Operatives of the Headquarters for the Liberation of Al-Sham preparing for an attack.
The operatives on their way to carry out an attack (Ibaa, April 27, 2019)
Syrian army artillery fire (SANA, April 26, 2019)
Syrian army soldier captured by ISIS east of Al-Sukhnah and subsequently beheaded. He is shown holding an ID card in his mouth (Akhbar al-Muslimeen, April 30, 2019).
Syrian army reinforcements sent to the Al-Sukhnah area (Baladi, April 25, 2019)
Iraqi Military Intelligence operative being executed (Telegram, April 27, 2019)
Peshmerga operative captured by ISIS being executed (ISIS’s Iraq Province, Dijla Region, as released in Telegram, April 30, 2019).
One of the three ISIS operatives detained east of Irbil (Iraqi News Agency, April 28, 2019)
The four suicide bombers (announcement by the Khorasan Province via the file-sharing website pastethis.to, April 27, 2019).
Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in the video (Akhbar al-Muslimeen, April 29, 2019)
The main events in the second half of April
- In light of ISIS’s difficulties in Syria and Iraq, during the past month, the organization has increased the scope of its attacks abroad, in terms of both “quality” and quantity. This was manifested in the terrorist attack in Sri Lanka (April 21, 2019); the wave of coordinated and carefully timed revenge attacks after the fall of Al-Baghouz (April 8-11, 2019); the intensive guerrilla and terrorist activity in Nigeria and other countries in West Africa; and the terrorist attacks carried out in new arenas where ISIS has not had provinces (Tunisia, Congo, Bangladesh, and Saudi Arabia). To date, such attacks have not been carried out in Western countries, but it can be assumed that ISIS and its supporters will make an effort to carry out attacks in these countries as well, be they ISIS-inspired attacks or attacks directed and carried out by ISIS.
- The focus of ISIS’s terrorist and guerrilla attacks around the world was a series of simultaneous suicide bombing attacks in three cities and seven locations in Sri Lanka. Four hotels and three churches were attacked, most of them in the capital Colombo and two north and northeast of the capital. At least 253 people were killed and 500 others were wounded, including some forty foreign nationals (most of them from Western countries). The attacks were carried out by a group of eight Sri Lankan terrorists who were handled and supported by ISIS. Based on the available information, the ITIC has formed the impression that the terrorist attack in Sri Lanka was carried out with great professionalism and was preceded by meticulous planning and high-level operational and logistic preparations (a detailed analysis of the terrorist attack in Sri Lanka appeared in a separate document).
- In the Syrian arena, ISIS continues its guerrilla activity. The activity in the second half of April 2019 was concentrated in the desert area between the Euphrates Valley and the cities of Palmyra and Al-Sukhnah. The Syrian army reportedly sustained dozens of losses in a series of ambushes and attacks carried out by ISIS operatives against Syrian army forces and convoys. It was reported that the Syrian army and Hezbollah had sent reinforcements to the Al-Sukhnah area in preparation for a military operation against ISIS.
- In the Iraqi arena, ISIS’s guerrilla and terrorist activity continued, mainly in the form of IED explosions, sniper fire, and executions of members of the Iraqi security forces and their so-called collaborators. This activity does not yet include showcase operations, but it is being carried out in many locations in the northern and western provinces of Iraq, and the Iraqi security forces are unable to uproot ISIS’s networks.
- ISIS’s terror attacks abroad were accompanied by a media campaign, culminating in the distribution of a new tape by the organization’s leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. The video is current and mentions events that took place recently (the terrorist attacks in Sri Lanka and the elections in Israel). In the ITIC’s assessment, the video was disseminated in order to refute the rumors that Al-Baghdadi was killed; to emphasize that ISIS is still alive and kicking and its provinces continue their activity around the globe; and to raise the morale of its operatives and supporters (a detailed analysis of the contents of the video was distributed in a separate document).
