Spotlight on Global Jihad (August 17-23, 2023)

Weapons, ammunition, and a personal computer seized in the operation (SDF PRESS, August 17, 2023)

Weapons, ammunition, and a personal computer seized in the operation (SDF PRESS, August 17, 2023)

The three detainees and the weapons seized (Shafaq News, August 16, 2023)

The three detainees and the weapons seized (Shafaq News, August 16, 2023)

Main events of the week
  • This week, there was a decline in the scope of ISIS’s activity around the world. The centers of activity were Africa and Syria.
  • Syria: HTS operatives and Syrian regime forces, supported by the Russian Air Force, exchanged artillery fire. HTS detained a senior member of the organization on suspicion of having contacts with elements outside the organization.
  • Iraq: ISIS operatives activated IEDs against Iraqi army vehicles in the provinces of Salah al-Din and Kirkuk. Several soldiers were killed or wounded.
  • Lebanon: An ISIS operative who was involved in the attack at Set Zaynab in Syria was killed in Beirut during an attempt by Hezbollah operatives to arrest him.
  • Africa:
    • Nigeria: In clashes between ISIS and Boko Haram, at least 100 people were killed on both sides.
    • Democratic Republic of the Congo: ISIS operatives attacked Christian residents near the Ugandan border.
    • Mali: At least 21 civilians were killed in an attack by militants, apparently ISIS or Al-Qaeda operatives.
    • Niger: Militants, apparently Al-Qaeda or ISIS operatives, attacked a Nigerien army force near the Niger-Mali border. A total of 17 soldiers were killed and about 20 wounded.
    • Somalia: Operatives of the Al-Qaeda-affiliated Al-Shabaab carried out several airstrikes against the Somali army. Dozens of Al-Shabaab operatives were killed in the attack. Somalia’s president announced that the operation against Al-Shabaab was aimed at eliminating the organization’s infrastructure in the country within five months.
  • The battle for hearts and minds: According to the editorial of ISIS’s weekly Al-Naba, the organization continues to operate, and the pledges of allegiance of operatives of the various provinces to ISIS’s new leader are evidence of the organization’s resilience. The Somali government banned the use of TikTok and Telegram, claiming that Al-Shabaab uses these platforms to spread its ideology.
The Syrian Arena
Provinces of Syria (Free World Maps)
Provinces of Syria (Free World Maps)
Idlib area
  • On August 19 and 20, 2023, there were exchanges of artillery fire between operatives of the Al-Qaeda-affiliated HTS and the Syrian regime forces in the southeast and north of the rebel enclave in Idlib (Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, August 19-20, 2023).
Russian airstrikes against HTS
  • On the night of August 20-21, 2023, Russian fighter jets attacked an HTS headquarters in the western periphery of the city of Idlib. Fatalities were reported, but their exact number was not specified (Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, August 21, 2023).
  • In this context, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that during July-August 2023, 44 civilians and opposition fighters were killed and 63 others were wounded in Russian airstrikes against the rebel enclave in Idlib. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, on August 22-23, 2023, the days when the Russian Air Force intensified its activity, 16 HTS operatives and two civilians were killed (Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, August 23, 2023).
Arrest of a senior HTS operative
  • It seems that HTS is suffering from an unprecedented deterioration in its condition due to internal conflicts and Russian Air Force airstrikes against it. On August 17, 2023, the organization announced that it had summoned for questioning Abu Maria al-Qahtani,[1] a senior HTS operative originally from Iraq, and that an investigation had been opened against him on suspicion of contacts he had with elements outside the organization, which included, inter alia, elements in the US-led Global Coalition against ISIS. A committee established by HTS to discuss his case determined that Al-Qahtani had erred in managing his relations by not taking into account the sensitivity of his status and that he did not take care to obtain permission from the organization or clarify the nature of his connections. Therefore, the committee decided to freeze his tasks and powers (Telegram, August 17, 2023). In this context, it should be noted that in recent months, HTS operatives have detained dozens of the organization’s operatives on charges of being agents of the Syrian regime, Russia, and the United States (Syria TV, August 18, 2023). An Al-Qaeda supporter called on the organization’s operatives to rebel against the organization’s leadership and abandon it (MEMRI, August 22, 2023).
Notice by HTS about the revocation of his powers (Telegram, August 17, 2023)     Abu Maria al-Qahtani (Syria TV, August 18, 2023).
Right: Abu Maria al-Qahtani (Syria TV, August 18, 2023). Left: Notice by HTS about the revocation of his powers (Telegram, August 17, 2023)

