Spotlight on Global Jihad (November 12-18, 2020)

The Syrian army “agent” before being executed (Telegram, November 12, 2020)

The Syrian army “agent” before being executed (Telegram, November 12, 2020)

Fighter of the Homeland Defense Forces being executed by an ISIS operative (an Amaq photo as posted on Telegram, November 12, 2020)

Fighter of the Homeland Defense Forces being executed by an ISIS operative (an Amaq photo as posted on Telegram, November 12, 2020)

Thermal camera on top of the observation tower being hit by ISIS sniper fire (Telegram, November 16, 2020)

Thermal camera on top of the observation tower being hit by ISIS sniper fire (Telegram, November 16, 2020)

Da’wa activity by an ISIS-affiliated cleric among Muslim residents in one of the rural areas of ISIS’s West Africa Province (Telegram, November 14, 2020)

Da’wa activity by an ISIS-affiliated cleric among Muslim residents in one of the rural areas of ISIS’s West Africa Province (Telegram, November 14, 2020)

An operative of ISIS’s da’wa distribution network handing out leaflets with religious content to residents (Telegram, November 14, 2020)

An operative of ISIS’s da’wa distribution network handing out leaflets with religious content to residents (Telegram, November 14, 2020)

Abu al-Walid al-Sahrawi (ahdath.info, August 21, 2020)

Abu al-Walid al-Sahrawi (ahdath.info, August 21, 2020)

Main events of the past week
  • In the Idlib region, routine incidents continued between the Syrian army and the rebel organizations, chiefly Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS). The incidents included artillery exchanges, Russian airstrikes, and sniper fire.
  • One noteworthy attack by ISIS’s provinces this week was the detonation of an IED at a cemetery in Jeddah during a memorial service commemorating the end of World War I. The ceremony was attended by European diplomats, including a French delegation headed by the French consul in Saudi Arabia. Two people were wounded, one of them an official at the Greek Consulate. According to ISIS’s claim of responsibility, the main target of the attack was the French consul. It should be recalled that ISIS’s spokesman recently called on the organization’s operatives to target Western citizens and economic infrastructure in Saudi Arabia.
  • ISIS continued its routine activities in its other provinces in Asia and Africa. Noteworthy examples:
    • Syria: This week, ISIS carried out intensive activity in the desert regions of eastern Syria. Dozens of fighters on both sides were killed in incidents between ISIS and the Syrian army. Thirteen fighters of the militias supporting the Syrian army were captured by ISIS and then executed.
    • Burkina Faso: 14 soldiers were killed and eight were wounded in an ISIS ambush of a Burkina Faso army convoy. Weapons and ammunition also fell into the hands of ISIS.
    • Mozambique: Law enforcement officials in Mozambique reportedly detained 12 Iraqi civilians suspected of assisting (ISIS-affiliated) rebels in the Cabo Delgado region in the northeast of the country. They may be ISIS operatives sent from Iraq to establish ISIS’s activity in the region.
    • Ethiopia: Ethiopian security forces detained 14 people suspected of carrying out activity for ISIS and Al-Shabaab (an organization affiliated with Al-Qaeda). The detainees reportedly planned to carry out attacks in the capital Addis Ababa and other parts of the country.
ISIS’s attacks around the globe
Summary of ISIS’s activity in the various provinces (November 5-11, 2020)
  • ISIS released an infographic summarizing its activity on November 5-11, 2020. During this time, ISIS carried out 46 attacks in the various provinces in Asia and Africa, compared to 53 in the previous week. Most of the attacks were carried out in Iraq (23). Attacks were also carried out in ISIS’s other provinces: West Africa (10); Syria (7); Sinai Peninsula (3); Central Africa (1); Khorasan, i.e., Afghanistan (1); and East Asia, i.e., the Philippines (1) (Al-Naba’ weekly, Telegram, November 12, 2020).
  • According to the infographic, 137 people were killed and wounded in those attacks, compared to 289 in the previous week (i.e., a decrease of about 53% in the number of casualties). The largest number of casualties was in Iraq (75). The other casualties were in West Africa (34); Syria (17); Sinai Peninsula (5); Central Africa (3); Afghanistan (2); and the Philippines (1) (Telegram, November 12, 2020).
The Syrian arena
The Idlib region

In the Idlib region, incidents continued between the Syrian army and the forces supporting it and the rebel organizations, mainly Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS). These incidents included exchanges of artillery fire, Russian airstrikes, and HTS sniper fire at the Syrian army. In addition, it was reported that a missile launched from a Russian battle ship had hit the western outskirts of the city of Idlib (Edlib Media Center, November 13, 2020).

