Spotlight on Global Jihad (January 8-2, 2020)

Artillery fire by the Syrian army to halt the attack (SANA, January 2, 2020)

Artillery fire by the Syrian army to halt the attack (SANA, January 2, 2020)

The car bomb (in green) approaching the Syrian troops (in red).

The car bomb (in green) approaching the Syrian troops (in red).

The explosion of the second car bomb (Ibaa, January 2, 2020)

The explosion of the second car bomb (Ibaa, January 2, 2020)

The second car bomb (in green) moments before its detonation against Syrian army outposts (in red).

The second car bomb (in green) moments before its detonation against Syrian army outposts (in red).

The explosion of the second car bomb (Ibaa, January 2, 2020)

The explosion of the second car bomb (Ibaa, January 2, 2020)

The bus carrying Syrian soldiers, which was attacked by ISIS (Deir ez-Zor 24, January 6, 2020)

The bus carrying Syrian soldiers, which was attacked by ISIS (Deir ez-Zor 24, January 6, 2020)

The scene of the car bomb explosion in the village of Abu Hamam.

The scene of the car bomb explosion in the village of Abu Hamam.

Ruined building at the scene of the explosion (Deir ez-Zor 24 Twitter account, January 1, 2020)

Ruined building at the scene of the explosion (Deir ez-Zor 24 Twitter account, January 1, 2020)

Syrian army vehicle destroyed in the explosion of the IED in the Al-Sukhnah area (Telegram, January 3, 2020)

Syrian army vehicle destroyed in the explosion of the IED in the Al-Sukhnah area (Telegram, January 3, 2020)

The execution of two Christian residents (Telegram, January 5, 2020)

The execution of two Christian residents (Telegram, January 5, 2020)

Highlights of the events
  • The dramatic events that occurred this week, especially the elimination of Qods Force Commander Qassem Soleimani and the firing of missiles in response at two US bases in Iraq could, in the ITIC’s assessment, impair the effectiveness of the US-led campaign against ISIS. This is reflected in this week’s announcement by the US army that it has suspended military activity against ISIS because it is now committed to prioritizing the defense of the Iraqi bases that host the Coalition forces.
  • Despite US Secretary of Defense Mark Esper saying that the US will continue its efforts against ISIS, pressure exerted on the forces of the US and the Coalition countries in Iraq could eventually lead to a withdrawal of the forces from Iraq, thus harming the campaign against ISIS. On the other hand, removing the forces or, alternatively, having them concentrate mainly on defending themselves, is expected to raise the morale of ISIS operatives and provide it with an opportunity to accelerate the process of restoring its military capabilities and increase the scope of its terrorist activity, mainly in the Iraqi arena.
  • In the Syrian arena, there was no change in the situation on the ground this week. The Syrian army has not yet resumed the ground offensive in the Idlib region, which was halted on January 5, 2020. The Headquarters for the Liberation of Al-Sham initiated a counterattack, in which two car bombs were blown up, killing dozens of Syrian soldiers. The counterattack was curbed by Syrian army artillery and airstrikes. In the Euphrates Valley, ISIS’s intensive activity continued. This included attacks on a Kurdish Internal Security force headquarters (nine dead) and a bus carrying Syrian soldiers (seven dead).
  • In the Iraqi arena, ISIS conducted its activity at low intensity. Prominent forms of attacks this week included the activation of IEDs against vehicles of the Iraqi security forces, sniper fire, and targeted killings. The Iraqi security forces continued their counterterrorist activities at low intensity.
  • This week, there has been a decrease in ISIS’s activity around the world, with the exception of Northern Sinai, where “routine” attacks against the Egyptian security forces continued. There was one unusual incident in Russia, where two Caucasus Province operatives carried out a stabbing and ramming attack against members of the Ingushetia police force (two dead).
Idlib region
Overview

This week, the Syrian army did not resume its attacks against the rebel organizations in the rural area of Maarat Nu’man. At the same time, Russian and Syrian airstrikes continued. The Headquarters for the Liberation of Al-Sham attempted to mount a counterattack east of Maarat Nu’man, which included the detonation of two car bombs. According to reports by the Headquarters for the Liberation of Al-Sham, the Syrian troops sustained dozens of fatalities in the explosion of the two car bombs.

