Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov speaking at the conference on Afghanistan (Russian Foreign Ministry website, November 9, 2018)
The Druze abductees meeting their families (SANA, November 8, 2018)
Bodies of ISIS operatives who were killed during the operation to free the Druze abductees and their children (SANA, November 9, 2018).
Interview with a 17-year-old ISIS operative codenamed Abu Abdallah Mayadeen, taken prisoner during the rescue (SANA, November 9, 2018).
ISIS operatives crossing the Euphrates to the west bank in the Albukamal area (Ghurabaa, November 5, 2018)
ISIS operatives firing a 120mm mortar shell at Syrian army positions on the west bank of the Euphrates, north of Albukamal (ISIS’s Al-Barakah Province, November 9, 2018).
The execution of the member of the Federal Police ISIS’s Iraq – Dijla Province, Iraq, November 11, 2018)
Left to right: The perpetrator of the attack, Hassan Khalif Shir Ali, brandishing a knife at a policeman, attempts to attack him, and is ultimately shot by another policeman (Al-Arab Al-Youm, November 11, 2018)
Main events of the week
- In the Idlib area, there was an increase in the intensity of the incidents between the Syrian army and the Headquarters for the Liberation of Al-Sham and other jihadi organizations (dozens of fatalities on both sides). In the enclave in the Al-Safa area (northeast of As-Suwayda), clashes between the Syrian army and ISIS continue after the successful rescue of 19 Druze women and their children who had been abducted in the As-Suwayda area. The Syrian regime exploited the rescue of the abductees for a propaganda campaign aimed at increasing the Druze community’s support for the regime. In the enclave north of Albukamal, ISIS expanded its offensive initiatives and carried out an attack against the Syrian army (crossing the Euphrates River in boats and attacking Syrian forces stationed on the west bank).
- Around the world, terrorist attacks inspired by ISIS or carried out by its operatives continue. In Australia, a stabbing attack was carried out in the city of Melbourne by a member of a Somali immigrant family (one dead passerby and two wounded). ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack and continued to threaten Australia with additional attacks. In Afghanistan, an ISIS operative carried out a suicide bombing attack in Kabul at a demonstration protesting violence directed at members of the Shiite minority (at least 6 killed and around 20 wounded).
Statements by senior Russian officials about ISIS and terrorism
Russian Foreign Minister warns against the entrenchment of ISIS in Afghanistan
- Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said at a Moscow conference on the subject of Afghanistan (November 9, 2018) that ISIS and its supporters were trying to turn Afghanistan into a central bridgehead for their activities in Central Asia. According to him, this attempt is receiving support from foreign elements. He added that uprooting the threat of terrorism in Afghanistan is an international mission and that the countries operating in the region are obligated to foil ISIS’s plans. Lavrov praised the participation of the Taliban in the conference (an organization previously perceived by Russia as a terrorist organization) and said that it made an important contribution to creating the conditions for a direct dialogue between the Afghan government, the Taliban movement, and the general public (RIA Novosti, November 9, 2018; Russian Foreign Ministry website, November 9, 2018).
Statement by the head of the Federal Security Service (FSB)
- Alexander Bortnikov, head of the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB), spoke about ISIS at an international conference of security services in Moscow (November 12, 2018). Following are the main points that he made (TASS News Agency, November 7, 2018):
- Uncovering terrorist networks in Russia: During 2018, Russian security services, in cooperation with foreign colleagues, uncovered 70 terrorist networks in 24 provinces in Russia, including 39 ISIS networks. The operatives in these networks recruited young people from Russia and the CIS and trained them at training camps. In 2018, a total of 777 operatives and collaborators of international terrorist organizations were arrested in Russia, including 36 leaders.
- The unsupervised use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs): Bortnikov noted that the terrorist organizations are very skilled in adapting to changing conditions and using scientific and technological innovations that greatly complicate the work of the secret services. He said: “One of the urgent problems at the moment is the increasing danger of the terrorist organizations’ use of UAVs, especially those manufactured professionally.”
