Spotlight on Global Jihad
The suicide bomber on his way to his destination (Aamaq, November 9, 2016).
An ISIS suicide bomber codenamed Abu Haydara the Syrian near a car bomb.
A suicide bomber codenamed Abu al-Baraa the Syrian near a car bomb (Google Drive, November 8, 2016)
Destroying antiquities in the city of Nimrud after its takeover by ISIS (Haqq, April 11, 2015)
Explosive barrels placed by ISIS before detonating the Nimrud archaelogical site.
Life goes on normally in Mosul, according to ISIS (Haqq, November 9, 2016)
ISIS operative codenamed Abu Abdel Rahman the Syrian encourages jihad fighters to wear explosive belts and drive car bombs (Google Drive, November 8, 2016)
ISIS operative codenamed Abu Abdel Rahman al-Qunaytari noting that the Mosul campaign is a religious war against the Shiites (Google Drive, November 8, 2016)
Trucks carrying Free Syrian Army anti-aircraft guns en route to Al-Bab (Twitter account, November 13, 2016)
Bodies of Kurdish fighters killed by ISIS west of Al-Bab.
Weapons seized by ISIS operatives in clashes with the Kurdish forces (Twitter account, November 12, 2016)
Main events of the week
The campaign to take over Mosul
The war effort in the east
- The campaign to take over Mosul has been going on for a month. The Iraqi army, and especially its counterterrorism force, continues to advance slowly in the eastern neighborhoods of the city, with coalition countries air support. The force announced that it had taken over a number of neighborhoods in eastern Mosul (see map). Iraqi Interior Ministry spokesman reported that the Iraqi forces had cleansed over a third of Mosul’s east bank (Reuters, November 15, 2016). The liberated territories have been handed over to local security forces (Anatolia, November 15, 2016).
- ISIS displays obstinate resistancein Mosul’s eastern neighborhoods. It frequently sends suicide bombers to detonate car and truck bombs. Thus, for instance, ISIS announced on November 7, 2016, that it employed a truck bomb driven by a suicide bomber in the Al-Intisar neighborhood; on November 9, 2016, ISIS released a video where it documented a suicide bombing attack in the east of the city; on November 12, 2016, ISIS announced a series of suicide bombing attacks in the east of the city. ISIS has also demanded the residents of Mosul’s eastern neighborhoods to remain in their homes (Anatolia News Agency, November 14, 2016).
The war effort in the south
- In the town of Hammam al-Aloul, about 30 km south of Mosul, which has been liberated by the Iraqi army last week, life returned to normal after the area had been cleansed from ISIS operatives (Al-Mayadeen, November 11, 2016). Following the takeover of the town, the Iraqi forces are advancing toward Mosul from the south, with the intention of taking over the city airport.
- On November 13, 2016, the Iraqi army liberated the historic city of Nimrud, west of Hammam al-Aloul. The ancient city of Nimrud had been the capital of the Assyrian Kingdom. After taking over the city, ISIS destroyed the antiquities there. Currently, it is not clear whether any of them can be restored.
The war effort in the west
- The Shiite militias continue their slow advance toward the city of Tal Afar, west of Mosul. According to an Iraqi military source, the militias are currently southeast of Tal Afar, at a distance of about 25 km of the city (Anatolia, November 14, 2016). The militias cut off the main road leading west of Mosul to Tal Afar (Al-Mayadeen, November 13, 2016).
- Shiite militia spokesman Ahmad Al-Assadi announced on November 14, 2016, the beginning of the “third stage” to liberate the city of Tal Afar from ISIS. This stage includes the takeover of the airport south of the city. The spokesman expressed his dismay at the increase of the presence of Turkish forces in the city (most of the city residents are Turkmen, conceived by Turkey as its protégés).
ISIS fighting tactics in Mosul
- ISIS operatives employ urban guerrilla warfare in Mosul, using a variety of fighting tactics. Most outstanding is the use made by ISIS operatives of car or truck bombs driven by suicide bombers. This modus operandi is causing the Iraqi army many losses.
