Spotlight on Global Jihad (February 3-9, 2021)

Main events of the past week
  • The main event this week was the killing of ISIS leader Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi Al-Qurashi, in an operation carried out by US Special Forces on the night of February 2-3, 2022, in the village of Atmeh in the Idlib Province in northwestern Syria. He blew himself up in his home after refusing to surrender to the US forces. His close family members were also killed in the explosion. ISIS has not yet officially announced his death[1].
  • Syria: The Syrian army’s artillery fire continues in the Idlib region, with Russian air support. HTS detained three senior figures of Hurras al-Din, Al-Qaeda’s branch in Syria, and several operatives and commanders of the Sham al-Islam organization. In the Deir ez-Zor-Al-Mayadeen region, ISIS continued its attacks against the Kurdish SDF forces.
  • Iraq: This week, the downtrend in ISIS’s activity continued.
  • Sinai: The Sinai Tribal Union, which supports the Egyptian army, operated against ISIS. In one operation, ISIS’s commander in central Sinai was killed.
  • In Africa, ISIS continued to attack the security forces, local militias and Christian villages. One noteworthy attack was the activation of IEDs and an assault against a Nigerian army force on the Nigeria-Niger border. The Nigerian army force sustained 40 casualties. In the Congo, ISIS operatives freed about 20 ISIS inmates from a prison near the Congo-Uganda border. They may have been inspired by the operation in Al-Hasakah.
  • Afghanistan: The downtrend in ISIS activity against the Taliban forces continued. The US Department of State announced a reward for anyone leading to the capture of the commander of ISIS’s Khorasan Province.
  • The battle for hearts and minds: The lead article in ISIS’s Al-Naba’ weekly was devoted to an analysis of the term “tabshir,” which means spreading the good news of the imminent victory of Islam. According to the author, spreading the good news embodies a large number of meanings. The weekly also published a poster encouraging jihad, entitled “The Jihad of the Believers Continues.”
The Syrian arena
Syrian governorates (freeworldmaps.net)
Syrian governorates (freeworldmaps.net)
ISIS leader killed in US operation
  • US President Joe Biden announced that ISIS leader Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurashi was killed in an operation carried out by US Special Forces on the night of February 2-3, 2022, in the village of Atmeh in the Idlib Province in northwestern Syria. CENTCOM Commander General Kenneth F. McKenzie noted that ISIS’s leader blew himself up at the start of the operation because he refused to surrender to the US forces and that he and his close family members were killed in the explosion (US Department of Defense website, February 4, 2022).
  • ISIS’s media has not yet issued an official announcement of his death. Amir Mohammed Abdul Rahman al-Mawla al-Salbi, known as Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi Al-Qurashi, 46, was born to a Sunni Turkmen family in Tal-Afar near Mosul in Iraq. Al-Qurashi had a religious and military education. He studied Islamic law at the University of Mosul and served as a lieutenant colonel in the Iraqi army under Saddam Hussein. In 2003, with the entry of US forces into Iraq, he joined radical jihadi organizations operating in the country. In 2004, he was detained by the Americans and incarcerated in Boca Prison in southern Iraq, where he apparently met Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. On his release from prison, he became a senior ISIS official, holding several positions in the organization. On October 26, 2019, after the assassination of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, he succeeded him as ISIS’s leader. It should be noted that he was one of the very few senior ISIS officials who were not Arabs.
ISIS leader Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi Al-Qurashi in a photo distributed by the US Department of State (August 21, 2019)
ISIS leader Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi Al-Qurashi in a photo distributed by the US Department of State (August 21, 2019)