ISIS’s activity

Deir ez-Zor-al-Mayadeen region
  • On August 19, 2023, ISIS operatives fired at an SDF vehicle in the Al-Shadadi area, about 45 km south of Al-Hasakah. An SDF fighter was killed and two others were wounded (Telegram, August 19, 2023).
  • On the night of August 18-19, 2023, militants, apparently ISIS operatives, shot and killed a member of the Syrian regime’s Criminal Security Apparatus (Al-Amn al-Jina’i) in the city of Al-Mayadeen (Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, August 18, 2023).

Counterterrorism

Al-Hasakah region
  • According to several reports, the forces of the US-led Global Coalition reinforced their presence in the Qamishli area. Trucks with logistics equipment were observed in the area (Sky News in Arabic, August 21, 2023).
Al-Raqqah region
  • On August 17, 2023, the SDF’s counterterrorism unit, in collaboration with the US-led Global Coalition and forces of the counterterrorism unit of the Iraqi Kurdistan regional government, carried out an operation in central Al-Raqqah to capture a senior ISIS operative in charge of the eastern arena (the Syria-Iraq border area). The senior operative was killed in the operation. Weapons and ammunition were found in his possession (SDF PRESS, August 17, 2023).
Weapons, ammunition, and a personal computer seized in the operation (SDF PRESS, August 17, 2023)
Weapons, ammunition, and a personal computer seized in the operation (SDF PRESS, August 17, 2023)
Iraq
Provinces of Iraq (Wikipedia)
Provinces of Iraq (Wikipedia)

ISIS’s activity

Salah al-Din Province
  • On August 17, 2023, an IED was activated against an Iraqi army vehicle near the village of Albu Nimr in Jazirat al-Siniya, about 200 km north of Baghdad. The vehicle was destroyed and the passengers on board were killed or wounded (Telegram, August 17, 2023).
Kirkuk Province
  • On August 17, 2023, an IED was activated against an Iraqi army convoy in the Daquq area, about 30 km south of Kirkuk. Three soldiers were wounded, one of them seriously (Al-Araby al-Jadeed, August 17, 2023).
Counterterrorism
  • In an interview given to Iraqi TV, Iraqi Prime Minister’s Advisor for Security Policy Affairs Khaled al-Yaqoubi notes that at a meeting held in Washington between the Iraqi defense minister and his American counterpart on August 8, 2023, an agreement was signed regarding the activity of UAVs belonging to the US-led Global Coalition against ISIS. According to the agreement, the UAVs will be operated only with the full consent of the Iraqi government. Al-Yaqoubi also notes that in the talks in Washington, Iraq achieved all its demands and that an agreement was reached on the establishment of a joint military committee to deal with ISIS’s threats (Iraqi News Agency, August 20, 2023).
Nineveh Province
  • On August 21, 2023, the Iraqi security forces detained five suspected ISIS operatives throughout the Nineveh Province (Rudaw, August 21, 2023).
Kirkuk Province
  • On August 16, 2023, Iraqi Air Force planes attacked an ISIS hiding place on the periphery of the city of Kirkuk. The target was destroyed, but no details were provided regarding casualties (Rudaw, August 16, 2023).
Diyala Province
  • On August 16, 2023, Iraqi security forces detained three ISIS-affiliated drug dealers in the Khanaqin area, about 100 km northeast of Baqubah. Weapons including rifles, IEDs, and ammunition were seized in their possession (Shafaq News, August 16, 2023).
The three detainees and the weapons seized (Shafaq News, August 16, 2023)
The three detainees and the weapons seized (Shafaq News, August 16, 2023)
Summary of ISIS’s activity in the various provinces
  • According to an infographic published by Al-Naba, ISIS’s weekly, summarizing ISIS’s activity in the period between August 10 and 16, 2023, ISIS operatives carried out 16 attacks in the various provinces during this period (compared with 11 in the previous week). The highest number of attacks was carried out by operatives of the Iraq Province (5). Attacks carried out in the other provinces: Syria (4); Central Africa (2); West Africa (2); Mozambique (1); East Asia (1); and Pakistan (1). A total of 103 people were killed and wounded in the attacks, compared with 84 in the previous week. The largest number of casualties was in the Syria Province (54). In the rest of the provinces: Mozambique (17); Central Africa (16); Iraq (8); West Africa (5); East Asia (2); and Pakistan (1) (Al-Naba weekly, Telegram, August 17, 2023). This is a moderate increase in ISIS’s activity around the world compared to the previous week.
Summary of ISIS attacks (Al-Naba weekly, Telegram, August 17, 2023)
Summary of ISIS attacks (Al-Naba weekly, Telegram, August 17, 2023)
Attacks by week (according to ISIS’s figures)

