Spotlight on Global Jihad
Ain al-Khadra after the takeover of the Syrian Army (Shabakat al-I’lam al-Watani, January 16, 2017)
Artillery fire by the Syrian Army at ISIS operatives in the area of Deir ez-Zor (Syrian TV, January 14, 2017)
Photos from an ISIS video describing the fighting against the Syrian forces in Deir ez-Zor (Aamaq, January 15, 2017)
The suicide bomber, codenamed Abu Layth the Syrian, who blew himself up east of Al-Bab.
Naji al-Masalmeh (all4syria, January 16, 2017)
Operative codenamed Abu Abdallah the Uzbek, who carried out a suicide attack in east Mosul (Haqq, January 15, 2017).
Mosul University prior to ISIS taking over the city, in June 2014 (the Mosul University website, January 15, 2017).
Iraqi soldiers at the university; destruction is evident.
The scene of the attack in the neighborhood of Abu Dashir (Al-Sumaria, January 17, 2017)
The scene of the attack in central Baghdad (Al-Alam, January 14, 2017)
The visit of General Khalifa Haftar on the Russian aircraft carrier (a Russian Defense Ministry video)
Right: Abdulkadir Masharipov in a selfie taken on the day of the terrorist attack. Left: Masharipov after being caught by the Turkish security forces (Aks al-Sir, January 16, 2017)
Main events of the week
The international scene: Russia and Turkey
- Russian Defense Ministry Spokesman Igor Konashenkov said that six SU-24 planes had left the Hmeymim base in Syria and returned to Russia. According to Konashenkov, additional aircraft and technical personnel will soon return to Russia. He denied American reports that Russia had increased its military presence in Syria, and said that the Russian Ministry of Defense was working to reduce the number of Russian combatants in Syria as instructed by Vladimir Putin, the commander-in-chief of the Russian Army (Sputnik, January 12, 2017).
- The Russian Defense Ministry reported that talks had been held between delegations of the armed forces of Russia and Turkey. During the talks, the parties discussed cooperation in the struggle against ISIS (TASS, January 12, 2017). According to the Turkish defense minister, Russia and Turkey coordinate their airstrikes in Syria in order to prevent collisions between their planes (Anatolia, January 13, 2017).
Main developments in Syria
The ceasefire agreement
- The ceasefire agreement announced by the Syrian Army on December 30, 2016, is still in force in most of Syria, with the exception of several sites where fighting continues. The most prominent sites this week were the Wadi Barada area, northwest of Damascus, and the Deir ez-Zor area, in east Syria. In the area of Wadi Barada, the Syrian regime failed in its attempts to bring about a ceasefire that would allow it to recommission the pumps, which are so vital for the water supply to Damascus. In Deir ez-Zor, ISIS initiated attacks against the airport and several neighborhoods in the south of the city.
- The Fateh al-Sham Front, which was not included in the ceasefire agreement, reiterated its objection to the agreement. Hussam al-Shafi’i, the Front spokesman, said that heavy pressure was exerted on the opposition organizations to sign the agreement. However, he said, signing the agreement was a “grave mistake,” and whoever signed it and attended the signing ceremony will bear responsibility for the consequences. Hussam al-Shafi’i stressed that his organization was not subject to any external element [i.e., to Al-Qaeda] and that the jihad it carries out is intended to topple the Assad regime (Aljazeera.net, January 12, 2017).
The Wadi Barada area
- The Wadi Barada area, northwest of Damascus, where the water sources of the city are located, also continued this week to be a prominent site of clashes. The Syrian regime seeks to regain control over the water sources and the pumps of Damascus, which are in the hands of the rebels. The confrontation included airstrikes by the Syrian regime and both sides taking over villages and sites dominating the scene. During the fighting, a short ceasefire was reached, only to be violated after a short while.
- The ceasefire agreement in Wadi Baradawas reached on January 13, 2017 (Al-Nashra, January 13, 2017). Maintenance teams on behalf of the regime prepared to enter the town of Ain al-Fijah (under rebel control) in order to repair the water pumps and allow the renewal of water supply to Damascus (Al-Durar al-Shamiya, January 13, 2017). A day later, the ceasefire collapsed after the rebel organizations assassinated General (ret.) Ahmad al-Ghadban, who had been appointed by the regime to mediate in the crisis in the area (Syrian Army Spokesperson’s office, January 14, 2017). Following the collapse of the ceasefire, clashes resumed. The Syrian forces reportedly managed to take over the Ain al-Fijah Spring and the surrounding buildings. Fighting is still taking place in the area.
- During the battles, ISIS took over Al-Assad Hospital in Deir ez-Zor. Its operatives advanced toward the Policemen’s College in the south (see map). In addition, the Syrian Army reportedly lost control of the Engineering Housing Complex, near the military airport, and ISIS operatives took over the road leading from the city to the airport (Akhbar Qasiyun, January 15, 2017). By these moves, ISIS managed to isolate the airport from the southern neighborhoods of the city and strengthen its hold of the outskirts of Deir ez-Zor.
