Putin’s meetings with Assad.
Putin and Assad meeting with senior officials from the Russian Ministry of Defense and the General Staff (Kremlin website, November 21, 2017)
Meeting of the chiefs of staff of Russia, Iran, and Turkey in Sochi (ISNA, November 21, 2017)
Iraqi army bullet-proof Humvees and APCs in the desert area during the mopping-up operation (Al-Baghdadia News, November 26, 2017).
The entrance to the main headquarters of the Turkmen TV station Türkmeneli TV, which was attacked by masked gunmen (Al-Sumaria News, November 28, 2017)
The mosque in the village of Al-Rawdah in northwest Sinai.
Bodies of some of the people killed in the terrorist attack in the Al-Rawdah mosque (Haqq, November 25, 2017)
Dead checking by an ISIS operative. Akid (Col.) Hamud Mohammed Al-Hamidi lying on the ground a moment after being shot in the head (Twitter, November 26, 2017)
Main events of the week
- The main event of the week was a combined mass-killing attack carried out by ISIS in a Sufi mosque in the village of Al-Rawdah, some 45 km west of Al-Arish. A total of 309 people were killed and 124 others were wounded, most of them civilians attending Friday prayers at the mosque. This was the deadliest terrorist attack in Egyptian history. In the ITIC’s assessment, based on the modus operandi of the attack, it was carried out by ISIS’s Sinai Province, although ISIS denied that.
- In the ITIC’s assessment, ISIS’s Sinai Province and its other provinces abroad are highly motivated to carry out mass-killing attacks at the present time. This is to convey the message that they are still a force to be reckoned with, even after the fall of the Islamic State. The deadly attack is the latest in a string of attacks (including mass-killing attacks) carried out recently in other ISIS provinces abroad (including Afghanistan and Yemen, where a senior security officer was killed this week in Aden after being shot at point-blank range). These attacks clearly demonstrated that the operational capabilities of ISIS in the various provinces abroad, especially the Sinai Peninsula, are strong, even after the collapse of the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq.
- The Iraqi army and Shiite militias, with US air support, launched an operation to mop up the desert areas along the upper Euphrates River, near the Iraqi-Syrian border, to which ISIS operatives had fled. ISIS operatives were killed and wounded, and large quantities of weapons were seized in the operation. In the ITIC’s assessment, this could make it difficult for ISIS to reorganize but will not prevent it from doing so, especially in view of the longstanding problems of governance prevailing in these areas.
- In Iraq, ISIS’s terrorist and guerrilla operations are intensifying: This week, ISIS carried out a mass suicide bombing attack (17 civilians killed) east of Baghdad, by two suicide bombers (only one of whom actually blew himself up). In addition, “masked gunmen” (possibly ISIS operatives) attacked the main headquarters of the Turkmen TV station north of Kirkuk. The attacks that ISIS manages to carry out indicate the existence of terrorist networks with high-level operational capabilities in various provinces in Iraq.
Russian and American involvement in Syria
Russia’s reactions to the collapse of the Islamic State
- According to Russian President Vladimir Putin, speaking at meetings with Syrian President Bashar Assad in Sochi, terrorism is a global problem and the struggle against it is far from over, but the military operation against terrorism in Syria is indeed nearing an end. Putin expressed the hope that the main task of the joint operation of the Russian army and the Syrian army would be completed in the very near future. He stressed that even after the end of the struggle, there will remain “pockets of terrorism” that will sometimes become active. Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov noted that these “pockets of terrorism” would no longer have an effect on the battle against terrorism in Syria waged by the Syrian Army with Russian air support (Kremlin website; RIA, November 21, 2017).
- At the meeting held in Sochi by the chiefs of staff of Russia, Iran and Turkey, Russian Chief of Staff Valery Gerasimov said that although some problems remained, the active phase of military operation in Syria was nearing its end. At this meeting, the chiefs of staff discussed practical steps to eliminate ISIS and the Fateh al-Sham Front in Syria, as well as measures to improve cooperation in the de-escalation zone in Idlib. Gerasimov also noted that thanks to joint efforts by Iran and Russia, the operation to completely destroy the terrorist organizations in eastern Syria near Albukamal was nearing completion. He stressed that the military results achieved in Syria must be strengthened and that the possibility of the return of terrorists to the country should be prevented before the return of the residents to their homes (Russian Ministry of Defense website, November 21, 2017).