Attacks by week (according to ISIS’s figures)

Summary of ISIS’s activity during the month of Muharram
  • ISIS’s weekly Al-Naba published an infographic summarizing the activity of ISIS’s provinces in the month of Muharram, the first month of the Hijri year (July 19 – August 16, 2023). According to the infographic, during this period, ISIS operatives carried out 70 attacks in various provinces (Iraq, Syria, Khorasan, Pakistan, East Asia, Somalia, Mozambique, the Sahel, Central Africa, and West Africa), killing and wounding 653 people: 454 “infidels and apostates who abandoned Islam,” 141 “rejectionists [a derogatory term for Shiites],” 48 Christians, and ten officers and commanders. The attacks took the following forms: assault and shooting (31); activation of IEDs (19); assassinations (8); ambushes (3); suicide bombing attacks (1); and other forms (8). A total of 46 vehicles were destroyed or put out of commission (Al-Naba weekly, Telegram, August 17, 2023).
Summary of ISIS attacks in Muharram 1445 H (Al-Naba weekly, Telegram, August 17, 2023)
Summary of ISIS attacks in Muharram 1445 H (Al-Naba weekly, Telegram, August 17, 2023)

Africa

Nigeria
ISIS’s activity
  • On August 17, 2023, an IED was activated against a Nigerian army foot patrol in the town of Gwoza, Borno State, near the Nigeria-Cameroon border. Eight soldiers were killed or wounded (Telegram, August 19, 2023).
  • On August 15, 2023, an IED was activated against a Nigerian army patrol vehicle in the town of Kamia, in northeastern Nigeria. The vehicle was destroyed and passengers on board were killed or wounded (Telegram, August 18, 2023).
Clashes between Boko Haram and ISIS
  • On August 19, 2023, violent clashes broke out between Boko Haram and ISIS’s West Africa Province in the village of Bakuram on the outskirts of Lake Chad, in northeastern Nigeria. Over 100 operatives have reportedly been killed on both sides (newtelegraphng.com, August 19, 2023). The background to the fighting was the abduction of 60 operatives of ISIS’s West Africa Province, including three senior operatives, by Boko Haram on August 16, 2023, and ISIS operatives’ desire to take revenge (thecable.ng, August 16, 2023).
Boko Haram operatives surrender to African Coalition forces
  • This week, several incidents were reported in which Boko Haram operatives in Borno State, in northeastern Nigeria, turned themselves in to African Coalition forces. This may be due to the extensive operational activity of the African Coalition forces against the organization and the clashes between the organization’s operatives and ISIS operatives:
    • On August 19, 2023, it was reported that four Boko Haram commanders, 13 senior operatives, and 45 family members of the organization’s operatives turned themselves in (vanguardngr.com, August 20, 2023).
    • On August 16, 2023, it was reported that 78 Boko Haram operatives and their families had turned themselves in (thecable.ng, August 16, 2023).
    • Following the execution of several Boko Haram operatives who tried to turn themselves in to the Nigerian security forces, clashes broke out between members of different tribes among Boko Haram, causing the deaths of 82 Boko Haram operatives and their families (punchng.com, August 17, 2023).
Ansaru claimed responsibility for downing a Nigerian army helicopter
  • The Al-Qaeda-affiliated Ansaru announced that on August 14, 2023, it shot down a Nigerian army helicopter in the Shiroro area, about 120 km northwest of the capital Abuja and that the helicopter crew members were killed (premiumtimesng.com, August 16, 2023).

