Spotlight on Global Jihad (March 11-17, 2021)

The lawyer who was executed (Telegram, March 13, 2021)

The lawyer who was executed (Telegram, March 13, 2021)

The family members executed by ISIS.

The family members executed by ISIS.

Weapons and ammunition seized at the policeman’s house (Telegram, March 13, 2021)

Weapons and ammunition seized at the policeman’s house (Telegram, March 13, 2021)

Exchanges of fire between ISIS operatives and Nigerian soldiers in Damasak (Telegram, March 16, 2021)

Exchanges of fire between ISIS operatives and Nigerian soldiers in Damasak (Telegram, March 16, 2021)

Exchanges of fire between ISIS operatives and Nigerian soldiers in Damasak (Telegram, March 16, 2021)

Exchanges of fire between ISIS operatives and Nigerian soldiers in Damasak (Telegram, March 16, 2021)

ISIS operatives staking out a Nigerian army foot patrol in Malam Fatori.

ISIS operatives staking out a Nigerian army foot patrol in Malam Fatori.

ISIS operatives activating an IED against the patrol (Telegram, March 12, 2021).

ISIS operatives activating an IED against the patrol (Telegram, March 12, 2021).

Al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri in the video (Telegram, March 12, 2021)

Al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri in the video (Telegram, March 12, 2021)