The Idlib area
The jihadi rebel organizations
- The Headquarters for the Liberation of Al-Sham and the “Awaken the Believers” operations room (affiliated with Al-Qaeda) announced a series of attacks against Syrian army targets. Following are the main ones:
- Ground attacks: The Headquarters for the Liberation of Al-Sham announced that it had carried out a ground attack against a Syrian army force in a village south of Aleppo. The attack began with mortar fire at the Syrian force. According to the announcement, the Syrian army sustained at least twenty fatalities (Ibaa, April 27, 2019). On April 29, 2019, the Headquarters for the Liberation of Al-Sham announced that it had carried out a night attack against Syrian army positions west of Hama. According to the announcement, at least 13 soldiers were killed (Telegram, April 29, 2019). On April 30, 2019, operatives of the Headquarters for the Liberation of Al-Sham attacked Syrian army positions at a checkpoint in the southeastern part of the Al-Ghab Plain (Ibaa, April 30, 2019).
- Rocket fire at the Russian airbase in Hmeymim: The “Awaken the Believers” operations room launched Grad rockets at the Hmeymim airbase, the Russians’ main base in Syria (April 26, 2019). The operations room announced that the airbase was definitely hit. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, the Russians activated their air defense system. In addition, the air defense system was also activated against rebel UAVs flying around the Hmeymim area (Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, April 27-28, 2019).
Photos released by the “Awaken the Believers” operations room, documenting the rocket fire at the Hmeymim airbase (Telegram, April 27, 2019)
- Ground attack against a Syrian army force: The “Awaken the Believers” operations room announced on April 27, 2019, that during the night, its operatives had attacked Syrian army positions in the village of Harisha, south of Aleppo. According to the announcement, a total of 25 Syrian army soldiers were killed and wounded in the attack (Telegram, April 27, 2019). The operations room also announced that its operatives had attacked Syrian army positions in the Al-Ghab Plain, causing the Syrian army ten casualties (Telegram, April 27, 2019).
The Syrian army and the Russian Air Force
- On April 20, 2019, the Syrian army fired massive artillery at positions of the Headquarters for the Liberation of Al-Sham southeast of Idlib (Butulat Al-Jaysh Al-Suri, April 20, 2019). On April 27, 2019, the Syrian army reported that it had fired massive artillery at rebel positions north of Hama (Butulat Al-Jaysh Al-Suri, April 27, 2019). The Syrian army also reported that it had fired artillery at “terrorist” targets north of Idlib. According to the report, the artillery was fired at targets of the Headquarters for the Liberation of Al-Sham and the Turkistan Islamic Party (Uyghur operatives who came from China) (SANA, April 27, 2019).
- On April 23, 2019, the Headquarters for the Liberation of Al-Sham reported that Russian fighter jets attacked the village of Tell Al-Zaman west of Idlib, causing major damage to buildings in the village (Ibaa, April 23, 2019). Russian Air Force airstrikes were also reported north of Hama on April 26, 2019 (possibly as a response to the rocket fire at Hmeymim). Five civilians were reportedly killed and eight others wounded.
Right: Smoke rising in the wake of one of the Russian airstrikes in the south of the rebel enclave in Idlib (YouTube, April 26, 2019). Left: Destruction caused by the Russian airstrike against the village of Tell Al-Zaman, west of Idlib (Ibaa, April 23, 2019)
Series of ISIS attacks against the Syrian army in the Palmyra and Al-Sukhnah desert area
- In the second half of April 2019, ISIS operatives carried out a series of attacks against the Syrian army in the desert area of Palmyra and Al-Sukhnah, where ISIS has been engaged in intensive guerrilla activity. Following are the main events (according to ISIS reports in Akhbar al-Muslimeen, Amaq, and Telegram):
- April 18, 2019: ISIS attack in the village of Al-Koum (about 25 km north of Al-Sukhnah). According to ISIS, the Syrian army sustained at least 15 fatalities, including four officers, and large quantities of weapons and equipment were seized.
- April 18-19, 2019: ISIS set up an ambush against the Syrian army and the forces supporting it in the area of Jabal Bashari, 52 km northeast of Al-Sukhnah. According to ISIS’s report, a total of 17 Syrian soldiers were killed, including three officers, and weapons and seven vehicles were seized.
- April 25, 2019: ISIS set up an ambush against Syrian army soldiers on a road about 90 km east of Palmyra. Three Syrian army soldiers were killed and two others were wounded. Military vehicles were seized.