Democratic Republic of the Congo

ISIS’s activity
  • ISIS operatives carried out attacks against Christian civilians in the Beni area, on the border between Congo and Uganda:
    • On August 16, 2023, an attack was carried out against a convoy of motorcycles and vehicles carrying Christian civilians near the village of Kamango, about 50 km west of the border with Uganda. Several civilians were wounded. A vehicle and three motorcycles caught fire (Telegram, August 18, 2023).
    • On August 13, 2023, an attack was carried out against a gathering of Christian civilians in the town of Kasindi, about 3 km west of the Congo-Uganda border, in northeastern Congo. Six civilians were killed and several others were wounded (Telegram, August 16, 2023).
    • On August 13, 2023, an attack was carried out against a gathering of Christian civilians in the Mbau area, about 10 km north of Beni. Ten civilians were killed and some of their property was set on fire (Telegram, August 17, 2023).
    • On August 21, 2023, an attack was carried out against three Christian villages in the Ituri area, in the northeast of the country, not far from the Ugandan border. A total of 23 civilians were murdered. So far, no one has claimed responsibility for the incident, but it is believed to be ISIS (barrons.com, August 22, 2023).

Cameroon

Counterterrorism
  • On August 18, 2023, an African Coalition force attacked a group of Boko Haram operatives in the village of Hile Halifa, near Lake Chad. Five Boko Haram operatives were killed (vanguardngr.com, August 20, 2023).
Mali
  • On August 18, 2023, militants, apparently affiliated with ISIS or Al-Qaeda, attacked civilians in the village of Yarou in central Mali. At least 21 civilians were killed. So far, no one has claimed responsibility for the incident (Reuters, August 19, 2023).
Niger
  • On August 15, 2023, militants, apparently Al-Qaeda or ISIS operatives, attacked a Nigerien army force near the town of Koutougou, near the Niger-Mali border. A total of 17 Nigerien soldiers were killed and about 20 wounded, six of them seriously (channelstv.com, August 16, 2023).
  • On August 13, 2023, an ambush attack was carried out against a convoy of Nigerien army vehicles in the Tillabéri area, in the southwest of the country, near the Niger-Burkina Faso-Mali tri-border area. Seven soldiers were killed, one of them an officer, and at least ten others were wounded. Two vehicles were set on fire, and ISIS operatives seized another vehicle and weapons (Telegram, August 22, 2023). The claim of responsibility for the attack was published with a considerable delay, possibly due to communication problems between the operatives in Niger and the organization’s main media network, which operates from Syria and Iraq.

