Spotlight on Global Jihad
ISIS operatives fighting in the Adan neighborhood (Aamaq, November 16, 2016).
Blocking roads in the Al-Tahrir neighborhood (Nineveh Information Center, November 20, 2016)
The destroyed bridge (Aamaq, November 21, 2016)
Mortar shells found in the workshop.
ISIS propaganda video, according to which life is proceeding normally in Tal Afar (Haqq, November 21, 2016)
Abu Maryam al-Moslawi, a suicide bomber who carried out a terrorist attack in the neighborhood of Al-Tahrir in east Mosul (Haqq, November 20, 2016)
Right: An armored vehicle allowing a suicide bomber to penetrate into a crowd of soldiers and detonate himself among them (US Department of Defense website, December 17, 2016)
One of the hospitals in east Aleppo which had been destroyed by the Syrian and Russian airstrikes (Al-Jazeera, November 19, 2016).
Devastation as a result of airstrikes in east Aleppo (Haqq, November 20, 2016)
ISIS operative codenamed Talha al-Khorasani, who carried out a suicide attack in the middle of Kabul (Haqq, November 16, 2016)
Weapons seized from the Iraqi Army in the area of Shirqat (Haqq, November 20, 2016)
Main events of the week
The campaign for Mosul
The war effort in the east
- On November 16, 2016, it was reported that the Iraqi forces, with the US-led coalition air support, entered the Mosul neighborhood of Al-Tahrir (AP, November 16, 2016). During the subsequent days, the Iraqi counterterrorism force reportedly took over the Adan and Al-Akha neighborhoods. According to the commander of the Iraqi forces, Marwan Hamed Salah al-Hayali, ISIS’s governor (Wali) of the neighborhood of Aden, has been killed (Al-Alam, November 20, 2016).
- On November 21, 2016, ISIS released a video showing that one of the bridges between eastern and southern Mosul had been ruined. According to ISIS, the bridge was ruined as a result of an airstrike by the US-led coalition planes (Aamaq, November 21, 2016). If ISIS’s claim is true, it seems that the destruction of the bridge was intended to isolate the east of the city and prevent ISIS from delivering supplies, operatives and car bombs from the western to the eastern part of the city, where most of the fighting takes place.
The war effort in the south
- This week, reportedly there was no further substantial advance of the Iraqi army from the south. In the area of Hamdaniya, about 20 km southeast of Mosul, the Iraqi forces uncovered an ISIS workshop for the manufacture of weapons. The workshop included a large amount of equipment, mobile and stationary rocket launchers, and mortars. The Iraqi forces’ sappers unit reported that ISIS had made use of chemicals to manufacture rockets with chemical warheads (Akhbar al-Aan, November 20, 2016).
The war effort in the west
- During the past week, the Shiite militias took over the airport of the city of Tal Afar(Al-Alam, November 16, 2016). An Iraqi Army force also takes part in the campaign for Tal Afar. An Iraqi Army senior officer reported that the Iraqi forces had liberated 17 villages in the Tal Afar area (Anatolia, November 21, 2016). The Shiite militias and the Iraqi army are now surrounding the city and preparing to enter it.
- The forces taking part in the campaign for Tal Afar announced on November 19, 2016, that they had managed to cut off the Tal Afar Province from Syria (Al-Mayadeen, November 19, 2016). After the main road serving ISIS to move between Iraq and Syria had been cut off, ISIS reportedly switched to alternative roads. One of these roads connects Tal Afar with Sinjar. From there, it continues to the Hasakah rural area, and then reaches Al-Raqqah, ISIS’s “capital” in Syria (Syrian Observatory for Human Rights; Al-Arabiya al-Hadath, November 20, 2016).
- ISIS on its part continues to spread the propaganda that life goes on routinely in the attacked areas. On November 21, 2016, ISIS released a video, according to which daily life in the city of Tal Afar is proceeding normally (Haqq, November 21, 2016).
ISIS fighting tactics
- ISIS operatives continue to employ urban guerrilla warfare in Mosul, using a variety of fighting tactics. Most outstanding is the use made by ISIS of car or truck bombs driven by suicide bombers. Following are a number of terrorist attacks carried out during the week:
- On November 20, 2016, ISIS claimed responsibility for a terrorist attack carried out in the east Mosul neighborhood of Al-Tahrir. The attack was carried out by a Mosul resident codenamed Abu Maryam al-Moslawi (Haqq, November 20, 2016).