Main events of the past week
  • Syria: In the Idlib region, exchanges of artillery fire continued south and southwest of Idlib between the Syrian army and the forces supporting it, and the rebel forces. In the Deir ez-Zor-Al-Mayadeen region, ISIS continued to attack the Kurdish SDF forces. The most noteworthy incident was a combined attack carried out by ISIS operatives against an SDF headquarters in Diban, about 3 km east of Al-Mayadeen. In Deir ez-Zor, ISIS operatives issued a blacklist of residents of a village located about 20 km southeast of Deir ez-Zor, and threatened that if they did not “repent” they would be executed and their homes would be destroyed. After several months of relative calm, ISIS operatives in the Hawran region claimed responsibility for several attacks against Syrian soldiers.
  • Iraq: ISIS’s activity in the Salah al-Din Province this week consisted mainly of breaking into the homes of those suspected of collaborating with the authorities. One noteworthy incident was the execution of members of one family, including two women, who, according to ISIS, collaborated with the Popular Mobilization forces. At the same time, the Iraqi security forces continued to carry out counterterrorism activity.
  • Africa: In view of the recent expansion of ISIS’s activity in Africa, the US Department of State has approved the imposition of economic sanctions on ISIS’s branch in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and its leader, and on ISIS’s branch in Mozambique and its leader. In both of these countries, these are local organizations that have pledged allegiance to ISIS. At the same time, ISIS operatives continued their intensive activity against the Nigerian security forces. One noteworthy attack was in the city of Monguno, in which 33 soldiers were killed, 20 were wounded and one was taken prisoner.
  • Afghanistan: ISIS’s activity still consists mainly of targeted killings and attempts on the lives of members of the security forces, primarily in Jalalabad. In the capital Kabul, ISIS operatives activated two IEDs against two buses carrying Shiites in two different locations. Twenty passengers were killed or wounded.
  • The battle for hearts and minds: this week’s lead article in ISIS Al-Naba’ weekly was devoted to Pope Francis’s visit to Iraq and his meetings with Shiite clerics, led by Ayatollah Ali Sistani. According to the author, the Pope’s visit was mainly intended to instill “Crusader” ideas among Muslims and to express support for the Iraqi government.
The Syrian arena
Syrian governorates (freeworldmaps.net)
Syrian governorates (freeworldmaps.net)
The Idlib region
  • This week as well, exchanges of artillery fire continued in the region south and southeast of the rebel enclave in Idlib between the rebel forces headed by HTS, and the Syrian army and the forces supporting it (Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, March 2021).
The Deir ez-Zor-Al-Mayadeen region[1]
  • The activity this week focused on the village of Diban, about 3 km east of Al-Mayadeen. On March 11, 2021, ISIS operatives attacked the SDF headquarters there. An SDF fighter was killed and another was wounded in the exchange of fire between the sides. When another force arrived at the site for assistance, the ISIS operatives detonated a motorcycle bomb. Four SDF fighters were wounded. Several days later, on March 14, 2021, RPG rockets were fired at the SDF headquarters. No casualties were reported. The building was damaged.