ISIS’s activity in Syria[1]
The region of Deir ez-Zor and Al-Mayadeen
  • On November 14, 2020, an SDF intelligence operative was targeted by machine gun fire about 9 km north of Al-Mayadeen. He was killed.
  • On November 10, 2020, an IED was activated against an SDF vehicle in the city of Hajin, about 25 km north of Albukamal. Three fighters were wounded.
  • On November 10, 2020, ISIS operatives captured a Syrian army “agent” about 23 km north of Al-Mayadeen. He was interrogated and then executed. The Amaq News Agency released a video saying that the “agent” had turned ISIS operatives in to the Syrian regime.
Al-Raqqah region
  • On November 14, 2020, an IED was activated against an SDF vehicle about 20 km west of Al-Raqqah. Three SDF fighters were killed.
The desert region southeast of Hama
  • On November 14, 2020, ISIS operatives captured 11 operatives of a militia supporting the Syrian army, who apparently belonged to the Homeland Defense Forces[2]. The incident occurred on the Al-Raqqah-Salamiyah road (about 28 km southeast of Hama). All those taken prisoner were executed. Before that, on November 13, two fighters from the Homeland Defense Forces were taken prisoner (about 95 km northeast of Hama) and executed (Al-Badia 24 Twitter account, November 14, 2020).
  • The Syrian media reported that on the night of November 11, 2020, ISIS squads had infiltrated into Syrian military positions in the desert region east of Hama. Syrian army units and forces supporting them repelled the attack. They exchanged fire with ISIS for several hours in the rural area east of Salamiyah (about 30 km southeast of Hama). Many ISIS operatives were killed. In addition, ISIS’s military equipment was destroyed. The Syrian army and the forces supporting it sustained 12 fatalities (Al-Watan Online, Syria, November 12, 2020).
Palmyra-Al-Sukhnah region
  • On November 15, 2020, the Palestinian Al-Quds Brigade sent a force to Al-Bishri Mountain (about 80 km northeast of Al-Sukhnah) in order to reinforce Syrian army positions in this area (Al-Badia 24 Twitter account, November 15, 2020).
  • On November 11, 2020, ISIS operatives attacked three compounds and staging zones of the Syrian army and the Homeland Defense Forces in the desert region north of Al-Sukhnah (about 60 km northeast of Palmyra). A total of 11 soldiers were killed and a fighter of the Homeland Defense Forces was taken prisoner and executed. The attackers set fire to three army compounds and blew up a gas pipeline.
  • On November 10, 2020, an IED was activated against a Syrian army truck near Al-Sukhnah, about 60 km northeast of Palmyra. The passengers were wounded.
Al-Hasakah region
  • The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that 500 ISIS family members had been released from the Al-Hawl detention camp (about 40 km east of Al-Hasakah) on November 16, 2020. Most of those released are residents of the Deir ez-Zor Governorate. A total of about 23,000 Syrians remained in the camp. The camp management intends to release them within the next few days. About 16,000 of them live in areas controlled by the Syrian army, which will be a major obstacle preventing their release. It was also reported that Iraqi families detained in the camp refuse to leave for Iraq as they are afraid of acts of revenge by the Shiite Popular Mobilization militias.
  • According to Rami Abdulrahman, director of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, over 4,000 Syrian detainees have recently been released from the Al-Hawl camp. Some of them preferred to move to other areas under SDF control as it is impossible for them to live in the areas where they were captured. Most of these Syrians originally lived in areas which are now under Syrian army control or under the control of the Turkish-backed Euphrates Shield forces. It was also reported that so far, the SDF had released 125 children (of ISIS operatives) and sent them to European countries and to Russia (Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, November 16 and 17, 2020).
Babel Province
  • On November 16, 2020, two fighters of the militia of the Hezbollah Battalions were targeted by sniper fire about 40 km southwest of Baghdad. One of them was killed and the other was wounded.
The Iraqi arena
Provinces of Iraq (Wikipedia)
Provinces of Iraq (Wikipedia)