  • As ISIS’s leader, Abu Ibrahim Al-Qurashi was able to partially rehabilitate the organization, which had lost control of most of the territories that it had controlled in Syria and Iraq and was at an unprecedented low. Personally, he took care to remain behind the scenes unlike his predecessor, who considered himself an ideologist. He did not disseminate ideological religious audiotapes. Al-Qurashi was considered a skilled military man who commanded ISIS’s operations on a regular basis from his place of residence. He was known for his cruelty when he participated in the killing of members of the Yazidi community. He was apparently also responsible for the break-in at Al-Sina’ah-Ghuwayran Prison in Al-Hasakah on January 20, 2022.
  • The death of ISIS’s leader in the US operation represents a blow to ISIS’s morale. Past experience, however, indicates that killing the leader of the organization is a tactical event that does not result in the elimination of the organization or its ideology. It is possible that the death of Abu Ibrahim Al-Qurashi will have a temporary effect on ISIS’s activity in Syria and Iraq, which were its focal points of control and activity. However, it is unlikely to affect the more remote provinces where local groups operate. Although these groups have pledged allegiance to ISIS’s leader, ISIS’s control over them is limited. It is possible that the death of ISIS’s leader will increase its operatives’ motivation to carry out attacks to avenge his death, including in the West and especially in the United States.
  • With regard to Abu Ibrahim Al-Qurashi’s possible successor, there are a number of unofficial reports that the new leader is codenamed Abu al-Hassan al-Hashimi al-Qurashi (Twitter, February 6, 2022; ru-maf.net, February 6, 2022). It should be noted that after Al-Baghdadi’s death on October 26, 2019, the name of his successor was revealed only in January 2020.
The Idlib region
  • Exchanges of artillery fire continued between Syrian soldiers and forces supporting the Syrian army, and the rebel organizations in the Idlib enclave. On February 5, 2022, the Syrian army fired artillery at a rebel force vehicle in the northeastern part of the rebel enclave. Several rebels were wounded (Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, February 5, 2022). On February 8, a rebel force vehicle was targeted by gunfire in the south of the enclave. Several rebels were wounded (Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, February 8, 2022). Russian fighters continued to attack rebel targets south of Idlib. No casualties were reported (Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, February 6, 2022).
  • HTS operatives reportedly detained three senior figures of the Al-Qaeda-affiliated Hurras al-Din organization and several operatives and commanders of the Salafist-jihadi organization Sham al-Islam (Jisr, February 4, 2022).
Al-Hasakah region
  • After the SDF announcement on the end of the fighting in the prison area and the elimination of all ISIS pockets of resistance, there was relative calm in the area. There was only one incident when an SDF roadblock was targeted by gunfire in the Ghuwayran neighborhood in Al-Hasakah. Several fighters were reportedly wounded (Telegram, February 6, 2022).
Deir ez-Zor-Al-Mayadeen region
  • On February 6, 2022, an SDF roadblock was targeted by gunfire in the Sabha region, about 25 km southeast of Deir ez-Zor. Two SDF fighters were killed (Telegram, February 6, 2022).
  • On January 30, 2022, two SDF bases were targeted by gunfire in Al-Zirr and Al-Shahil, about 15 km north of Al-Mayadeen. Two fighters were killed (Telegram, February 5, 2022).
  • On January 30, 2022, an SDF vehicle was targeted by gunfire in Bariha, about 15 km north of Al-Mayadeen. An SDF fighter was wounded and the vehicle was put out of commission (Telegram, February 5, 2022).
Counterterrorism measures
  • On February 6, 2022, the SDF forces detained two ISIS operatives who intended to carry out a suicide bombing attack in the Dhiban region, about 3 km east of Al-Mayadeen. According to Kurdish sources, one of the operatives was Iraqi and the other Uyghur (from Western China). According to documents found in their possession, the two men arrived from northern Syria, which is under Turkish control (Rudaw, February 7, 2022).
The two ISIS operatives who were detained, alongside the weapons found in their possession (Rudaw, February 7, 2022)
The two ISIS operatives who were detained, alongside the weapons found in their possession (Rudaw, February 7, 2022)
The Iraqi arena
Provinces of Iraq (Wikipedia)
Provinces of Iraq (Wikipedia)

