Spotlight on Global Jihad (March 26 – April 1, 2020)

Turkish army patrols on the M-4 highway, without the participation of the Russians (Brocar Press website affiliated with the Turkish-sponsored rebel organizations, March 29, 2020)

Turkish army patrols on the M-4 highway, without the participation of the Russians (Brocar Press website affiliated with the Turkish-sponsored rebel organizations, March 29, 2020)

Turkish army patrols on the M-4 highway, without the participation of the Russians (Brocar Press website affiliated with the Turkish-sponsored rebel organizations, March 29, 2020)

Turkish army patrols on the M-4 highway, without the participation of the Russians (Brocar Press website affiliated with the Turkish-sponsored rebel organizations, March 29, 2020)

Iranian-affiliated militiamen wearing masks for fear of COVID-19 infection.

Iranian-affiliated militiamen wearing masks for fear of COVID-19 infection.

Three fighters of the Rapid Deployment Force standing behind the apprehended ISIS operative (Al-Sumaria, March 27, 2020)

Three fighters of the Rapid Deployment Force standing behind the apprehended ISIS operative (Al-Sumaria, March 27, 2020)

ISIS operative speaking as part of the activity of the Preaching Bureau in the Lake Chad area (Telegram, March 27, 2020).

ISIS operative speaking as part of the activity of the Preaching Bureau in the Lake Chad area (Telegram, March 27, 2020).

ISIS operative holding a page in Arabic, listing “the Pillars of Islam,” the meaning of “There is no God but Allah” and “the Elements of Faith” (Telegram, March 27, 2020)

ISIS operative holding a page in Arabic, listing “the Pillars of Islam,” the meaning of “There is no God but Allah” and “the Elements of Faith” (Telegram, March 27, 2020)

Overview
  • In the Idlib region, the ceasefire was generally maintained, with the exception of local incidents of artillery fire between the Syrian army and rebel organizations. In the background is the fear of the uncontrollable spread of COVID-19 in the Idlib Province. International aid organizations have reported that so far no cases of COVID-19 have been identified in the province, but in the absence of systematic testing this report cannot be verified. According to the Syrian Health Ministry, 10 COVID-19 patients have been identified (in other provinces in Syria), and two deaths have been reported. The reliability of this data is questionable.
  • In the Euphrates Valley, ISIS has continued its intensive activity against the SDF. The common attacks were activation of IEDs against vehicles and targeted killings of SDF intelligence operatives and “agents.”
  • In Iraq, there has been an increase in ISIS’s activity in recent weeks. In the ITIC’s assessment, this increase is due to ISIS’s interest in exploiting Iraq’s political and economic weakness and the US forces’ preoccupation with the attacks by the Shiite militias handled by Iran. All this when the COVID-19 crisis threatens to spread to Iraq as well.
  • Among ISIS’s provinces outside Syria and Iraq, Afghanistan was prominent this week. An operative of the Khorasan Province, which resumed intensive activity after several months of stagnation, carried out a suicide bombing attack at a Sikh house of worship in Kabul (March 25, 2020). According to the spokesman for the Afghan Interior Ministry, at least 25 Sikhs and other civilians were killed and eight were wounded. The next day, an IED was detonated against a gathering place of Sikhs and Hindus in Kabul. Several people were killed and wounded. The Sikhs are a small minority in Afghanistan and, like other minorities, are in ISIS’s crosshairs.
The Idlib area
The situation on the ground

The ceasefire in the Idlib region has generally been maintained, with the exception of incidents of artillery fire on both sides. The risk of uncontrollable spread of COVID-19 in the Idlib region is looming large in the background.

