Spotlight on Global Jihad (February 18-24, 2021)

An Egyptian army tank removing the armored vehicle hit by ISIS’s IED east of the village of Zuhur, south of Sheikh Zuweid (Amaq, as posted on Telegram, February 23, 2021)

An Egyptian army tank removing the armored vehicle hit by ISIS’s IED east of the village of Zuhur, south of Sheikh Zuweid (Amaq, as posted on Telegram, February 23, 2021)

ISIS operatives during the attack. An ISIS operative can be seen on a vehicle with a machine gun mounted on it (Amaq News Agency, as hosted on Telegram, February 22, 2021).

ISIS operatives during the attack. An ISIS operative can be seen on a vehicle with a machine gun mounted on it (Amaq News Agency, as hosted on Telegram, February 22, 2021).

Apparently the terrorist who detonated a car bomb (Amaq News Agency, as posted on Telegram, February 22, 2021).

Apparently the terrorist who detonated a car bomb (Amaq News Agency, as posted on Telegram, February 22, 2021).

One of the vehicles set on fire by ISIS operatives (Telegram, February 21, 2021)

One of the vehicles set on fire by ISIS operatives (Telegram, February 21, 2021)

Main events of the past week
  • Syria: In the Idlib region, exchanges of artillery fire continued between the Syrian army and the forces supporting it, and the rebel forces. HTS detained a senior figure in the Al-Qaeda-affiliated Hurras al-Din Organization (Guardians of the Religion Organization), as part of the struggle between the two organizations. In the desert region (Al-Badia), ISIS operatives ambushed and killed five Syrian soldiers near Sukhnah. In the Deir ez-Zor-Al-Mayadeen region, ISIS continued its terrorist activity against the Kurdish SDF fighters.
  • Iraq: This week, the Iraqi security forces continued their counterterrorism activity against ISIS operatives. A number of ISIS operatives were killed in the attack, including senior figures. Several soldiers were killed in clashes with ISIS operatives in the Al-Tarmiyah region, including two commanders in the Iraqi army and the Popular Mobilization. NATO defense ministers announced that they would send an additional 3,500 troops to Iraq to train Iraqi forces to fight against ISIS.
  • Africa: The intensive activity of ISIS operatives in Africa continues, with an emphasis on Nigeria. In addition, attacks were carried out in Niger and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (where the Italian ambassador was killed; no organization has claimed responsibility but ISIS praised the operation).
  • Afghanistan: ISIS claimed responsibility for an exchange of fire in Jalalabad on February 15, 2021, between fighters of an Afghan elite unit and ISIS operatives. According to ISIS, 20 fighters of the Afghan elite unit were killed or wounded in the incident.
  • Tunisia: ISIS’s Al-Naba’ weekly published a report on its activity in Tunisia (which has not yet been declared an official ISIS province). The article mentions an incident in which four soldiers were killed near Jebel Mghaila, near the border with Algeria. The weekly also notes that ISIS operatives killed a “spy” who worked for the Tunisian army about two months ago.
The Syrian arena
The Idlib region
HTS detains senior Hurras al-Din operative
  • HTS operatives detained Abu Abdallah al-Suri, a senior operative in the Al-Qaeda-affiliated Hurras al-Din Organization (Guardians of the Religion Organization). Al-Suri is the son of Abu Firas al-Suri, the Nusra Front spokesman killed in April 2016 in an International Coalition airstrike (npasyria.com, February 20, 2021). On the same day, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that at least 10 Hurras al-Din operatives, mostly foreign fighters, had been detained by HTS (Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, February 20, 2021).
Artillery fire
  • During the week, exchanges of artillery fire continued between the rebel forces, headed by HTS, and the Syrian army and the forces supporting it, in the region south and southeast of the rebel enclave in Idlib (Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, February 17-21, 2021).
The desert region (Al-Badia)
