Spotlight on Global Jihad
Insignia of the Al-Qaryatayn Martyrs Brigade (Twitter)
Scene of the fighting in Al-Raqqah (Akhbar Al-Muslimeen, July 30, 2017)
ISIS photos: A car bomb (in green) driven by a suicide bomber codenamed Abu Maan al-Jazrawi carrying out a terrorist attack near a building in west Al-Raqqah (Haqq, July 29, 2017)
Abu Daoud the Palestinian planting a mine.
Abu Ahmed the Tunisian (Akhbar Al-Muslimeen, July 30, 2017)
Abu Abdullah the Jordanian
Abu Maan from the Arabian Peninsula, apparently Saudi (Akhbar Al-Muslimeen, July 30, 2017)
Video released by Hezbollah, showing the capture of a workshop of the Headquarters for the Liberation of Al-Sham in the Arsal ridges. The workshop had served for manufacturing IEDs, mortar shells, rockets and car bombs. The workshop was hidden inside a cave. Right: The entrance to the workshop. Left: Lathe found inside (Hezbollah’s Military Spokesman’s Office, July 28, 2017).
Weapons and equipment found in the workshop.
Mosul residents who are staying in displaced person camps (Al-Aan Channel, July 29, 2017)
Main events of the week
Russia and the United States
The de-escalation agreements
- The de-escalation agreement in southwestern Syria, which went into effect on July 9, 2017, was maintained, with the exception of several violations on a daily basis, mainly by the Syrian forces. According to Syrian TV, following the ceasefire, life in Daraa has returned to normal, and the residents of the city have resumed their normal daily routine despite the “negligible” violations (Syrian TV, July 31, 2017).
- In the Ghouta area east of Damascus, where a de-escalation agreement was reached (July 22, 2017), Russian Military Police were deployed in three locations. According to reports, Military Police forces are supposed to be deployed in several additional locations. Two “safe passages” are supposed to open there, to facilitate the exit of civilians (Al-Mudun, July 30, 2017).
- Alexey Kuzin, deputy head of the Russian inspection team in southwestern Syria, met with local dignitaries in the Quneitra region.Following are the main points that he made (Al-Watan, August 1, 2017):
- To date, 12 monitoring centers have been established in southern Syriaand are operated jointly by the Syrian and Russian armies. One of them is located in the Quneitra Province.He noted that “Our goal is to end the war in Syria and to give the Syrians an opportunity to talk among themselves […]”
- There is an understanding of the uniqueness of the Quneitra Province, which is reflected in the deployment of armed militias along the ceasefire line (i.e., the Syrian-Israeli border) and Israel’s role in this matter. According to him, consultations are being held with the goal of creating one or two passages in the Quneitra area “in order to realize the interests of the Syrian army.”
- In response to the question of whether Russia had received assurances and guarantees from the “Zionist entity” that it would not carry out any attack against the Syrian army in Quneitra, Kuzin replied that conditions had been set for Israel in the de-escalation agreement. According to him, if there is an Israeli attack on Syria, then the Russian side, as a supervisory entity, will identify these violations and, as a guarantor, “will do their duty in the best way possible.”
Coalition airstrikes in Iraq and Syria
- On July 27, 2017, Coalition forces carried out four airstrikes against ISIS targets in Iraq. According to reports, an ISIS chemical storage site near the city of Rawa was hit in one of the airstrikes. Additional airstrikes were carried out in the areas of Baghdad and Tal Afar. In Syria, Coalition forces carried out 17 airstrikes in the areas of Abu Kamal, Deir ez-Zor, Al-Raqqah, and Al-Shadadi in the eastern part of the country. These attacks destroyed ISIS oil refining facilities, a communications center, and air defense systems, among other things (Operation Inherent Resolve website, July 28, 2017).
- Colonel Ryan Dillon, Spokesman for Combined Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve, reported the killing of a number of senior ISIS operatives in airstrikes carried out in recent months in Iraq and Syria. According to US sources, the deaths of these operatives disrupt the organization’s ability to disseminate its propaganda messages and its ability to recruit and fund operatives abroad to carry out terrorist attacks. Following are the names of several operatives who were mentioned (US Department of Defense website, July 27, 2017).
- Abu Suleiman the Iraqi: killed in early July in the Mosul area. Abu Suleiman the Iraqi was a senior figure in ISIS in charge of propaganda. In this capacity, he was responsible for producing ISIS’s propaganda messages, which helped recruit and direct operatives around the world.