Halting the counterattack east of Maarat Nu’man
  • On January 2, 2020, operatives of the Headquarters for the Liberation of Al-Sham and other rebel organizations mounted an attack against Syrian forces about 12 km east of Maarat Nu’man. The Syrian army halted the attack by gun and rocket fire. According to Syrian regime reports, the rebel organizations sustained many casualties (SANA, January 2, 2020).
  • During the attempted attack, the operatives of the Headquarters for the Liberation of Al-Sham detonated two car bombs against Syrian army forces southeast of Maarat Nu’man:
  • The first car bomb was detonated against Syrian army troops. The Headquarters for the Liberation of Al-Sham released a video taken by a quadcopter, documenting the explosion (Ibaa, January 2, 2020). According to a report by the Headquarters for the Liberation of Al-Sham, more than 20 soldiers (probably from the “Tiger forces”) were killed in the explosion and over 15 soldiers were wounded (Ibaa, January 3, 2020).
  • The second car bomb was detonated against Syrian army outposts near the scene of the first explosion. The Headquarters for the Liberation of Al-Sham released another video showing the car bomb advancing on a dirt road and soldiers fleeing moments before the detonation (Ibaa, January 2, 2020). According to a report by the Headquarters for the Liberation of Al-Sham, about eight Syrian soldiers (probably from the “Tiger forces”) were killed in the explosion and over six others were wounded (Ibaa, January 3, 2020).
Airstrikes
  • On January 2, 2020, Russian fighter jets carried out airstrikes in the area of the village of Al-Tah, about 12 km southeast of Maarat Nu’man (Edlib Media Center Facebook page, January 2, 2020). On January 4, 2020, Syrian fighter jets carried out airstrikes against targets in the city of Maarat Nu’man and its environs, the city of Saraqib (15 km southeast of Idlib), and the M5 highway (Aleppo-Damascus). In addition, Syrian helicopters dropped barrel bombs in the area of Maarat Nu’man (Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, January 4, 2020). On January 5, 2020, Russian fighter jets carried out airstrikes in the rural area of Maarat Nu’man (Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, January 4, 2020).

Smoke rising after the explosion of a barrel bomb dropped from a Syrian helicopter on a village southeast of Maarat Nu'man (Edlib Media Center, January 4, 2020)
Smoke rising after the explosion of a barrel bomb dropped from a Syrian helicopter on a village southeast of Maarat Nu’man (Edlib Media Center, January 4, 2020)

The Euphrates Valley

ISIS continued its activity in the Euphrates Valley. Outstanding event this week was the detonation of a car bomb in the headquarters of the Kurdish Internal Security forces, southeast of Al-Mayadeen. ISIS reported that nine members of the Kurdish Internal Security had been killed in the explosion. Another outstanding event was an attack against a Syrian army bus about 30 km southeast of Al-Mayadeen (seven soldiers killed). At the same time, attacks continued in the usual forms, which included the activation of IEDs against SDF and Syrian army vehicles and targeted killings of SDF fighters and intelligence operatives.