- On November 21, 2016, ISIS claimed responsibility for carrying out a car bomb suicide attack in the east Mosul neighborhood of Al-Tahrir, killing Iraqi Army soldiers. The attack was carried out by an ISIS operative codenamed Abu Zubayr the Syrian (Haqq, November 21, 2016).
- On November 21, 2016, ISIS claimed responsibility for carrying out a car bomb suicide attack in the east Mosul neighborhood of Adan, killing 27 Iraqi Army soldiers. The attack was carried out by an ISIS operative codenamed Abu Osama the Syrian (Haqq, November 21, 2016)
- According to a press briefing by the US Department of Defense, more than 60 vehicle bombs have been destroyed during the attack on Mosul. Col. John Dorrian, the spokesperson for Operation Inherent Resolve, showed the journalists a photo of a captured vehicle with IEDs installed inside. This vehicle now serves the Kurdish Peshmerga forces for training purposes. According to Col. Dorrian, the vehicle is armored, allowing the driver to penetrate a crowd of soldiers and detonate himself among them (US Department of Defense website, November 16, 2016).
- Concurrently with the fighting in Mosul, ISIS’s terrorist attacks and guerrilla warfare in Baghdad and its environs continue. During the week, an IED was detonated against an Iraqi Army patrol in the Tawitha area, southeast of the city. IEDs were also detonated in markets in eastern and southwestern Baghdad. Eight people were killed in these attacks, and 31 others were wounded (Sawt al-Iraq, November 20, 2016; Al-Quds al-Arabi, November 21, 2016).
- The Russian Defense Ministry announced that on November 17, 2016, Russia launched cruise missiles from the Admiral Kuznetsov aircraft carrier (situated at a distance of 11,000 km). The missiles were launched against ISIS and Al-Nusra Front targets in Syria. According to the report published in the Russian media, all the attacks carried out were based on reliable, verified intelligence. Command posts and ammunition depots were reportedly hit, among other things, and military equipment and weapons manufacturing facilities were destroyed (Sputnik, November 17, 2016).
Main developments in Syria
The campaign for Aleppo
- This week, the Syrian forces advanced to a number of neighborhoods on the eastern and northern outskirts of Aleppo. The Syrian Army reportedly took over part of the Islamic cemetery, the old Sheikh Najjar area and the Hananou buildings in east Aleppo. The rebels attacked Syrian Army forces in the Sheikh Najjar industrial area in Aleppo’s northeastern suburbs as well as in Al-Malah, north of the city.
- Concurrently with the fighting on the ground, airstrikes by Syrian and Russian planes continued in east Aleppo. Airstrikes were also carried out in the city’s northern and western neighborhoods. Over 100 people reportedly died in these attacks, and many others were wounded. The World Health Organization announced on November 18, 2016, that hospitals in the east of the city were put out of commission. US President Barack Obama’s National Security Adviser Susan Rice condemned the attacks and called on Russia to terminate them (Halab al-Youm, November 18, 2016).
- On November 22, 2016, the Syrian General Staff released an announcement calling on the rebel organizations in east Aleppo to allow the residents to leave the eastern neighborhoods through designated crossings. The announcement also called on the rebels to remove the mines from the crossings (between the city’s eastern and western parts) and surrender their weapons (Syrian News Agency, November 22, 2016).
The campaign to liberate Al-Raqqah
- The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) took over this week 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 reportedly took over 47 villages and posts in the rural area south of Ain Issa (Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, November 19, 2016).
- Operation Inherent Resolve spokesperson Col. John Dorrianreported that during an airstrike carried out by the US-led coalition planes in Al-Raqqah on November 12, 2016, Abdel Basset al-Iraqi was killed. He had been in charge of ISIS’s external networks in the Middle East. Among other things, he had been in charge of planning and carrying out terrorist attacks against American, Turkish and European targets in the Middle East. In addition, he had been in charge of recruiting operatives and bringing them to Syria, and of finance and procurement of weapons (US Department of Defense website, November 16, 2016).
