Spotlight on Global Jihad
Meeting of the foreign ministers of the anti-ISIS coalition countries in Washington (Department of State website, March 22, 2017)
ISIS fire at Syrian Army positions southeast of Deir Hafer.
SDF operatives near the northern entrance of the Tabqa Dam compound (ANHA, March 27, 2017)
The Tabqa Dam (Aamaq, March 27, 2017)
Photo released by ISIS, showing the damaged control room of the dam (Haqq, March 27, 2017)
SDF vehicle at the Al-Tabqa airfield.
Syrian Army reinforcement on its way to Hama (Twitter, March 23, 2017)
Photos from a video released by ISIS, showing the fighting in central west Mosul, near the Tigris River (Aamaq, March 23, 2017)
Perpetrators of suicide bombing attacks in Mosul. According to their codenames, most of the suicide bombers are residents of Mosul (Haqq, March 23, 2017)
Stores on fire in Al-Nabi open market as a result of ISIS mortar fire (Nineveh Information Center, March 26, 2017)
Khaled Masood, the perpetrator of the vehicular and stabbing attack near the British Parliament in London (British police website, March 24, 2017).
ISIS’s claim of responsibility for the attack in London.
Main events of the week
The coalition countries
Meeting of the representatives of the anti-ISIS international coalition
- On March 22, 2017, a meeting took place in Washington between the foreign ministers of 68 countries taking part in the international coalition against ISIS. The meeting was the first of its kind under the Trump administration. The representatives discussed steps to defeat ISIS, with the campaigns for Mosul and Al-Raqqah in the background. Following are the highlights of the meeting (US Department of State website, March 22, 2017):
- ·The coalition members noted the achievements in the campaign against ISIS. The main ones: the decrease of the territory controlled by ISIS; restricting ISIS’s accessibility to resources; hitting its command; impacting the size of its force (according to them, the number of ISIS operatives has been reduced by half); and exerting pressure on ISIS’s global networks. The coalition members commended the Iraqis for the release of over 60 percent of their territory previously held by ISIS in Iraq and noted the significant progress in the campaign for Mosul. They pointed out the fact that the Syrians liberated more than a third of the territory previously held by ISIS. These achievements are a result of the cooperation between the coalition countries.
- ·The coalition members enumerated essential steps for the continuation of the common struggle against ISIS: Information sharing, enhanced traveler screening and law enforcement cooperation, as well as the ability to prosecute and penalize foreign terrorist fighters and others providing material support to ISIS. In addition, they stressed the importance of cooperation between the coalition members in actions to prevent radicalization by strengthening social cohesion and enhancing the resilience of communities; addressing the issue of fighters returning (from Syria and Iraq) and the cooperation in dealing with ISIS’s propaganda.
Main developments in Syria
The Syrian Army’s advance towards the Euphrates Valley
- The forces of the Syrian Army and their supporters, with Russian air support, continued fighting against ISIS operatives in the area of the town of Deir Hafer, on the route leading from Al-Bab to Lake Assad and the Euphrates Valley. It seems that fighting in the area is still bogged down. During the week, the forces of the Syrian regime recorded local successes after taking over several villages and towns north and east of Deir Hafer (Syrian Army Spokesperson's Office, March 22, 2017). In parallel, it was reported that ISIS had begun withdrawing its forces from the area (Al-Durar Al-Shamiya, March 24, 2017). For the time being, it is unclear whether the Syrian forces entered the town of Deir Hafer.
The campaign for Al-Raqqah
The takeover of the Tabqa Dam
- nThe SDF forces continued mopping up the region north, east and west of Al-Raqqah, in an effort to tighten the siege on the cityprior to its takeover. The SDF forces, with US support, recorded an achievement when they managed to take over the Tabqa Dam, situated 55 km west of Al-Raqqah (Khotwa, March 24, 2017). Tabqa Dam, the largest water reservoir in Syria, has tremendous importance, as it supplies electricity and water to a major part of the residents of the Euphrates Valley, including the residents of Al-Raqqah, ISIS stronghold in Syria.
The takeover of the airfield south of Al-Tabqa
- On March 26, 2017, SDF forces managed to take over the military airfield 2.7 km south of Al-Tabqa, following ISIS operatives’ withdrawal. After taking over the airfield, SDF operatives began searching and removing mines which ISIS left in the area of the airfield (Al-Arabiya, March 26, 2017). Employing the Al-Tabqa airfield by the US Army will assist the campaign for the takeover of Al-Raqqah, as the airfield can serve as a supply basis of US military equipment for the SDF forces.
Preparations for the takeover of Al-Raqqah
- According to senior Pentagon officials, the SDF forces expected to take over Al-Raqqah consist of 50,000 operatives. These forces include 27,000 Kurds, who are the most proficient and experienced fighters (all4syria, March 24, 2017). In an interview with Russian media, SDF Commander Nasser Mansour said that the US continues the preparations for the campaign to take over Al-Raqqah. According to him, the US supports the SDF, including by the transfer of weapons, ammunition, armored weaponry and heavy weapons. He noted that the SDF forces await shipments of US Apache helicopters, assuming they would be used in the campaign to liberate Al-Raqqah (Sputnik, March 23, 2017).
