Spotlight on Global Jihad
Aerial photograph of the site of the meeting of senior ISIS operatives distributed by the Russian Ministry of Defense. Left: The site before the airstrike. Right: After the airstrike (Facebook page of the Russian Ministry of Defense, June 16, 2017)
Two SDF fighters observing Al-Raqqah’s eastern neighborhoods. One of them notes that they have reached the Bab Baghdad neighborhood (YouTube, June 17, 2017).
Photos from the city of Al-Raqqah (YouTube, June 19, 2017)
Syrian Army in the Al-Rasafah area: the photo on the bottom right shows bodies of ISIS operatives killed in the fighting against the Syrian Army
The advance of the Syrian Army towards Al-Rasafah: ISIS’s sign (right) reading “the Al-Raqqah Province” is still there (Syrian Al-Ittihad Press website, June 19, 2017)
Forces of the Iraqi government’s Counterterrorism Apparatus on the outskirts of the Old City
Iraqi border police soldiers on the Iraqi-Syrian border (Al-Sumaria, June 19, 2017)
Main events of the week
Russian involvement in Syria
Attack on a target where senior ISIS officials were meeting in Al-Raqqah
- The Russian Ministry of Defense announced that on May 28, 2017, Russian forces carried out an airstrike in Al-Raqqah, on a target where a meeting was being held with the participation of senior ISIS commanders and field commanders. According to the announcement, ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi may have been killed in the airstrike. The airstrike was carried out after the Russians learned about the meeting of ISIS leaders in a southern suburb of Al-Raqqah and after drones verified its existence. According to the Russian announcement, some 30 ISIS field commanders and some 300 fighters who had guarded the organization’s leaders were killed in the attack. The Russians noted that according to the information in their possession, ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was killed in the airstrike. The operatives who were killed included Abu al-Hajj al-Masri, the Emir of Al-Raqqah; Ibrahim al-Nayef al-Hajj, the Emir of the area between Al-Raqqah and Al-Sukhnah; and Suleiman al-Shawah, ISIS’s head of security (Facebook page of the Russian Ministry of Defense, June 16, 2017).
- nIn response to the Russian statements, the spokesman for the International Coalition for the War on ISIS said that the report could not be verified or refuted at this stage (Al-Arabiya, June 16, 2017). Pentagon Spokesman Jeff Davis also said they had no information to confirm the report (The New York Times, June 16, 2017). Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov also stressed that Al-Baghdadi’s death could not be definitively confirmed (RT, June 16, 2017).
President Putin praises the campaign in Syria
- In an interview with Russian media, Russian President Vladimir Putin said that Russia had acquired “invaluable” military experience in the Syrian campaign. According to him, innovative weapons systems were introduced for the first time during the campaign in Syria.Putin also noted that “the campaign was very beneficial to our defense industry” (TASS News Agency, June 15, 2017).
Main developments in Syria
The campaign to take over Al-Raqqah
- The situation in the various fighting zones is as follows:
- In east Al-Raqqah: Fighting continues on Al-Raqqah’s eastern outskirts. In recent days, SDF forces took over the Al-Sina’ah neighborhood (Sham Network, June 15, 2017; Al-Jazeera, June 16, 2017). Clashes continue in the Al-Batani neighborhood. Sixteen SDF fighters were reportedly encircled by ISIS operatives who infiltrated towards them through tunnels in Bab Baghdad, the southeastern Old City, close to the wall. Contact with the fighters was reportedly lost (Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, June 19, 2017).
- In west and northwest Al-Raqqah:Clashes between the SDF forces and ISIS in the Al-Qadisiyyah neighborhood continue. The SDF reportedly took over several sites in the neighborhood (Sham Network, June 19, 2017). Fighting also took place in the western part of the Al-Barid neighborhood, in northwestern Al-Raqqah (Qasiyoun, June 18, 2017).
Syrian Army advances towards Al-Raqqah; Syrian fighter plane intercepted by the US and the Coalition
- This week, the Syrian Army took over the town of Al-Rasafah, about 40 km southwest of Al-Raqqah. Al-Rasafah is situated south of an important crossroad, with one road leading eastward to Al-Raqqah and another westward to the SDF-held Tabqa. The Syrian Army also took over Jaidin, about 10 km northwest of Al-Rasafah (Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, June 18, 2017).
- The advance of the Syrian Army has apparently created friction with the SDF forces operating west and southwest of Al-Raqqah. It has been reported that a fighter plane of the US-led Coalition intercepted a Syrian fighter plane which allegedly attacked the SDF forces. The Syrians confirmed the interception of the plane. The Syrian Army headquarters claimed that the attack had been carried out in response to the advance of the Syrian Army and its allies in the fighting against ISIS, and that this action indicated the existing coordination between ISIS and the US (Facebook page of the Syrian Ministry of Defense, June 19, 2017). Syria dispatched messages to the UN secretary-general and the Security Council chairman denouncing the interception of the plane (Syrian News Agency, June 19, 2017).
