Dozens of operatives at the course passing out parade (Ibaa News Agency, November 23, 2018)
ISIS operatives firing a machine gun mounted on a motorcycle (Shumukh, November 24, 2018)
SDF fighters who have manned a position surrounded by an embankment being taken prisoner by ISIS operatives.
ISIS operative firing at SDF positions near the village of Al-Bahra (Shumukh, November 24, 2018).
ISIS operatives near an SDF outpost surrounded by an embankment. The ISIS operatives took it over and set it on fire (Shumukh, November 24, 2018)
The scene of the attack in the Orakzai market (YouTube, November 23, 2018)
Main events of the week
- In the Idlib area and west Aleppo, incidents continued between the Syrian army and the rebel organizations. The incidents consisted mainly of artillery exchanges between the sides. The most serious incident occurred on November 24, 2018, when shells allegedly containing chlorine gas were fired at the outskirts of west Aleppo (injuring dozens).
- The Syrian regime accused the Headquarters for the Liberation of Al-Sham of firing the shells and utilized the incident for a smear campaign against the rebel organization. The rebel organizations affiliated with the Free Syrian Army denied the Syrian regime’s accusations. The Russians retaliated by attacking artillery targets in the area from which (so they claimed) the chemical weapons were fired at Aleppo. At the political level, the Russians announced that they intended to discuss this issue with Turkey.
- In eastern Syria, ISIS carried out three attacks against SDF forces in the center and north of the ISIS enclave north of Albukamal. According to ISIS, dozens of SDF operatives were killed and taken prisoner. ISIS was quick to make propaganda use of the prisoners to drive a wedge between the SDF forces and the Arab tribes that cooperated with it. In any case, it seems that at the end of a week of fierce fighting there were no significant changes in ISIS’s control on the ground.
- ISIS’s provinces around the world continue to initiate attacks. This week’s most noteworthy attacks: a suicide bombing attack in northwestern Pakistan, which ISIS claims was directed against a gathering of Shiites in a local open market (30 fatalities). Southeast of Kabul, an ISIS operative carried out a suicide bombing attack at a mosque inside an Afghan army base (dozens of fatalities). In Libya, a police station was attacked in the southeast of the country by a mobile ISIS force (nine dead policemen, 10 abductees, including the local mayor).
The Idlib area
Rockets allegedly containing chlorine gas fired at the western outskirts of Aleppo
- The most prominent incident of the week (November 24, 2018) was the firing of artillery shells allegedly containing chlorine gas at the western outskirts of Aleppo (the Al-Khalidiya neighborhood). According to Syrian reports, as a result of the shooting, about 100 civilians were diagnosed with gas inhalation injuries (according to other versions, dozens of civilians were injured). The Syrian media published photos (whose authenticity is unclear) showing civilians suffering from symptoms of exposure to chlorine gas.The Syrian News Agency accused the Headquarters for the Liberation of Al-Sham of carrying out the attack (SANA, November 25, 2018).
- In response, Russian Air Force planes attacked artillery targets of “terrorist organizations” in an area from which (so the Russians claim) the chemical weapons were fired at Aleppo. According to the spokesman for the Russian Ministry of Defense, all the targets were destroyed (TASS News Agency, November 25, 2018).
- Russian Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova accused the “terrorists” of an attack of “toxic substances” on the city of Aleppo (Sputnik, November 25, 2018). In the wake of the incident, the Russian Ministry of Defense announced that Russia intended to discuss with Turkey the chemical attack carried out by the “militants” (RIA Novosti; Sputnik, November 25, 2018).
Additional incidents in the Idlib area
- Following are a number of additional incidents that took place this past week in the Idlib area:
- On November 23, 2018, the jihadi Guardians of Religion Organization (affiliated with Al-Qaeda) fired an anti-tank missile at a Syrian army position some 20 km north of Hama. Four Syrian soldiers were wounded. In response, the Syrian army fired artillery and rockets at the positions of the Guardians of the Religion Organization (Muraselon, November 23, 2018).
- On November 25, 2018, there was an exchange of artillery fire between the Syrian army and the rebel organizations in southeast Idlib. The Syrian army fired at the rebels in the demilitarized zone (Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, November 25, 2018).