ISIS attacks in the various provinces[3]

Diyala Province
  • On November 15, 2020, Popular Mobilization fighters were targeted by sniper fire about 60 km north of Baqubah. One fighter was killed and four others were wounded.
  • On November 13, 2020, a sticky bomb was activated against the vehicle of a Tribal Mobilization fighter on the outskirts of Al-Miqdadiya, about 40 km northeast of Baqubah. He was wounded.
  • On November 13, 2020, Iraqi soldiers were targeted by sniper fire about 80 km northeast of Baqubah. Two soldiers were killed and two others were wounded.
  • On November 12, 2020, an IED was activated against Iraqi police about 20 km northeast of Baqubah. One policeman was killed and two others were wounded.
  • On November 12, 2020, a fighter of the Iraqi counterterrorism unit was targeted by sniper fire about 20 km northeast of Baqubah. He was wounded.
  • On November 12, 2020, an IED was activated against Iraqi soldiers about 40 km northeast of Baqubah. One soldier was killed and two others were wounded.
Salah al-Din Province
  • On November 16, 2020, a Popular Mobilization fighter was targeted by sniper fire northwest of Samarra. He was killed.
  • On November 15, 2020, an Iraqi army “agent” was targeted by machine gun fire in the city of Al-Tarmiyah, about 30 km north of Baghdad. He was killed.
Al-Anbar Province
  • On November 13, 2020, ISIS operatives broke into the house of an Iraqi soldier near the city of Al-Rutba. He was taken prisoner and executed.
Kirkuk Province
  • On November 13, 2020, a Popular Mobilization intelligence operative was targeted by machine gun fire in the city of Kirkuk. He was wounded.
  • On November 13, 2020, an Iraqi police compound was targeted by machine gun fire about 40 km southwest of Kirkuk. According to ISIS, four policemen were killed and four others were wounded. According to an Iraqi security source, two policemen were killed and four others were wounded (Iraqi News Agency, November 14, 2020).
Counterterrorism activities by the Iraqi security forces
Kirkuk Province
  • In the early morning hours of November 15, 2020, teams of the Iraqi counterterrorism unit landed by helicopter, with International Coalition support, about 50 km southwest of Kirkuk. They apprehended two ISIS commanders. The two were responsible for the logistical support of ISIS squads operating in the area (Al-Sumaria, November 15, 2020).
  • On November 15, 2020, teams of the Iraqi Police Intelligence Directorate set up an ambush where ISIS operatives intended to plant IEDs on the road between the Kirkuk Province and Tikrit. Two ISIS operatives were observed planting IEDs. One of them was killed and the other was wounded (Al-Sumaria, November 15, 2020).
Nineveh Province
  • On November 17, 2020, the Iraqi security forces apprehended three operatives of an ISIS elite unit in the Nineveh Province (Al-Sumaria, November 17, 2020).
  • On November 17, 2020, the Iraqi security forces apprehended two wanted ISIS operatives in the city of Mosul (Facebook page of the Iraqi Defense Ministry, November 17, 2020).
  • On November 15, 2020, the Iraqi security forces uncovered an ISIS sleeper cell of 15 operatives. The cell members, who were operating in various places in the Nineveh Province, were detained. They admitted having planned to carry out attacks (Al-Sumaria, November 15, 2020).
The Sinai Peninsula
ISIS attacks[4]
Rafah region
  • On November 14, 2020, Egyptian soldiers south of Rafah were targeted by machine gun fire. One soldier was killed and others were wounded.
  • On November 13, 2020, an Egyptian soldier was targeted by sniper fire at a roadblock west of Rafah. He was killed.
  • On November 13, 2020, three (apparently RPG) rockets were fired at an Egyptian army roadblock near the village of Fallujah, west of Rafah. Accurate hits were observed.