  • On March 12, 2021, the house of an SDF intelligence operative in Al-Sour area, about 50 km northwest of Deir ez-Zor, was broken into. He was captured, interrogated and then shot to death.
  • On March 10, 2021, an IED was activated against an SDF vehicle in Mahaimida, about 10 km north of Deir ez-Zor. The vehicle was put out of commission and the passengers on board were wounded. Two days before, on March 8, 2021, ISIS operatives shot at a man referred to as a “sorcerer” in the same place.
  • ISIS operatives in Deir ez-Zor published a list of inhabitants of the village of Jadid Aqidat, situated about 20 km southeast of Deir ez-Zor, threatening them that if they don’t “repent,” they will be executed and their homes will be destroyed (@DeirEzzor24 Twitter account, March 13, 2021).
Wording of ISIS’s threat against inhabitants in the Deir ez-Zor region (@DeirEzzor24 Twitter account, March 13, 2021)
Wording of ISIS’s threat against inhabitants in the Deir ez-Zor region
(@DeirEzzor24 Twitter account, March 13, 2021)
Al-Raqqah region
  • On March 14, 2021, ISIS operatives broke into the home of an SDF fighter north of Al-Raqqah and killed him.
Hawran region
  • After several months of relative calm, an increase in activity is evident in the region. ISIS claimed responsibility for carrying out two attacks against Syrian military personnel: On March 14, 2021, a soldier was abducted near Al-Harak, about 20 km northeast of Daraa; after being interrogated, he was executed. On March 15, 2021, an officer and a soldier were shot at west of Daraa. The soldier was killed and the officer was wounded.
The Iraqi arena
Provinces of Iraq (Wikipedia)
Provinces of Iraq (Wikipedia)
ISIS’s attacks in the various provinces in Iraq[2]
Salah al-Din Province
  • On March 12, 2021, ISIS operatives broke into several homes in a village south of Tikrit:
  • Break-in at the home of a family suspected of collaboration with the Popular Mobilization forces: After being interrogated, six family members, including two women, were executed.
  • Break-in at the home of a policeman: ISIS operatives killed him and seized weapons and ammunition.
  • Break-in at the home of a lawyer working in a government court: He was killed.
  • On March 13, 2021, ISIS operatives broke into the home of a Tribal Mobilization fighter in the Tarmiyah area, about 30 km north of Baghdad. After being interrogated, the fighter was executed. They also executed his mother, who they said was a “spy in the service of the Iraqi army.”
  • On March 15, 2021, an IED was activated against an Iraqi army foot patrol in the Al-Ghaith area, in the eastern Salah al-Din Province. One soldier was killed and another was wounded.
Diyala Province
  • On March 11, 2021, an Iraqi soldier was targeted by machine gun fire on the outskirts of Miqdadiya, about 40 km northeast of Baqubah. He was killed and a thermal camera at the site was destroyed.
Kirkuk Province
  • On March 13, 2021, an Iraqi police post in the Riyad area, about 50 km southwest of Kirkuk, was targeted by machine gun fire and RPG rockets. One policeman was killed and another was wounded.
  • On March 11, 2021, an Iraqi army outpost south of Daquq, in southern Kirkuk, was attacked. Two soldiers were killed.
Nineveh Province
  • On March 15, 2021, an IED was activated against an Iraqi army vehicle west of Mosul. The vehicle was destroyed and the passengers on board were wounded.