The area west of the Euphrates River
- The Free Syrian Army forces and other rebel organizations continue to cleanse the rural area around the city of Al-Bab in preparation for breaking into the city. This week, Turkish planes attacked ISIS targets in northeastern Al-Bab (Anatolia, November 21, 2016). In addition, the Free Syrian Army took over the town of Qabasin (8.5 km northeast of Al-Bab) as well as two villages near the city. ISIS on its part carried out suicide attacks, claiming to have killed 15 Turkish and Syrian fighters in one of them (Aamaq, November 18, 2016).
On November 16, 2016, the Kurdish YPG forces announced their intention to withdraw from Manbij and its rural area, in order to move to the eastern side of the Euphrates River and take part in the campaign for Al-Raqqah. On November 22, 2016, Turkey’s President Tayyip Erdoğan announced that the Turkish Armed Forces and the Free Syrian Army would start an operation to drive the Kurdish fighters out of Manbij (Sputnik, November 22, 2016). A possible withdrawal of the Kurdish forces from the important city of Manbij or its takeover by forces supported by Turkey would represent an increase of Turkish influence in the area west of the Euphrates River, with the Kurds (temporarily?) relinquishing their aspirations in the region.
The Sinai Peninsula
- The Egyptian security forces reported that they had taken over ISIS’s main information center in the Sinai Peninsula, which was located inside a school in a village in the area of Sheikh Zuweid. In the school, the forces found an ISIS flag, computers, communications devices, cameras, a satellite dish and an antenna. They also took over another ISIS center, intended for command and surveillance of Egyptian Army forces. In that center, they found communications devices, binoculars, a telescope and other types of equipment (Al-Bawaba News, November 18, 2016).
- A total of 292 operatives of ISIS’s Sinai Province were brought to trial before an Egyptian military tribunal. They are accused of belonging to ISIS terrorist squads and carrying out dozens of terrorist attacks against the Egyptian security forces in the Sinai Peninsula and in Egypt. They are also accused of two attempts on the life of Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. Their investigation showed that one of the squads tried to assassinate the president while he was staying in Saudi Arabia. Another squad, comprising police officers who had been fired, carried out an assassination attempt while securing the president’s motorcade (Al-Youm al-Sabea, November 20, 2016).
The global jihad in other countries
- More than six months after the Libyan forces started the campaign to take over the city, ISIS operatives are still in control of parts of the Marine neighborhood in Sirte. According to General Thomas D. Waldhauser, commander of the US Africa Command, about 200 ISIS operatives are still staying in several structures in the city. He says house-to-house fighting takes place in the city, and the remaining operatives established a network of tunnels for themselves, planted IEDs and mines which make it difficult to cleanse the area. No airstrikes were carried out during the week by US and coalition forces planes.
Al-Qaeda in south Libya
- The fate of Abdel Muneim Belhaj al-Hasnawi, codenamed Abu Talha al-Libi (i.e., the Libyan), a senior operative of Al-Qaeda in the Maghreb (AQIM), is still unclear. According to reports (which are yet to be verified), he was killed in an airstrike by an unidentified aircraft on November 14, 2016, in the north of the city of Sabha, south Libya. The Pentagon spokesperson said on November 16, 2016, that the United States did not carry out the attack. Abu Talha was a senior commander in Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan during the 1980s. He later returned to Libya and spent time in prison for membership in Al-Qaeda and his involvement in the assassination attempt on Muammar Qaddafi.
- A Libyan force (whose identity is unclear to us) managed to arrest the wife of Mokhtar Belmokhtar, senior Al-Qaeda leader in North Africa. After a preliminary investigation, she confessed that he was still alive, staying in south Libya (Akhbar al-Aan, November 21, 2016). Mokhtar Belmokhtar, aka Khaled Abu al-Abbas, is an Algerian citizen, a key figure for jihadists in North Africa. He was the head of the Al-Murabitun Brigades, operating on behalf of Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb countries. Mokhtar Belmokhtar was involved in the terrorist attack in the Radisson Blu Hotel in Mali, where 19 people were killed (November 20, 2015). Rumors that he was killed in an airstrike in the past proved false.