- April 25, 2019: ISIS attacked vehicles carrying soldiers to the Al-Atshana base (of the Syrian army) in the desert area. Three Syrian soldiers were killed, two others were wounded, and weapons and equipment were seized.
- April 27, 2019: Two Syrian army soldiers were captured and executed near the city of Al-Sukhnah. Large quantities of weapons and equipment were seized.
- April 29, 2019: ISIS set up an ambush against the Syrian army in the Al-Sukhnah rural area (according to Amaq, near the city of Al-Sukhnah). Eight Syrian army soldiers were captured and executed.
- April 29, 2019: An IED was activated against a Syrian army truck en route to the Al-Atshana base in the desert area. An officer and two rank and file soldiers were killed.
Syrian army truck which was attacked by ISIS operatives (Telegram, April 30, 2019)
Syrian army and Hezbollah reinforcements sent to Al-Sukhnah
- The Syrian media reported that the Syrian army and Hezbollah had dispatched large reinforcements to the Syrian Desert in the Al-Sukhnah area. Reinforcements were also sent to the Euphrates Valley (Al-Mayadeen and Albukamal areas). This was done as part of the preparations for a large-scale operation against ISIS (Baladi, a Syrian news website affiliated with the rebels, April 25, 2019). In this context, it was reported that Hezbollah had sent about 150 operatives to the area of Al-Sukhnah as part of the preparations for Syrian army activity in the desert area (Zaman Al-Wasl, April 25, 2019).
Syrian army reinforcements sent to the Al-Sukhnah area (Baladi, April 25, 2019)
Attack against positions of the Syrian forces east of Deir ez-Zor
- A Syrian news agency reported that on April 22, 2019, ISIS operatives attacked positions of the Syrian army and (Shiite) militias affiliated with Iran around the village of Al-Siyal, east of Deir ez-Zor. Five people were killed and several others wounded. The attackers reportedly wore uniforms of the Shiite militias (Khotwa, April 24, 2019).
ISIS attacks in the Manbij area continue
- In the Manbij area, ISIS has been carrying out intensive guerrilla activity over the past few weeks. ISIS’s Al-Sham Province in the Aleppo area claimed responsibility for the detonation of an IED against an SDF vehicle in the eastern part of the city of Manbij. According to ISIS’s report, four fighters were killed and wounded and the vehicle was destroyed (pastethis.to file-sharing website, April 27, 2019).
Main developments in Iraq
- Following are the main attacks carried out by ISIS (according to ISIS’s claims of responsibility):
- Nineveh Province: Two collaborators of the Iraqi security forces were executed in a village south of Mosul (Shumukh Al-Islam, April 25, 2019).
- Kirkuk Province: An IED was detonated about 35 km southwest of Kirkuk, killing a police officer and a policeman.
Right: A police officer (left) and a policeman (right) killed in an IED explosion (Shumukh Al-Islam, April 25, 2019). Left: Two collaborators of the Iraqi security forces, who were executed by ISIS (Shumukh Al-Islam, April 25, 2019)
- Diyala Province: Sniper fire at a Popular Mobilization operative in the Khanaqin district, about 95 km northeast of Baqubah. The operative was killed (Mu’ta news agency report as released in Shumukh Al-Islam, April 26, 2019).
- Nineveh Province: An IED was detonated in the Tal Afar district, about 60 km west of Mosul, killing a commander in the Popular Mobilization Directorate of Combat Engineering (Shumukh Al-Islam, April 26, 2019).
Right: Popular Mobilization operative who was killed in ISIS sniper fire northeast of Baqubah (Mu’ta news agency report as released in Shumukh Al-Islam, April 26, 2019). Left: Popular Mobilization commander killed in an IED explosion west of Mosul (Shumukh Al-Islam, April 26, 2019)
- Al-Anbar Province: Execution of an Iraqi Military Intelligence operative captured by ISIS close to the city of Al-Qaim, near the border with Syria (Telegram, April 27, 2019).
- Dijla (Tigris) Province: Peshmerga (Kurdish) operative captured and executed about 75 km southeast of Mosul (Telegram, April 30, 2019).