He added that time and time again, the Russian military personnel in Syria are faced with massive attacks by UAVs operated by “militants.”
- The spread of ISIS and Al-Qaeda to new countries: According to the head of the FSB, ISIS is sending its branches around the world, including to countries that used to be protected from terrorism. “At the moment most of the militants have been driven out of their bases in populated areas. They have been dealt a hard blow in terms of resources, they have been forced to change their methods of operation, and therefore they are searching for new opportunities, [new] ways and methods, to continue their terrorist activity.” Bortnikov added: “After abandoning the strategy of military invasion and taking over territory, the Islamic State, the Al-Nusra Front, and other terrorist organizations decided on an operating method of expansion to countries that were once safe from terrorism.”
Implementation of the Sochi Agreement in Idlib
Intensified incidents in the Idlib area
- Last week, incidents intensified in the Idlib area between the Syrian army and the Headquarters for the Liberation of Al-Sham and jihadi organizations affiliated with it. Particularly prominent was a series of incidents between the Syrian army and a jihadi rebel organization called “Jaysh al-Izzah” (the Army of Glory), affiliated with the Headquarters for the Liberation of Al-Sham.
- Following is an overview of the incidents in which Jaysh al-Izzah and the Headquarters for the Liberation of Al-Sham were involved:
- On November 9, 2018, the Syrian army raided a front outpost of Jaysh al-Izzah. The raid was conducted around the village of Al-Lataminah, in the southern part of the demilitarized zone (66 km south of Idlib), killing 20 operatives (Qasiyoun; Butulat Al-Jaysh Al-Suri, November 10, 2018).
Right: Emblem of Jaysh al-Izzah (Jaysh al-Izzah YouTube channel). Left: Jaysh al-Izzah operatives waving the organization flag (right) and Free Syrian Army flags (center and left) (Al-Mayadeen, November 9, 2018)
- In response, on the morning of November 10, 2018, an elite force of the Headquarters for the Liberation of Al-Sham raided Syrian army positions in the rural area northwest of Hama. The Headquarters for the Liberation of Al-Sham announced that the main target of the raid had been a Syrian army operations room about 16 km northwest of Hama. According to their announcement, some 18 Syrian soldiers were killed in the raid, including four officers. Seven Russian soldiers were also killed (Ibaa, November 10, 2018).
- In addition, the Guardians of Religion Organization (affiliated with Al-Qaeda) carried out several attacks, firing gun and mortar shells at camps and positions of the Syrian forces. These attacks were directed from an operations room called “Awaken the Believers,” shared by additional jihadi organizations (Al-Durar Al-Shamiya, October 15, 2018; Al-Modon, November 8, 2018).
Emblem of the operations room “Awaken the Believers” and insignia of its member organizations (Al-Durar Al-Shamiya, October 15, 2018)
Control areas in Syria
Map of the control areas in Syria, updated to November 12, 2018: The area controlled by the Syrian regime (red); the Kurdish SDF (yellow); the rebel organizations (green); ISIS (black).
Rescue of the Druze abductees by the Syrian army
- According to the Syrian army, the operation was carried out based on intelligence on the whereabouts of the abductees. The Syrian regime launched a media campaign, targeting mainly the Druze population, capitalizing on the liberation of the abductees to increase support for the regime, portrayed as having displayed resoluteness in an action to set them free. The abductees, their children and family members were guests of President Bashar Assad. The Syrian president praised the Syrian army’s resolution in liberating the abductees (SANA, November 13, 2018).
Right: The released Druze abductees together with their children, with a large photo of Syrian President Bashar Assad in the background (Furat Post Facebook page, November 8, 2018). Left: The Druze abductees meeting their families (SANA, November 8, 2018)
- The Syrian regime released a videotape of an interview with an ISIS operative taken prisoner during the rescue operation. The ISIS operative in the video says that the abductees were transferred from As-Suwayda to the Al-Safa area and from there to the Humaima area, perceived by ISIS as a safe zone (where the rescue operation took place). The operative noted that the captors included operatives from Iraq, Turkey, Ingushetia (North Caucasus), Uzbekistan, and India (SANA, November 9, 2018).
