Syrian army soldiers in the Al-Hajar al-Aswad neighborhood (SANA, May 12, 2018).
Syrian army APC in the Al-Hajar al-Aswad neighborhood (SANA, May 10, 2018).
Artillery fire at the Yarmouk refugee camp (YouTube channel of the Al-Quds Brigade, May 8, 2018)
Artillery fire at the Yarmouk refugee camp (YouTube channel of the Al-Quds Brigade, May 8, 2018)
Right: Various types of light arms. Left: IEDs
The scene of one of the three ISIS terrorist attacks in Surabaya, Indonesia.
The family responsible for the ISIS three suicide bombing attacks against the three churches (fanarmisr.com, May 13, 2018)
Main events of the week
- Despite the exchange of blows between the IDF and the Iranian forces in Syria, the Syrian army and SDF forces continued to fight against ISIS uninterruptedly in the two main arenas: in the southern neighborhoods of Damascus, the Syrian army and the forces supporting it took over parts of the Yarmouk refugee camp and the Al-Hajar al-Aswad neighborhood to its south. Thus, the area under ISIS’s control is shrinking. In the lower Euphrates Valley, the SDF took over an important ISIS stronghold southeast of Albukamal, and its fighters advanced towards the Syrian-Iraqi border, where they joined the Iraqi forces.
- In Iraq, ISIS made an unsuccessful attempt to disrupt the parliamentary elections. This failure, which is evidence of its current weakness in Iraq, came after its failure to disrupt the presidential elections in Egypt. Additional evidence of ISIS’s difficulties is the capture of five of its senior commanders, including a personal aide to ISIS leader, who were captured (according to Iraqi media) in an Iraqi-American-Turkish intelligence operation. The five are now being held by Iraq and have been shown in the Iraqi media.
- While ISIS is facing severe pressure in its “core countries” (Iraq and Syria), its operatives or supporters, influenced by its ideology, continue to carry out terrorist attacks throughout the world. This week’s most noteworthy attacks: a stabbing attack in central Paris near the Opera House (one killed and four wounded), carried out by a Chechen terrorist who had been granted asylum in France; in the city of Surabaya, Indonesia, three suicide bombing attacks were carried out against three churches by a family that had returned from Syria, where it operated in the ranks of ISIS (12 killed). In the same city, a suicide bombing attack was carried out at the local police headquarters by a family of five; in addition, ISIS claimed responsibility for prisoner riots at an Indonesian prison facility (five killed); in the city of Jalalabad, Afghanistan, terrorists carried out a shooting and suicide bombing attack in the local finance ministry building (15 killed); in London, a suicide bombing attack was thwarted. The attack was supposed to have been carried out at the British Museum in April by a female terrorist who was engaged to a Pakistani ISIS operative (who has since been killed). The terrorist’s mother and sister had intended to carry out a stabbing attack in Westminster after her arrest. The entire family is now on trial. Speaking at a conference in Berlin, the head of Britain’s MI5 warned that ISIS was striving to carry out more destructive and complex attacks in Europe.
- Al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri called on Muslims (May 14, 2018) to carry out jihad against the United States and Western countries following the relocation of the US embassy to Jerusalem. He quoted Osama bin Laden, who swore that the US would not gain security “until we, the Muslims, live in Palestine and until all the infidel armies leave the Arabian Peninsula.” In addition, ISIS distributed a filmed will of the operative who carried out the stabbing attack in Paris, in which he addresses the Muslims, saying “carry out your attacks here, on the soil of the infidels, and do not wait.”
Russian involvement in Syria
- Speaking at a conference held by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Oleg Syromolotov said that more than 4,000 Russian citizens were fighting in Syria alongside the terrorist organizations and would face criminal prosecution upon their return to Russia. Syromolotov added, “We can now state with certainty that the backbone of international terrorism in Syria has been successfully broken […] Unfortunately, we have to expect the rise of new hotbeds of terrorism in the newest [i.e., nearest] future” (TASS News Agency, May 10, 2018).