  • In the desert region, the Syrian army and the forces supporting it operated against ISIS. On February 17, 2021, Syrian army forces with Russian Air Force support killed four ISIS operatives in moving vehicles equipped with machine guns in the desert region, in the Homs Governorate, close to the border with the Deir ez-Zor Governorate. During their activity, they also found an ISIS hiding place containing weapons, ammunition, explosives, and medications (Russia Al-Youm, February 17, 2021; Sputnik, February 17, 2021). On February 18-20, 2021, Russian fighter jets carried out over 100 airstrikes against ISIS targets. About 20 ISIS operatives were reportedly killed (Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, February 18-20, 2021).
  • On its part, ISIS carried out several activities against the Syrian forces[1]:
    • On February 19, 2021, an IED was activated against Syrian soldiers in the Salamiyah desert region, about 30 km southeast of Hama. One soldier was killed.
    • On February 16, 2021, Syrian soldiers were ambushed and targeted by machine gun fire near Al-Sukhnah, about 60 km northeast of Palmyra. Five soldiers were killed (Telegram, February 16, 2021).
The Deir ez-Zor-Al-Mayadeen region
  • In the Deir ez-Zor-Al-Mayadeen region, ISIS continued its attacks, mainly against the Kurdish SDF forces. A noteworthy incident occurred on February 21, 2021: ISIS operatives activated an IED in the SDF headquarters in Shahil, about 10 km north of Al-Mayadeen. The building was completely destroyed. There were no casualties. According to local sources, the building has recently been evacuated and used as a clinic (www.jesrpress.com, February 22, 2021). Another incident occurred on February 20, 2021: four fighters belonging to an IRGC-handled militia were killed in an attack carried out by “persons unknown” (apparently, ISIS operatives) against an observation post east of Deir ez-Zor (@DeirEzzor24 Twitter account, February 20, 2021).
  • Following are additional noteworthy incidents[2]:
    • On February 22, 2021, an SDF intelligence operative was targeted by gunfire in Shahil, about 10 km north of Al-Mayadeen. He was killed. On the same day, an IED was activated against an SDF oil tanker in the area of the Omar oilfield, about 10 km east of Al-Mayadeen. It was put out of commission.
    • On February 18, 2021, an SDF fighter was targeted by gunfire in the Sabha area, in Deir ez-Zor’s eastern rural area. He was killed. On that same day, an SDF vehicle was targeted by machine gun fire in the Shahil area. A commander was killed, several fighters were wounded, and the vehicle was put out of commission. In addition, an SDF intelligence operative was targeted by gunfire about 20 km southeast of Al-Mayadeen. He was killed.
    • On February 17, 2021, an SDF fighter was targeted by machine gun fire in the Hajin area, about 50 km southeast of Al-Mayadeen. He was killed.
Hama region[3]
  • Two noteworthy incidents this week (February 17 and 19, 2021): IEDs were activated against Syrian army vehicles in the Salamiyah desert, about 30 km southeast of Hama. Soldiers were killed or wounded, and the vehicles were destroyed.
Al-Hasakah region
  • Two noteworthy incidents this week (February 16 and 18, 2021): SDF fighters were targeted by machine gun fire in the Markada area, about 9 km south of Al-Hasakah. One fighter was killed and another was wounded.
The Iraqi arena
Provinces of Iraq (Wikipedia)
Provinces of Iraq (Wikipedia)
Increase in ISIS’s activity in Iraq
  • Sirwan Barzani, the commander of the Kurdish Peshmerga Forces in Iraq, said in an interview that over 7,000 ISIS operatives in Iraqi had seized this period of the COVID-19 pandemic to reorganize and prepare for another wave of attacks. Barzani also noted that due to the spread of the pandemic, the Coalition forces stopped their training and Britain resumed its airstrikes against ISIS only last month, for the first time in three months (Shafaq News, February 18, 2021). Iraqi military sources reported that last week, about 100 ISIS operatives crossed the border from Syria to Iraq (RUDAW, February 20, 2021).