Another Russian statement regarding a reduction in the order of battle in Syria
- According to Russian Chief of Staff Valery Gerasimov, the size of the Russian military force in Syria might be reduced. He noted that on November 22, during a visit by Bashar Assad in Russia, Russian President Vladimir Putin said that the operation against the terrorist organizations in Syria was about to end. According to him, there is still much more to be done to achieve a victory over terrorism, but as far as Russia’s cooperation in the war against terror organizations is concerned, “The military operation is coming to an end” (TASS News Agency, November 23, 2017).
US statements about the reduction in military aid to the Kurds
- According to a Reuters report, President Trump announced on November 24, 2017, that he had issued instructions to stop supplying weapons to the Kurdish fighters in Syria (Reuters, November 27, 2017). In light of the report, the US media published statements by US Ministry of Defense spokespersons regarding the issue of the removal or downsizing of the US forces in Syria and Iraq:
- US Department of Defense Spokesman Col. Rob Manning noted that “adjustments” regarding military aid to “the Kurdish partners” of the United States were being examined, taking into consideration the requirements arising from the need to defeat ISIS and efforts to stabilize the situation and to prevent the return of ISIS. The spokesman noted that the United States would continue to attack ISIS, but at the same time it was committed to defending Turkey, its ally in NATO (US Department of Defense website, November 27, 2017).
- White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders noted that from the outset, the basic US objective had been to defeat ISIS. Now, as the US continues to crush the Caliphate (of ISIS), the US can stop supplying military equipment to “certain groups.” However, she added, this does not mean the cessation of all aid to these groups (Press Secretary’s reply at a media briefing, US Department of Defense website, November 27, 2017).
Main developments in Syria
Takeover of Albukamal, the last stronghold of the Islamic State
- On November 19, 2017, the Syrian army and the Shiite forces supporting it, with Russian air support, took over the city of Albukamal from ISIS. Albukamal was the last city remaining in the hands of the Islamic State in Syria. Its fall symbolized the end of the era of the Islamic State in Syria and the transformation of ISIS into a terror and guerrilla organization which does not have to defend a territorial framework.
- Following is a video showing the takeover of Albukamal, based on videos made during the takeover of the city. The videos were released by the Syrian TV, Lebanese Hezbollah, and a TV channel affiliated with it, on November 18-20, 2017, and cover the following issues: Russian Air Force air support prior to the ground operation in Albukamal; fighting in an urban area by the Syrian army and Shiite militias supporting it; launching antitank missiles and firing light arms; the activity of Qods Force Commander Qassem Soleimani, including his meeting with the Shiite militias and the victory photo-op of fighting forces at the Clock Square in east Albukamal.
Russian airstrikes in Deir ez-Zor
- On November 23-26, 2017, the Russian Air Force carried out airstrikes against ISIS targets in the Deir ez-Zor area. In the ITIC’s assessment, the attacks targeted ISIS operatives who had fled Deir ez-Zor and other cities which fell into the hands of the Syrian regime, and are now scattered in the desert areas. The airstrikes were carried out by long-range Tu-22M3 bombers which took off from a Russian Air Force base, with six bombers taking part in each airstrike (TASS, November 23-26, 2017). According to the Russians, all targets were destroyed. The results of the airstrike were photographed by UAVs (TASS, November 26, 2017).
Russian Air Force airstrike on November 26, 2017, in the Deir ez-Zor Province (Facebook page of the Russian Defense Ministry, November 21, 2017)
- The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that at least 53 civilians (including 21 children and 13 women) were killed in the village of Al-Sha’fa, north of Albukamal (Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, November 27, 2017). The Russian Defense Ministry denied the report, claiming that the Russian planes did not attack in the village area (TASS, November 27, 2017).
Civilians killed in Al-Raqqah as a result of IEDs explosions
- The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that at least 18 residents were killed within four days as a result of the explosion of mines (and IEDs as well) planted by ISIS operatives throughout the city. The SDF forces search the city looking for mines and IEDs in order to neutralize them (Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, November 26, 2017). ISIS reported the explosions but ignored the fact that civilians were killed. According to the Moata News Agency (affiliated with ISIS), at least four SDF fighters were killed when several IEDs exploded in Al-Raqqah (Haqq, November 26, 2017).