Counterterrorism measures in Iraq

  • According to Operation Inherent Resolve Spokesman Col. Wayne Marotto, the International Coalition forces continue to support the Iraqi forces, mainly by airstrikes when the latter ask for their support. However, he said, the Iraqi army air and ground forces are in a high level of readiness and training and, at least in some of the cases, are able to carry out their missions and fight independently against ISIS without the need for support (Iraqi News Agency, March 10, 2021).
  • Iraqi Army Chief of Staff Lt-General Abdul Amir Rashid Yarallah said during a visit at an Iraqi Air Force base that in fighting against ISIS, the Iraqi Air Force uses refurbished Su-25 and Antonov fighter jets. According to Lt-General Yarallah, these planes have successfully attacked many terror squads even outside Iraqi borders. He noted that the Air Force’s success in returning these fighter jets to service and maintaining the equipment would greatly support the ground forces in their war against ISIS (Iraqi Minister of Defense’s YouTube channel, March 8, 2021).
Nineveh Province
  • On March 13, 2021, the Iraqi security forces prevented the infiltration of ISIS operatives (“terrorist operatives” in the original statement) from Syria into Iraq. The Iraqi security forces that fired at the infiltrators were targeted by gunfire from Jabal Sinjar in Iraq, apparently by ISIS operatives who helped the infiltrators. After an exchange of fire that lasted for about half an hour, the ISIS operatives returned to Syrian territory. The attackers from the Iraqi side fled. One Iraqi soldier was killed in the incident (Akhbar Al-Aan, March 14, 2021).
  • On March 13, 2021, the Iraqi security forces detained the members of a squad that had intended to carry out a terrorist attack by detonating a car bomb in the Nineveh Province (Al-Sumaria, March 13, 2021). No further details were given but these were probably ISIS operatives.
  • On March 11, 2021, the Iraqi security forces carried out a counterterrorism ground operation in the region of the Makhmur Mountains, about 70 km southeast of Mosul. The US-led International Coalition planes supported the ground forces by attacking ISIS targets in the area (RUDAW, March 12, 2021; Kurdistan 24, March 12, 2021).
Kirkuk Province
  • On March 13, 2021, the Iraqi army took control of an ISIS hiding place in the Daquq area, in southern Kirkuk. Explosives and IEDs were found at the site (Al-Sumaria, March 13, 2021).
Sinai Peninsula
  • According to local sources, on March 11, 2021, ISIS operatives shot and killed two civilians, a 40-year-old father and his teenage son. They were both shot because ISIS suspected them of collaboration with the Egyptian authorities (sinainewsnow Facebook account, March 11, 2021).
Father and son killed by ISIS on suspicion of collaboration with the Egyptian authorities (sinainewsnow Facebook account, March 11, 2021)
Father and son killed by ISIS on suspicion of collaboration with the Egyptian authorities (sinainewsnow Facebook account, March 11, 2021)
Summary of ISIS’s activity in the various provinces
  • ISIS released an infographic summing up its activity around the globe on March 4-10, 2021. According to the infographic, during this period, ISIS operatives carried out 44 attacks in the various provinces in Asia and Africa, compared to 47 in the previous week. The largest number of attacks were carried out in Iraq (21). Attacks carried out in ISIS’s other provinces: West Africa (11); Syria (9); Khorasan, i.e. Afghanistan (2); and Pakistan (1) (Al-Naba’ weekly, Telegram, March 11, 2021).
  • According to the infographic, 127 people were killed and wounded in those attacks, compared to 169 in the previous week. The largest number of casualties was in West Africa (60). The other casualties were in the following provinces: Iraq (36); Syria (27); Khorasan, i.e., Afghanistan (2); and Pakistan (2) (Al-Naba’ weekly, Telegram, March 11, 2021).
  • The infographic indicates an increase in the scope of ISIS’s attacks in Iraq and a large number of casualties as a result of ISIS’s attacks in Africa, mainly in Nigeria.
The infographic as it appeared on ISIS’s Al-Naba' weekly (Al-Naba' weekly, Telegram, March 11, 2021)
The infographic as it appeared on ISIS’s Al-Naba’ weekly
(Al-Naba’ weekly, Telegram, March 11, 2021)
Africa