Strengthening Iraqi capability to fight against ISIS
  • Abdul Aziz al-Muhammadawi, the commander of the Popular Mobilization militia, met with Iraqi President Barham Saleh. They discussed the Popular Mobilization’s recent activities to restore security in the provinces of Kirkuk and west Nineveh and on the border between Iraq and Syria. They also discussed the Popular Mobilization’s responsibility to increase the anti-terror struggle and the need to prevent ISIS infiltration through the borders (Twitter account of the Popular Mobilization’s Information Office, February 17, 2021).
  • At the same time, NATO defense ministers reportedly announced that they would send an additional 3,500 troops to Iraq in order to train the Iraqi forces to fight against ISIS. If NATO indeed sends reinforcements, the number of NATO troops in Iraq will increase from 500 to 4,000 (Anatolia News Agency, February 18, 2021).
ISIS’s attacks in the various provinces in Iraq[4]
Salah al-Din Province
  • The clashes in the province this week reached their peak in a confrontation between ISIS operatives and forces of the Iraqi army and Popular Mobilization in the Tarmiyah region, about 40 km north of Baghdad. ISIS operatives fired at a Popular Mobilization force and even managed to encircle the troops. The Popular Mobilization fighters called for the assistance of other Iraqi army and Popular Mobilization forces, including air support. The rescue forces were also attacked by the ISIS operatives. The exchange of fire between the sides lasted about four hours. At least five Iraqi soldiers and Popular Mobilization fighters were killed, and six were wounded. The casualties include two commanders: A Popular Mobilization foj commander (a foj is similar to a regiment) and an Iraqi army deputy foj commander. In addition, the pilot of a helicopter that landed at the site to evacuate the fighters was wounded. The ISIS operatives seized Iraqi army weapons and ammunition (Telegram, February 21, 2021).
Iraqi army weapons seized by ISIS operatives (Amaq, from Telegram, February 21, 2021)
Iraqi army weapons seized by ISIS operatives (Amaq, from Telegram, February 21, 2021)
  • On February 22, 2021, ISIS operatives fired machine guns at an Iraqi army camp in the Mashahida area, about 30 km north of Baghdad. One soldier was wounded, and a thermal camera was destroyed.
  • On February 17, 2021, an Iraqi army compound west of Tuz Khormato, about 100 km northeast of Samarra, was targeted by machine gun fire and RPG rockets. Two soldiers were killed.
Diyala Province
  • On February 19, 2021, an Iraqi policeman was targeted by machine gun fire in the Waqf area, northwest of Baqubah. He was critically wounded.
  • On February 18, 2021, two RPG rockets were fired at the police building in Jalula, about 75 km northeast of Baqubah. There were no casualties, but the building was damaged.
  • On February 17, 2021, Popular Mobilization fighters north of Khanaqin were targeted by machine gun fire. Three fighters were killed and five others were wounded.
Nineveh Province
  • On February 18, 2021, an IED was activated against a vehicle of the oil facilities security guards south of Mosul. The vehicle was destroyed.
Counterterrorism measures in Iraq
Salah al-Din Province
  •  Based on preliminary intelligence about a meeting of senior ISIS operatives in the Tarmiyah area, about 40 km north of Baghdad, an Iraqi army force with Tribal Mobilization support operated at the site. Six senior ISIS operatives who planned to carry out terrorist attacks in Baghdad were killed. They included the military and administrative commander in charge of North Baghdad and ISIS’s operative in charge of media activities in the Fallujah area (Facebook page of the Baghdad Operations Command, February 20, 2021).
Bodies of ISIS operatives who planned to carry out attacks in Baghdad (Facebook page of the Baghdad Operations Command, February 20, 2021)
Bodies of ISIS operatives who planned to carry out attacks in Baghdad (Facebook page of the Baghdad Operations Command, February 20, 2021)
  • On February 17, 2021, Coalition aircraft attacked and killed two ISIS operatives (Al-Araby al-Jadeed, based on Iraqi security sources, February 17, 2021).