- Bassam al-Jayfus: the man in charge of ISIS’s budgets.He was killed in an airstrike on July 18, 2017, in Al-Mayadeen, Syria. As part of his job in the organization, Bassam al-Jayfus handled ISIS’s funds that were allocated for carrying out attacks. According to reports, his death caused disruptions in ISIS’s multinational money laundering network, through which payments were made to foreign fighters.
The United Statesannounces termination of support for one of the rebel groups
- In the area of Al-Tanf, in southern Syria, operatives of the Al-Qaryatayn Martyrs Brigade, one of the organizations operating in the area under the protection of the United States, carried out military operations outside the de-escalation zone, without coordination with the US and the Coalition. As a result, Coalition Spokesman Col. Ryan Dillon said that despite the importance of the organization in the fighting in southern Syria, the US would stop supporting it. He said that the reason is that the Coalition only supports forces committed to fighting against ISIS. According to Col. Dillon, as part of the disengagement process currently underway, the United States demanded that the organization return the weapons that it had received from the US, which were intended for fighting against ISIS. Dillon noted that this was the first time the United States has had to sever its ties with a rebel organization (US Department of Defense website, July 27, 2017).
- Previously (July 24, 2017), the Al-Qaryatayn Martyrs Brigade announced that it had severed its ties with the International Coalition.This is because the Coalition has stopped supporting it in the fighting against the Syrian army. According to a senior operative in the organization, the Al-Qaryatayn Martyrs Brigade was warned by the United States after a military operation in which its operatives took control of a Syrian army operations room in the Syrian Desert, east of Homs.The director of the organization’s information office said that the Coalition strictly forbids fighting against the Syrian army (Qasiyoun, July 31, 2017). On July 31, 2017, the Al-Qaryatayn Martyrs Brigade published a leaflet claiming that the Brigade headquarters and the International Coalition had agreed to resolve this issue (Twitter, July 31, 2017).
In the ITIC’s assessment, severing ties with Al-Qaryatayn is the realization of the US policy of severing ties with “moderate” rebel organizations, except those fighting directly against ISIS (The Washington Post, July 19, 2017). This US policy is liable to lead to the US severing ties with other rebel organizations, including rebel organizations fighting in southern Syria. Severing these ties is liable to create a military and security vacuum that could be filled by the Syrian regime and its allies.
Main developments in Syria
The campaign to take over Al-Raqqah
Fighting in Al-Raqqah between the SDF forces (with US and Coalition air support) and ISIS operatives is bogged down. The SDF forces encounter persistent fighting by ISIS operatives. Reportedly, the SDF forces sustained many casualties. Fighting in the Old City continues, focusing this week on the old mosque. In areas taken over in north, east and west Al-Raqqah, there still remain ISIS operatives, and local clashes still take place.
- Col. Ryan Dillon, Spokesman for the Combined Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve, reported at a press conference that this week, the SDF forces had taken over an area of about nine square miles, but met with fierce resistance by ISIS. According to Col. Dillon, it is estimated that the SDF forces are now in control of an area of 45% of the city, and in Al-Raqqah, there are less than 2,000 ISIS operatives (website of the US Department of Defense, July 27, 2017). Col. Dillon presented the situation in the campaign to take over Al-Raqqah: In the west, the SDF forces took over several high-rise buildings, which had served ISIS for monitoring and observation; In the east, the forces had several achievements near the main road leading from the east to the western part of the city; In south Al-Raqqah, the SDF forces will soon gain full control; South of the Euphrates River, the forces continue to strengthen their positions and isolate Al-Raqqah.
- A 30-minute video released by ISIS’s information office in the Al-Raqqah Province shows foreign fighters who arrived to fight in the ranks of ISIS in Al-Raqqah. Among them, there are fighters from Somalia, Tajikistan, Tunisia, Yemen, Chechnya and more. In the video, the fighters are seen preparing for the campaign in the city by digging tunnels and planting mines. The video also includes scenes of the fighting. One of the fighters, of Somali origin, is seen addressing the US president and saying, “Your eyes are on Al-Raqqah and Mosul, while our eyes are on Constantinople and Rome. With Allah’s help, we shall beat you in your homes.” Another speaker, codenamed Abu Abdullah al-Shami, addresses ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi saying that the fighters in Al-Raqqah are well, and are committed to holding on (Akhbar Al-Muslimeen, July 30, 2017).
Mopping up the area northeast of Homs until the area south of Al-Raqqah
This week, the Syrian forces continued their military activity in eastern Syria. They focused on mopping up the area southeast of Homs until the area south of Al-Raqqah of ISIS operatives. The ITIC's assessment is that this is carried out in preparation for the takeover of Sukhnah and the advance towards Deir ez-Zor.