The area of Al-Mayadeen and Albukamal
  • Following are ISIS’s main activities (mainly according to the organization’s claims of responsibility):
    • On January 6, 2020, a Syrian Air Force Intelligence operative was shot and wounded in the village of Jaradi, about 20 km southeast of Al-Mayadeen (Telegram, January 6, 2020).
    • On January 6, 2020, a Syrian army bus was targeted by machine gun fire in the desert, near the village of Al-Duweir (about 30 km southeast of Al-Mayadeen). Seven Syrian soldiers were killed and 14 others wounded (Telegram, January 6, 2020; Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, January 6, 2020).
    • On January 5, 2020, an IED was activated against an SDF vehicle on the road leading to the Al-Omar oil field, about 20 km east of Al-Mayadeen (Telegram, January 5, 2020).
    • On January 4, 2020, an IED was activated against an SDF vehicle on the road leading to the Al-Omar oil field, about 20 km east of Al-Mayadeen. No casualties were reported (Telegram, January 5, 2020).
    • On January 4, 2020, the house of a Syrian army “agent” was targeted by machine gun fire in Darnaj, about 10 km southeast of Al-Mayadeen. The “agent” was killed (Telegram, January 5, 2020).
    • On January 2, 2020, an IED was activated against a Syrian army truck carrying a gun in the Al-Mayadeen Desert. The truck was put out of commission (Telegram, January 3, 2020).
    • On January 1, 2020, a car bomb driven by a suicide bomber was detonated against Kurdish Internal Security forces (Asayish) near their headquarters in Abu Hamam, about 30 km southeast of Al-Mayadeen. Nine operatives of the Kurdish Internal Security forces were killed, including a commander. Several others were wounded (Telegram, January 1, 2020).
    • On January 1, 2020, an SDF intelligence operative was targeted by machine gun fire in the village of Diban, 5 km east of Al-Mayadeen. He was killed (Telegram, January 1, 2020).
    • On January 1, 2020, the house of an SDF Intelligence commander was targeted by machine gun fire in the village of Al-Tiyanah, 8 km southeast of Al-Mayadeen. The commander was killed (Telegram, January 1, 2020).
    • On December 31, 2019, an IED was activated against a Syrian army vehicle in the Al-Mayadeen Desert (Telegram, January 1, 2020).
Coalition and SDF counterterrorist activity
  • SDF fighters, in collaboration with Coalition forces, carried out an operation against ISIS in the Deir ez-Zor Province. Sixteen ISIS operatives were apprehended. Their capture reportedly prevented an attack in the immediate future against the Coalition and SDF forces (Iraq/Syria)@SOJTFOIR, Operation Inherent Resolve’s Twitter account, January 2, 2020).
The Al-Hasakah area
Release of ISIS families from the Al-Hol displaced persons camp
  • Soon, the SDF forces are expected to release about 400 additional family members of ISIS operatives from the Al-Hol displaced persons camp (about 40 km east of Al-Hasakah). Their release was probably made possible after sheikhs of tribes living east of the Euphrates River had vouched for them (January 4, 2020). The involvement of sheikhs and dignitaries in the release process is intended to serve as a guarantee of sorts that the released ISIS operatives or their family members would not resume their activity in the ranks of ISIS.
The area of Palmyra and Al-Sukhnah
  • In the area of Palmyra and Al-Sukhnah, ISIS carried out several attacks against the Syrian army:
    • On January 2, 2020, an IED was activated against a Syrian army vehicle in the Al-Sukhnah area. Photos which were released show at least one body, as well as red ribbons with the Arabic inscription “Al-Quds Brigade” (i.e., a Palestinian brigade) (Telegram, January 2, 2020).
    • On December 31, 2019, two Syrian soldiers were targeted by machine gun fire near Hmeimah, about 100 km southeast of Al-Sukhnah. They were both killed (Telegram, January 2, 2020).
US army statement on a pause in the campaign against ISIS
  • On January 5, 2020, the US army announced a pause in its military actions against ISIS, subject to continuous review. According to the statement, repeated rocket attacks over the last two months by elements of Kata’ib Hezbollah, which have caused the death of Iraqi security forces personnel and a US civilian, are behind this decision. At the present time, the US army is first and foremost committed to protecting the Iraqi bases that host Coalition troops, at the expense of supporting the operations carried out by the Iraqi partners of the US against ISIS (website of Operation Inherent Resolve, January 5, 2020).
The Iraqi arena
ISIS activity in the various provinces

ISIS continued its activity in the Iraqi arena at relatively low intensity. Prominent forms of attacks this week included the activation of IEDs against vehicles of the Iraqi security forces; sniper fire; and targeted killings. The following are highlights of ISIS’s activity (according to its claims of responsibility).