The campaign to take over the southern suburbs of Damascus
The Syrian army continues to record achievements in its campaign to take over the southern suburbs of Damascus held by ISIS. ISIS’s control areas in its two main strongholds are shrinking: In the Yarmouk refugee camp, most of the southern part remains in the hands of ISIS, while in the Al-Hajar al-Aswad neighborhood, ISIS still holds only the northern part. In its ground attacks, the Syrian army was supported by artillery fire and airstrikes, which caused extensive damage.
Battles in the Yarmouk refugee camp and the Al-Hajar al-Aswad neighborhood
Right: Syrian army soldiers in the Al-Hajar al-Aswad neighborhood (SANA, May 12, 2018). Left: Syrian army tank in the Al-Hajar al-Aswad neighborhood (SANA, May 10, 2018)
Right: Syrian army APC in the Al-Hajar al-Aswad neighborhood (SANA, May 10, 2018). Left: Syrian army soldiers and operatives of supporting militias cheering near a Syrian tank in the Al-Hajar al-Aswad neighborhood (SANA, May 10, 2018)
Airstrikes and artillery fire in the Yarmouk refugee camp
- The Syrian army’s advance in Damascus’s was accompanied by airstrikes and artillery fire which were focused on the Yarmouk refugee camp and the neighborhoods of Al-Hajar al-Aswad and Al-Tadamon. The Palestinian Al-Quds Brigade, which is fighting alongside the Syrian army, released a video taken by a drone. It shows artillery fire and airstrikes against ISIS targets in the Yarmouk refugee camp. The video shows hits sustained by various buildings around the camp (YouTube channel of the Al-Quds Brigade, May 8, 2018).
Artillery fire at the Yarmouk refugee camp (YouTube channel of the Al-Quds Brigade, May 8, 2018)
- On May 14, 2018, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that since the beginning of the campaign on April 19, 2018, 215 Syrian army soldiers and operatives of the militias supporting it, including the Al-Quds Brigade, had been killed. A total of 26 officers in various ranks are among the fatalities, including nine who had been executed by ISIS. A total of 168 ISIS operatives were killed (Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, May 14, 2018). According to ISIS, 670 Syrian army soldiers had been killed, most of them in the Yarmouk refugee camp and Al-Hajar al-Aswad neighborhood (Haqq, May 11, 2018).
Weapons handed over to the Syrian army by the Headquarters for the Liberation of Al-Sham
- The Syrian regime released a video showing many and various types of weapons surrendered by operatives of the Headquarters for the Liberation of Al-Sham in the neighborhoods of Yalda, Babila and Beit Saham, east of the Yarmouk refugee camp (as part of the agreement, under which the operatives and their families were evacuated to the areas of Idlib and Jarabulus). Following are several photos (SANA, May 11, 2018):
Right: Mortar shells. Left: Mortars
Right: Vehicles carrying double-barreled anti-aircraft guns. Left: Rockets and RPG launchers
Operation Al-Jazeera Storm
SDF fighters alongside an Iraqi soldier after joining up with them on the border between Syria and Iraq (Sozdar the democratic@sozdar_kurdish Twitter account, May 12, 2018)
Deir ez-Zor area
- The Syrian army and the forces supporting it reportedly launched a new operation with the objective of stopping the infiltration of ISIS operatives into the Deir ez-Zor desert. The Syrian forces reportedly took over large areas southwest of Deir ez-Zor and advanced 60 km into the desert (Enab Baladi, May 11, 2018).
The area of Al-Salamiyah, southeast of Hama
- In the area of the city of Al-Salamiyah, another evacuation agreement was reached between Russia and the Headquarters for the Liberation of Al-Sham. According to the agreement, 3,500 operatives of the Headquarters for the Liberation of Al-Sham were evacuated from towns and villages in the Al-Salamiyah area towards Idlib. The evacuation was carried out in buses and cars (SMART News, May 13, 2018).
Main developments in Iraq
- Terrorist attacks which ISIS carried out or attempted to carry out on election day:
- Two ISIS operatives wearing explosive belts were killed by the Iraqi security forces on May 12, 2018, while on their way to carry out a suicide bombing attack at an election center in the city of Baqubah (Al-Sumaria, May 12, 2018).