Russia suspends the coordination of the flights
- In response to the interception of the Syrian plane, the Russian Defense Ministry announced that a US fighter plane attacked a Syrian plane which was carrying out a combat mission supporting Syrian Army units fighting against ISIS near Al-Rasafah. The announcement states that the attack is a violation of Syrian sovereignty, “military aggression against Syria,” and a “blatant violation of international law.” According to the announcement, while the Syrian plane was intercepted, Russian planes were carrying out missions in Syrian skies. However, the Coalition forces did not use the existing communications channels between the US air command center in Qatar and the Russian Hmeymim base to coordinate the attack (Facebook page of the Russian Defense Ministry, June 19, 2017).
Iranian missiles launched at ISIS targets in the Deir ez-Zor area in response to the attacks in Tehran
- Iranian Revolutionary Guards Spokesman General Ramazan Sharifsaid that the Iranian attack had been coordinated with the Damascus regime and that the missiles had been launched from the Iranian Air Force base in western Iran. He said that Iran had fired six Iranian-made Dhu al-Fiqar medium-range (650-700 km) ballistic missiles. According to him, the missiles had successfully hit their targets, including ISIS headquarters, ammunition, and logistic depots. Ramazan Sharif added that this was a “warning” operation following the terrorist attacks in Tehran (ISNA, June 19, 2017).
- Iranian government spokesmen praised Iranian capabilities as demonstrated by the missile fire, stressing that the missile launch was only an initial warning:
- Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Bahram Qassemi said that Iran had dealt a “fatal blow” to the “terrorist groups” and their control centers in Deir ez-Zor. He said that Iran had used all its defensive, military, intelligence and security capabilities in order to protect its citizens from the threat of terrorism. He added that the missile attack was only a “minor blow” and a warning for the future (Mehr, June 19, 2017).
- Iranian Air Force Commander Ali Haji Zadeh said that the missile launch was a message to ISIS and that it was “one of the minor operations that were carried out.” He said that the enemies (ISIS) should know that Iran is not like Paris or London, and if they continue their policy, they will be severely harmed. According to him, the targets of the missiles were command bases, construction centers, and car bomb manufacturing sites in Deir ez-Zor. He noted that at the same time that the missiles were launched, drones were launched at the targets from Damascus. The drones transmitted photos from the target areas to Iran in real time (Fars, June 19, 2017).
- In an Instagram post, Ali Akbar Velayati, advisor to the Iranian leader on international affairs, wrote that Iran’s attack on ISIS outposts in Syria was an example of Iran’s deterrent defense capabilities (Asr-e Iran, June 19, 2017).
Gas and oil facilities taken over in the Palmyra area
- In the Palmyra area, the Syrian forces recorded several successes: On June 15, 2017, the Syrian Army took over the Aarak gas field and key areas dominating it (about 20 km northeast of Palmyra). This area, which has so far been held by ISIS, is where the Aarak oil and gas field is situated. ISIS reportedly sustained many fatalities and lost a lot of equipment. It also lost control of the T3 Pumping Station for Crude Oil, located about 42 km east of Palmyra. Before ISIS operatives retreated from the pumping station, they destroyed it and blew up oil and gas wells (SANA, June 15, 2017).
Main developments in Iraq
The campaign for the takeover of Mosul
- The Iraqi Army announced that Iraqi Air Force planes had destroyed an ISIS main headquarters, where Arab and foreign operatives were staying, in the Al-Mahlabiyya area, about 35 km southwest of the city of Mosul. In addition, an ISIS hostel was destroyed in the attack, as well as a weapons and ammunition depot in the Tal Afar area, about 60 km west of Nineveh (Al-Sumaria, June 17, 2017).
Iraqi Army takes over the Al-Waleed border crossing
- The Iraqi Army declared that the takeover of the Al-Waleed areaput an end to the presence of ISIS on Iraqi soil, near the US base in the Al-Tanf area, on the Syrian side of the border (Reuters, June 17, 2017). One of the commanders of the Shiite Popular Mobilization Units, pro-Iranian Iraqi militias cooperating with the Iraqi government against ISIS, reported that a meeting was held with the forces on Syrian territory. According to that commander, the militia operatives are waiting for the zero hour to attack ISIS in the city of Abu Kamal (Al-Hadath, June 18, 2017). The city of Abu Kamal in Syria is the target of the Commandos of the Revolution rebel force, which is supported by the US and International Coalition.
- Before the takeover of the Al-Waleed crossing, the Iraqi Defense Ministry reported that a high-ranking Syrian delegation had come to Baghdad and discussed with Iraqi Army senior commanders issues pertaining to the security of the common border. This visit was the first of its kind for years, and its purpose was to establish cooperation in the war against ISIS. The Iraqi Army chief of staff said that the parties agreed to cooperate in the area of intelligence (Zaman Al-Wasl, June 14, 2017).