Attacks by province[2]

Al-Anbar Province
  • On February 8, 2022, an IED was activated against an Iraqi army vehicle in the Rawa region, about 80 km east of Al-Qaim. The five passengers on board were killed.
  • On February 8, 2022, an IED was activated against an Iraqi army vehicle east of Al-Rutba. The passengers on board were killed or wounded.
  • On February 3, 2022, an Iraqi army camp was targeted by gunfire east of Al-Rutba, in western Iraq. Several Iraqi soldiers were killed or wounded.
Diyala Province
  • On February 6, 2022, an Iraqi police foot patrol was targeted by gunfire when it was on its way to ambush ISIS operatives northeast of Baqubah. One policeman was killed and five others were wounded, including two officers (Telegram, February 7, 2022).
Nineveh Province
  • On February 3, 2022, a Kurdish Peshmerga patrol was ambushed and targeted by gunfire in eastern Makhmur, about 70 km southeast of Mosul. Two fighters were wounded (Telegram, February 4, 2022).
Sinai Peninsula
  • On February 9, 2022, an Egyptian soldier was killed in an attack apparently carried out by operatives of ISIS’s Sinai Province in the village of Abu al-Araj, in the Sheikh Zuweid region (Shahed Sinaa – al-Rasmia Facebook page, February 9, 2022).
  • On February 9, 2022, a mine which was probably planted by ISIS exploded while a bulldozer was carrying out infrastructure work on the outskirts of Rafah. Two people were wounded (Shahed Sinaa – al-Rasmia Facebook page, February 9, 2022).
  • On February 6, 2022, two members of the Tarabin tribe were wounded when a mine exploded in the Al-Ajra region, south of Rafah (Shahed Sinaa – al-Rasmia Facebook page, February 6, 2022).
Counterterrorism measures
  • A force of the Sinai Tribal Union, which supports the Egyptian army, announced that its fighters had killed Abu Rawaha al-Ansari, ISIS’s commander in central Sinai (Sinai Tribal Union’s Twitter account, February 4, 2022).
Abu Rawaha al-Ansari (Sinai Tribal Union’s Twitter account, February 4, 2022)
Abu Rawaha al-Ansari (Sinai Tribal Union’s Twitter account, February 4, 2022)
  • Several days later, a Sinai Tribal Union force located an ISIS hideout and several IEDs (Sinai Tribal Union’s Facebook page, February 7, 2022). The exact location where the force operated was not mentioned.
IEDs that were found (Sinai Tribal Union’s Facebook page, February 7, 2022)     The hideout that was found.
Right: The hideout that was found. Left: IEDs that were found
(Sinai Tribal Union’s Facebook page, February 7, 2022)
Summary of ISIS’s activity in the various provinces
Weekly summary of ISIS’s activity
  • An infographic published by ISIS summing up its activity around the world in the period between January 27 and February 2, 2022, indicates that in this period, ISIS carried out 36 attacks in its various provinces in Asia and Africa, compared to 49 attacks in the previous week. The largest number of attacks was carried out by ISIS’s Iraq Province (19). Attacks carried out in the other provinces: West Africa (7); Syria (5); Khorasan (i.e., Afghanistan) (1); Somalia (1); Sinai (1); Pakistan (1); Central Africa (1). A total of 91 people were killed or wounded in the attacks, compared to 352 in the previous week. The largest number of casualties was in the Iraq Province (30). The other casualties were in the following provinces: Central Africa (20); Syria (14); Somalia (5); Khorasan (2); Iraq (18); Central Africa (1); Pakistan (1) (Al-Naba’ weekly, Telegram, February 3, 27, 2022).
ISIS’s attacks (Al-Naba' weekly, Telegram, February 3, 2022)
ISIS’s attacks (Al-Naba’ weekly, Telegram, February 3, 2022)
ISIS attacks in recent months (according to ISIS data)

ISIS activity in Africa[3]