- During the week, there were confrontations between ISIS operatives and the Syrian forces in the area south of Al-Raqqah. The Syrian forces reportedly sustained fatalities as a result of an explosion by ISIS operatives south of the town of Rasafah, south of Al-Raqqah (Khotwa, July 27, 2017). On July 28, 2017, ISIS announced that the Syrian forces sustained ten casualties in an ISIS attack against Syrian army outposts in the Al-Wahhab oil field southwest of Al-Raqqah (Haqq, July 29, 2017).
- This week, the Syrian forces had taken over several sites south of Ithriya (Al-Sham Network, July 26, 2017). In the town of Uqayribat (about 65 km east of Hama), which is an ISIS supply center in the village area east of Salamiyah, the Syrian Air Force attacked ISIS supply lines. Dozens of ISIS operatives were reportedly killed in the airstrikes (Syrian TV, July 29, 2017). On July 29, 2017, a video was released, showing Syrian forces under Suheil al-Hassan’s command making their way to the area east of Salamiyah, toward Uqayribat (Twitter, July 29, 2017).
- The Syrian forces under Suheil Hassan’s command continued to advance towards the city of Sukhnah from the north. According to reports, the troops are on the outskirts of the town and have taken control of the gas field near the town and several dominant hills. Russian Army aircraft attacked the city of Sukhnah and the Al-Hail oil field (Khotwa, July 26, 2017). Muawiyah al-Hadrami, an ISIS military commander, was reportedly killed by Syrian forces fire in Sukhnah (Dimashq Al-Aan, July 30, 2017).
Hezbollah campaign to mop up the ridges dominating Arsal
Hezbollah’s Military Spokesman’s Office reported that a ceasefire agreement had been reached between Hezbollah and the Headquarters for the Liberation of Al-Sham starting on July 27, 2017, 06:00 (Al-Nashra, July 27, 2017). According to the agreement, which will be implemented in stages and has already started, the operatives of the Headquarters for the Liberation of Al-Sham will move to Idlib with their families. At the same time, several Hezbollah operatives who were captured in 2015-2016 will be released (Al-Nashra, July 27, 2017).
- It was decided that the prisoner exchange process would be carried out in stages, according to the number of people who would like to set out for Idlib. After each stage, the Headquarters for the Liberation of Al-Sham will release one Hezbollah prisoner. The transfer will take place by Lebanese buses. The Headquarters for the Liberation of Al-Sham demanded that Hezbollah be responsible for the safety of the buses making their way to Idlib (Al-Nashra, July 29, 2017).
- On July 30, 2017, it was reported that the first stage of implementing the agreement had started (Hezbollah’s Military Spokesman’s Office, July 30, 2017). Five Hezbollah operatives who had been prisoners of the Headquarters for the Liberation of Al-Sham were transferred to Hezbollah (Lebanon 24, July 30, 2017). Afterwards, the implementation of the second stage began. As part of this stage, 150 buses arrived in the town of Falita in the western Qalamoun Mountains to evacuate operatives of the Headquarters for the Liberation of Al-Sham and their families from the area (Dimashq Al-Aan, July 30, 2017). As part of this stage, five bodies of Hezbollah operatives were transferred to Hezbollah (Lebanese News Agency, July 30, 2017).
- The Headquarters for the Liberation of Al-Sham distributed on July 27, 2017, a letter for the commanders of the rebel organizations in the “liberated north (the Idlib Province and the area around it).” According to the letter, it is forbidden for rebel organizations operating in this area to set up new organizations or factions in northern Syria. In addition, it was stated in the letter that any person or group that will secede from the rebel organizations, including the Headquarters for the Liberation of Al-Sham, will be obligated to leave the organizations without a weapon. The letter was signed by the “supreme person in charge, engineer Hashem al-Sheikh” (commander of the Headquarters for the Liberation of Al-Sham, AKA Abu Jaber) (Twitter, July 27, 2017; Haqq, July 29, 2017).
- In the ITIC's assessment, this instruction was published as part of the efforts made by the Headquarters for the Liberation of Al-Sham to establish its control in the Idlib area, after its victories over ISIS and Ahrar Al-Sham. Its established presence in this area turns the city of Idlib and the area surrounding it into a clear control area of the Headquarters for the Liberation of Al-Sham where most of its forces in Syria are concentrated. At the same time, the other rebel organizations operating in this area, including organizations operating under Turkish protection, become weaker.