The United States has imposed sanctions on ISIS’s branches in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Mozambique

  • The US Department of State has approved the imposition of economic sanctions on two ISIS branches in Africa and their leaders (US Department of State website; The Wall Street Journal, March 10, 2021):[3]
    • ISIS’s branch in Mozambique and its leader Abu Yasir Hassan. The organization in question is Ansar al-Sunna.
    • ISIS’s branch in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and its leader Seka Musa Baluku. The organization in question is the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), which also uses the name Madina at Tauheed Wau Mujahedeen.
  • These two countries, where ISIS has expanded its activities considerably in the past year, form part of ISIS’s Central Africa Province. In both countries, these are local organizations, whose operatives have pledged allegiance to ISIS, but the nature and degree of affiliation between them and ISIS are not sufficiently clear. According to a recent article on ISIS’s activity in the Congo, ISIS’s leadership in Syria and Iraq is affiliated with the ADF, but the nature of the affiliation is unclear since the ADF maintains a high level of secrecy. According to the article, the affiliation between ISIS’s central leadership and its local leadership in the Congo includes financial aid, among other things.[4]
Nigeria
ISIS released an infographic claiming that it defeated the Nigerian army in the Alagarno Forests
  • ISIS’s Al-Naba’ weekly published an infographic summing up the operation carried out by the Nigerian army between January 4 and March 6, 2021, against ISIS operatives in the Alagarno Forests region in Borno State, in the northeast of the country. From ISIS’s perspective, the Nigerian army suffered a defeat, since its attacks, which centered mainly on the outskirts of the region, were repelled by ISIS operatives. ISIS operatives also managed to repel the army forces that attacked them, besieged them and activated IEDs and mines against them. According to ISIS, more than 200 soldiers were killed or wounded in the operation. In addition, 37 vehicles and APCs were destroyed (Al-Naba’ weekly, Telegram, March 11, 2021).
The location of the Alagarno Forests in Borno State in northern Nigeria (Google Maps)      The infographic published in ISIS’s Al-Naba’ weekly (Al-Naba’ weekly, Telegram, March 11, 2021).
Right: The infographic published in ISIS’s Al-Naba’ weekly (Al-Naba’ weekly, Telegram, March 11, 2021). Right: The location of the Alagarno Forests in Borno State in northern Nigeria
(Google Maps)
Nigerian army vehicles and APCs destroyed in the operation (Telegram, March 13, 2021)    Nigerian army vehicles and APCs destroyed in the operation (Telegram, March 13, 2021)
Nigerian army vehicles and APCs destroyed in the operation (Telegram, March 13, 2021)
Nigerian soldier taken prisoner in the operation (Telegram, March 13, 2021)    ISIS operative standing on one of the Nigerian army APCs that were destroyed.
Right: ISIS operative standing on one of the Nigerian army APCs that were destroyed. Left: Nigerian soldier taken prisoner in the operation (Telegram, March 13, 2021)
Additional ISIS activity in Afghanistan[5]
  • On March 16, 2021, a Nigerian army camp was attacked in Damaturu, in the northeast of the country. The soldiers fled. ISIS operatives set fire to the camp, a church, several government buildings, and a Red Cross building.
  • On March 14, 2021, a Nigerian army checkpoint was attacked in Zabarmari, about 10 km northeast of Maiduguri, in northeastern Nigeria. Several soldiers were killed or wounded in the exchange of fire.
  • On March 14, 2021, a military checkpoint was attacked in Adamari, about 25 km east of the Nigeria-Cameroon border. Several Nigerian soldiers were killed or wounded in the exchange of fire.
  • On March 14, 2021, a Nigerian army base was attacked in Damasak, on the Nigerian-Niger border. There was an exchange of fire between the soldiers and ISIS operatives. During the attack, a car bomb exploded inside the base. Twelve soldiers were killed and several others were wounded. ISIS operatives destroyed a tank and three armored vehicles, and seized vehicles, weapons and ammunition.
  • On March 12, 2021, there were clashes between military forces and ISIS operatives in and around the city of Monguno, Borno State, in the northeast of the country. According to ISIS, 33 soldiers were killed in the clashes, 20 were wounded and one was taken prisoner; the remaining soldiers fled, leaving behind vehicles, weapons and ammunition.
Soldier taken prisoner (Telegram, March 14, 2021)     Nigerian soldiers killed in the fighting zone around the city of Monguno.
Right: Nigerian soldiers killed in the fighting zone around the city of Monguno. Left: Soldier taken prisoner (Telegram, March 14, 2021)
 Two of the vehicles seized by ISIS operatives (Telegram, March 14, 2021).  Nigerian army ATV set on fire by ISIS operatives around the city of Monguno.
Right: Nigerian army ATV set on fire by ISIS operatives around the city of Monguno. Left: Two of the vehicles seized by ISIS operatives (Telegram, March 14, 2021).
  • On March 12, 2021, a Nigerian army checkpoint was attacked near Ngamdu, about 100 km east of Maiduguri, in northeastern Nigeria. Six soldiers were killed and several others were wounded in the exchange of fire. The remaining soldiers fled, leaving behind ATVs, weapons and ammunition.
  • On March 12, 2021, an IED was activated against a militia loyal to the Nigerian army in the area of Damnawa, near the Nigeria-Niger border. Several militia fighters were killed or wounded.
  • On March 10, 2021, mortar shells were fired at a Nigerian army base in Malam Fatori, in the Nigeria-Chad-Niger border region. Definite hits were identified. That same day, two IEDs were activated against a Nigerian army foot patrol in the area. Ten soldiers were killed or wounded.
Nigerian army helicopter evacuating the wounded soldiers (Telegram, March 12, 2021)
Nigerian army helicopter evacuating the wounded soldiers (Telegram, March 12, 2021)
Counterterrorism and preventive activity in Libya
  • In the city of Awbari, in southern Libya, Libyan army forces, led by General Haftar, detained Mohamed Miloud Mohamed, AKA Abu Omar, a senior ISIS operative. Abu Omar was one of the ISIS commanders in Sirte when it was under ISIS’s control of 2015, and was in close contact with Abu Muadh al-Iraqi, the ISIS commander (emir) in Libya, who was killed last year by General Haftar’s forces (Sky News, March 15, 2021).