Nigeria
  • On February 5, 2022, the Christian village of Baris was attacked in Adamawa State, in eastern Nigeria. There was an exchange of fire with fighters of militias loyal to the Nigerian army. One Christian resident was killed. ISIS operatives set fire to several homes before leaving the village.
  • On February 5, 2022, a Nigerian army convoy was targeted by gunfire near Girbawa, in Yobe State, in northeastern Nigeria. After the convoy soldiers fled, ISIS operatives entered the town, broke into a government medical center and seized equipment.
  • On February 5, 2022, an IED was activated against a vehicle belonging to one of the militias loyal to the Nigerian army near Marte, about 40 km west of the Nigeria-Cameroon border. The vehicle was destroyed and the passengers were killed or wounded.
  • On February 3, 2022, IEDs were activated against a Nigerian army force of around 150 soldiers in Malam Fatori, in the Nigeria-Niger border region, in the northeast of the country. The force was setting out on a mission. After the IEDs were activated, ISIS operatives ambushed and fired at the force. According to ISIS, about 40 soldiers were killed or wounded.
  • On February 2, 2022, an IED was activated against a convoy of the Nigerian army and the militias supporting it during a joint operation by the forces in Nagumi, in northeastern Nigeria. A militia commander and five of his escorts were killed. Due to the incident, the operation was terminated.
The vehicle of the militia commander who was killed (Telegram, February 3, 2022)    The vehicle of the militia commander who was killed (Telegram, February 3, 2022)
The vehicle of the militia commander who was killed (Telegram, February 3, 2022)
Mozambique
  • On February 7, 2022, the Christian village of Bengala was attacked in the Macomia region, in northeastern Mozambique. Three fighters of militias loyal to the local army were executed and two vehicles were set on fire.
  • On January 31, 2022, an operative of the militias loyal to the Mozambican army was abducted on suspicion of spying in Yolomabawa, in the Macomia region. He was later executed.
  • On February 1, 2022, several Christian villages were attacked on the island of Matemo, off the coast of the Cabo Delgado Province, in northeastern Mozambique. ISIS operatives set fire to about 60 homes and commandeered boats and other property. The villagers fled.
Democratic Republic of the Congo
  • On February 2, 2022, a Congolese army camp was attacked in Novili, near the Congo-Uganda border. The soldiers fled, and ISIS operatives set fire to the camp. They then took over the town and freed 20 ISIS operatives who were detained at the local prison.