Somalia

Al-Shabaab activity
  • On August 22, 2023, a car bomb driven by a suicide bomber was detonated near a government building in the capital Mogadishu. At least two civilians were killed and two soldiers were wounded. Al-Shabaab claimed responsibility for the attack (middleeastmonitor.com, August 22, 2023).
  • On August 17, 2023, Al-Shabaab operatives ambushed Somali government Special Forces fighters (trained by the Turkish government) on the outskirts of the Masagaway area in central Somalia. According to Al-Shabaab, two Special Forces fighters were killed and two others were wounded (Telegram, August 18, 2023).
  • On August 17, 2023, Al-Shabaab operatives attacked three bases of local militias supporting the Somali government and forces from the Ethiopian army in Dinsoor, Gufgaduud Bori, and Bidoa in the south of the country. According to Al-Shabaab, fighters were killed and wounded in the attacks on the bases, but the organization did not specify the exact number (Telegram, August 18, 2023).
Counterterrorism
  • Somali army forces carried out several counterterrorism operations against Al-Shabaab throughout the country:
  • On August 19, 2023, five Al-Shabaab operatives were killed in a counterterrorism activity in the Galgaduud province in central Somalia (Somali News Agency, August 19, 2023).
  • On August 18, 2023, Somali military forces carried out counterterrorism operations in Lower Shabelle, in the south of the country. More than 20 Al-Shabaab operatives were killed. At the same time, the forces carried out operations against Al-Shabaab operatives in the Hiran area, in central Somalia. A total of 23 Al-Shabaab operatives were killed (Somali News Agency, August 18, 2023).
  • In this context, Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mahmoud noted that the operation of the country’s security forces against Al-Shabaab was intended to eliminate the organization within five months. Experts doubt the Somali government’s ability to meet this goal, since they say the organization is still strong in the country (Asharq Al-Awsat, August 18, 2023). The Somali government also announced that it would grant amnesty to any Al-Shabaab operative who surrenders (VOA, August 22, 2023).

Asia

Lebanon
  • According to a report from August 19, 2023, an ISIS operative committed suicide by jumping (according to another version, he was thrown) from the seventh floor of a building in the Al-Silm neighborhood, in the southern suburb of Beirut (Hezbollah’s stronghold), when Hezbollah operatives came to arrest him. The operative, Wissam Mazen Dala, a 23-year-old Syrian citizen, was suspected of involvement in an ISIS attack in the Set Zaynab Shrine south of Damascus about a month ago.[2] He arrived in Lebanon illegally from Syria following the attack and is suspected of having planned another attack (Lebanese News Agency; Al-Mayadeen; Reuters, August 19, 2023).
Pakistan
  • On August 20, 2023, an IED was activated against a truck carrying workers who were carrying out work for the Pakistani army in Waziristan Province in the north of the country. Eleven workers were killed. So far, no one has claimed responsibility for the attack, but it may have been ISIS or the Islamic organization Tehreek-e-Taliban (Al-Jazeera, August 20, 2023).
  • On August 16, 2023, a “spy” operating in collaboration with the Pakistani government was shot and wounded at the village of Anait, Bajaur Province, on the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan (Telegram, August 17, 2023).
Philippines
  • On August 16, 2023, an IED was activated against two local officials operating within the Philippine government in the Shariff Saydona area of Maguindanao, in the southern Philippines. One of them was killed and the other was wounded (Telegram, August 16, 2023).

Indonesia

Counterterrorism
  • On August 17, 2023, three policemen were detained in Jakarta on suspicion of ties to ISIS (Akhbar al-Aan, August 19,2023).

Turkey

Counterterrorism
  • The Turkish Prosecutor’s Office issued an arrest warrant for seven people suspected of having ties with ISIS and other organizations. On August 18, 2023, Turkish security forces detained four of them in Istanbul (Anatolia News Agency, August 19, 2023).
Yemen
  • Terrorism researcher Rueben Dass noted in his latest research that Al-Qaeda’s branch in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), which operates from Yemen, is apparently undergoing a strategic change in view of the increasing use of UAVs by its operatives. In his assessment, Ansar Allah, the pro-Iranian Houthi movement, helped Al-Qaeda operatives achieve a technological breakthrough in the subject, which was intended to improve the organization’s capabilities in its attacks against the Provisional Council of South Yemen, backed by the UAE, which is the joint rival of both (lawfaremedia.org, August 20, 2023).