Diyala Province
  • On January 2, 2020, emergency police personnel were targeted by sniper fire about 30 km northeast of Baqubah. One policeman was killed and two others were wounded (Telegram, January 3, 2020). According to the Iraqi Prime Minister’s Office website, the policeman was killed in an attack carried out by ISIS operatives against an outpost of the emergency police (@SecMedCell Facebook page of the Iraqi Prime Minister’s Office, January 2, 2020).
  • On December 31, 2020, a Popular Mobilization compound was targeted by sniper fire about 70 km north of Baqubah. One operative was killed (Telegram, January 1, 2020).
Al-Anbar Province
  • On January 3, 2020, the house of an Iraqi Military Intelligence operative was targeted by gunfire west of Ramadi. The intelligence operative was killed. His house and vehicle were set on fire (Telegram, January 4, 2020).
Kirkuk Province
  • On January 5, 2020, an Iraqi army camp about 30 km south of Kirkuk was attacked. Five soldiers were killed (Telegram, January 7, 2020).
  • On December 31, 2020, an oil facility police compound was attacked about 30 km northwest of Kirkuk. Two policemen were killed in the exchange of fire (Telegram, January 1, 2020).
Erbil Province
  • On January 3, 2020, an IED was activated against an Iraqi army vehicle about 50 km southwest of Erbil. Two soldiers were killed and another was wounded (Telegram, January 4, 2020).
Counterterrorist activities by the Iraqi security forces
  •   The Iraqi army has begun the eighth phase of Operation The Will to Win against the presence of ISIS cells in the Salah al-Din, Kirkuk, Nineveh and Diyala provinces (ISIS’s main activity areas). Weapons belonging to ISIS were located in the activity in the Nineveh Province. In addition, several tunnels used by ISIS operatives were uncovered (Facebook page of the Iraqi Ministry of Defense, January 2, 2020).
Officers in the Iraqi security forces in Nineveh Province (Facebook page of the Iraqi Ministry of Defense, January 2, 2020)   Convoy of the Iraqi security forces operating in the Nineveh Province in the third phase of Operation The Will to Win.
Right: Convoy of the Iraqi security forces operating in the Nineveh Province in the third phase of Operation The Will to Win. Left: Officers in the Iraqi security forces in Nineveh Province (Facebook page of the Iraqi Ministry of Defense, January 2, 2020)
Security activity in the Kirkuk Province
  • Acting on the basis of accurate intelligence, Iraqi F-16 fighter jets attacked three ISIS tunnels about 50 km north of Kirkuk. The tunnels were destroyed and ISIS operatives inside were killed (@SecMedCell Facebook page of the Iraqi Prime Minister’s Office, January 3, 2020).
Security activity in the Al-Anbar Province
  • A force of the Iraqi Interior Ministry apprehended two ISIS operatives about 45 km west of Baghdad. Their capture was made possible by intelligence indicating the return of ISIS operatives to the region. The two operatives had carried out several attacks, including the activation of IEDs that killed members of the Iraqi security forces (Al-Sumaria, January 5, 2020).
The Sinai Peninsula
  • ISIS’s Sinai Province operatives continued their “routine” activity against the Egyptian security forces in northern Sinai:
    • On January 6, 2020, an IED was activated against an Egyptian army bulldozer near a checkpoint south of Sheikh Zuweid. The soldiers on the bulldozer were wounded (Telegram, January 6, 2020).
    • On January 4, 2020, an IED was activated against an Egyptian army armored vehicle near the village of Sabika, about 30 km west of Al-Arish. The soldiers on the armored vehicle were killed or wounded (Telegram, January 6, 2020).
    • On January 4, 2020, ISIS’s Sinai Province released photos documenting the execution of two “agents” who worked for the Egyptian army, south of Bir al-Abd (Telegram, January 4, 2020).
    • On January 2, 2020, an IED was activated against an Egyptian army bulldozer east of Sheikh Zuweid. The soldiers on the bulldozer were wounded (Telegram, January 2, 2020).
    • On December 31, 2019, an IED was activated against an Egyptian army bulldozer west of Rafah. The soldiers on the bulldozer were wounded (Telegram, January 2, 2020).
The activity of ISIS’s provinces in Africa and Asia
Nigeria
  • This week, ISIS’s activity continued in Borno State in northeastern Nigeria, at relatively low intensity. Following are attacks for which ISIS’s West Africa Province claimed responsibility:
    • On January 6, 2020, ISIS operatives attacked a Nigerian police checkpoint about 20 km west of Maiduguri, the capital of Borno State. Five policemen were killed and others were wounded. Weapons and ammunition were seized (Telegram, January 7, 2020).
    • On January 6, 2020, ISIS operatives ambushed Nigerian soldiers in the area of Jakana, 40 km west of Maiduguri. Eight soldiers were killed and several others were wounded. Weapons and ammunition were seized (Telegram, January 7, 2020). According to an African news website, on January 6, 2020, ISIS operatives blocked main roads in the Jakana area and then attacked a Nigerian army base. According to the report, at least four soldiers and at least six ISIS operatives were killed (African news website All Africa, January 7, 2020).
    • On January 5, 2020, ISIS operatives attacked a Nigerian army compound 40 km west of Maiduguri. A total of 30 soldiers were killed or wounded. The compound was set on fire. Weapons and ammunition were seized (Telegram, January 7, 2020).
    • On January 5, 2020, ISIS’s Amaq News Agency released a video documenting the execution of two Christian residents in revenge for the killing of ISIS’s leader and its spokesman.
    • On January 4, 2020, ISIS operatives attacked a Nigerian army compound. The forces exchanged fire. Several soldiers were killed or wounded. Weapons and ammunition were seized (Telegram, January 4, 2020).
Somalia
  • ISIS operatives shot and killed a Somali policeman in the Bakara open market in Mogadishu (Telegram, January 5, 2020).
Yemen
  • On January 6, 2020, an IED was activated against Al-Qaeda operatives in the Qifah area in the northwest of the Al-Bayda Province (about 100 km southeast of Sana’a). Four Al-Qaeda operatives were wounded (Telegram, January 7, 2020).
Russia
Attack on an Ingushetia police checkpoint by Caucasus Province operatives
  • On January 2, 2020, a ramming and stabbing attack was carried out against an Ingushetia police traffic control post. The attack was carried out in the Magas region, the capital of Ingushetia in the northern Caucasus. Two policemen were reportedly killed and two others wounded. One of the perpetrators of the attack, Mikail Miziyev, 18, was killed, while the other, Akhmed Imagozhev, was wounded and hospitalized (Radio Free Europe – Radio Liberty, American news website, January 2, 2020)
  • ISIS’s Caucasus Province claimed responsibility for the attack. According to the announcement issued by the province, two operatives carried out a combined ramming and stabbing attack against members of the Ingushetia police force. According to ISIS, two police officers were killed and several others were wounded (Telegram, January 1, 2020).

