS announced that its operatives had killed a Tunisian Army soldier at his home in Jbal Mghilah, about 170 km southwest of the capital city of Tunis. A photo of the soldier’s certificate of the victim was attached to the announcement (Twitter account, November 6, 2016). According to Tunisian media reports, the soldier was killed at his home by unidentified assailants (Middle East Online, November 6, 2016).
- Data published by the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) indicates that by December 2015, 2,900 Russian citizens left the country to fight along with the terrorist organizations in the Middle East. According to up-to-date data, 90% of them left Russia until mid-2013 (Reuters, November 5, 2016).
Counterterrorism and preventive activity
Targeted killing of Al-Qaeda senior operatives by the American forces
- Pentagon Spokesman Peter Cook confirmed that Farouq al-Qahtani, Al-Qaeda leader in Afghanistan, was killed on October 23, 2016, in an airstrike by the US forces in Konar province, Afghanistan. Al-Qahtani was Al-Qaeda’s emir for northeastern Afghanistan (US State Department’s website, November 5, 2016). The US Department of Defense reported that Haydar Kirkan, a former Al-Qaeda operative who was close to Osama Bin Laden, was killed in an airstrike in Idlib, Syria, on October 17, 2016. According to US intelligence officials, he was about to carry out attacks against Western countries (US Department of Defense website, November 2, 2016).
Calls to carry out terrorist attacks in Turkey
- ISIS’s weekly Al-Naba published on its recent issue an article listing Turkey’s “crimes” against ISIS and calling to attack policemen, judges, military figures, clerics, supporters of the government party as well as Western citizens staying in Turkey. The article joins Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s call to attack Turkey, made in his speech.
Calls to carry out attacks in the USA on Election Day
- Al-Hayat, ISIS’s media foundation, published a document on the US presidential elections. The document calls on Muslims not to take part in the election process (which, according to its assertion, contradicts Islam) and carry out terrorist attacks throughout the United States against voters, including women. As stated in the document, “It is better to spill voters’ blood than the blood of American soldiers,” as they are part of the “diabolical” democratic system that sends soldiers to fight against Islam.
The question of Al-Baghdadi's whereabouts is still open. On November 6, 2016, the Iraqi army announced that the interrogation of ISIS operatives detained during recent days suggested that Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi had left the city of Mosul in the last days along with 150 families of city residents (Iraqi Army’s Twitter account, November 6, 2016). The reliability of this report is not clear.
The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF)are a military framework composed of Kurdish fighters and Arab tribesmen, but it also consists of Armenian and Turkmen members. It was established with an American support on October 2015 to fight against ISIS and the Al-Nusra Front. It became possible to form this framework following a cooperation agreement signed between the Kurdish resistance operating in northern Syria (YPG) and Arab opposition groups. The United States supports these forces, gives them advise on the ground and logistical assistance, and trains the fighters. The SDF operated against ISIS in the region west of the Euphrates River and even scored territorial gains. However, it was forced to lower its profile and even withdraw from some of the places it took over due to Turkey’s pressure and military activity in the region.