Main developments in Iraq
The situation in Mosul after its liberation
The humanitarian situation in Mosul is still grave. In the Old City of Mosul, there are still sporadic clashes between the Iraqi security forces and ISIS operatives who remained there (Al-Aan Channel, July 29, 2017; Al-Jazeera, July 30, 2017). According to estimates of the International Organization for Migration, more than 830,000 residents of the city have not returned to it yet and are living under poor humanitarian conditions. The organization estimated that about a million people had left the city since the beginning of the campaign to liberate Mosul and had moved to tent camps around Iraq (Al-Aan Channel, July 29, 2017).
- Senior Iraqi security sources estimate that about 4,000 ISIS operatives and about 3,000 of the organization supporters or those who were engaged by ISIS and received their salaries from it are still present in Iraq. These sources believe that in Syria there are about 7,000 operatives and about 5,000 supporters. In Al-Raqqah, according to estimates, there are about 2,000 fighters with their families (AP, July 28, 2017).
- The Iraqi army and the Popular Mobilization militias continue their preparations to take over ISIS’s enclave in the area of Tal Afar, west of Mosul (Al-Jazeera, July 30, 2017). Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi confirmed that the Popular Mobilization (the Iranian-affiliated Shiite militias) would take part in the campaign to liberate Tal Afar (CNN in Arabic, July 29, 2017).
- After the liberation of Mosul, ISIS continues to control parts of the provinces of Nineveh and Anbar, parts of the Kirkuk Provinceand several other areas. Following is a report on confrontations between ISIS and the Iraqi security forces in various areas in Iraq:
- Haditha area: Fifteen ISIS operatives were killed in a ground attack by the Iraqi Army, with the support of local tribal forces and Coalition airstrikes, northwest of the city of Haditha. Four car bombs were destroyed in the attack (Al-Sumaria, July 30, 2017).
- The city of Al-Baghdadi: ISIS announced that three of its operatives had attacked an Iraqi Army outpost in the city of Al-Baghdadi. Two of them activated explosive vests while storming into the outpost. Several Iraqi soldiers were killed (Haqq, July 28, 2017).
- The area of Tuz Khurmatu: Heavy exchanges of fire occurred on July 29, 2017, between the Turkish Peshmerga forces and ISIS operatives in the area of Tuz Khurmatu, about 170 km northeast of Baghdad. According to reports, both side suffered casualties (Al-Sumaria, July 29, 2017).
- The Iraqi Interior Ministry revealed that an attempt by ISIS to carry out car bomb attacks in the Shiite holy sites of Najaf, Karbala and Samarra and in the house of Ayatollah Ali Sistani, the most venerated Shiite cleric in Iraq, was thwarted. According to the Iraqis, the terrorist attacks were in the planning stage, led by ISIS commanders who arrived in Iraq from abroad (Al-Sumaria, July 30, 2017).
Egypt and the Sinai Peninsula
The Sinai Peninsula
- In the Sinai Peninsula, the Egyptian security forces’ intense activity against ISIS operatives continues (Facebook page of the Egyptian Armed Forces, July 27, 2017). According to reports, the Egyptian security services increased the security measures around all churches and vital facilities and prohibited the presence of vehicles at a distance of twenty meters from these sites. The security forces also set up iron checkpoints to create a separated checking area far from the entrances to the churches (Al-Bawaba News, July 28, 2017).
- The Egyptian Army announced that its forces had exposed in one of the crossings of the Suez Canal leading to northern Sinai an attempt to smuggle a great deal of equipment and explosives which were intended for making IEDs. In addition, communications devices and equipment were found. The equipment was hidden inside a large truck (official Facebook page of the Spokesman of the Egyptian Armed Forces, July 30, 2017). In another report, the Egyptian army announced that its forces had confiscated equipment that served for making IEDs, ammunition, cameras and radio devices in ISIS targets in Al-Arish, Rafah and Sheikh Zuweid (official Facebook page of the Spokesman of the Egyptian Armed Forces, July 30, 2017).
- In an interview given by Issa al-Kharafin, Sheikh of the Rumeilat tribe and the most senior tribal chief in northern Sinai, he said that the current situation in the Sinai Peninsula was better than before. This is so after the tribes had joined the Egyptian security forces in the struggle against the terrorist organizations. Issa al-Kharafin noted that in his assessment, the number of terrorists in the Sinai Peninsula was no more than one thousand. South Rafah, south Al-Arish and Sheikh Zuweid are the areas where most of the terrorist activity takes place. According to him, about 50% of the residents of the Sinai Peninsula, mainly from the areas of Rafah and Sheikh Zuweid, left their homes due to the security situation and moved to more remote areas in Sinai. Furthermore, according to him, the tunnels in Rafah pose no danger as most of them were destroyed and there are no more than five of them today (Al-Masry Al-Youm, July 30, 2017).