- On the morning of November 23, 2018, the Syrian army fired artillery at a reinforcement force of the Caucasus Armies some four kilometers southeast of Idlib. The attack killed and wounded a large number of operatives and destroyed several vehicles and armored vehicles (Muraselon, November 23, 2018).
Suicide bombing attack by the Guardians of Religion Organization against a Syrian army operations room
- The operations room controlled by the Guardians of Religion Organization (affiliated with Al-Qaeda) reported that jihadi operatives had carried out a suicide bombing attack against the Syrian army’s biggest operations room on the Kurdish Mountain (about 45 km southwest of Idlib). The operatives blew themselves up with explosive belts. According to the operations room, many Syrian officers and soldiers were killed in the attack (Awaken the Believers Twitter channel, @Waharid_almuminin, November 27, 2018).
Improving the operational capabilities of the Headquarters for the Liberation of Al-Sham operatives
- Headquarters for the Liberation of Al-Sham operatives in the western sector of the Aleppo region recently completed a course designed to increase their operational capabilities and strengthen their religious convictions. This is part of preparations for the Syrian army attack against the Idlib area (Ibaa News Agency, November 23, 2018).
Right: Three Headquarters for the Liberation of Al-Sham operatives practice shooting during a course designed to increase their operational capabilities. Left: Dozens of operatives at the course passing out parade (Ibaa News Agency, November 23, 2018)
- On November 23 and 24, 2018, ISIS carried out several attacks against the SDF forces in the areas of Al-Bahra and Al-Sha’fah north of Albukamal, taking advantage of the fog in the area. ISIS carried out another attack against an SDF military base near the Al-Tanak oilfield (about 22 km north of Hajin). The ISIS operatives arrived at the sites by motorcycle and armored car. ISIS claimed that 61 SDF fighters had been killed in these attacks and over 30 had been taken prisoner (Shumukh, November 24, 2018). It seems that the ISIS operatives retreated from the areas they have taken over due to Coalition airstrikes. Thus, following a week of fierce battles, there were apparently no significant changes in ISIS’s control area north of Albukamal.
The ISIS-controlled enclave north of Albukamal (dark brown). The area held by ISIS remained similar to that before ISIS’s attacks and the SDF counterattack (Halab al-Youm, November 24, 2018)
ISIS attack in the area of Al-Bahra (northwest of Hajin)
- On November 23 and on the morning of November 24, 2018, an ISIS force in armored cars and motorcycles attacked SDF outposts in the area of the villages of Al-Bahra and Gharanij, northwest of Hajin, in an attempt to expand the territory of ISIS’s enclave northward. The ISIS force managed to take over the SDF outposts, but retreated the following day probably due to a Coalition airstrike (Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, November 24, 2018).
Attack against SDF positions northeast of Al-Sha’fah
- On November 23 and on the morning of November 24, 2018, ISIS attacked SDF positions northeast of the village of Al-Sha’fah, at the center of the ISIS enclave. According to ISIS, the SDF fighters fled the positions which were attacked. According to ISIS’s announcement, weapons and off-road vehicles were seized in the attack, and dozens of SDF fighters were killed (Shumukh, November 24, 2018). In response, the Coalition carried out airstrikes against ISIS targets. According to local sources, civilians were killed in the airstrike. The SDF announced that the casualties in the airstrike were ISIS operatives (Halab Al-Youm, November 24, 2018).
The village of Al-Sha’fah (Google Maps)
Attack on a military base near the Al-Tanak oilfield
- On November 23, 2018, an ISIS force in armored cars and motorcycles attacked an SDF military base near the Al-Tanak oilfield (about 22 km north of Hajin). According to a report by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, the Coalition forces retreated following ISIS’s attacks. Hundreds of SDF fighters reportedly arrived in the area in fifty vehicles, to assist in confronting ISIS (Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, November 25, 2018). ISIS did not release any announcement on this attack.