- Additional fighting tactics employed by ISIS operatives: Firing anti-tank missiles; ambushes; planting roadside bombs, mines and booby-trapped cars; sniper shooting; using assault tunnels; blocking roads and streets in the city and its outskirts and using civilians as human shields. Also, ISIS has reportedly been stockpiling large quantities of ammonia and sulfur to be used as chemical weapons (Kurdistan 24, November 11, 2016).
- Concurrently with the fighting in Mosul, ISIS carried out suicide bombings in various Iraqi cities, mainly targeting Shiite and Iraqi regime sites. Among the outstanding terrorist attacks: suicide bombing attacks in the south and west of Baghdad, killing dozens of people; a suicide bombing attack in the Shiite city of Karbala, killing 11 people; and the detonation of two car bombs in the city of Fallujah, killing 15 people.
ISIS’s propaganda response
- ISIS propaganda machine is continuously spreading the false message that life goes on normally in Mosul. In support of this message, ISIS released a video this week (Haqq, November 9, 2016). It is unclear where and when the video has been shot.
- On November 8, 2016, ISIS’s Deir al-Zor Province (Al-Khayr Province) released a video intended to raise morale and increase motivation among its operatives and the residents of Mosul (November 8, 2016). The video is entitled “The Rebellious Citadel.” Following are the main messages of the video:
- The coalition taking part in the campaign against Mosul is fragile, being composed of countries and organizations hostile to one another (the leadership is “Crusader-Zionist,” and the fighting armies include Kurdish “infidels,” with the support of “secular Turkey”).
- The Sunni Muslims, “our brothers in Mosul,” are called upon to take part in jihad for Allah. Anyone who will not carry out jihad will not have the good fortune of meeting the 72 virgins of heaven and will be subject to Allah’s punishment. The video warns against fleeing the battleground and calls on Sunni Muslims to wear explosive belts, drive car bombs and carry out suicide bombing attacks.
- The Mosul campaign is a religious war of Sunnis against Shiites. A bitter fate awaits the Sunni residents of Mosul if the city falls into the hands of the Shiites. The takeover of Mosul will be accompanied by massacres, killing and rape, as perpetrated by Hezbollah operatives in Homs, Syria.
- Call on Muslims around the world to assist in the fighting against the “infidels.” Assistance can be rendered in many ways: joining the ranks of the fighters, killing “infidels,” and taking part in the media campaign.
US-Russian relations re the Syrian regime
American decision to carry out targeted killing of Fateh al-Sham Front operatives
- US administration officials reported that President Obama instructed the Pentagon to carry out targeted killing of senior operatives of the Fateh al-Sham Front (formerly, the Al-Nusra Front), due to the organization’s ties with Al-Qaeda. For the implementation of this mission, the US administration reportedly intends to allocate further intelligence sources, including drones (Washington Post, November 10, 2016). Referring to these reports, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov said that Russia received no confirmation of the above. He noted, however, that if it’s true, Russia is in favor (TASS, November 1, 2016).
Donald Trump’s statement on the anti-ISIS campaign
- In an interview US President-elect Donald Trump granted to the Wall Street Journal, he referred, inter alia, to the crisis in Syria. Trump suggested focusing on the fighting against ISIS instead of assisting the rebel organizations to oust Syrian President Bashar Assad (Wall Street Journal, November 12, 2016). In the ITIC's assessment, this statement indicates that the president-elect may change the current American strategy towards the Syrian crisis. The highlights of such a change, as expressed in Trump's interview: willingness to cooperate with Russia in the campaign against ISIS (and against the Fateh al-Sham Front?); changing the hostile attitude against the Syrian president and the Syrian regime; and greater willingness to cooperate with Russia in the efforts to settle the Syrian crisis.
Main developments in Syria
- The Syrian Army managed, inter alia, to take over the Al-Assad neighborhood in southeast Aleppo. Syrian television reported that Jaysh Al-Fateh, the umbrella framework of the rebel organizations, had sustained many losses in that neighborhood and lost a great deal of equipment. In addition, the Syrian forces took over other sites in west Aleppo, including the Minian zone, the industrial zone to its west, Project 1070, and the office complex west of Aleppo. Reportedly, over twenty Jaysh al-Fateh operatives died in battle in west Aleppo and dozens were injured. The rest of the operatives of Jaysh al-Fateh retreated toward the village of Al-Mansoura, about a kilometer and a half northwest of the Al-Assad neighborhood, and toward the rural area west of Aleppo (Al-Hadath, November 12, 2016; Al-Mayadeen, November 13, 2016).