ISIS operatives raid the rural area northeast of Hama
- On November 21, 2017, hundreds of ISIS operatives traveled by armored vehicles from the Syrian Desert to the rural area northeast of Hama, equipped with light and heavy weapons. Within only five days, ISIS reportedly took from the Headquarters for the Liberation of Al-Sham (affiliated with Al-Qaeda) over 20 towns and villages in this area (Syrian Observatory for Human Rights).
Main developments in Iraq
Mopping up the desert areas of the Al-Anbar Province
- Iraqi sources reported that units of the Iraqi army, the federal police and the Popular Mobilization (Iranian-affiliated Shiite militias), supported by the Iraqi Air Force, took part in the operation in the region north of Rawa and south of the village of Al-Khader. They mopped up 175 villages and took over five bridges and crossings as well as the Jineef airfield (Al-Sumaria News, November 26, 2017).
- On November 26, 2017, the Iraqi army released a video showing ISIS weapons seized by the Iraqi forces which took part in the mop-up operation. One of the fighters noted that he belonged to the Popular Mobilization’s Al-Abbas Division. He said that the weapons were found east of the Jineef airfield, south of Al-Khader. He noted that the Iraqi forces had advanced 50 km a day, and therefore ISIS did not have enough time to move its arsenal to another place (YouTube account of the Iraqi Military Spokesman’s Office, November 26, 2017).
Right: Fighter of the Popular Mobilization’s Al-Abbas Division in an interview. ISIS weapons found east of Jineef airfield can be seen in the background. Left: ISIS weapons and flag found by the Al-Abbas Division east of Jineef airfield (YouTube account of the Iraqi Military Spokesman’s Office, November 26, 2017)
Right: Dozens of ISIS mortar shells found by Al-Abbas Division east of Jineef airfield. Left: ISIS small arms ammunition crates found by Al-Abbas Division (YouTube account of the Iraqi army’s Spokesman’s Office, November 26, 2017)
US and Coalition air support
- US and International Coalition planes provided air support to the Iraqi forces taking part in the mopping-up operation and attacked targets in the areas of the cities already taken over from ISIS. The Americans reported that Coalition planes had attacked ISIS targets in Albukamal area (Syria) and in the areas of the cities of Al-Qaim, Qayyarah and Rawa (Iraq). The airstrikes destroyed headquarters, a workshop for the manufacture of IEDs, vehicles, tunnels, and arms caches. Other areas (Mosul, Baiji) were also attacked (Pentagon website, November 24, 2017; Inherent Resolve website, November 27, 2017).
- Al-Jazeera Channel reported that the US airstrikes in the Al-Qaim area had killed Iyad Hamed Khalaf al-Jumaili (Abu Yahya), considered No. 2 in ISIS, the aide of ISIS leader Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi. His two wives and sons, and over forty commanders and operatives of ISIS, were killed along with him (Al-Jazeera, November 26, 2017; Enferaad, November 27, 2017). Iyad al-Jumaili had served as an intelligence officer in the Iraqi army under Saddam Hussein and joined Al-Qaeda immediately after the takeover of Iraq by the United States. He operated in Al-Fallujah area and was detained by the US-led coalition forces. After his release, he rejoined Al-Qaeda in Iraq and was given leading positions there. On July 6, 2017, a report was received that Al-Jumaili had been killed in the Old City of Mosul, but the report turned out to be baseless.
Iyad Hamed Khalaf al-Jumaili, considered ISIS’s no. 2 (Al-Mayadeen, July 6, 2017)
Iraqi counterterrorist activities in the various provinces
- General Ali Fadel Amran, Iraqi army senior commander in Kirkuk, announced that a manhunt was carried out after ISIS operatives who fled from north Hawija District (about 58 km west of Kirkuk). According to Amran, two ISIS operatives were killed and eight others were captured (Al-Sumaria News, November 27, 2017).
- In the Diyala Province, police detained 15 people wanted for “terrorist activity” and criminal activity. Furthermore, it was reported that 55 km east of Diyala, a joint force of the Iraqi army, police and the Popular Mobilization uncovered a large cache of weapons, including C-4 explosives and IED detonation devices. The cache also included detonation devices for explosive belts (Al-Sumaria News, November 27, 2017).