Sheikh Zuweid region

  • On November 15, 2020, an Egyptian army observation tower at a roadblock near the Sheikh Zuweid beach was targeted by sniper fire. A thermal camera installed on top of the tower was destroyed.
Thermal camera on top of the observation tower being hit by ISIS sniper fire (Telegram, November 16, 2020)
Thermal camera on top of the observation tower being hit by ISIS sniper fire
(Telegram, November 16, 2020)
ISIS’s activity around the globe
ISIS attack in Saudi Arabia
  • On the morning of November 11, 2020, an IED was activated at a cemetery for non-Muslims in the city of Jeddah during a memorial service commemorating the end of World War I. The ceremony was attended by European diplomats, including a French diplomatic delegation headed by the French consul. A Greek consulate official and a Saudi security operative were slightly wounded. Jeddah Governor Prince Mashaal bin Majid visited the two wounded men, who were hospitalized in one of the hospitals in Jeddah. The Saudi security services have mounted an investigation (Asharq al-Awsat, November 12, 2020)
  • ISIS’s Hejaz Province claimed responsibility for the attack in Jeddah. According to ISIS’s statement, an ISIS squad planted an IED in the cemetery in the southwestern part of the city of Jeddah, on the shores of the Red Sea. The IED was activated when a number of European consuls gathered near the cemetery. According to ISIS, several consuls were wounded (Telegram, November 12, 2020). According to ISIS, the main target of the attack was the French consul, due to “the French government’s insistence on publishing cartoons that demean the Prophet Muhammad and the religion of Islam.” The claim of responsibility also states that the other diplomats who were present represented the member states of the International Coalition against ISIS (ISIS’s Amaq News Agency, as posted on Telegram, November 12, 2020).
The scene of the attack (website of the newspaper Al-Masdar, November 12, 2020)  Jeddah Governor Prince Mashaal bin Majid visiting one of the wounded men in a hospital in Jeddah (Asharq Al-Awsat, November 12, 2020).
Right: Jeddah Governor Prince Mashaal bin Majid visiting one of the wounded men in a hospital in Jeddah (Asharq Al-Awsat, November 12, 2020). Left: The scene of the attack (website of the newspaper Al-Masdar, November 12, 2020)

The attack in Jeddah is unusual, since ISIS seldom carries out attacks in Saudi Arabia[5]. It should be recalled that ISIS Spokesman Abu Hamza al Qurashi recently called on the organization’s operatives and supporters to target Western citizens and economic infrastructure in Saudi Arabia, which is perceived by ISIS as the broker of the normalization agreements[6]. The presentation of the French consul as the main target of the attack serves ISIS’s propaganda campaign calling for terrorist attacks against France, and the West in general, in the wake of President Macron’s statements which have been presented by ISIS as an attack on Islam.

ISIS attacks in the various provinces[7]

Africa
Burkina Faso
  • On November 11, 2020, gunmen ambushed a Burkina Faso army convoy in the northeast of the country (about 60 km southwest of the Burkina Faso-Niger-Mali tri-border area). A total of 14 soldiers were killed and eight were wounded (Reuters, November 13, 2020).
  • ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack. According to its claim of responsibility, ISIS operatives ambushed a Burkina Faso army convoy. A total of 20 soldiers were killed. In addition, a number of vehicles were destroyed and weapons, ammunition, vehicles and motorcycles were seized (Telegram, November 14, 2020).
The site of the ambush in northeastern Burkina Faso (Google Maps)
The site of the ambush in northeastern Burkina Faso (Google Maps)
Nigeria
  • On November 14, 2020, ISIS operatives repelled a Nigerian army attack in the city of Baga, in Borno State, northeastern Nigeria (about 20 km southwest of the Nigeria-Chad border). The two sides exchanged fire, during which ISIS operatives activated an IED. Five soldiers were killed and others were wounded. In addition, weapons and ammunition were seized.
  • On November 11, 2020, ISIS operatives attacked Nigerian army forces about 130 km northwest of Maiduguri (the capital of Borno State). Several soldiers were killed or wounded. In addition, weapons, ammunition and military equipment were seized.
  • On November 11, 2020, ISIS operatives captured two fighters of the forces supporting the Nigerian army in northeastern Nigeria. Both fighters were shot to death.
Preaching by the West Africa Province among the local population
  • On November 14, 2020, ISIS published a number of photos showing preaching (da’wa) activity by ISIS-affiliated clerics among Muslim residents in the rural areas of the West Africa Province. In the ITIC’s assessment, this activity is carried out among the civilian population in Borno State in northeastern Nigeria, the epicenter of ISIS’s military activity (Telegram, November 14, 2020). 
An operative of ISIS’s da’wa distribution network handing out leaflets with religious content to residents (Telegram, November 14, 2020)     An operative of ISIS’s da’wa distribution network handing out leaflets with religious content to residents (Telegram, November 14, 2020)
An operative of ISIS’s da’wa distribution network handing out leaflets with religious content to residents (Telegram, November 14, 2020)
The Sahara region