Russian statement on the rescue of the Druze abductees
- According to the Russian media, the rescue operation was conducted with Russian assistance. Lt. Gen. Vladimir Savchenko, the Head of the Russian Reconciliation Center based in Hmeymim, said that a successful operation to rescue the hostages had been completed, indicating the high level of cooperation between the Russian forces in fighting against global terrorism. According to Lt. Gen. Savchenko, the command of the Russian forces, together with Syrian officers, who planned the special operation, facilitated the release of 15 children and four women (TASS News Agency, November 9, 2018).
Fighting against ISIS in Al-Safa
New Syrian army effort to subdue ISIS in Al-Safa
- Clashes continue between the Syrian army and ISIS in the Al-Safa area. On November 12, 2018, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that as a result of the airstrikes and clashes, at least 30 ISIS operatives were killed as were 13 Syrian army soldiers and operatives of the forces supporting it. According to several reports, the Syrian army has reinforced its troops in the area, as part of the preparations for a new military operation intended to subdue ISIS in the Al-Safa area.
- According to reports, as part of the preparations for the attack in Al-Safa, reinforcements from the 1st, 4th and 9th Syrian army divisions were transferred to the area. The Syrian forces were joined by operatives of the rebel organizations who formerly joined the reconciliation agreements (including uniformed fighters from the Druze village of Khader, in the northern Syrian Golan Heights). The fighting zone was also reinforced by fighters of the Palestinian Al-Quds Brigade (Al-Badiyah Facebook page, November 8, 2018; Hassan Ridha’s Twitter account, November 8, 2018).
Uniformed fighters from the village of Khader (near the Syrian-Israeli border), who arrived at the Al-Safa area to join the Syrian army (Hassan Ridha’s Twitter account, November 8, 2018)
ISIS attacks against the Syrian army west of the Euphrates River
- After ISIS repelled the SDF forces from the enclave north of Albukamal and established its control east of the Euphrates, up to the border with Iraq, ISIS initiated a series of attacks against the Syrian army forces west of the Euphrates. On November 5, 2018, ISIS operatives crossed the Euphrates by boats and attacked the Syrian forces deployed on the west bank. The Syrian army and the forces supporting it sustained dozens of fatalities (Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, November 5, 2018). ISIS also announced that it had fired mortar shells at concentrations of Syrian army troops in the city of Albukamal and the rural area to its north. The SDF forces, on their part, announced the resumption of their military activity against ISIS in the enclave north of Albukamal.
Sites where ISIS attacked the Syrian army on the west bank of the Euphrates River (defense-Arab.com, November 9, 2018)
- On November 5, 2018, ISIS’s Al-Barakah Province released a video documenting its operatives fighting against the Syrian army in the area of Albukamal and crossing the Euphrates by boat to attack the Syrian army (Ghurabaa, November 5, 2018). Following are several photos:
Syrian army reinforcements sent to the Albukamal area
- In view of ISIS’s offensive initiative, the Syrian army and the militias handled by Iran sent several hundred fighters as reinforcements to the Albukamal area and other sites on the west bank of the Euphrates (Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, November 5, 2018).
Planting mines on the west bank of the Euphrates River
- Syrian army soldiers and Iranian Revolutionary Guards operatives (probably operatives of the Shiite militias) reportedly started to plant mines along the west bank of the Euphrates River, for fear of SIS operatives infiltrating into the west bank of the river. The mines were planted about 20 km southeast of Deir ez-Zor (Furat Post Facebook page, November 9, 2018).