Using prisoners from the SDF forces for psychological warfare
- Following the capture of SDF prisoners in the Al-Bahra area, ISIS released a propaganda video addressed to the families of the prisoners. In the video, Arab tribespeople collaborating with the SDF are called upon to desert (the SDF is mainly a Kurdish organization, but it also consists of Arab tribespeople). One of the SDF prisoners of Arab descent appeared on the video and called on the Arab tribespeople to desert, otherwise they would be doomed. Subsequently, that prisoner was executed. At the end of the video, there is an audio recording of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, in which he calls on Muslims to repent and on families of Muslims to influence their sons to repent (Shumukh, November 24, 2018).
- Another video, released by ISIS’s Amaq News Agency, shows SDF fighters, all of them Arabs, captured in the village of Gharanij (about 13 km northwest of Hajin). One of the prisoners calls on the Arab tribes to desert, otherwise their fate will be the same as that of the prisoners. The video says that the Kurds and the Americans will forsake the Arab tribes in the moment of truth (Amaq, November 25, 2018).
The prisoners from the SDF who appeared on the video (Amaq, November 25, 2018)
Main developments in Iraq
The activity of the Iraqi security forces
- This week, too, intensive military activity of the Iraqi security forces continued near the Iraqi border with Syria, following the establishment of ISIS’s presence along the border. According to the Iraqi media, the Iraqi army and US and French Coalition forces fired artillery at an ISIS military camp near the border with Iraq, in an attempt to prevent ISIS operatives from infiltrating into Iraqi territory (Iraqi News Agency, November 25, 2018).
Iraqi army artillery fire at ISIS targets in Syria, near the border with Iraq
(Iraqi News Agency, November 25, 2018)
- Following are the main activities carried out by the Iraqi security forces against ISIS:
- Al-Anbar Province: The Iraqi security forces found an ISIS hideout in western Al-Anbar Province. Eight explosive belts ready for activation were found and neutralized (Iraqi News Agency, November 24, 2018).
- Al-Anbar Province: The Iraqi security forces found 16 IEDs (apparently belonging to ISIS) in eastern Al-Anbar Province. The IEDs were neutralized (Iraqi News Agency, November 25, 2018).
- Salah al-Din Province: In the Baiji District (north of Baghdad), a Popular Mobilization force found 13 IEDs and 60 shells intended for use by ISIS. They were detonated in a controlled manner (Al-Hashed.net, November 25, 2018).
- Nineveh Province: An Iraqi army force with air support operated west of Mosul. Fourteen terrorist operatives (apparently belonging to ISIS) were killed and their hideouts destroyed (Al-Sumaria News, November 23, 2018).
- The city of Mosul: A force of the National Security Apparatus detained 9 ISIS recruits in Mosul. The detainees had operated within the framework of ISIS sleeper cells (Iraqi News Agency, November 24, 2018).
- The city of Mosul: On November 21, 2018, the Iraqi security forces detained an ISIS senior operative in Mosul. He had made contracts through the Internet with ISIS operatives abroad. Before the liberation of Mosul, he had held a senior position in ISIS’s morality police (Al-Ghad, Iraq, November 21, 2018).
Senior ISIS operative being detained in Mosul (Al-Ghad, Iraq, November 21, 2018)
ISIS’s terrorist and guerrilla activity
- This week as well, ISIS continued its guerrilla activity in Iraqi provinces. Following are prominent incidents according to ISIS’s announcements (unconfirmed by official Iraqi sources):
- Al-Anbar Province: On November 23, 2018, an Iraqi army vehicle was destroyed by an IED west of Al-Rutba, near the Iraqi-Jordanian border. Five of the passengers were either killed or wounded (ISIS’s Iraq-Al-Anbar Province, November 24, 2018).
- Salah al-Din Province: On November 22, 2018, a Tribal Mobilization intelligence operative was shot to death south of Baiji (ISIS’s Iraq-Salah al-Din Province, November 24, 2018).
- The area north of Baghdad: On November 22, 2018, an agent of the Iraqi security forces was apprehended and shot to death about 19 km north of Baghdad (ISIS’s Iraq-North Baghdad Province, November 24, 2018).
- The city of Mosul: On November 23, 2018, a roadside charge was activated against an Iraqi army vehicle in western Mosul, killing the soldiers in the vehicle (Amaq, November 25, 2018).