ISIS terrorist and guerrilla warfare activity
- ISIS’s terrorist and guerrilla activity throughout Iraq continued this week:
- On November 27, 2017, two operatives carried out a terrorist attack in the Al-Nahrawan area (about 20 km from Baghdad). The two terrorists opened fire on civilians one after the other. One of them was killed, and the other blew himself up with an explosive belt. At least two people were killed and seven were wounded. ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack by the Aamaq News Agency. Iraqi media reported that 17 people were killed in the attack, and eight were wounded (Al-Sumaria News, November 27, 2017).
- ISIS reported that on November 23, 2017, six suicide bombing attacks were carried out by operatives driving car bombs. The attacks targeted convoys of Iraqi forces and staging zones of forces of the Iraqi army and the Popular Mobilization northwest of the city of Baiji. According to ISIS, dozens of Iraqi army fighters were killed in these attacks, and many armor vehicles and SUVs were destroyed (Haqq, November 25, 2017).
- On November 27, 2017, ISIS’s Diyala Province announced that an ISIS squad, armed with light and medium weapons, attacked Popular Mobilization positions in the Al-Nada area (about 57 km east of Baqubah, near the Iraqi-Iranian border). Several Popular Mobilization fighters were killed as well as several Shiite civilians. A number of military vehicles were destroyed by IEDs (Haqq, November 27, 2017).
- Attack against the main headquarters of a Turkmen TV station north of Kirkuk: On November 28, 2017, Iraqi media reported that “masked gunmen” attacked the main headquarters of the Turkmen TV station (Türkmeneli TV), about 39 km north of Kirkuk (Al-Sumaria News, November 28, 2017). Note: On November 21, 2017, ISIS blew up a car bomb in a vegetable and fruit open market in the Turkmen-Shiite city of Tuz Khurmatu, about 69 km south of Kirkuk.
Egypt and the Sinai Peninsula
- On November 24, 2017, a combined killing attack was carried out in a mosque in the village of Al-Rawdah, near the town of Bir al-Abed (45 km west of Al-Arish). It was the deadliest terrorist attack ever carried out by a terrorist organization in the history of Egypt. A total of 309 people were killed, including 27 children, and 124 were wounded (most of them civilians, who prayed in the mosque during the Friday sermon). The villagers are mostly Al-Sawarka tribesmen belonging to Sufi Islam, perceived by ISIS as infidel and therefore a target for terrorist attacks. Based on the modus operandi, the ITIC believes that the attack was carried out by ISIS’s Sinai Province, although ISIS denied it.
- According to Egyptian media and Egyptian Prosecutor General Nabil Sadeq, the attack was carried out by 25-30 terrorist operatives. The terrorists arrived at the scene in five SUVs, waved ISIS flags, and some of them wore ski masks. They encircled the mosque and took positions near the doors and the mosque’s 12 windows. Then they threw inside at least two IEDs and then opened fire from the windows and doors into the mosque, where the Friday sermon was being delivered. Next they set fire to seven vehicles belonging to residents, and fled the scene. In the ITIC’s assessment, setting fire to the vehicles was intended to make it difficult to evacuate the casualties from the mosque and conduct a manhunt after the fleeing terrorists.
- A description and analysis of the mass-killing attack in the Al-Rawdah mosque appeared in a separate ITIC bulletin.
Right: Bodies of some of the people killed in the terrorist attack in the Al-Rawdah mosque (Haqq, November 25, 2017). Left: Two vehicles belonging to residents, burnt by ISIS operatives (Al-Masry Al-Youm, November 25, 2017)
ISIS’s activity in other countries
ISIS continues its terrorist attacks and guerrilla warfare in Yemen
- On November 25, 2017, ISIS announced that it had eliminated Akid (Col.) Hamud Mohammed al-Hamidi, a senior criminal investigations officer in Aden. ISIS reported that he had been shot at close range with a pistol equipped with a silencer (Twitter, November 26, 2017).
 An update of the ITIC's Spotlight on Global Jihad from November 16-22, 2017. ↑
 The video is based on the following sources: YouTube account of Hezbollah’s Military Spokesman's Office, November 18-20, 2017; Hezbollah-affiliated Al-Mayadeen News YouTube channel, November 20, 2017; Syrian TV, November 20, 2017. ↑
 This report as well as others in the Iraqi media indicate that the Shiite militias comprising the Popular Mobilization are organized in divisions and brigades. ↑