Al-Anbar Province
  • On February 20, 2021, an Iraqi police force detained three ISIS operatives (Al-Sumaria, February 20, 2021).
Kirkuk Province
  • Col. Wayne Marto, spokesman for the International Coalition, reported that Coalition jets had conducted a number of airstrikes in Wadi al-Shai, in the southern part of the Kirkuk Province. According to Col. Marto, several ISIS operatives were killed and a number of caves were destroyed (RUDAW, February 22, 2021). A terrorism expert closely associated with Iraqi intelligence sources said that among the ISIS operatives killed were Abu Ali al-Tunisi, ISIS’s operative in charge of development and manufacture in the Iraq Province; an operative in charge of ISIS’s media relations; ISIS’s operative in charge of guest houses; and the commander of the Wadi al-Shai area (@fadhil_abu_ragh Twitter account, February 22, 2021).
Sinai Peninsula
  • According to ISIS reports, ISIS operatives activated an IED against an Egyptian army armored vehicle east of the village of Zuhur, in southern Sheikh Zuweid. The vehicle was destroyed and the soldiers on board were killed or wounded.
  • On February 22, 2021, ISIS operatives fired at an Egyptian army patrol south of Sheikh Zuweid, near a roadblock. One soldier was killed and two others were wounded.
ISIS’s activity around the globe[5]
Summary of ISIS’s activity in the various provinces
  • ISIS released an infographic summing up its activity around the world on February 11– 17, 2021. According to the infographic, during this period, ISIS operatives carried out 63 attacks in the various provinces in Asia and Africa, compared to 46 in the previous week. The largest number of attacks were carried out in West Africa (16). Attacks carried out in ISIS’s other provinces: Iraq (13); Khorasan, i.e. Afghanistan (11); Syria (10); Sinai (5); Central Africa (3); Tunisia (Tunisia still doesn’t appear under the title of province) (3); Somalia (1); and Pakistan (1) (Al-Naba’ weekly, Telegram, February 18, 2021).
  • According to the infographic, 188 people were killed and wounded in those attacks, compared to 136 in the previous week. The largest number of casualties was in West Africa (65). The other casualties were in the following provinces: Khorasan, i.e. Afghanistan (38); Syria (22); Iraq (21); Central Africa (20); Sinai (15); Tunisia (4); Pakistan (2); and Somalia (1) (Al-Naba’ weekly, Telegram, February 18, 2021).
  • The infographic reflects a significant increase in ISIS’s activity in Central Africa and Afghanistan, at the expense of its activity in Syria and Iraq. It also indicates that ISIS is active in Tunisia.
The infographic as it appeared in ISIS’s Al-Naba' weekly (Al-Naba' weekly, Telegram, February 18, 2021)
The infographic as it appeared in ISIS’s Al-Naba’ weekly
(Al-Naba’ weekly, Telegram, February 18, 2021)
Asia
Afghanistan
  • On February 20, 2021, an IED was activated against an officer with the rank of colonel at the Afghan Interior Ministry in Kabul. He was killed and the vehicle was destroyed.
  • On February 18, 2021, an IED was activated against the vehicle of the official in charge of the Sarakhrod District, about 20 km west of Jalalabad. The vehicle was destroyed and the official was wounded.
  • On February 16, 2021, an Afghan Intelligence operative was targeted by machine gun fire in Jalalabad. He was killed, along with his driver and bodyguard.
  • On February 15, 2021, ISIS operatives exchanged fire with fighters of an elite unit of the Afghan government in Jalalabad. About 20 fighters of the elite unit were killed or wounded in the exchange of fire, which lasted about six hours (Telegram, February 16, 2021).
Pakistan
  • On February 21, 2021, an IED was activated against a Pakistani Intelligence operative in Bajaur, about 25 km east of the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. He was killed.
Turkey