ISIS’s suicide bomber terrorism
An international report of the International Centre for Counter-Terrorism (ICCT) revealed that between December 2015 and November 2016, ISIS established a “suicide bombing industry.” According to the report, most of the organization’s major operations were carried out in Iraq and Syria. The percentage of foreign fighters who carried out suicide bombing attacks is 20%, while the percentage of the Iraqis (i.e., suicide bombers whose codename was Al-Iraqi) and the Syrians (i.e., suicide bombers whose codename was Al-Shami) is 74% (the ICCT could not define the rest). Iraq was the scene of 62% of the suicide bombing attacks, while 24% of the attacks were carried out on Syrian soil. About 3% of the attacks were carried out in Libya, while 1.7% took place in Yemen. Noteworthy among the foreign fighters who carried out suicide bombing attacks are Tajiks, Saudis, and North-Africans (Al-Suriya, June 15, 2017).
Global jihad activity in other countries
Attack thwarted in Belgium
- On June 20, 2017, around 20:30, a suicide bombing attack was thwarted at Brussels central train station. According to initial reports, a man aged 30-35, wearing an explosive belt, was shot and killed by soldiers at the scene. There were no other casualties. An explosion was heard at the station, and a fire broke out. So far, no organization has claimed responsibility.
- Indonesia Army commander said that ISIS is present almost in all the country’s provinces. According to him, ISIS sleeper cells are set up throughout the country and can easily join other radical cells. Marawi, the Philippine city where government troops are fighting against ISIS forces, is only a short distance from several Indonesian islands (Time, June 13, 2017).
- On June 15, 2017, a suicide bomber blew himself up at the entrance to the Al-Zahra Mosque in southwest Kabul, the capital city of Afghanistan. Four people were killed and eight were wounded (Afghanistan Times, June 16, 2017). ISIS announced that 17 Shiites were killed and dozens were wounded in a suicide bombing attack carried out by its operatives in Kabul (Al-Sawarim, June 16, 2017).
- Afghan government officials reported that ISIS had taken over the Tora Bora area in Nangarhar Province, eastern Afghanistan, near the border with Pakistan. It happened after battles with Taliban operatives, which lasted for a week. This region, where there are many caves, had been used in the past as the stronghold of Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. ISIS released an announcement in Pashto, stating that its black flags were flying on the mountain range in the region. It also called on fleeing residents to return to their homes (Rai Al-Youm, June 15, 2017).
- Abu Omar al-Khorasani, one of ISIS’s commanders in Afghanistan, said that is operatives had taken over Tora Bora and that they were fighting against Afghan government forces which are assisted by US ground and air support. Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid confirmed that ISIS had taken over several villages, but denied that it had occupied Tora Bora (Reuters, June 15, 2017).
The battle for hearts and minds
ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack in Jerusalem
- On the evening of June 16, 2017, three Palestinians armed with knives and improvised weapons arrived at the Damascus Gate in Jerusalem and carried out attacks in two sites simultaneously. One female Border Police combatant was killed in the attack. Another policeman was slightly wounded and two civilians were moderately wounded. The three terrorists were shot and killed. The attacks were carried out by three terrorists aged 18-19, residents of Deir Abu Mash’al (south of Ramallah).
- ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack via the Aamaq News Agency.The heading of the claim of responsibility: “Attack by the soldiers of the Caliphate on a gathering of Jews in the city of Jerusalem.” The announcement says that the attack in Jerusalem was carried out by “Lions of the Caliphate” from ISIS’s Palestine Province. The announcement names the three perpetrators of the attacks as Abu al-Baraa al-Maqdisi, Abu Hassan al-Maqdisi, and Abu Rabah al-Maqdisi. The announcement also includes a threat that this is not the last operation and that the Jews should expect their country to be destroyed by the “Soldiers of the Caliphate.”
ISIS’s attempt to raise the morale of its operatives
- An editorial in ISIS’s organ Al-Naba noted that three years have passed since the war against ISIS broke out and that the leaders of the Coalition countries (“the leaders of the Crusaders”) admit that they cannot say when the campaign will end. Therefore, according to the editorial, every day in which the holy warriors stand firm in their war against the Coalition may exacerbate the struggle between the allies of the United States. The editorial also stresses that time is an important factor in dismantling coalitions and that the continuation of the campaign will cause unrest among the ranks and the desire of some parties to withdraw from it. All this will happen through forbearance, patience, jihad, and steadfastness (Al-Naba, June 16, 2017).
Dhu al-Fiqar: A two-blade sword given by the Prophet Muhammad to his son-in-law Ali bin Abi Taleb on Allah’s orders, before one of the first battles of Islam. For the Shiites, the sword is a symbol of jihad and the fighting spirit of Imam Ali on behalf of Islam.
The degree of accuracy of the Iranian missiles that were launched is still unclear. Military sources in Israel told Israeli daily Haaretz that “the operational results of the Iranian missile attack were far less impressive than the media buzz that Iran is making with regard to the launch” (Haaretz, June 20, 2017).
An independent research center located in The Hague.
For details about the attack, see the ITIC’s Information Bulletin: “News of Terrorism and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, June 14-20, 2017.”
The weaker ISIS becomes, the greater the discrepancy between its public announcements and the reality on the ground. For example, on June 19, 2017, ISIS published an infographic summing up its “achievements” in Mosul in the past month. In reality, however, the only area still under its control is an enclave in the Old City of Mosul, where it is conducting the “last battle” against the Iraqi forces.