Counterterrorist and preventive activities by the Iraqi security forces
- Following are the main counterterrorist and preventive activities carried out by the Iraqi security forces:
- Nineveh Province: On the night of April 26, 2019, a Nineveh Province police force killed an ISIS suicide bomber wearing an explosive belt in the Al-Intisar neighborhood, the southeastern part of the city of Mosul. The force pursued him, shot at him and then his explosive belt went off. There were no casualties. One of his brothers was an ISIS operative who was detained for terrorist activity. The father of the suicide bomber was sentenced to two years’ imprisonment on account of drug offenses (Al-Sumaria, April 27, 2019).
- Nineveh Province: The Iraqi Military Intelligence Directorate detained an ISIS operative in the New Mosul neighborhood, in the western part of the city. During the time of the Caliphate State, he was active in the morality police (Al-Hisba) in the city of Mosul (Al-Sumaria, April 27, 2019).
- Diyala Province: The Iraqi Military Intelligence Directorate detained an ISIS operative in the Khanaqin District, about 95 km northeast of Baqubah. During the time of the Caliphate State, the operative took part in the fighting against the Iraqi security forces (Iraqi News Agency, April 28, 2019).
- Irbil Province: The Iraqi Counterterrorism Service (CTS) detained three ISIS operatives about 40 km east of Irbil. They were wanted for carrying out terrorist attacks against the Iraqi security forces and also for extortion and terrorizing civilians (Iraqi News Agency, April 28, 2019).
- Nineveh Province: In downtown Mosul, the Iraqi security forces detained the owner of a shop selling mobile phones and four of his employees. The shop owner was transferring funds from families of ISIS operatives to operatives outside Iraq and vice versa. Millions of Iraqi dinars were found in the shop, as well as 1,351 US dollars and 6,980 Turkish pounds (Al-Sumaria, April 29, 2019).
Sinai Peninsula and Egypt
Terrorist attacks in the northern Sinai Peninsula
- Following are the main attacks carried out in the northern Sinai Peninsula in late April 2019:
- ISIS announced that its operatives had detonated an IED against a vehicle carrying militia fighters operating on behalf of the Egyptian government south of Rafah.
- “Militants” reportedly murdered a Christian cleric who was on his way from Al-Arish to Qantara (Shahed Sinaa, April 22, 2019).
- An IED was detonated near an Egyptian security force in western Al-Arish, killing and wounding several soldiers (Al-Araby Al-Jadeed, April 24, 2019).
- An IED was detonated near a military vehicle on the international road west of Al-Arish. Another IED exploded while soldiers were trying to deactivate it. Several Egyptian soldiers were killed and wounded (Shahed Sinaa, April 25, 2019).
Attacks carried out by ISIS in the Middle East and around the world
- On the morning of April 21, 2019, four ISIS operatives armed with automatic weapons and equipped with IEDs attacked a facility belonging to the state security apparatus in the city of Al-Zulfi, 237 km northwest of the capital Riyadh. The security personnel at the site prevented the ISIS operatives from breaking into the facility. In a clash between the sides, the four attackers were killed and three of the building’s security guards were lightly wounded (Al-Arabia, April 21, 2019).
- ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack. ISIS’s Amaq News Agency released a video showing four masked ISIS operatives. In their will, they say that they are embarking on a jihad against the tyrannical state, the sons of the infidel Saud family. They also said that the attack was carried out in revenge for the Muslim prisoners in Saudi prisons and in order to assist Muslims in Iraq, Syria and everywhere. The four operatives are shown renewing their pledge of allegiance (bay’ah) to ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi (Akhbar al-Muslimeen, April 21, 2019, report by the Najd Province of the Islamic State, which appeared in the Al-Naba weekly on April 25, 2019).