Asia

Afghanistan
  • This week, ISIS operatives continued their terrorist activity against members of the security forces and civilians affiliated with the authorities. Most of the incidents took the form of planting IEDs and most of them were carried out in Jalalabad. In Kabul, ISIS operatives attacked two buses carrying Shiites. Following are a number of noteworthy incidents[6]:
    • On March 15, 2021, a fighter of the Afghan Special Forces was targeted by machine-gun fire in Jalalabad. He was wounded.
    • On March 14, 2021, two IEDs were activated against two buses carrying Shiites in two different locations in the capital Kabul. Twenty passengers were killed or wounded. One bus was destroyed and the other was put out of commission.
    • On March 14, 2021, an Afghan Intelligence operative was targeted by machine gun fire in Jalalabad. In addition, a “spy” working for the Afghan Special Forces was targeted by gunfire and killed.
    • On March 13, 2021, an Afghan policeman was targeted by machine gun fire in Jalalabad. He was killed and ISIS operatives seized his handgun.
    • On March 12, 2021, an IED was activated against the vehicle of an Afghan army officer in Jalalabad. He was wounded and two of his escorts were killed. The vehicle was destroyed. On the same day, an IED was activated against a car belonging to the head of a neighborhood (mukhtar) in Jalalabad. He was killed. A man described by ISIS as a “spy” working for the Afghan Special Forces was also killed in the incident. The vehicle was destroyed.
Europe
  • A London court has convicted 27-year-old Sahayb Abu, who was arrested last July on suspicion of plotting to carry out an attack in Britain. According to the indictment, Sahayb Abu, who is affiliated with ISIS, ordered weapons, electronic equipment and a military utility belt via the Internet. He also made a video in which he expressed sympathy with ISIS. The indictment further states that Sahayb was released from prison on March 20, 2020, and during the general lockdown in London due to COVID-19, he used to distribute ISIS propaganda material online, including pictures of fighters with their weapons (The Guardian, March 12, 2021). Some of Sahayb’s brothers are also affiliated with ISIS. In 2015, his two half-brothers went to Syria to join ISIS, and in 2018, two other brothers were jailed for terrorist offenses (BBC, March 12, 2021).
The battle for hearts and minds
  • This week’s lead article in ISIS Al-Naba’ weekly was devoted to Pope Francis’s visit to Iraq. The article, entitled “Messages of the Christian Tyrant during his Visit to Iraq,” reviews the Pope’s visit and is meetings with Shiite clerics, led by Iraq’s senior Shiite cleric Ayatollah Ali Sistani. The author states that the Pope’s visit was intended to instill “Crusader” ideas among Muslims and to express support for the Iraqi government, creating the illusion that the regime is stable. In practice, according to the article, the government is weak and suffers from the strong arm of ISIS.
  • The author adds that during his visit, the Pope tried to promote the “new infidel religion,” a religious agenda that ostensibly reconciles the monotheistic religions around the figure of Abraham. This is a “satanic message” promoted by Jews and Christians, who are “infidels” and whose religions are invalid. According to the author, Iraq’s government and “its dictator Sistani” are adopting this new infidel religion.
  • The article further claims that the Pope is working to promote Christianity in Iraq and is conducting a missionary crusade designed to undermine the implementation of Islamic law (sharia). The article ends with the hope that this visit will be the Pope’s last visit to the Islamic countries and Allah will help the Muslims who are faithful to His path (Al-Naba’ weekly, Telegram, March 11, 2021).
Al-Naba’ article devoted to the Pope’s visit in Iraq (Al-Naba’ weekly, Telegram, March 11, 2021)
Al-Naba’ article devoted to the Pope’s visit in Iraq (Al-Naba’ weekly, Telegram, March 11, 2021)
Al-Qaeda leader attempts to mobilize support for its operatives in Rohingya
  • Al-Qaeda’s As-Sahab News Agency released a 20-minute video entitled The Wounds of the Rohingya are the Wounds of the Entire [Islamic] Nation.[7] In the video, Al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri attacks the Myanmar rulers and accuses them of massacring members of the Rohingya Muslim minority. Al-Zawahiri also accuses Western and Muslim rulers around the world of not lifting a finger to help the minority in Myanmar and merely condemning the government. Al-Zawahiri calls on the Muslims in Myanmar and the rest of the world to carry out attacks against the government (longwarjournal.org, March 12, 2021).
Al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri in the video (Telegram, March 12, 2021)
Al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri in the video (Telegram, March 12, 2021)

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

[3] The announcement by the US Department of State: https://www.state.gov/state-department-terrorist-designations-of-isis-affiliates-and-leaders-in-the-democratic-republic-of-the-congo-and-mozambique/

[4] For more information, see: Tara Candland, Adam Finck, Haroro J. Ingram, Laren Poole, Lorenzo Vidino, Caleb Weiss, The Islamic State in Congo, Program on Extremism, The George Washington University, March 2021:https://extremism.gwu.edu/sites/g/files/zaxdzs2191/f/The%20Islamic%20State%20in%20Congo%20English.pdf .

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

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

[7] The Rohingya are an ethnic minority, numbering about two million people, the vast majority of whom are Muslim, living in Myanmar, Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and Saudi Arabia.