- A terrorist riding a motorcycle carried out a suicide attack on November 16, 2016, against a vehicle of the VIP security unit in Kabul. At least five people were killed and 11 others were wounded. Afghan Interior Ministry spokesman Sadiq Siddiqui reported that the suicide bomber carried out the attack while the vehicle was traveling in the center of Kabul, in an area with many government and security buildings, including the Presidential Palace (Afghanistan Times, November 16, 2016). ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack. ISIS’s Khorasan Province announced that the attack was carried out by an operative codenamed Talha al-Khorasani. According to the claim of responsibility, he was riding a motorcycle and detonated his explosive vest near a bus carrying Afghan intelligence personnel (Haqq, November 16, 2016).
Counterterrorism and preventive activity
- The Sudanese authorities arrested Moez bin Abdel Qader, codenamed Abu Nassim, a senior ISIS operative who operated in Tunis. He was arrested based on an international arrest warrant, issued against him by the Italian judicial system. He is expected to be extradited to Italy. Abu Nassim infiltrated into Sudan from Libya. In August 2015, it was reported that he was the head of a network operating in the Milan area. The existence of the Milan network was exposed in ISIS documents seized in Sirte (Al-Hayat, November 16, 2016).
- According to Dutch national counterterrorism coordinator Dick Schoof, intelligence experts estimate that ISIS has between 60 and 80 operatives planted in Europe to carry out attacks. He said ISIS called on its operatives to focus their activity on Europe. They are requested to carry out terrorist attacks in Europe rather than traveling to join the fighting in Syria or Iraq. He added that although the Netherlands did not suffer from terrorist attacks as France or Belgium, “the chance of attack in the Netherlands is real”. According to the Dutch counterterrorism coordinator, 294 people left the Netherlands to fight in Syria and Iraq, and 190 of them still haven’t returned. He estimates that between 4,000 and 5,000 Europeans are currently fighting in the ranks of ISIS (Fox News, November 19, 2016).
ISIS’s propaganda response to the fighting in Mosul
- In parallel to the fighting in Mosul, ISIS is waging a battle for the hearts and minds of Mosul residents, ISIS operatives defending Mosul, and the organization supporters around the world. Each target audience is provided with specially designed propaganda products:
- ISIS operatives in the city of Mosul: In order to enhance their motivation and raise their morale, ISIS’s media arm produces videos presenting ISIS as an offensive rather than defensive force. The videos show the Iraqi Army and the forces fighting along with it as defeated, along with photos of fatalities and weapons seized (inter alia, in places like Shirqat that fell into the hands of the Iraqi Army). In the background there are calls not to show weakness as heaven awaits anyone who wins the battle.
- The Sunni residents of Mosul: The videos are intended to strengthen the steadfastness of the city residents. The videos intended for them document the victories of ISIS operatives in the fighting in Mosul and the defeat of their enemies.
- ISIS supporters around the world: The videos produced for them were intended to mobilize them to the campaign by linking the fighting in Mosul and an all-out war against the West (the “Crusaders”). Within this context, ISIS leaders call on operatives who are outside the scene of the battles to contribute to ISIS’s war effort by carrying out terrorist attacks in their countries of residence or where they are currently staying.
- Vis-à-vis Syrian and Iraqi audiences, as well as its target audiences in the Arab or Muslim world, ISIS presents a façade of “business as usual.” Its intention is to prove that the attacks did not damage the Islamic State, and that daily life continues as usual in the city. In this context, ISIS distributes photos and videos documenting quiet and ostensibly routine daily life in Mosul (as well as in other cities controlled by ISIS, which are currently under threat, such as Tal Afar).
ISIS’s organ calls for terrorist attacks abroad
- The third issue of ISIS’s magazine Rumiyah (i.e., Rome in Arabic) was published on November 11, 2016. The magazine is issued by ISIS’s Al-Hayat Media Center. It was published in English, French, German, Russian, Turkish, Turkmen, Indonesian and Pashto.
- Apart from that, the author notes the following with regard to preparation and planning: “Assessing vehicle for roadworthiness; filling vehicle with a sufficient amount of fuel; mapping out the route of the attack; surveying the route for obstacles; […] If accessible, a secondary weapon should be attained.”The article notes “ideal” events for vehicular attacks, such as large outdoor conventions and celebrations; pedestrian-congested streets (high/main streets); outdoor markets; festivals; parades; political rallies (pp. 10-12). Another article (pp. 2-3) calls to carry out terrorist attacks in Turkey, which ISIS apparently considers a preferable country for attacks.