SDF to resume its activity against the ISIS enclave
- On November 11, 2018, the SDF forces announced the resumption of their military activity against the ISIS enclave in the area of Albukamal. This happens after ten days in which they suspended their military activity due to Turkish army artillery fire at areas controlled by the Kurdish forces in northern Syria, near the border with Turkey. Rami Abdulrahman, director of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, announced that two days earlier, a meeting had been held by American and French International Coalition commanders, in which they informed the SDF forces that Turkey had promised them not to attack the area near the border (France 24, November 11, 2018).
- The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that since the beginning of the attack against the ISIS enclave north of Albukamal on September 10, 2018, 588 ISIS operatives and 339 SDF fighters had been killed. In addition, ISIS has executed 15 people, including 10 SDF fighters and 5 civilians who, according to ISIS, assisted them (Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, November 10, 2018). According to one of the reports, 15 SDF fighters were burned alive by ISIS in the Albukamal area. In addition, the body of a beheaded SDF fighter was found (Furat Post Facebook page, November 8, 2018). Cruel executions are known as an ISIS modus operandi intended to sow fear and terror among its enemies.
Main developments in Iraq
The activity of the Iraqi security forces
The Syrian-Iraqi border
- Popular Mobilization forces (the Shiite militias) continued intensive military operations along the border with Syria. This is in view of ISIS’s established presence along the Syrian-Iraqi border in the area north of Albukamal and the fear that ISIS operatives will “spill over” into Iraqi territory.
- The Popular Mobilization forces near the Syrian border fired artillery at ISIS targets in the enclaves north of Albukamal. ISIS hiding places, a hospital and a stockpile of weapons were fired at. As a result, the hospital was destroyed, 13 ISIS operatives were killed and seven were wounded (Iraqi News Agency, November 11, 2018).
- According to Hisham al-Hashemi, an expert on security affairs, there are over 3,000 ISIS operatives in the ISIS enclave north of Albukamal. According to him, these operatives number 1,800 foreigners and 600 Iraqis. He noted that the situation posed a threat to Iraq in this sector (Iraqi News Agency, November 11, 2018).
The activity of the Iraqi security forces in additional provinces
- Following is a brief summary of the activity of the Iraqi security forces in additional provinces:
- Salah al-Din Province: Popular Mobilization forces discovered 11 ISIS positions some 100 km south of the city of Mosul, where C4 type explosives and equipment were found (Popular Mobilization website, November 2, 2018).
- The area north of Baghdad: Iraqi security forces killed a suicide bomber (apparently an ISIS operative) wearing an explosive belt some 30 km north of Baghdad (Al-Sumaria News, November 10, 2018).
- Ramadi Province: Popular Mobilization Forces announced that they had destroyed six ISIS guesthouses in the northern part of the island of Tharthar, some 30 km west of the city of Hit (Popular Mobilization website, November 2, 2018).
- Nineveh Province: Iraqi security forces detained four ISIS operatives in several neighborhoods in southeast Mosul (Al-Sumaria News, November 10, 2018).
- Al-Anbar Province: Iraqi security forces operating in the eastern part of Al-Anbar Province found 78 IEDs. The IEDs were detonated in a controlled manner (Iraqi News Agency, November 11, 2018).
- According to an Iraqi security source, a car bomb exploded on November 8, 2018 in west Mosul. Four people were killed and 12 others wounded, all of them civilians (Iraqi News Agency, November 8, 2018). So far no claim of responsibility by ISIS has been found, but it is reasonable to assume that the attack was carried out by it.
Cars on fire at the scene of the car bomb explosion near a restaurant in west Mosul
(Iraqi News Agency, November 8, 2018)
- Last week, ISIS announced that it had carried out two executions:
- A member of the Iraqi federal police, west of Mosul. In the photos published by ISIS, he is shown holding his identity card in his mouth. He was shot to death with a handgun equipped with a silencer (ISIS’s Iraq – Dijla Province, Iraq, November 11, 2018)
- An Iraqi army agent in the Al-Anbar Province, some 182 km southwest of Ramadi. The photo published by ISIS shows the body of a man of around 50, dressed in traditional Arab clothing (ISIS’s Iraq – Al-Anbar Province, November 11, 2018).