  • The Turkish security forces continued their counterterrorism activity against ISIS squads and operatives, including foreign fighters. According to the Turkish security forces, nine suspected ISIS operatives were detained in several coordinated operations carried out throughout Istanbul and its environs (Anatolia News Agency, February 19, 2021). In Ankara, Turkish security forces detained 14 people suspected of involvement in ISIS activity. All the detainees are not Turkish citizens (Anatolia News Agency, February 22, 2021).
Tunisia
  • In an unusual step, ISIS reported three terrorist attacks carried out by its operatives in Tunisia (which has not yet been declared an official ISIS province). The attacks were reported in a summary of ISIS’s activity around the globe published by ISIS. In February 19, 2021, ISIS’s Al-Naba’ weekly published a detailed article about the organization’s activity in Tunisia. The article mentions at least two attacks carried out by the ISIS operatives in Tunisia:
    • ISIS’s operatives activated three IEDs against Tunisian soldiers patrolling near the Algerian border and four soldiers were killed in the explosion (Al-Naba’ weekly, Telegram, February 18, 2021). The incident was also reported in the Tunisian media. Tunisian Defense Ministry spokesman Mohamed Zakri reported on February 3, 2021 that four soldiers had been killed in an IED explosion in the Jebel Mghaila region near the border with Algeria, during a search for gunmen in the region (Anatolia News Agency; The North America Journal, February 3, 2021).
    • On December 21, 2020, ISIS operatives killed a “spy” working for the Tunisian army in Jebel Sallum, near the border with Algeria. According to ISIS, the “spy” was interrogated and confessed that he had been ordered to ambush “jihad operatives” in the region. The report notes that “spies” who collaborated with the Tunisian authorities were killed by ISIS operatives in the past (Al-Naba’ weekly, Telegram, February 18, 2021).
The page from the Al-Naba’ weekly showing the Tunisian army “spy” executed by ISIS operatives (Al-Naba’ weekly, Telegram, February 18, 2021)
The page from the Al-Naba’ weekly showing the Tunisian army “spy” executed by ISIS operatives (Al-Naba’ weekly, Telegram, February 18, 2021)
Africa
Nigeria
  • During the week, ISIS carried out intensive activity in Nigeria. Most of the attacks carried out by ISIS were directed against Nigerian army forces. On February 19, 2021, an attack was carried out against a Nigerian army camp in Dikwa, about 50 km from the Nigeria-Cameroon border in Borno State. A total of 15 soldiers were killed in the exchange of fire and several others were wounded. The remaining soldiers fled, and ISIS operatives seized four vehicles, weapons and ammunition. ISIS operatives set fire to the camp and to other vehicles. It should be noted that the camp taken over by ISIS operatives is one of the largest Nigerian army camps and that many residents left the area in the wake of the attack (AFP, February 22, 2021).
  • Another noteworthy attack this week was a combined attack carried out on February 21, 2021, in which a car bomb was detonated among a gathering of Nigerian soldiers in Goniri, about 100 km southwest of Maiduguri, in northeastern Nigeria. When the car bomb was detonated, ISIS operatives attacked the soldiers at the base. About 20 soldiers were killed or wounded and three vehicles were destroyed (Telegram, February 22, 2021). ISIS’s Amaq News Agency released a video documenting the attack (Amaq News Agency, as posted on Telegram, February 22, 2021).
  • Following are additional incidents[6]:
    • On February 20, 2021, a Nigerian army force was targeted by gunfire on the road between Monguno and Gajiram, about 80 km west of the Nigeria-Chad border. Several soldiers were killed or wounded in the exchange of fire. The rest fled.
    • On February 19, 2021, a Nigerian army convoy was ambushed and targeted by machine gun fire on the road between Kaffa and Gorgi, about 90 km southwest of Maiduguri, the capital of Borno State. Ten soldiers and 20 others were wounded in the exchange of fire. The other soldiers fled. ISIS operatives set fire to vehicles left behind by the Nigerian soldiers and seized another vehicle. They also seized weapons and ammunition. That same day, an IED was activated against a Nigerian army vehicle. The vehicle was destroyed and the soldiers on board were wounded.