- Following its achievements in west Aleppo, the regime called on the rebel organizations to withdraw from the eastern neighborhoods of the city within 24 hours. After that time, a “strategic attack” will begin, in which precision weapons will be employed. Nasr al-Hariri, member of the Syrian National Coalition (a political body of the rebel organizations which was established in Qatar) said in response that the rebel organizations would not give up on Aleppo and would not hand it over to the Syrian regime and its allies Hezbollah, Iran and Russia (Al-Arabiya; Akhbar al-Aan, November 13, 2016).
The campaign to liberate Al-Raqqah
- The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF)continue to advance from the town of Ain Issa southward, toward the city of Al-Raqqah, ISIS’s “capital” in Syria. This week, clashes reportedly occurred between the SDF forces and ISIS operatives in the area of Tell Al-Saman, about 26 km north of Al-Raqqah. Since the beginning of the campaign to take over Al-Raqqah (Operation Euphrates Wrath), SDF forces took over 29 farms, villages and posts in the rural area north of Al-Raqqah (Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, November 13, 2016).
- ISIS is trying to stall the advance of the SDF forces by detonating IEDs and carrying out suicide attacks. On November 12, 2016, ISIS announced that 12 Kurdish fighters died as a result of three IEDs exploding in the village of Laqta, about 35 km southeast of Ain Issa (Aamaq, November 12, 2016). On November 14, 2016, ISIS claimed responsibility for a suicide attack in the town of Ain Issa. According to ISIS’s announcement, the Kurdish forces sustained 30 fatalities.
The rebel organizations’ advance towards Al-Bab
- The Free Syrian Army forces and other rebel organizations supported by Turkey announced this week the beginning of the campaign to liberate the city of Al-Bab. The forces took over five villages and towns northwest of Al-Bab, and they are now in the vicinity of the city (according to one version, about two kilometers from the city). Dozens of Turkish tanks take part in the operation to take over Al-Bab. The Syrian media reported that Turkish tanks attacked the outskirts of the city and Turkish artillery bombarded targets north of the city. In addition, Turkish planes reportedly carried out several airstrikes against ISIS targets in the area of Al-Bab (Al-Durar al-Shamiya, November 14, 2016).
- At the same time, Kurdish forces also attempted to advance toward Al-Bab. On November 12, 2016, ISIS’s Aleppo Province reported that 15 Kurdish fighters died while trying to advance toward the village of Umm al-Amad, about 12 km west of Al-Bab. ISIS operatives reportedly destroyed an APC of the Kurdish forces and seized weapons.
The northern Syrian Golan Heights
- The rebel organizations, and especially the Fateh al-Sham Front, the Ahrar al-Sham movement, and Ajnad Al-Sham, announced on November 9, 2016, the beginning of a military operation under the name of Mount Hermon Flame Campaign. The operation reportedly aims to alleviate the pressure on the Khan al-Sheikh refugee camp, which has been besieged for over forty days (local coordination committees reported this week that the Syrian regime forces attacked the outskirts of the camp with chlorine gas); lift the siege on Bet Jan and break through to the areas under the rebel control in the rural area of Quneitra – the town of Jabata al-Khashab (Syrian Observatory for Human Rights website, November 11, 2016).
- The operation is aimed against the Syrian regime forces in the area of the Druze towns of Khadr and Harfa, in the northern Syrian Golan Heights. The rebel organizations attacked these towns and tried to break into the Syrian Army bases in Khadr and its environs. According to reports, fighters of the militias affiliated with the Syrian regime in the town of Khadr repelled the attack with the support of the Syrian forces’ heavy artillery fire (Syrian Observatory for Human Rights website, November 1, 2016).