The Palmyra region
- This week as well, clashes continued between the Syrian Army and ISIS operatives in the area of the T-4 military airfield, west of Palmyra. The Syrian forces reportedly started an extensive military activity in the area north and east of the airfield, and took over several ISIS posts (Dimashq al-Aan, January 15, 2017). ISIS detonated a car bomb in the airfield area, causing 18 fatalities among the Syrian forces (Dimashq al-Aan, January 14, 2017).
The Al-Raqqah region
- Battles between ISIS operatives and the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) continued in the rural area west and northwest of Al-Raqqah(Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, January 14, 2017). The SDF forces managed to take over several villages north and west of Al-Raqqah (Dimashq al-Aan, January 16, 2017). ISIS carried out several suicide bombing attacks and detonated IEDs against the SDF.
The city of Al-Bab
- This week, clashes continued on the outskirts of Al-Babbetween ISIS operatives and the Free Syrian Army, with extensive Turkish Army air support. ISIS claimed responsibility for a suicide attack by the detonation of a car bomb against Turkish Army soldiers east of Al-Bab, allegedly killing twenty Turkish soldiers (Haqq, January 15, 2017).
The southern Golan Heights
- The ISIS-affiliated Khaled bin Al-Walid Army released a video documenting the activity of the morality police (Al-Hisba) in villages of the Yarmouk basin under its control (ARA News, January 13, 2017).
- The martyr documentation office in Daraa Province reported the death of Naji al-Masalmeh, the founder and leader of the ISIS-affiliated Islamic Al-Muthanna Movement. He was killed on January 14, 2017, in a coalition airstrike in the city of Al-Mayadeen (about 45 km southeast of Deir ez-Zor), which is under ISIS control. Naji al-Masalmeh left the region of the Yarmouk basin in late June 2016, after the establishment of the Khaled bin Al-Walid Army, of which the Islamic Al-Muthanna Movement is one of the components (website of the martyr documentation office in the Daraa Province, January 15, 2017; all4syria, January 16, 2017).
Main developments in Iraq
The campaign for the takeover of Mosul
- The Iraqi security forces continued to advance in east Mosul as part of the “Second Stage” of the campaign to take over the city. They took over neighborhoods along the Tigris River as well as the bridges leading from the east to the west of the city. Another achievement of the Iraqi Army this week was the takeover of the Mosul University, in the northeast of the city. On January 15, 2017, the Iraqi Army announced that it had taken over 90% of the east bank of the Tigris River (Al-Sumaria, January 15, 2017). The spokesman for the counterterrorism forces announced that the Iraqi forces had taken over about sixty out of eighty neighborhoods in east Mosul (Reuters, January 17, 2017). ISIS continues to send suicide bombers to stall the advance of the Iraqi troops.
- A majorachievement of the Iraqi forces was the takeover of the Mosul University, in the northeast of the city. Iraqi media reported that after the takeover of the university, the Iraqi troops uncovered in the science faculty nine barrels containing chemical substances, used by ISIS. The troops have also uncovered a tunnel network leading from the outskirts of Mosul into the university, and about twenty workshops for manufacturing explosives (Al-Sumaria, January 14, 2017).
ISIS’s terror campaign continues in Baghdad
- Concurrently with the campaign for the takeover of Mosul, Baghdad continues to be the main target of the terror campaign carried out by ISIS in various cities of Iraq. The purpose of these terrorist attacks is to deflect the Iraqi regime’s resources and attention and demonstrate that ISIS’s operational capabilities were not damaged. The following are some of the terrorist attacks carried out this week:
- On January 17, 2017, a car bomb exploded in the southwest Baghdad neighborhood of Abu Dashir. Seven people were killed, and twenty others were wounded (Al-Sumaria, January 17, 2017).
- On January 15, 2017, a car bomb driven by a suicide bomber exploded at an Iraqi Army roadblock in the area of Al-Khales (about 40 km northeast of Baghdad). ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack, alleging that 25 Iraqi soldiers were killed and wounded (Aamaq, January 15, 2017).
- On January 14, 2017, two car bombs exploded in central Baghdad, in the vicinity of the government buildings. Eight people were killed, and at least 13 others were wounded (Al-Naba, January 14, 2017).
- In the central Baghdad neighborhood of Al-Karadah, six people were killed, and 12 others were wounded as a result of a car bomb explosion (Al-Jazeera, January 14, 2017).
The Sinai Peninsula
- According to experts residing in Al-Arish who wished to remain anonymous, recently there has been a change in the character of the fighting in the Sinai Peninsula. According to these experts, following the cleansing of the Rafah and Sheikh Zuweid area, there is a decrease in the scope of terrorist attacks carried out by ISIS operatives against the Egyptian security forces. ISIS currently focuses its main activity in the city of Al-Arish, which it considers a weak spot as the Egyptian forces operating there are police forces rather than soldiers (Al-Shorouk, article by Fahmi Huwaidi, January 12, 2017).