On November 12, 2020, ISIS published an infographic summarizing its activity in the past year in the Sahara region (between October 29, 2019 and November 11, 2020). During this period, ISIS operatives carried out 52 attacks, targeting France, Mali, Burkina Faso, and Niger. The attacks also targeted Al-Qaeda operatives, Christian fighters, and forces supporting the armies of these countries. More than 930 people were killed or wounded in these attacks (Al-Naba’ weekly, Telegram, November 12, 2020).

Interview with an ISIS commander in the Sahara
  • This week, ISIS’s Al-Naba’ weekly published an interview with Abu al-Walid al-Sahrawi, an ISIS commander (emir) in the Sahara region (in the original Arabic, Al-Sahraa al-Kubra, literally, “the big desert”). In late August 2020, it was reported that Al-Sahrawi had been killed by French Special Forces in Mali (ahdath.Info, August 21, 2020). It is possible that the publication of the interview with him was intended to refute the report of his death. Another possibility is that Al-Sahrawi was indeed killed and the interview with him was published in his memory.
  • In the interview, Al-Sahrawi expands on the roots of the prevailing rivalry and conflicts between ISIS and Al-Qaeda in the Sahara. The main points that he makes are as follows:
    • Al-Qaeda began operating in the Sahara two decades ago under the name “The Salafist Group for Islamic Preaching and Warfare.”[8] This organization’s epicenter was in Algeria. Al-Qaeda operatives, along with other operatives, came from Algeria to northern Mali and western Niger in order to bring about the organization’s expansion in the region and to find a refuge for the organization’s operatives who were wanted by the Algerian government.
    • Later, after the organization was established, disputes began to arise between its commanders. As a result, there were schisms among the operatives, who did not recognize a single acceptable leader. All the commanders were subordinate to the Emir of Al-Qaeda in Algeria. Some of the commanders strengthen their ties with Al-Qaeda’s leader in Algeria while others split from the organization. The splitting process continued in 2011 after the fall of the Qaddafi regime in Libya. Some of the operatives moved to Libya, some abandoned Al-Qaeda altogether and some began operating as part of a new organization called The Oneness of God and Jihad in West Africa[9].
    • After some of the operatives returned from Libya, the disputes resumed. The operatives who returned from Libya to Mali brought large quantities of weapons with them. This led to the resumption of the fighting against the Malian army. Some of these operatives later joined ISIS. Those who remained in Al-Qaeda harbored resentment towards those who joined ISIS. Al Qaeda’s response was to set up a new organization by the name of The Aid Group for Islam and Muslims[10]. The common denominator among those who joined this organization was hostility to ISIS. This hostility intensified when other groups of Islamic operatives joined ISIS, including Ansar al-Din (“supporters of the religion”) and Al-Mourabitoune (“those who are on guard”). At the same time, the Ansar al-Islam (“supporters of Islam”) organization from Burkina Faso joined Al-Qaeda.
    • Al-Qaeda’s hostility to ISIS has been reflected in the fighting of Al-Qaeda operatives alongside elements hostile to ISIS. In doing so, Abu Walid al-Sahrawi claims, Al-Qaeda has abandoned the fight against “tyrants” and “crusaders” (i.e., local and Western rulers), just as the Taliban did in Afghanistan (Al-Naba’ weekly, Telegram, November 12, 2020).
Mozambique
  • On November 12, 2020, Mozambique’s prosecutor general announced that law enforcement agencies in Mozambique had detained 12 Iraqi citizens suspected of aiding rebels in the northeastern part of the Cabo Delgado region, in northeastern Mozambique (allafrica.com, November 12, 2020; The Wall Street Journal, November 15, 2020). ISIS-affiliated operatives carry out extensive guerrilla and terrorist activity in the Cabo Delgado region. The detained operatives may be ISIS operatives sent from Iraq to establish ISIS’s activity in the region.