  • The Turkish-affiliated rebel organizations blamed the Syrian army and the Iranian-affiliated militias for the daily violations of the ceasefire by artillery fire or attempts to advance (Turkish-affiliated Orient News and the Turkish-sponsored rebel organizations, March 29, 2020). Thus, it was reported that the Syrian army fired artillery at two villages about 25 km south of Idlib (EMC, March 27, 2020).
  • On March 31, 2020, the Syrian army fired artillery from the area of the city of Saraqeb (about 15 km southeast of Idlib) at areas controlled by the rebel organizations north of Saraqeb and south of Idlib. No casualties were reported. In response, the rebel organizations deployed near the Turkish observation posts fired artillery at Syrian army troops in Saraqeb. No casualties were reported (Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, April 1, 2020).
  • Following the campaign waged by the Headquarters for the Liberation of Al-Sham to disrupt the joint patrols, Turkish army patrols continued this week on the M-4 highway without Russian participation (contrary to the Russian-Turkish agreement). The Turkish patrols took place every day from the city of Saraqeb and its environs to the village of Massibin, about 9 km south of Idlib. So far, 11 patrols have been carried out.
The spread of COVID-19
  • International aid organizations operating in the Idlib Province reported that so far, no cases of COVID-19 had been recorded in the Idlib Province (Al-Araby, March 29, 2020). As there is no organized system of tests and treatment, this report cannot be verified. According to Syrian Health Ministry reports, there are 10 COVID-19 cases throughout Syria and two deaths as a result of the virus. These figures cannot be verified. Syrian residents were called on to stay at home (SANA, March 31, 2020).
  • According to claims by the Headquarters for the Liberation of Al-Sham, COVID-19 cases were discovered among the Syrian army and the militias supporting it. The reliability of this report is unclear (Ibaa, March 29 and 30, 2020).
Syrian soldiers, one wearing a mask (Ibaa, March 30, 2020). The photos show that no physical distance is maintained between the soldiers.     Iranian-affiliated militiamen wearing masks for fear of COVID-19 infection.
Right: Iranian-affiliated militiamen wearing masks for fear of COVID-19 infection. Left: Syrian soldiers, one wearing a mask (Ibaa, March 30, 2020). The photos show that no physical distance is maintained between the soldiers.
The Euphrates Valley
The area of Al-Mayadeen and Albukamal
  • On March 31, 2020, an IED was activated against an SDF truck in the village of Al-Sabha, about 20 km north of Al-Mayadeen. The passengers were wounded (Telegram, March 31, 2020).
  • On March 30, 2020, ISIS operatives took an SDF intelligence operative prisoner in the village of Darnaj, about 14 km southeast of Al-Mayadeen. He was interrogated and then executed (Telegram, March 31, 2020).
  • On March 26, 2020, ISIS operatives activated an IED planted in the house of a Syrian regime “agent” in the village of Sweidan, about 17 km southeast of Al-Mayadeen. The house was damaged (Telegram, March 27, 2020).
  • On March 25, 2020, an IED was activated against an SDF vehicle on the Al-Omar oil field road, about 50 km southeast of Deir ez-Zor. The passengers were wounded (Telegram, March 26, 2020).
Deir ez-Zor area
  • On March 30, 2020, an IED was activated against an SDF vehicle around Diban, in the rural area east of Deir ez-Zor. All the passengers were wounded (Telegram, March 30, 2020).
Northeastern Syria
Al-Hasakah area
  • On March 29, 2020, ISIS operatives took two SDF fighters prisoner in the village of Al-Tuwaymin, about 5 km west of the Syrian-Iraqi border (about 75 km southeast of Al-Hasakah). They were both executed (Telegram, March 29, 2020).
  • On March 28, 2020, ISIS operatives abducted an SDF “agent” from his home in the village of Sweidan, about 17 km southeast of Al-Mayadeen. He was interrogated and then executed (Telegram, March 29, 2020).
  • On March 25, 2020, ISIS operatives took two SDF fighters prisoner in the village of Al-Tuwaymin, about 5 km west of the Syrian-Iraqi border. They were both executed (Telegram, March 26, 2020).
ISIS operatives escaping from an SDF prison
  • On March 27, 2020, the SDF forces apprehended 11 ISIS operatives who escaped from an SDF prison in the village of Al-Kisra (about 30 km northwest of Deir ez-Zor) the previous night. The ISIS operatives were returned to the prison (Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, March 27, 2020).
  • According to SDF Spokesman Mostafa Bali, ISIS operatives incarcerated in the SDF Al-Hasakah prison took over the prison’s ground floor. They tore down the inner walls. Some of the operatives managed to escape and searches are being conducted after them. The SDF counterterrorism forces are working to restore control of the ground floor (Twitter account of Mostafa Bali, March 29, 2020).
The Iraqi arena

In recent weeks, an increase was evident in ISIS’s activity in Iraq. In the ITIC’s assessment, this increase stems from ISIS’s interest in exploiting Iraq’s political and economic crisis: the continued civilian protest, delays in forming a new government, the confrontation between the US forces and the pro-Iranian Shiite militias, and the collapse of oil prices, causing severe damage to Iraqi economy. In the background, there is the threat of COVID-19 spreading to Iraq as well.