The city of Al-Zulfi, northwest of Riyadh (Google Maps)
Suicide bombing attack in Kabul
- On April 20, 2019, four terrorists armed with explosive vests carried out a suicide bombing attack at the Ministry of Communications building in Kabul. Seven people were killed – three members of the security forces and four civilians. Eight others were wounded. According to the local police, one of the terrorists blew himself up inside the building. The others were apparently killed by local security forces. Around 2,000 civilians were evacuated from the site at the time of the incident (VOA News, April 20, 2019; Twitter account of the Afghan Interior Ministry, April 20, 2019). According to the spokesman for the Afghan Health Ministry, two people were killed and six others wounded (Al-Jazeera, April 20, 2019).
- ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack. According to the claim of responsibility, four terrorists from the Khorasan Province attacked the Ministry of Communications building in Kabul. The attack began with the detonation of an IED, which led to the collapse of the building’s fence. The terrorists entered the building, exchanged fire and detonated IEDs. The attack lasted around six hours and ended when the four terrorists were killed. According to ISIS, around 30 security personnel and officials of the Afghan Ministry of Communications were killed and wounded (Akhbar al-Muslimeen, April 21, 2019).
ISIS’s establishment in Afghanistan
- Russian Minister of Defense Sergey Shoygu said at a meeting of defense ministers of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) that ISIS was strengthening its presence in Afghanistan, using that country as a bridgehead for further expansion in the region. Minister Shoygu said, “It is important to note that after the rout of the so-called Islamic State, terrorists are moving from Syria and Iraq to other regions, including Central and Southeast Asia. As a result, cross-border crime is growing, a breeding ground is emerging for extremist and separatist movements and terrorist cells are coming into existence. The most complex situation is developing in Afghanistan” (TASS News Agency, April 29, 2019).
- The Libya Province – Fezzan announced the capture and execution of a preacher codenamed Mas’ud, affiliated with General Haftar’s men. The province released photos documenting his capture and execution (Akhbar al-Muslimeen, April 25, 2019).
Right: The preacher being captured by ISIS operatives in Libya. Left: His execution
(Akhbar al-Muslimeen, April 25, 2019)
- On April 26, 2019, two ISIS suicide bombers attacked a Yemeni army force and Al-Qaeda operatives in the Qifa region. According to ISIS’s announcement, eight soldiers and Al-Qaeda operatives were killed in the attacks (Announcement by the Yemen Province – Al-Bayda, via Telegram, April 26 and 29, 2019).
West Africa Province
- Following are some recent incidents in this region:
- According to an announcement by ISIS’s Amaq News Agency, operatives of ISIS’s West Africa Province attacked positions of the Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF) in the town of Cross Kauwa (Akhbar al-Muslimeen, April 20, 2019). This is an important town due to its proximity to the Nigeria-Chad-Cameroon tri-border area. According to an announcement by the MNJTF spokesman, on April 16, 2019, Boko Haram operatives attacked a position of the force in the town of Cross Kauwa (around 47 km west of the Nigeria-Chad-Cameroon tri-border area) and the attack was repulsed. A total of 39 “terrorist operatives” were killed in the clashes and 20 soldiers were wounded (The Nigeria Guardian daily newspaper, April 19, 2019).
The town of Cross Kauwa, located near the scene of incidents between ISIS operatives and the multinational force (Google Maps)
- ISIS’s West Africa Province claimed responsibility for ambushing vehicles belonging to the Multinational Joint Task Force in the town of Baga in Borno State (April 29, 2019). According to the claim of responsibility, ISIS operatives exchanged fire with members of the Multinational Joint Task Force. A total of 33 soldiers of the Multinational Joint Task Force were killed and wounded in the attack, and five vehicles were destroyed (Telegram, April 30, 2019).
- ISIS’s West Africa Province claimed responsibility for an attack on a Nigerian army position on April 29, 2019, in the town of Sabon Gari, in Borno State. According to the claim of responsibility, 10 Nigerian soldiers were killed and several others were wounded. In addition, three tanks were destroyed and large quantities of weapons and equipment were seized (Telegram, April 30, 2019).
- According to military sources and local sources, five people (a priest and four worshipers) were killed on April 29, 2019, in an attack on a church in the town of Silgadji in northern Burkina Faso. Four other people were declared missing. The attack was carried out by four terrorists on motorcycles who fired in the air before firing at the worshipers (AFP, April 29, 2019). This attack may have been carried out by ISIS operatives.