Jihadi activity in other countries
Stabbing attack in Melbourne, Australia
- On November 9, 2018, a stabbing attack was carried out in central Melbourne, in southeastern Australia. The perpetrator, Hassan Khalif Shir Ali, 30, drove to the center of the city in an SUV loaded with gas canisters. He set the vehicle on fire and then stabbed a passerby to death and wounded two others. The perpetrator was shot at the scene of the attack and was evacuated to hospital where he died of his wounds (The Guardian, Britain, November 9, 2018).
- The perpetrator of the attack, who comes from a family of immigrants from Somalia, was known to the authorities in Australia. His passport was canceled in 2015 after the Australian security service surmised that he had been planning to travel to Syria to fight alongside ISIS operatives. Victoria Police Chief Commissioner Graham Ashton announced that Shir Ali had committed minor drug, theft and traffic offenses. His family claimed that he was mentally ill and suffering from paranoia and hallucinations (The Guardian, Britain, November 9, 2018; Australian website News 9, November 12, 2018; Australian news website The Age, November 11, 2018).
Reactions by ISIS
- ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack. According to the claim of responsibility, the perpetrator was “one of the fighters of the Islamic State, who carried out the attack in response to calls to harm the citizens of the countries of the International Coalition” (Amaq News Agency, November 9, 2018). A poster appeared on ISIS’s Telegram channels that same day, showing the perpetrator of the attack in Melbourne holding a knife. On the poster, there is a threat in English: “We strike whenever we want, wherever we want, however we want # Australia” (Mahmut Aytekin@Maytekin91 Twitter account, November 9, 2018).
Poster showing the perpetrator in Melbourne holding a knife, with an English caption conveying a threatening message to Australia (Mahmut Aytekin@mayekin91 Twitter account, November 9, 2018. The poster was originally posted on ISIS’s Telegram channels)
Suicide bombing attack among participants of a Shiite demonstration in Kabul
- On November 12, 2018, ISIS carried out a suicide bombing attack against participants in a demonstration near the Presidential Palace in Kabul. The demonstration protested the wave of violence led by the Taliban against members of the Hazara Shiite minority. At least six people were killed. According to a spokesman for the Afghan Interior Ministry, 20 people were wounded. Most of the victims were civilians, many of them women (France 24, November 12, 2018).
- ISIS announced that a suicide bomber codenamed Julaybib Al-Khorasani had detonated his explosive vest near the Presidential Palace in Kabul while a Shiite gathering was taking place there. As a result, over 55 Shiites, Afghan intelligence and police personnel were killed and wounded (ISIS’s Khorasan Province and Amaq News Agency, November 12, 2018). ISIS has carried out several attacks against members of the Hazara minority in Kabul.
The battle for hearts and minds
ISIS threatens to continue to attack Christians and Egyptians
- ISIS’s Al-Nabā’ organ, which appeared on November 9, 2018, included an article on the shooting attack against the Coptic Christians in the Al-Minya area. The article analyzes the attack and its goals and deals extensively with legitimizing the attack on Christians in Egypt.
- In the article, ISIS claims that Christians in Egypt are fair game because, according to Islam, all the Christians in Egypt are considered “warriors” and not “people of the dhimma” (i.e., “protected persons,” Ahl al-Dhimma in Arabic). This is because they do not recognize the Islamic Caliphate (of ISIS) and do not pay a poll tax (jizya). Moreover, they fight against Islam, imprison and torture every Christian who converts to Islam and shelter anyone who renounces Islam. In addition, they are the biggest supporters of Al-Sisi and many of them serve as soldiers and commanders in the Egyptian army. The article enumerates the advantages of attacking Christians: an attack on Christians is more powerful than an attack on the regime because of their great influence on economic and political activity in Egypt. After being attacked, they accuse the regime, and this supports the efforts of the Islamic State to create a rift between them.