ISIS’s activity

Salah al-Din Province

  • On March 29, 2020, hand grenades were thrown at the homes of two Tribal Mobilization fighters in the Al-Tarmiyah area, about 30 km north of Baghdad. The homes were damaged (Telegram, March 29, 2020).
  • On March 24, 2020, three of the facility security guards in a power plant near Al-Tarmiyah, about 30 km north of Baghdad, were targeted by machine gun fire. The three of them were killed. According to another report, only one security guard was killed and two others were wounded (Telegram, March 25, 2020).
  • On March 24, 2020, an RPG rocket was launched at an Iraqi army vehicle near the entrance to Al-Tarmiyah, about 30 km north of Baghdad. The passengers were killed or wounded (Telegram, March 25, 2020).
  • On March 24, 2020, an Iraqi soldier was targeted by machine gun fire about 20 km north of Baghdad. He was killed (Telegram, March 25, 2020).
  • On March 23, 2020, machine guns were fired at Iraqi police members about 80 km north of Baghdad. There were exchanges of fire between the two sides. A senior officer of the Iraqi emergency police was killed (Telegram, March 25, 2020).

Babel Province

  • On March 24, 2020, ISIS operatives broke into the house of a Tribal Mobilization commander about 20 km southwest of Baghdad. The commander and his sons had been “agents” of the Iraqi intelligence. They were executed and their house was set on fire. In addition, ISIS operatives planted an IED inside the house, which was activated against a Popular Mobilization foot patrol. Several fighters were killed or wounded (Telegram, March 25, 2020).
  • On March 23, 2020, an IED was activated against Popular Mobilization forces about 40 km south of Baghdad. Several fighters were killed or wounded (Telegram, March 25, 2020).

Diyala Province

  • On March 30, 2020, a Popular Mobilization camp was targeted by machine gun fire about 80 km northeast of Baqubah. A Popular Mobilization commander was killed and two other fighters were wounded (Telegram, March 31, 2020).
  • On March 30, 2020, Iraqi Interior Ministry commandos were targeted by sniper fire about 60 km north of Baqubah. Two fighters were killed (Telegram, March 30, 2020).
  • On March 29, 2020, an IED was activated against a vehicle carrying a Shiite near the city of Baqubah. The Shiite was killed (Telegram, March 30, 2020).
  • On March 28, 2020, four mortar shells were fired at a crowd of Shiites northeast of Baqubah. According to ISIS, target hits were observed (Telegram, March 29, 2020). Most of the residents of the Al-Abara district are Shiites.
  • On March 27, 2020, a Popular Mobilization camp was targeted by sniper fire south of Khanaqin, about 100 km northeast of Baqubah. One fighter was wounded (Telegram, March 28, 2020).
  • On March 25, 2020, an IED was activated against an Iraqi army vehicle about 50 km southwest of Kirkuk. Two soldiers were killed (Telegram, March 26, 2020).

Kirkuk Province

  • On March 25, 2020, two rockets were fired at an Iraqi police headquarters about 40 km southwest of Kirkuk. Target hits were observed (Telegram, March 26, 2020).

Nineveh Province

  • On March 26, 2020, an IED was activated against an Iraqi army truck about 10 km southeast of Mosul. Two soldiers were wounded (Telegram, March 26, 2020).

Erbil Province

  • On March 26, 2020, an IED was activated against an Iraqi army vehicle in the Makhmur area, about 60 km southwest of Erbil. The passengers were killed or wounded (Telegram, March 26, 2020).