- This week as well, fighting continued in the eastern neighborhoods of Damascus. It seems that the rebel organizations’ momentum subsided. The Syrian forces have managed to retake several neighborhoods taken over by the rebel organizations at the beginning of the attack. Fighting concentrated in the neighborhoods ofJobar, Al-Qaboun, and Al-Abbasiyin, where the Syrian forces managed to retake most of the territory (Dimashq Al-Aan, March 24, 2017).
- In view ofthe rebel attack, the Syrian Army reinforced its troops in the Hama area. Reportedly,a Fifth Corps force of the Syrian Army was sent from the Palmyra area to Hama (Twitter, March 23, 2017). The Syrian forces are supported by pro-Iranian Shiite militias and Russian air support. Iranian media reported that two IRGC commanders had been killed in battle in the Hama area (Al-Durar Al-Shamiya, March 27, 2017).
- At the beginning of their attack, the rebel forces took over several towns and villages north of Hama and reached a distance of a few kilometers from the city and the Syrian Air Force base to its west (Reuters, March 25, 2017). However, the Syrian Army launched several counter-attacks mainly against targets of the Headquarters for the Liberation of Al-Sham. On March 28, 2017, the forces of the Syrian regime, with Russian air support, apparently managed to halt the rebel advance north of the city and regain control of several towns (Syrian Army Spokesperson's Office, March 27, 2017).
Main developments in Iraq
The campaign for the takeover of Mosul
- The campaign for the takeover of west Mosul continues. This week, the Iraqi security forces took over the Badush area, northwest of Mosul, where the Badush Dam on the Tigris River is located.In addition, the Iraqi forces completed the takeover of the Al-Uruba neighborhood in the central part of west Mosul. The forces continue to encircle the Al-Nuri Mosque in the Old City (Al-Sumaria, March 22-27, 2017; Nineveh Information Center, March 25, 2017). According to a commander in the federal Iraqi police, the Iraqi forces have taken complete control of an ISIS command center in west Mosul (Press TV, March 25, 2017).
Civilians hit by a coalition airstrike
- This week, dozens of civilians were reportedly killed as a building in the west Mosul neighborhood of Al-Jadida collapsed as a result of a coalition airstrike (March 17, 2017). The Iraqi Al-Sumaria TV Channel (citing an announcement by the Iraqi Army) claimed that the building was taken by ISIS operatives, who employed it for military purposes, using civilians as human shields (Al-Sumaria, March 26, 2017). The US Central Command announced that the allegations about civilians having been hitare taken seriously and that an investigation is held to determine what exactly happened there (US CENTCOM website, March 25-26, 2017).
- The Iraqi government announced that it suspends the campaign for the takeover of west Mosul in view of the large-scale civilian casualties.The spokesman of the Iraqi security forces stressed that the campaign for the takeover of Mosul should be planned in such a manner that would focus in ISIS and would not cause heavy civilian casualties (Reuters, March 25, 2017). However, on the following day, the Iraqi Army denied the reports that it had stopped the campaign against ISIS and declared that the fighting continues (Reuters, March 26, 2017).
- ISIS continued to attack the Iraqi security forces and the Shiite militias in Mosul mainly by suicide bombing attacks. An analysis of the codenames of the perpetrators of the suicide bombing attacks reveals that most of them are residents of Mosul. In the ITIC's assessment, this is further indication that ISIS’s pool of suicide bombersdecreases (other indications were the use of children and older adults for carrying out suicide bombing attacks). Following are some of the attacks:
- On March 23, 2017, ISIS announced that it had carried out a car bomb attack in west Mosul (Haqq, March 23, 2017).
- On March 24, 2017, ISIS claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing attack in the vicinity of the Badush area, northwest of Mosul (Aamaq, March 24, 2017).
- On March 26, 2017, ISIS announced that its operatives had carried out a double suicide bombing attack in the west Mosul neighborhood of Rajm Jadid (Haqq, March 26, 2017). That same day, ISIS claimed responsibility for two additional suicide bombing attacks by a car bomb in the west Mosul neighborhood of Mosul Al-Jadida.
- ISIS operatives fired mortar shells at the Al-Nabi open market, which was taken over by the Iraqi Army. As a result, many stores in the market went on fire (Nineveh Information Center, March 26, 2017).