Asia

Afghanistan
  • This week, there was a decline in ISIS activity in Afghanistan against the Taliban. The details of the incidents are as follows:
  • On February 3, 2022, a Taliban roadblock was targeted by gunfire in Taleqan, in the Takhar Province, in northeastern Afghanistan. Two Taliban members were killed (Telegram, February 5, 2022).
  • On February 3, 2022, a Taliban member was stabbed to death in the Imam Saheb region of the Kunduz Province, in northeastern Afghanistan (Telegram, February 5, 2022).
Counterterrorism activity
  • According to the British newspaper The Guardian, two ISIS operatives, one bearing a British passport, were arrested last autumn by Taliban forces on the Afghan border. Army uniforms, night-vision equipment, and the sum of GBP 10,000 were found in their possession. The two traveled via Uzbekistan. According to the newspaper, hundreds of Britons previously joined the ranks of the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq. However, this is the first time that British nationals have been caught attempting to join a group in Afghanistan, and the first reported attempt by ISIS to recruit foreign nationals since the Taliban came to power (The Guardian, February 8, 2022).
The United States has offered a reward for information about the commander of ISIS’s Khorasan Province
  • The US State Department has announced that it is offering a USD 10 million reward for information about his whereabouts or details that will lead to the capture of Sanaullah Ghafari, AKA Shahab al-Muhajir, the commander of ISIS’s Khorasan Province. Sanaullah Ghafari, born in 1994, who was appointed commander in June 2020, was involved in terrorist acts and in planning suicide bombing attacks and combined operations. He is also responsible for ISIS’s financing (US State Department Twitter account, February 7, 2022).
The Announcement by the US Department of State (US Department of State Twitter account, February 7, 2022)
The Announcement by the US Department of State
(US Department of State Twitter account, February 7, 2022)
Pakistan
  • On February 3, 2022, ISIS operatives in the Khorasan Province shot and killed a Taliban member in the Peshawar region, near the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. Two rifles and a gun found in his possession were seized. Two policemen were killed in an exchange of gunfire at a Pakistani police checkpoint (Telegram, February 3, 2022).
The United States
  • Jonathan Guerra Blanco, codenamed Abu Zahraa al-Andalusi, a US citizen from Cuba, was convicted of providing material assistance to ISIS in a Miami court. He was convicted, among other things, of supporting ISIS, distributing propaganda, and raising funds. He was sentenced to 16 years in prison (US Department of Justice website, February 2, 2022).
  • According to the indictment, in 2019, law enforcement officers learned that he was following instructions issued by ISIS and instructing its supporters to publish its propaganda, requests for fundraising, fundraising material, statements justifying attacks against the United States and more. The defendant translated the materials into Spanish for his target audience. He also produced videos which he intended to use to recruit Spanish speakers to the ranks of ISIS. The content of many of the videos he produced and distributed glorified the terrorist attacks and called for attacks against the authorities in Spain (US Department of Justice website, February 2, 2022).
The battle for hearts and minds
  • The lead article in the Al-Naba’ weekly was entitled “Spread the Good News to the Believers.” The article focuses on the term “tabshir,” which means spreading the good news of the imminent victory of Islam. According to the author, spreading the good news embodies several meanings: a perception of pride and supremacy of the believers over infidels; The perception that Allah is found inside every believer and guides him; Encouraging jihad against the infidels; A message that the divine promise of the victory of the believers over the infidels will soon come true. At the end of the article, the author notes that Muslim believers must prepare for the realization of the divine promises, i.e., that they will overthrow the tyrants and conquer the Arabian Peninsula, Palestine, Rome, and Constantinople (Istanbul) (Al-Naba’ weekly, Telegram, February 3, 2022).
The article about the good news (Al-Naba’ weekly, Telegram, February 3, 2022)
The article about the good news (Al-Naba’ weekly, Telegram, February 3, 2022)
ISIS’s leadership continues to promote jihad
  • As a continuation of the series of posters distributed in recent issues of Al-Naba’ weekly, a poster entitled “The Jihad of the Believers Continues” and encouraging jihad appeared in the latest issue. The poster states that jihad will continue until the end of days and that the goal of jihad is to eliminate the infidels until Islam is the dominant religion in the world. It was further stated that jihad fighters will receive a special reward in paradise and that avoiding jihad is one of the traits of hypocrites, i.e., those are believers only on the outside (Al-Naba’ weekly, Telegram, February 3, 2022).
Announcement encouraging the continuation of jihad (Al-Naba’ weekly, Telegram, February 3, 2022)
Announcement encouraging the continuation of jihad
(Al-Naba’ weekly, Telegram, February 3, 2022)
Al-Qaeda leader attacks ISIS and calls for the overthrow of the “tyrannical regimes”
  • On February 2, 2022, Al-Qaeda’s media arm, the As-Sahab Foundation, released a video of Al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri. In the video, Al-Zawahiri attacks ISIS. He calls on Al-Qaeda’s operatives and supporters to take part in the struggle to overthrow the “tyrannical regimes” of the Islamic State since, according to him, they are subordinate to and in the service of the West. He also attacks the Al-Jazeera network and the Qatari regime, claiming that the Qatari regime is subordinate to the United States and hostile to Al-Qaeda (Idhaat, February 2, 2022; Akhbar al-A’an, February 3, 2022). It should be noted that on January 31, 2022, President Joe Biden met with Amir Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al-Thani of Qatar. In recognition of the strategic partnership between the United States and Qatar, the President informed the Amir of his intention to designate Qatar as a Major Non-NATO Ally (wh

[1] For more information, see the ITIC’s publication from February 9, 2022: "The killing of ISIS’s leader in an operation by US forces in Syria and possible implications"

[2] Mostly according to ISIS’s claims of responsibility posted on Telegram

[3] Mainly according to ISIS's claims of responsibility posted on Telegram