Al-Anbar Province

  • On March 30, 2020, two Grad rockets were fired at Iraqi army headquarters near the city of Hit, about 140 km northwest of Baghdad. Two soldiers were wounded. One of the headquarters sustained damage (Telegram, March 31, 2020).
  • On March 29, 2020, ISIS operatives ambushed an Iraqi army force in the Akashat area, in western Iraq (about 30 km from the Iraqi-Syrian border). The operatives attacked one of the vehicles of the Iraqi troops with machine gun fire. Several soldiers were killed. Subsequently, the ISIS operatives activated an IED against another vehicle of the Iraqi force. Several other soldiers were killed (Telegram, March 30, 2020).
Counterterrorism activities by the Iraqi security forces

Salah al-Din Province

  • On March 28, 2020, ISIS operatives tried to infiltrate an area south of Samarra (about 100 km northwest of Baghdad) at a late night hour. The ISIS operatives exchanged fire with Popular Mobilization fighters and the Iraqi police. Several ISIS operatives were wounded (al-hashed.net, March 29, 2020).
  • On March 26, 2020, the Iraqi security forces located a hideout [i.e., of ISIS] in Al-Tarmiyah, about 30 km north of Baghdad. IEDs and explosives were found (Al-Sumaria, March 26, 2020).
A force of the Popular Mobilization and the Iraqi police, which thwarted an ISIS infiltration attempt south of Samarra, north of Baghdad (al-hashed.net, March 29, 2020)     A force of the Popular Mobilization and the Iraqi police, which thwarted an ISIS infiltration attempt south of Samarra, north of Baghdad (al-hashed.net, March 29, 2020)
A force of the Popular Mobilization and the Iraqi police, which thwarted an ISIS infiltration attempt south of Samarra, north of Baghdad (al-hashed.net, March 29, 2020)

Kirkuk Province

  • On March 27, 2020, the Iraqi government’s Rapid Deployment Force apprehended a terrorist operative (i.e., an ISIS operative) in Tuz Khormato, about 70 km south of Kirkuk (Al-Sumaria, March 27, 2020).

Al-Anbar Province

  • On March 27, 2020, a joint force of the Popular Mobilization and the Iraqi army carried out a patrol in the Al-Anbar Province deserts, which served as a refuge for ISIS operatives. During the searches, an ISIS underground guesthouse was uncovered. The guesthouse was destroyed (al-hashed.net, March 27, 2020).

The door to the underground ISIS guesthouse in the Al-Anbar desert (al-hashed.net, March 27, 2020)
The door to the underground ISIS guesthouse in the Al-Anbar desert
(al-hashed.net, March 27, 2020)

  • On March 26, 2020, a joint force of the Popular Mobilization and the Iraqi army operated in an area about 12 km northeast of Fallujah, where they located several ISIS guesthouses (al-hashed.net, March 26, 2020).
Popular Mobilization and Iraqi army force during an operation aimed at ISIS guesthouses northeast of Fallujah (al-hashed.net, March 26, 2020)     Popular Mobilization and Iraqi army force during an operation aimed at ISIS guesthouses northeast of Fallujah (al-hashed.net, March 26, 2020)
Popular Mobilization and Iraqi army force during an operation aimed at ISIS guesthouses northeast of Fallujah (al-hashed.net, March 26, 2020)

The border between the Salah al-Din and Diyala provinces

  • On March 29, 2020, Iraqi security forces captured five “terrorist operatives” (i.e., ISIS operatives) on the administrative border between the Salah al-Din and Diyala provinces. The operatives belonged to an ISIS network specializing in manufacturing IEDs (IEDs, March 29, 2020).
The Sinai Peninsula
  • On March 30, 2020, an IED was activated against an Egyptian army tank south of Bir al-Abd. The crew members were killed (Telegram, March 31, 2020).
  • On March 29, 2020, an IED was activated against an Egyptian army minesweeping vehicle west of Rafah (Telegram, March 31, 2020).
Cloud of dust rising from the scene of the IED explosion   Egyptian army minesweeping vehicle before an IED was activated against it west of Rafah.