Asia

Afghanistan
  • On November 17, 2020, a mukhtar (village leader) loyal to the Afghan regime was targeted by gunfire in the city of Jalalabad. He was killed.
  • On November 11, 2020, ISIS operatives broke into the home of a member of the Afghan National Security Service in the city of Gardez, about 100 km south of Kabul (near the Afghanistan-Pakistan border). He was executed. This is an unusual attack carried out in an area where ISIS seldom operates, southwest of the Nangarhar Province (the epicenter of ISIS’s activity).
The city of Gardez and the Paktia Province, near the Afghanistan-Pakistan border (Google Maps)
The city of Gardez and the Paktia Province, near the Afghanistan-Pakistan border (Google Maps)
  • On November 15, 2020, an Afghan Special Forces “agent” was shot at with a gun equipped with a silencer about 10 km west of Jalalabad. He was killed.
Counterterrorism and preventive activity
Turkey
Arrest of 19 ISIS operatives in Istanbul
  • On November 14, 2020, official Turkish sources reported that Turkish police counterterrorism forces had arrested 19 foreign ISIS operatives in Istanbul. The operatives entered Turkey illegally after fighting in the ranks of ISIS in Iraq and Syria. Digital information and documents were found in their possession (Anatolia News Agency, November 14, 2020).
The Philippines
  • On November 13, 2020, security forces broke into the home of an ISIS operative named Arafat Bulacon on the island of Mindanao in the south of the country. The operative, who opened fire at the forces, was shot and killed. Five other local terrorist operatives (apparently, ISIS operatives) were killed along with him. In addition, two members of the Philippine Special Forces were wounded. Weapons, an IED and an ISIS flag were found at the scene of the incident (Manila Times, November 14, 2020).
Ethiopia
Arrest of 14 suspected Al-Shabaab and ISIS operatives in Ethiopia
  • On November 14, 2020, the Ethiopian National Intelligence and Security Service announced that 14 suspected operatives of the (Al-Qaeda-affiliated) organization Al-Shabaab and ISIS, who had planned to carry out attacks in the capital Addis Ababa and other parts of the country, had been arrested by the security forces (Bloomberg, quoting Ethiopia’s state TV network, November 14, 2020).

[1] According to ISIS’s claims of responsibility posted on Telegram
[2] In Arabic, the militia of Al-Qaterji. In the ITIC's assessment, this refers to the Homeland Defense Forces. Hussam al-Qaterji is a businessman, an MP and commander in the Homeland Defense Forces. ISIS frequently attacks Al-Qaterji’s oil tankers, mainly in the Al-Raqqah region.

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

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

[5] ISIS’s most noteworthy attack in Saudi Arabia was carried out by ISIS’s Hejaz Province on August 6, 2015. A suicide bomber blew himself up with his explosive belt inside a mosque. The mosque was used by the emergency forces of the Saudi police in the Asir region, in the southwest of the country. Seventeen Saudi security officials, most of them members of the Special Forces, were killed in the attack. In addition, ISIS’s Najd Province carried out an attack at a Saudi security center north of Riyadh (April 21, 2019) and activated IEDs against a Saudi police vehicle south of Riyadh (April 1, 2016).

[6] See the ITIC’s Information Bulletin from October 27, 2020: “Analysis of the new statement of ISIS spokesman following the normalization agreements between Israel, the UAE and Bahrain

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

[8] In Arabic: Al-Jama’ah al-Salafiyyah lil-Da’wah wal-Qital.

[9] In Arabic: Al-Tawhid wal-Jihad fi Gharb Ifriqiya.

[10] In Arabic: Jama’at Nusrat al-Islam wal-Muslimeen.