- Kirkuk Province: Two Iraqi policemen were killed by machine gun fire southwest of Kirkuk (Amaq, November 25, 2018).
- Nineveh Province: A Popular Mobilization vehicle was destroyed when an IED was detonated at the oilfield north of Al-Qayyarah, about 60 km south of Mosul (Amaq, November 25, 2018).
Egypt and the Sinai Peninsula
Execution of a man alleged to be an agent of the Egyptian army
- ISIS’s Sinai Province announced that it had executed an Egyptian army agent named Ayyad al-Breikat, in the Sheikh Zuweid area (northeastern Sinai). The organization published photos documenting the execution (Shumukh, November 26, 2018).
Ayyad al-Breikat wearing an orange jumpsuit, led by two ISIS operatives to the site of his execution (Shumukh, November 26, 2018)
Jihadi activity in other countries
ISIS suicide bombing attack in northwestern Pakistan
- On November 23, 2018, a suicide bombing attack was carried out with an explosive vest in an open market in the Orakzai District of northwestern Pakistan (not far from the border with Afghanistan). The suicide bomber, who arrived on a motorcycle, blew himself up with his explosive vest. A total of 30 people were killed (channelnewsasia.com, YouTube, November 23, 2018).
- ISIS’s Khorasan Province claimed responsibility for the terrorist attack. According to ISIS, a terrorist codenamed Abbas al-Khorasani detonated an explosive vest among a gathering of Shiites in the Orakzai District of Pakistan. According to the organization, 57 Shiites were killed and 75 others were wounded (Ghurabaa, November 24, 2018).
ISIS suicide bombing attack at a mosque in an Afghan army base
- On November 23, 2018, a suicide bomber detonated an IED during Friday prayers at a mosque in an Afghan army in the Mandozai District, about 149 km southeast of the capital Kabul. According to an Afghan army source, at least 10 soldiers were killed and 20 wounded. According to other reports, 26 people were killed and around 50 wounded (www.khaama.com, November 23, 2018).
- ISIS announced that a suicide bomber codenamed Abu Bakr al-Khorasani had detonated his explosive vest among a crowd of Afghan army soldiers in one of its bases in the Mandozai District. As a result, 50 soldiers were killed and 110 wounded. ISIS’s claim of responsibility ended with the threat: “The supporters of the Crusaders will never enjoy a good life as long as we have a throbbing artery, with the help of Allah, and what will come will be more shocking and bitter” (ISIS’s Khorasan Province and the Amaq News Agency, November 24, 2018.
Attack on a police station in southeastern Libya
On November 23, ISIS operatives carried out a surprise attack on a police station in the town of Tazirbu in southeastern Libya. The operatives, who arrived on the scene in 15 vehicles, took control of the police station and parts of the area. They abducted the local mayor, a town council member and eight other civilians. Nine policemen were killed in the attack. The assailants were pursued by the Libyan army, which killed six operatives at the Wadi al-Hatab checkpoint in southeast Libya (Akhbar Libya, November 24, 2018).
- ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack. The claim of responsibility states that positions and houses of military and police personnel in the town of Tazirbu were attacked. According to the claim of responsibility, 29 people were killed and wounded. Several others were detained, including two senior officers. The claim of responsibility ends with a promise to fight to the death against the forces of General Hatfar and his supporters (Libya – Barqa Province, November 24, 2018).
Right: Vehicle hit by ISIS operatives in an attack on the police station in Tazirbu (Akhbar Libya, November 23 and 24, 2018). Left: Blood stain on the floor of one of the rooms in the police station (Akhbar Libya, November 23 and 24, 2018)
 The Caucasus Armies (Ajnad al-Qawqaz) is a Salafist-jihadi organization composed of Chechens operating in northern Syria. It is the largest Islamist organization in Syria, whose operatives are from the CIS. Most of its activities are carried out in the wooded areas in the northern part of the Latakia Province. This organization operates separately from the Islamic Caucasus Emirate, the Salafist-jihadi organization operating in the Caucasus, but maintains ties with it (Wikipedia). ↑