The two ISIS operatives who carried out the ramming and stabbing attack. The ISIS flag can is visible on the smartphone screen (Telegram, January 1, 2020).
The two ISIS operatives who carried out the ramming and stabbing attack.
The ISIS flag can is visible on the smartphone screen (Telegram, January 1, 2020).

The battle for hearts and minds
Summary of the acts of revenge for the killing of ISIS’s leader and the organization’s spokesman
  • ISIS’s Al-Naba’ weekly published an infographic summing up activity of its provinces around the world this week (December 19–26, 2019) as part of the acts of revenge for the killing of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and the organization’s spokesman Abu al-Hassan al-Muhajir. According to the infographic, ISIS’s various provinces carried out 139 attacks, killing and wounding over 355 people. The attacks included: activating IEDs (38 attacks); raids (32); sniper fire (21); targeted killings (21); “other attacks” (17); ambushes (7); suicide bombing attacks (3). The distribution of attacks by country is as follows: Syria (60 attacks, 23 of which were carried out in the Al-Khayr Province and 19 in the Al-Raqqah Province (i.e., in the Euphrates Valley); Iraq (51 attacks, including 19 in the Diyala Province); West Africa (18); The Sinai Peninsula (5); Somalia (3) and Yemen (2) (Telegram, January 2, 2020).

It is clearly evident that ISIS’s two core countries of Syria and Iraq still play a central role in ISIS’s terrorist activity even after the blows that ISIS has been dealt. In contrast, Afghanistan is not mentioned, although it formerly played a central role in ISIS’s terrorist activity, probably due to the defeat suffered by ISIS operatives in the Nangarhar Province, which has apparently – at least temporarily – terminated the activity of the Khorasan Province. With regard to the nature of the activity, the modus operandi of the “revenge operations” did not include any sophisticated attacks, apparently because ISIS has not fully regained its operational capabilities.