    • On February 17, 2021, a Nigerian army convoy was ambushed and targeted by gunfire in the Karito region, near Lake Chad. Three soldiers were killed and several others were wounded in the exchange of fire. ISIS operatives seized weapons and ammunition, and set fire to three vehicles.
    • On February 16, 2021, an attack was carried out against the headquarters of a militia supporting the Nigerian army in Gubio, Borno State, in northeastern Nigeria. There was an exchange of fire. Three soldiers were killed and several others were wounded. The other soldiers fled. ISIS operatives seized weapons and ammunition and set fire to vehicles.
Democratic Republic of the Congo
  • On February 18, 2021, a Congolese army compound was attacked in the Beni region, about 50 km west of the border between the Democratic Republic of Congo and Uganda. There were exchanges of fire and a number of soldiers were killed or wounded. The remaining soldiers fled, and ISIS operatives seized weapons and ammunition.
  • On February 16, 2021, a group of Christians (“Christian infidels”) was targeted by machine gun fire in the Beni region. At least four Christians were killed.
Italian ambassador assassinated in terrorist attack
  • On February 22, 2021, a UN World Food Programme (WFP) convoy was attacked in the city of Goma in the east of the country, near the border with Rwanda. One of the passengers was Luca Attanasio, the Italian ambassador to the Democratic Republic of the Congo. He was killed. An Italian policeman who served as a security guard and the driver were also killed. To date, no organization has claimed responsibility for the attack. It might have been carried out by ISIS operatives, since ISIS-affiliated elements on social media praised the incident (MEMRI, February 22, 2021).
Niger
  • ISIS operatives ambushed and fired machine guns at Nigerien soldiers in the Diffa area, near the Nigeria-Niger border, in southeastern Niger. Six soldiers were killed or wounded. A military vehicle was put out of commission. The ISIS operatives seized weapons and ammunition left behind by the soldiers.
Europe
Russia detains ISIS squad involved in fundraising for the organization
  • Russian security forces arrested an ISIS squad that was involved in fundraising on the Internet between 2015 and 2019. The members of the squad operated in the Crimean Peninsula, in the north of the Black Sea and in the Tatarstan region, about 90 km north of the Caspian Sea (Russia al-Youm, February 16, 2021).
The battle for hearts and minds
ISIS begins using the TikTok app to disseminate its messages
  • The Digital Media Monitoring Center in Iraq (NGO) recently detected a sharp increase in the number of ISIS-affiliated accounts and videos posted on TikTok, a video-sharing app popular mainly among children and teenagers around the world. According to an announcement published by the center, its personnel recently identified hundreds of new accounts of ISIS-affiliated entities on this social network. Some of these accounts clearly displayed an image of the ISIS flag. The announcement also states that those in charge of the platform are not doing enough to prevent the phenomenon and failing to delete these accounts promptly (Al-Ain al-Ikhbariya, February 20, 2021). To date, ISIS has made extensive use of social media and platforms such as Twitter, Facebook and YouTube to advance its ideology and recruit supporters. Its use of the TikTok music app could affect mainly children and teenagers.
Logo of the TikTok social network (from the TikTok app)
Logo of the TikTok social network (from the TikTok app)

[1] According to ISIS’s claims of responsibility posted on Telegram
[2] According to ISIS’s claims of responsibility posted on Telegram

[3] According to ISIS’s claims of responsibility posted on Telegram

[4] According to ISIS’s claims of responsibility posted on Telegram

[5] According to ISIS’s claims of responsibility posted on Telegram

[6] According to ISIS’s claims of responsibility posted on Telegram