Europe

Germany and the Netherlands
  • On July 7, 2023, security forces in Germany and the Netherlands detained nine ISIS operatives from Central Asia who arrived as “refugees” from Ukraine. In Germany, seven suspects were arrested in North Rhine-Westphalia, in the north of the country, including five Tajik citizens, a Kyrgyz citizen, and a Turkmenistan citizen. In the Netherlands, two other suspects were arrested in Eindhoven and Breda, a husband and wife, a Tajik husband and his Kyrgyz wife. Both are suspected of planning attacks. The husband is also suspected of being a member of ISIS. It is suspected that since arriving in 2022 under the guise of refugees from Ukraine, the nine have raised funds for ISIS and managed a terrorist cell in Germany. They also examined possible locations for carrying out a series of attacks and tried to obtain weapons. Dutch and German authorities were in contact during the investigation, as the suspects in both countries collaborated in planning the attacks. It is likely that they met each other in Syria or Iraq (investigativeproject.org, August 21, 2023; algemeiner.com, August 22, 2023).
United States
  • On August 21, 2023, Rondell Henry, a resident of Georgetown, Maryland, was convicted of planning a vehicular attack at Virginia Airport. Henry was previously accused, in 2019, of planning an ISIS-inspired attack on a shopping and entertainment center in Washington, D.C. (AP, August 21, 2023).
  • According to a report from August 17, 2023, the US Department of Defense is considering avoiding the death penalty against Khaled Sheikh Mohammed, the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, and four other defendants, in exchange for confessing to their crimes and serving their prison sentences as part of a plea bargain. The issue arouses resentment among the families of the victims (CBS, August 19, 2023).
The battle for hearts and minds
ISIS will continue to exist, since it is based on faith
  • The editorial of ISIS’s weekly Al-Naba, which appeared this week under the title “[The Islamic State] remains in place and the pledges of allegiance [to the organization’s leader] continue [as usual],” seeks to point out that the organization continues to exist and operate even though its enemies have been saying for several years that the organization had been defeated; and prove that all the actions taken against ISIS and the elimination of its leaders have not caused its collapse (Al-Naba weekly, Telegram, August 17, 2023).
  • According to the author of the article, the fact that the organization’s operatives rushed to pledge allegiance to the new leader, Abu al-Hafs al-Hashimi al-Qurashi, proves the stability and cohesion of the organization. Moreover, the organization’s operatives even accelerated their activities as a sign of support for the new leader. The author further notes that unity cannot be achieved among Muslims today except through an Islamic Caliphate. He says that the Islamic State was founded on religious belief, and its survival is based on the faith in Allah. He adds that as long as faith exists among the organization’s operatives and commanders, the Islamic State will continue to exist (Al-Naba weekly, Telegram, August 17, 2023).
The article “[The Islamic State] remains in place and the pledges of allegiance continue [as usual]” (Al-Naba, Telegram, August 17, 2023)
The article “[The Islamic State] remains in place and the pledges of allegiance continue [as usual]” (Al-Naba, Telegram, August 17, 2023)
Somali government bans TikTok and Telegram
  • The Somali government has banned the use of the TikTok and Telegram platforms and the betting platform XBET 1, claiming that Al-Shabaab uses both to spread its extremist ideology. The Somali Ministry of Communications instructed Internet providers in the country to enforce the ban no later than August 24, 2023 (barrons.com, August 20, 2023).

[1] His real name is Maysar Ali Musa Abdullah al-Juburi.
[2] The attack took place on July 27, 2023. For further details, see the ITIC’s Information Bulletin from August 3, 2023, “Spotlight on Global Jihad (July 27 – August 2, 2023)