- ISIS claimed responsibility for the detonation of an IED against a vehicle carrying election supervisors south of Kirkuk (Haqq, May 12, 2018). In addition, it claimed responsibility for killing the head of a polling station east of Hawija with an IED (Haqq, May 12, 2018).
- ISIS claimed responsibility for firing mortar shells at an election center in the area of Baqubah. ISIS announced that six people had been wounded in the attack, three of them security personnel (Haqq, May 12, 2018).
- According to a security source in the Kirkuk Province, seven policemen and Tribal Mobilization operatives were killed in an attack by ISIS operatives against police positions in the southwestern part of the province. Two operatives of the Tribal Mobilization were wounded in the attack (Al-Sumaria, May 12, 2018). ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack (Haqq, May 12, 2018).
- On May 12, 2018, ISIS claimed responsibility for destroying a vehicle carrying Iraqi policemen in the area of Hawija, southwest of Kirkuk. According to ISIS, three policemen were killed (Haqq, May 12, 2018). ISIS also announced that it had killed seven policemen by detonating IEDs against three vehicles about 35 km southwest of Kirkuk (Haqq, May 12, 2018).
- Addition terrorist attacks carried out by ISIS:
- Kirkuk: On May 8, 2018, it was reported that three employees of the Iraqi national petroleum company were wounded by the explosion of an IED activated against their vehicle west of Kirkuk (Al-Sumaria, May 8, 2018). The following day, ISIS announced that its operatives had attacked oil pipelines belonging to the Iraqi government (Nasher, May 9, 2018).
- Diyala Province: An Iraqi soldier was killed on May 13, 2018, in an IED explosion in the area of Khanaqin, about 100 km northeast of Baqubah. Apparently, ISIS is behind the attack (Al-Sumaria, May 13, 2018).
- Salah al-Din Province: On May 10, 2018, ISIS’s Amaq News Agency announced that four Iraqi army soldiers had been killed and two wounded in clashes with ISIS operatives in the area of Al-Tabi, about 32 km north of Baghdad (Haqq, May 10, 2018).
- Nineveh Province: On May 10, 2018, the Amaq News Agency announced that three Popular Mobilization operatives had been killed and a military vehicle had been hit by the detonation of an IED in a village about 11 km south of Mosul (Haqq, May 10, 2018).
Five senior ISIS commanders captured in a combined Turkish, American and Iraqi intelligence operation
The five senior ISIS commanders captured by the Iraqis (Al-Alam, May 11, 2018)
- Following are details on the five commanders:
- Ismail Alwan Salman al-Ithawi, codenamed Abu Zayd al-Iraqi: Served as the personal aide of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. He was in charge of transferring funds to ISIS bank accounts in various countries. As stated above, agents of the Iraqi Intelligence used the Telegram app installed on his mobile phone to lure ISIS commanders into coming from Syria to Iraq (Reuters, May 10, 2018).
- Muhammad Hussein Hader al-Qadir, codenamed Abu Sayf al-Shouaity: commander (emir) of the Al-Mayadeen area and commander of the Al-Shaitat Revolutionary Battalion.”
- Saddam Omar Yahya al-Jamal, codenamed Abu Ruqaia al-Ansari as well as Abu Uday and Abu Obeida: senior commander who was also in charge of security in the Furat Province.
- Omar Shihab Hammad al-Karbouli, codenamed Abu Hafs al-Karbouli: intelligence commander (emir) of the Furat Province and commander in the Al-Mayadeen area.Issam Abd al-Qader Ashour al-Zouba’i, codenamed Abu Abd al-Haqq al-Iraqi: commander (emir) of the elite force of the Al-Fatah unit.
Egypt and the Sinai Peninsula
Operation Sinai 2018 – announcement by the Egyptian Forces
- On May 11, 2018, the Egyptian General Staff released a report on the activity of the Egyptian security forces as part of Operation Sinai 2018. According to the report, 21 terrorist operatives were killed in northern and central Egypt, most of them in airstrikes. A total of 238 terrorist operatives wanted for criminal activity and suspects were arrested. In addition, a total of 390 hideouts and depots of “terrorist operatives” were destroyed. Thirty cars and 49 motorcycles without license plates were destroyed or seized (Al-Masry Al-Youm, May 11, 2018).