- This week, Egyptian security forces sustained heavy losses: Ten Egyptian soldiers, including three officers, were killed on March 23, 2017, when IEDs exploded in the area of Jabal Sahaba in central Sinai. There was no claim of responsibility for the attack (Al-Araby Al-Jadeed, March 23, 2017). Most probably, ISIS’s Sinai Province is behind the attack. According to the Egyptian Army, the attack occurred during a raid of the Egyptian security forces, in which they killed 15 ISIS operatives. In south Al-Arish, four soldiers were killed and six others were wounded in the explosion of an IED planted by ISIS operatives near the road (Al-Masry al-Youm, March 26, 2017).
- According to Egyptian military sources, there is currently a tendency among the Egyptian security forces to push ISIS operatives to the central Sinai Peninsula and encircle them in that area. According to the sources, this modus operandi has several advantages. Among them: keeping ISIS operatives away from the Israeli border, stopping the launch of rockets at Israel, and transferring the fighting to regions with low population density (Al-Araby Al-Jadeed, March 24, 2017).
ISIS-inspired vehicular and stabbing attack in London
- According to London police, the perpetrator was Khaled Masood, 52, born in Kent, southeast England.He had previously beenknown by the name Adrian Elms, and also Adrian Russell Ajao. He had previous convictions for assaults, including GBH, possession of offensive weapons, and public order offenses. He was interrogated in the past by MI5 due to violent extremism. His first conviction was in November 1983, for criminal damage, and his last conviction was in December 2003 for possession of a knife. He served time in prison, where he probably converted to Islam. After his release from prison, he divorced his wife and married a Muslim woman. He went to Saudi Arabia, where he became even more radical.
- The day after the attack, ISIS’s Aamaq News Agency released a claim of responsibility. According to the announcement, “the man who carried out the attack in front of the British Parliament in London is a soldier of the Islamic State who carried out the attack in response to the calls for attacking nationals of the international coalition countries” (Haqq, March 23, 2017). This formulation corresponds to that of previous announcements made following ISIS-inspired terrorist attacks. The message did not mention the name of the perpetrator. The ITIC believes that the perpetrator was acting under ISIS inspiration but was not an ISIS operative and was not handled directly by ISIS.
- On March 24, 2017, a squad consisting of six ISIS operatives attacked a Russian National Guard base in the area of Rostov, Chechnya (Naursky District). The squad members attempted to break into the base during the night, inthick fog. Six National Guard soldiers were killed, and three others were wounded. All of the squad members were killed. In response to the attack, Russian President Vladimir Putin said that the terrorist attack against the National Guard unit was gruesome event and added that “we must develop the awareness of this danger at last and pool efforts in the struggle against terrorism” (TASS; Sputnik, March 24, 2017).
- A small group of jihadi operatives from North Caucasus calling itself JamaatNugay (or Nugay Group in the Levant, in Russian) recently released a video documenting its people training. The video shows a dozen fighters in a forest area in Syria, northwest of Latakia. The group members are seen training, firing Kalashnikov assault rifles and making explosives. According to the group, they are independent.However, it seems that they belong to the Caucasus Emirate, whose operatives are fighting in Syria along the Al-Qaeda-affiliated Fateh al-Sham Front.
- Speaking in an interview with Belgian radio, European Union’s Counterterrorism CoordinatorGilles de Krechove said that in his assessment, about 2,500 Europeans are still fighting in the ranks of ISIS in Syria and Iraq (this number is significantly reduced from the number of Europeans in the past). He estimates that many of them are expected to be killed during the fighting, others will go to other fighting scenes, such as Yemen and Afghanistan, and some of them will return to Europe. According to him, the biggest threat is not returning foreign fighters but “people who live here and for different reasons become radicalised” (euobserver.com, March 21, 2017).
Call for attacking Indian sites
- Following the call on Muslims in Bengal to join the ranks of ISIS, the terrorist organization published a call for terrorist attacks in India. The Taj Mahal was mentioned as the main target of the attacks. The media center affiliated with ISIS released a poster where an armed ISIS operative is seenon the background of the Taj Mahal, with the inscription “A new target.” Following this threat, the Indian security agencies have enhanced security measures on the site (indiatimes.com, March 16, 2017).
Badush Dam: A dam on the Tigris River, about 15 km north of Mosul, which regulates the water supply to the city. Its construction started in 1988 and ended in 1991, but it has not been completed yet due to economic difficulties incurred by Iraq following the international sanctions imposed on it during that year. If it would have been completed, the dam would have allowed a more regular supply of electricity and water to the city of Mosul (Wikipedia; Sada Press, January 15, 2016).
The Airwars group, which monitors civilian fatalities in Russian and American airstrikes, recently announced that there had been a significant increase in the number of civilians killed in the US-led coalition airstrikes. According to the announcement, a total of 1,000 civilians were killed in March 2017 in the coalition airstrikes in Syria and Iraq (the organization website, March 2017).
Nugay is a Turkic ethnic group living mainly in North Caucasus.
ISIS’s Euphrates Province recently released a video in Bengalese calling on Muslims to join ISIS. Those who cannot join the organization (in Syria and Iraq) were called upon to carry out attacks in their places of residence.