- In order tostrengthen the Egyptian security forces’ control in the Sinai Peninsula and to create a formal separation between the northern and southern Sinai Peninsula, the Egyptian Interior Ministry decided to require a security clearance from anyone who wishes to enter southern Sinai. The decision provoked anger among the local population, whose freedom of movement has been compromised. According to the residents, the decision is unconstitutional and excludes the residents of Sinai from the rest of the Egyptian population (Al-Masry al-Youm, January 15, 2017).
The global jihad in other countries
- The forces of General Khalifa Haftar, the commander of the Libyan Army in west Libya (and opponent of the Government of National Accord), continue to fight against the Shura Council of the Benghazi Revolutionaries with the intention of cleansing the city and its environs. This week, the battles focused on the neighborhoods in the west of the city. Maybe the current effort by Haftar to cleanse Benghazi from the jihadi operatives was intended to balance the achievement of the Government of National Accord in retaking Sirte.
- In the political sphere, Haftar is working to acquire Russian support. The Russian aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov, having left the coast of Syria, made a stop off the Libyan coast, en route to its base in Severomorsk, north Russia. While it anchored off the coast of Libya, Khalifa Haftar visited on board the ship and had a conference call with the Russian defense minister. They discussed the fighting against terrorism (Russian Defense Ministry website; 1tv.ru, January 11 and 12, 2017).
- According to the Russian RT Channel, possible Russian involvement in the fighting in Libya may create a coalition with the Libyan forces operating in east Libya. Russian involvement may lead to Russian airstrikes against ISIS and “other radical elements” in Libya. Russia may provide the Libyan Army with weapons, training, and intelligence to fight terrorism (RT, January 12, 2016).
Counterterrorism and preventive activity
The terrorist attack at the Reina nightclub in Istanbul (update)
- According to Turkish media reports, this week in Istanbul, Turkish security forces arrested the terrorist who carried out the deadly attack at the Reina nightclub on New Year's Eve (December 31, 2016). The terrorist is Abdulkadir Masharipov, a native of Uzbekistan, who operated under the codename Abu Muhammed Khorasani.
- The terrorist was arrested at the home of a Kyrgyzstani friend in the Esenyurt neighborhood in western Istanbul. He went to his friend’s home four days after the attack. His four-year-old son was with him at the time of his arrest. Abdulkadir Masharipov reportedly came to Konya, Turkey, with his wife and two children in early 2016. He arrived in Istanbul on December 15, 2016, and rented an apartment. After the terrorist attack, he returned to pick up his son and then left the apartment (Daily Star; Milliyet, January 17, 2017).
- Following the Reina nightclub attack, whose victims included Muslims, ISIS’s weekly magazine Al-Naba published an apologetic article intended to justify the killing of Muslims. The article, based on quotations from Islamic sources, claims that causing random injury to Muslims is permitted when the primary target is “infidels” whose crimes justify killing. The article also claims that the Muslims who were injured brought it upon themselves because they were celebrating the holiday of the “infidels” (New Year’s Eve) and stayed close to them despite repeated warnings not to do so (Al-Naba, January 12, 2017).
- In a special operation in the city of Grozny and its environs, an ISIS-affiliated network of terrorist operatives was eliminated. The operatives had planned to carry out attacks against Russian National Guard soldiers and their families, and against civilians. During the operation, which lasted several days, four terrorists were killed and 60 suspects were detained. Two Russian National Guard soldiers were killed in the operation (Russian National Guard website, January 12 and 16, 2017).
- Ramzan Kadyrov, Head of the Chechen Republic, posted a report on his Instagram account stating that one of the detainees is Imran Datsayev, “a highly dangerous terrorist belonging to ISIS” (TASS News Agency, January 15, 2017). The next day, Ramzan Kadyrov reported the arrest of 50 operatives who, he said, were handled by a Chechen-born operative located in Syria and operating among local radical Islamic groups (Reuters, January 15, 2017).
Al-Muthanna Movementis a Salafist jihadi organization operating in the Daraa area. Previously (2013) cooperating with the Al-Nusra Front, the organization subsequently (starting in 2015) developed ties with ISIS. In May 2016, the Al-Muthanna Movement and the Shuhada Al-Yarmouk Battalion joined a new ISIS-affiliated umbrella organization called the Khaled bin Al-Walid Army. This umbrella organization controls the region of the Yarmouk basin, in the southern Golan Heights.
The Shura Council of the Benghazi Revolutionaries is a coalition of local Islamist organizations, established in June 2014. The main component of the coalition is the Ansar al-Sharia organization, affiliated with Al-Qaeda.