The global jihad in other countries
- The Marine neighborhood in Sirte, ISIS’s last stronghold, has still not been taken by the forces of the Libyan Government of National Accord. During the recent days, the fighting area in the neighborhood is tensely quiet, with sporadic exchanges of fire (Al-Wasat Portal, November 12, 2016). Spokesmen for the forces of the Libyan Government of National Accord offered a number of reasons for that: ISIS operatives demonstrate superior fighting skills; they have proficient snipers; they use civilians as human shields; ISIS operatives fight until their last breath, and they detonate themselves before being taken prisoner. According to one of the spokesmen, more than 650 thousand soldiers of the forces of the Government of National Accord died in battle so far, and 1,800-2,000 ISIS operatives (AFP, November 11, 2016; Alarabiya.net, November 12, 2016).
- US administration officials say that the Pentagon has intelligence, according to which, several hundred ISIS operatives fled the battle zone in Sirte. Apparently, they were not senior operatives. According to these officials, the Pentagon has begun to formulate programs to increase the scope of airstrikes in Libya to prevent these operatives from settling down in other areas and carrying out revenge attacks against the forces of the Government of National Accord. However, they say that intelligence collection and analysis are still required to make sure the increase of the scope of attacks will not cause civilian casualties, as this could lead to the termination of Libyan support for those attacks (The Washington Post, November 11, 2016).
- This week, yet another mass-killing attack was carried out by ISIS’s Khorasan Province, aimed against a Shiite population (which is among ISIS’s most preferred targets). A total of 43 people were killed on November 12, 2016, and more than a hundred were wounded in a suicide bombing attack carried out by ISIS in the Shah Noorani Shiite shrine, in the Baluchistan Province (about 100 km north of Karachi, south Pakistan). Reportedly, during the attack there were hundreds of people in the shrine (Reuters, November 12, 2016).
- ISIS’s Khorasan Province announced that a suicide bomber codenamed Abu Abdallah al-Khorasani detonated his explosive vest among a gathering of Shiites in Hub, Baluchistan. According to the announcement, 35 people were killed in the explosion, and 95 others were wounded (Twitter account, November 12, 2016).
Counterterrorism and preventive activity
ISIS attempt to carry out a terrorist attack at a soccer stadium in Albania foiled
- Albanian and Israeli media revealed this week that ISIS’s intention to carry out a suicide bombing attack at a soccer match between the Albanian and the Israeli teams in the city of Shkodra was foiled. The attack was supposed to be carried out by four operatives affiliated with ISIS, who planned to detonate explosives at the stadium and open fire during the match (albaniannews.com, November 12 and 14, 2016). The four suspects were arrested based on intelligence on November 5, 2016, near the border with Kosovo (Israeli daily Haaretz, November 8, 2016). In addition, seven people were arrested in three cities in Kosovo, on suspicion that they were planning coordinated terrorist attacks in Albania and Macedonia (Haaretz, November 8, 2016).
- According to Albanian media, an additional attack was planned against a building in the capital city of Tirana, where imams are arrested for calling on Muslims to go fight in Syria. A total of 150 people suspected of “radical activity” were also arrested. The detainees include operatives who have recently returned from Syria. Police suspect they were fighting in the ranks of ISIS and the Al-Nusra Front (albaniannews.com, November 14, 2016).
- As a result of the exposure of the intention to carry out the attack, the soccer match was moved to a stadium near the capital Tirana. On November 8, 2016, the Israeli Counterterrorism Bureau headquarters issued a travel alert for Israelis traveling to Albania, advising them not to attend the World Cup qualifier match where the Israeli team was supposed to play (Haaretz, November 8, 2016).
- The Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) arrested a group of operatives from ten different countries in Central Asia, who were affiliated with ISIS. The network operatives are suspected of planning to carry out attacks in public places in Moscow and Saint Petersburg. The FSB confiscated weapons, ammunition, four explosive charges and communications equipment (Sputnik, November 12, 2016).
Two of the arrested operatives are followers of a radical Muslim imam in Tirana. This imam was accused of recruiting more than seventy operatives to assist ISIS in the war in Syria (Haaretz, November 8, 2016).