Jihadi activity in other countries
Stabbing attack in Paris
Scene of the attack in Paris (Haqq, May 13, 2018)
- ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack. The claim of responsibility published by the Amaq News Agency states (in the usual wording) that “the perpetrator of the stabbing attack in the city of Paris is a soldier of the Islamic State who carried out the attack in response to calls to attack the countries of the international Coalition” (Haqq, May 13, 2018).The news agency also released a video showing the masked perpetrator of the stabbing attack reading his will. The Arabic subtitle reads: “And if you cannot [immigrate to the Islamic State], then carry out your attacks here, on the soil of the infidels, and do not wait” (Haqq, May 13, 2018).
The perpetrator of the stabbing attack in Paris in the video of his will, calling
to carry out attacks “on the soil of the infidels” and not to wait (Haqq, May 13, 2018)
- According to French media reports, the terrorist was Khamzat Azimov, 20, a native of the Chechen Republic in Russia. Azimov’s family arrived in France in the early 2000s and they were granted asylum. The terrorist received French citizenship in 2010. Azimov recently lived in north Paris in a neighborhood with a large immigrant population. He was under surveillance by the French authorities since 2016 because of his ties with jihadi operatives in Syria and radical Islamic operatives in France, but he himself did not display any radical behavior or express any radical views. He was interrogated by the authorities in 2017 and marked as a suspect constituting a potential security threat. The terrorist had no criminal record (The Telegraph; Huffington Post, May 13, 2018).
Suicide bombing attacks carried out by a family of ISIS operatives against three churches
- During the attack, the father of the family detonated an IED in a car after breaking through the gate of the first church. The mother and her two daughters, aged 9 and 12, blew themselves up at the entrance to a second church when security guards stopped her for inspection. The two sons, aged 16 and 18, carried out a terrorist attack in a third church by detonating IEDs that they had carried while riding a motorcycle (Reuters, May 13, 2018). A total of 12 people were killed and 41 others were wounded in the three attacks (CNN, May 14, 2018).
Deadly riots by terrorist operatives incarcerated in a prison facility in Indonesia
- During the riots, a struggle broke out between the prison guards and 156 prisoners, who managed to gain control of weapons. The prisoners held a number of counterterrorism policemen hostage. Five of the policemen were killed by the prisoners; most of them had their throats slit (probably with glass fragments). Four other policemen were seriously wounded. One of the prisoners who took part in the riots was killed. The riots lasted for about 36 hours and ended on May 10, 2018, when Indonesian security forces broke into the prison facility and the prisoners surrendered.
- Following the riots, the hearing in the trial of JAD leader Aman Abdurrahman was postponed. Aman Abdurrahman is on trial for suspected involvement in a number of terrorist attacks in Indonesia in recent years. According to Indonesian media reports, during the riots at the prison facility, the prisoners, who held several policemen hostage, demanded to speak with Abdurrahman, who was held separately from the other ISIS-affiliated prisoners. According to the Indonesian police, the security forces did not negotiate with the prisoners during the riots and did not assent to their demands (The Jakarta Post, May 11, 2018).
ISIS’s version of the riots
- On May 9, 2018, ISIS’s East Asia Province issued a claim of responsibility for the riots. The claim of responsibility says that 10 combat soldiers of the counterterrorism unit were killed after several ISIS operatives incarcerated in the prison managed to take over rifles and handguns and exchanged fire with them. In addition, ISIS published photos from the Depok prison showing prisoners armed with rifles and handguns with the ISIS flag in the background, along with a counterterrorism unit combat soldier taken hostage by them (Haqq, May 9, 2018).