Vehicle towing the minesweeping vehicle damaged by the IED explosion (Telegram, March 31, 2020).
Right: Egyptian army minesweeping vehicle before an IED was activated against it west of Rafah. Left: Cloud of dust rising from the scene of the IED explosion. Below: Vehicle towing the minesweeping vehicle damaged by the IED explosion (Telegram, March 31, 2020).

  • On March 29, 2020, an Egyptian soldier was targeted by sniper fire at a checkpoint east of Sheikh Zuweid. He was killed (Telegram, March 30, 2020).
  • On March 28, 2020, an IED was activated against an Egyptian army tank in Bir al-Abd, about 45 km west of Al-Arish. Four soldiers were killed (Sinaa News 24 Facebook page, March 29, 2020). To date, no organization has claimed responsibility for the attack, but it was apparently carried out by ISIS.
  • On March 26, 2020, “armed men” (i.e., ISIS operatives) attacked an Egyptian army camp west of Rafah. Two soldiers were killed and three were wounded (Shahed Sinaa – Al-Rasmiyah Facebook page, January 27, 2020). To date, no organization has claimed responsibility for the attack, but it was apparently carried out by ISIS.
ISIS’s activity in Africa and Asia
Africa

The establishment of an international task force to assist the Sahel countries (the sub-Saharan countries)

  • On March 27, 2020, there was a follow-up to the PAU Conference (January 13, 2020), in which it was decided to establish an international task force to support the Sahel countries in their fight against terrorism[1]. Representatives from 13 European countries participated in the conference (which was held via audio)[2]. At the conference, it was decided to establish a military force to be known as Takuba (Takuba means sword in the Tuareg language), comprising soldiers from the various countries. The force is supposed to begin to operate in the Sahel region and will become operational in early 2021. The force’s activity will focus on the tri-border area between Burkina Faso, Niger and Mali, which is considered an ISIS stronghold. The new force will be added to additional forces operating in the region, including the United Nations Peacekeeping Force and the International Task Force (MINJTF), which includes soldiers from the G5 countries (Al-Jazeera in English, March 28, 2020).

Nigeria

  • On March 28, 2020, ISIS operatives ambushed several Nigerian army vehicles between Maiduguri, the capital of Borno State in northeastern Nigeria, and Minok, about 50 km west of Maiduguri. The forces exchanged fire. Several soldiers were killed or wounded. In addition, weapons and ammunition were seized (Telegram, March 28, 2020).
  • On March 28, 2020, ISIS operatives attacked a Nigerian army camp in Borno State. Several soldiers were killed or wounded (Telegram, March 28, 2020).
  • On March 26, 2020, ISIS operatives took four Nigerian soldiers prisoner about 50 km southeast of Damaturu, capital of Yobe State. They were executed. In addition, two APCs and a vehicle were seized (Telegram, March 28, 2020).
  • On March 23, 2020, ISIS operatives repelled an attack by the Nigerian army in the town of Goniri. According to ISIS, over 100 officers and fighters were killed. In addition, weapons and ammunition were seized (Telegram, March 25, 2020).
  • On March 23, 2020, ISIS operatives attacked a Nigerian army headquarters. Several soldiers were killed or wounded (Telegram, March 25, 2020).

Mozambique

  • On March 25, 2020, ISIS operatives attacked two Mozambican army camps in the north of the country. The soldiers fled. ISIS operatives set fire to both camps and to several vehicles at the camps. ISIS operatives seized weapons and ammunition (Telegram, March 25, 2020).
  • In the second half of 2018, ISIS began carrying out terrorist activity in northern Mozambique, an area where an Islamic revolt has been ongoing since 2017. On February 7, 2020, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees announced a sharp increase in violence in northern Mozambique. Since 2017, some 100,000 residents have been displaced as a result of violence in the region (Reuters, February 7, 2020).
Afghanistan