- On July 31, 2017, ISIS announced that two of its operatives had carried out a double terrorist attack in the Iraqi embassy, in Kabul’s diplomatic compound. The two terrorists attacked the Iraqi embassy by explosive vests, machine guns and hand grenades. One of the terrorists blew himself up near the guard post, while the other shot at the embassy personnel inside the building. The Afghan police rescued the embassy personnel and searched the area. ISIS claimed that seven security guards were killed outside the building, and more than twenty people were killed inside the embassy building (Haqq, July 31, 2017; website of the Afghan Interior Ministry, July 31, 2017).
- Sheikh Khaled Batarfi, spokesman of Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), called on residents of south Yemen to carry out jihad against the United Arab Emirates army. He said that the UAE was worse than the Houthis since they serve the interests of Israel and the United States (whereas the Houthis serve the interests of Iran). He calls on the people of South Yemen to rebel in every possible way, including jihad (Futuh Information Center, July 27, 2017).
The conduct of the Islamic State
- ISIS’s Al-Hayat media foundation produced a video about the issuing of Islamic currency and the obligation to use it in the territories of the Caliphate. The video is in Arabic with English subtitles. The narrator in the video explains that the Islamic State is continuing its jihad and its campaign against the international monetary system of the tyrants. According to the narrator, only the currency issued by ISIS may be used in every financial transaction throughout the Islamic State (Al-Hayat, July 31, 2017).
Counterterrorism and preventive activity
- Algerian security forces uncovered a terrorist squad headed by an operative named Mohamed Yacine Aknouche, 43, who holds French and Algerian citizenship. In 2004, Aknouche was sentenced in absentia in France to eight years in prison for planning attacks on the Christmas market in the city of Strasbourg. He was arrested on July 27, 2017, in the coastal city of Tibaza, about 50 km west of the capital Algiers. Dozens of photos of sites were found in his apartment, including military bases intended to serve as targets for attacks. An initial investigation revealed a connection between Mohammad Aknouche and Amedy Coulibaly, who carried out the attack on the Hyper Cacher supermarket in Paris in November 2015 (Dijla, July 26, 2017).
Four people suspected of planning to shoot down an aircraft in an “Islamic-inspired” attack were arrested in Sydney, Australia
- Australian police uncovered a terrorist squad that apparently planned an ISIS-inspired attack on an Australian aircraft. Four Australians of Lebanese descent (two fathers and two sons) were arrested. According to Australian Federal Police Commissioner Andrew Colin, the squad members planned to plant an IED on a passenger flight destined for the Middle East.He noted that at present, they did not have much information about the planned attack, including its location and date. Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull described the planned attack as large-scale and sophisticated and said that the government would take additional security measures at airports around the country (The Australian, July 31, 2017).
- The British government has revoked the citizenship of more than 150 suspected jihad operatives, including women who married operatives in ISIS and other jihadi organizations, and banned them from returning to the country.Only the British citizenship of dual citizenship holders was revoked because British law does not permit revocation of citizenship that leaves a person stateless. This step was carried out because of the fear that many ISIS operatives would return to Britain due to the collapse of the Islamic State (The Guardian, July 30, 2017). MI-5 estimates that around 850 British citizens have gone to Syria and Iraq to fight in the ranks of ISIS (Daily Mail, July 30, 2017).
Increased cooperation against ISIS in Southeast Asian countries
- In light of ISIS’s defeats in Syria and Iraq, a number of countries in Southeast Asia have decided to increase their cooperation.This is due to the fear that ISIS will try to create alternative outposts in their countries.They held a meeting in the city of Manado, Indonesia, where the participants discussed ways of coping with the expected threat. The meeting was attended by representatives of Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, the Principality of Brunei, Australia, and New Zealand (Reuters, July 29, 2017).
The Al-Qaryatayn Martyrs Brigade (Liwa Shuhada Al-Qaryatayn) is a rebel organization that defines itself as part of the Free Syrian Army, which operates in the eastern Al-Qalamoun Mountains and in the Syrian Desert.
According to American estimates published by the US Department of Defense, the number of ISIS operatives in Iraq and Syria is 12,000-15,000 (updated to March 2017). For purposes of comparison, estimates for February 2016 were 19,000-25,000, and for the year 2014 – 20,000-31,000.