The site of the attack on a church in northern Burkina Faso (Google Maps)
The Democratic Republic of the Congo
- ISIS’s Central Africa Province announced that on April 18, 2019, the organization’s operatives had attacked a Congolese army base in the village of Bovata in the northeastern part of North Kivu Province, in the northeastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (around 8 km west of the border with Uganda). According to reports, this was the first attack carried out by ISIS operatives in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and two soldiers and one civilian were killed in the exchange of fire between the sides on April 18, 2019 (Reuters, April 19, 2019.)According to ISIS, three soldiers were killed and five others were wounded (ISIS-affiliated website Amjad News, April 18, 2019).
Right: The Congo army base that was attacked. Left: The Democratic Republic of the Congo (Google Maps)
- On April 29, 2019, ISIS issued a claim of responsibility, the first of its kind, on behalf of its operatives in Bangladesh. According to the claim of responsibility, the organization detonated an IED against the concentration of Bangladesh police forces on the main road leading to the Golestan market in the city of Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh. Three policemen were wounded (Telegram, April 29, 2019). Up to now there has been no knowledge of the existence of an ISIS province in Bangladesh. It is necessary to wait and see if this is a local network or a new province that ISIS has established or intends to establish.
Counterterrorism and preventive activity
The return of foreign fighters to Europe
- Speaking at a conference on international terrorism organized by the Inter-Parliamentary Assembly of the Commonwealth of Independent States, Alexander Bortnikov, Director of the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB), stated that around 1,500 foreign fighters who had taken part in the fighting in the Middle East were now in Europe. He said: “Some 1,500 out of 5,000 terrorists have arrived in the European Union from the Middle East, according to experts’ estimates. A significant number of them are gunmen, who have been sent by chieftains to Europe to continue terrorist attacks” (TASS News Agency, April 18, 2019).
The battle for hearts and minds
New video of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi
- This is the first video that Al-Baghdadi has appeared in since June 2014, when he appeared at a mosque in Mosul and announced the establishment of the Caliphate State. While in 2014 ISIS was at the height of its power, the current video was produced at a time when the Caliphate has collapsed and after the recent blow to the organization in Syria. In the ITIC’s assessment, Al-Baghdadi chose to appear in the video mainly to refute the rumors that he had been killed, to encourage the organization’s operatives to continue to follow the path of jihad, and to present ISIS as a viable organization that was not going to disappear, to highlight the activities of ISIS’s provinces around the world, and to enlist the support of its supporters and the entire Islamic nation. His appearance is part of a media campaign that ISIS began after the fall of Al-Baghouz, accompanied by a major wave of attacks abroad, culminating in the terrorist attack in Sri Lanka.
- In contrast to the previous video, in which Al-Baghdadi is well-dressed, relatively well-groomed, with a neat beard, calm and smug, in the present video Al-Baghdadi looks somewhat tired and exhausted, sitting on the ground with his legs crossed, wearing a military vest and looking unkempt: his beard is messy, part of it is greying and appears to be dyed in a way that looks faded, and he is sloppily dressed in clothing more characteristic of the organization’s operatives than its leader. Throughout the video, there is a rifle beside him to demonstrate that he, too, is a fighter taking part in jihad activity, and possibly also for self-defense purposes.
Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in the video
(Akhbar al-Muslimeen, April 29, 2019)
 Recently, ISIS operatives who are embarking on terrorist attacks renew their pledge of allegiance to ISIS’s leader. In the ITIC’s assessment, this is intended to demonstrate the operatives’ loyalty to the leader and to improve his image in the wake of the blow that ISIS suffered in Syria. Such pledges of allegiance have been identified among groups of operatives in Sinai, Iraq, Sri Lanka and Saudi Arabia. ↑
 “Combating Terrorism: Socioeconomic Issues, Boko Haram, and Insecurity in the North-East Region of Nigeria,” the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS), Military and Strategic Affairs, Vol. 8, No. 1 (July 2016), pp. 97-116; www.haaretz.co.il, January 14, 2015. ↑
 A detailed analysis of the video content was issued separately (in Hebrew) and will soon appear in English as well. ↑