Mass-casualty attack against a Sikh temple in Kabul

  • On March 25, 2020, a suicide bomber entered one of the main Sikh houses of worship in the city of Kabul. The terrorist opened fire on the worshipers and threw hand grenades. When the Afghan security forces arrived, he activated two IEDs against them. According to ISIS, 60 Sikhs and members of the security forces were killed and wounded in this attack. The claim of responsibility issued by ISIS’s Khorasan Province states that the attack was carried out to avenge the Muslims in Kashmir (Telegram, March 25, 2020).
  • Afghan Interior Ministry Spokesman Tariq Aryan announced that on the morning of March 25, a terrorist attacked a Sikh house of worship in Kabul. According to the spokesman, at least 25 Sikhs and other civilians were killed and eight were wounded. The Afghan security forces and the terrorist exchanged fire for about six hours. The terrorist was killed and over 80 Sikh worshipers, including women and children, were rescued unharmed (Afghanistan Times, March 25, 2020). It should be noted that the previous ISIS attack against the Sikhs, who constitute a tiny minority in Afghanistan, was in the Nangarhar Province in 2018. At least 19 Sikhs were killed and 20 were wounded in that attack (Al-Jazeera, March 25, 2020).
The bodies of those killed in the temple that was attacked (Telegram, March 25, 2020)    Devastation and signs of fire at the Sikh house of worship where a suicide bombing attack was carried out by ISIS (Afghanistan Times, March 25, 2020).
Right: Devastation and signs of fire at the Sikh house of worship where a suicide bombing attack was carried out by ISIS (Afghanistan Times, March 25, 2020). Left: The bodies of those killed in the temple that was attacked (Telegram, March 25, 2020)
  • On March 27, 2020, ISIS released a short video showing a suicide bomber reading his will before carrying out the attack. The terrorist is shown sitting in the back seat of a vehicle, wearing an army uniform and holding a Kalashnikov rifle, on his way to the Sikh house of worship in Kabul where he carried out the attack (Telegram, March 27, 2020).

Suicide bomber Abu Khalid Al-Hindi on his way to carry out the suicide bombing attack (Telegram, March 27, 2020)
Suicide bomber Abu Khalid Al-Hindi on his way to carry out the suicide bombing attack (Telegram, March 27, 2020)

Detonation of IED in Kabul against a gathering place of Sikhs and Hindus
  • On March 26, 2020, an IED was activated against a gathering of Sikhs and Hindus in Kabul. Several Sikhs and Hindus were killed or wounded (Telegram, March 26, 2020). This attack was carried out the day after ISIS’s attack on a Sikh house of worship in Kabul.
  • On March 31, 2020, an Afghan Special Forces commander was targeted by gunfire about 10 km west of Jalalabad, in the Nangarhar Province. He was killed (Telegram, March 31, 2020).

The battle for hearts and minds

Activity of ISIS’s preaching (da’wa) bureau in the Lake Chad area

  • On March 27, 2020, ISIS’s West Africa Province released photos showing the organization’s preaching bureau (Al-Maktab al-Da’wi) in the Lake Chad area. The bureau is responsible for inculcating ISIS’s jihadi ideology among dozens of teenagers in the area. The photos show preachers standing opposite dozens of activists and armed ISIS operatives who belong to the organization’s Morality Police (Al-Hisba), distributing literature issued by the bureau (da’wa) to teenagers. They also show two Christian men who converted to Islam in the area (Telegram, March 27, 2020).
  • The photos were apparently taken in Borno State in northeastern Nigeria, which borders on Lake Chad. In the ITIC’s assessment, the activity of the bureau and ISIS’s Morality Police are indicative of ISIS’s efforts to gain the support of the local population and convert them to Islam, and not to content itself only with the intensive military attacks that it is carrying out in this region.
ISIS operatives who belong to the organization’s Morality Police (Al-Hisba), distributing literature issued by ISIS’s Preaching Bureau (da’wa) to teenagers in the Lake Chad area. (Telegram, March 27, 2020).   Operative of the Preaching (da’wa) Bureau speaking before an audience.
Right: Operative of the Preaching (da’wa) Bureau speaking before an audience. Left: ISIS operatives who belong to the organization’s Morality Police (Al-Hisba), distributing literature issued by ISIS’s Preaching Bureau (da’wa) to teenagers in the Lake Chad area. (Telegram, March 27, 2020).

[1] For further details about the PAU Conference, see Spotlight on Global Jihad (March 19-25, 2020).
[2] Representatives from the following 13 countries participated: France, Germany, Britain, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Mali, the Netherlands, Niger, Norway, Portugal and Sweden.