Suicide bombing attack by a family affiliated with the JAD at the police headquarters in the city of Surabaya
On May 14, 2018, a suicide bombing attack was carried out at the headquarters of the Indonesian police in the city of Surabaya. The attack was carried out by a family of five (four adults and one girl). The terrorists arrived on two motorcycles at a checkpoint at the entrance to the police headquarters. After not being refused entry, they detonated their IEDs. Four of the terrorists were killed in the blast, and 10 other people were wounded (including four policemen). The family belonged to the JAD terrorist organization (BBC; Antara News, May 14, 2018. The attack was the latest in a series of attacks carried out by the JAD in Indonesia last week. According to the Indonesian police chief, the attacks were carried out on ISIS’s orders (Antara News, May 14, 2018).
Shooting and suicide bombing attack in Jalalabad
- On May 13, 2018, eight terrorists carried out a shooting and suicide bombing attack at the district Finance Ministry building in the city of Jalalabad (around 150 km from the capital Kabul). The attack began when a number of terrorists (two or three) blew themselves up at the entrance to the Finance Ministry. One of them detonated a car bomb. The other terrorists then entered the building and opened fire. They were armed with assault rifles and antitank missiles, and exchanged fire with the security forces for several hours. The Afghan security forces managed to kill all the terrorists. The attack killed at least 15 people and wounded 42, including members of the security forces, government employees, and civilians. ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack, but a number of media outlets reported that the Taliban was behind it (Radio Free Liberty; Reuters; Pajhwok, May 13, 2018).
Counterterrorism and preventive activity
Suicide bombing attack foiled in London
- A female terrorist who planned to carry out a suicide bombing at the British Museum in April 2018 is now on trial in Britain. The terrorist is Safaa Boular, a 17-year-old British woman (of Pakistani descent). She planned to carry out a suicide bombing attack with an IED and hand grenades. Safaa Boular, who adopted ISIS’s ideology, intended to travel to Syria to marry a Pakistani ISIS operative named Naweed Hussein. She was in touch with him through social media and became engaged to him even though she had never met him in person. Her fiancé was killed in Syria before she could marry him and she was arrested at the airport before her departure (The Telegraph, May 10, 2018).
Safaa Boular, who planned to carry out an attack at the British Museum in London (Al-Arabiya, May 12, 2018)
- Following Safaa Boular’s arrest (August 2016), her sister (21) and mother (43) decided to pick up where she left off. The sister and mother purchased knives and planned to carry out a stabbing attack in the area of Westminster Palace in London. The two were arrested on April 27, 2018, the day on which they planned to carry out the stabbing attack (The Telegraph, May 10, 2018).
Head of British MI5 warns of more destructive and complex attacks by ISIS in Europe
- Andrew Parker, head of the British MI5, said at a conference with security chiefs in Berlin that ISIS wanted to carry out more destructive and complex attacks in Europe. Parker warned that the threat posed by ISIS would continue and that the loss of its core territories in Syria and Iraq would require ongoing international attention in the years to come. In addition, Parker noted that 12 attacks have been foiled in Britain since the attack in Westminster in 2017 (BBC, May 14, 2018).
 Al-Jazeera is a name used for the desert area in northeastern Syria, Iraq and Turkey. In Syria, this is the area east of the Euphrates River. ↑
 Al-Shu’eitat: A Sunni Arab tribe living in the Deir ez-Zor area, numbering 70,000-90,000 people. It has been waging a campaign against ISIS since 2014. In August 2014, ISIS operatives massacred 700 tribespeople (Wikipedia). ↑
 round 10% of Indonesia’s population of 261 million people are Christians. Around 227 million of the country’s residents are Muslims. Indonesia is the world’s largest Muslim country (Al-Jazeera, May 14, 2018). ↑
 According to AP and Reuters, as quoted in the Israeli daily Haaretz (May 15, 2018), around 1,100 Indonesians who fought alongside ISIS have returned to Indonesia. The returning Indonesians now pose a significant threat to the country’s security. ↑
 On March 22, 2017, a terrorist rammed passersby with his car on London’s Westminster Bridge. Five people were killed in the attack (four civilians and one member of the security forces), and more than 50 were wounded. The terrorist was shot and killed by a policeman at the scene. ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack. ↑