Spotlight on Global Jihad (September 24-30, 2020)

Gunfire at Iraqi policemen southwest of Kirkuk (Telegram, September 27, 2020)

Gunfire at Iraqi policemen southwest of Kirkuk (Telegram, September 27, 2020)

Mortar shells being fired at Tribal Mobilization forces (Telegram, September 25, 2020)

Mortar shells being fired at Tribal Mobilization forces (Telegram, September 25, 2020)

Mortar shells being fired at Tribal Mobilization forces (Telegram, September 25, 2020)

Mortar shells being fired at Tribal Mobilization forces (Telegram, September 25, 2020)

Two ISIS operatives (the one on the left holding a knife) standing behind an Iraqi intelligence operative before executing him (Telegram, September 25, 2020)

Two ISIS operatives (the one on the left holding a knife) standing behind an Iraqi intelligence operative before executing him (Telegram, September 25, 2020)

Rocket launch at ISIS operatives northwest of Baghdad (al-hashed.net, September 26, 2020)

Rocket launch at ISIS operatives northwest of Baghdad (al-hashed.net, September 26, 2020)

Main events of the week
  • In the Idlib region, the incidents continued, consisting mainly of exchanges of artillery fire between the Syrian army and Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS).
  • ISIS’s provinces in Africa and Asia continued their routine activity. One noteworthy attack this week was carried out by West Africa Province operatives who attacked a convoy of the Nigerian security forces escorting residents returning to their homes, killing dozens of soldiers and policemen.
  • Main activity in the other provinces:
    • Iraq: most of the activity centered on the Al-Anbar, Diyala and Salah al-Din provinces. Prominent modus operandi included targeted killings and the activation of IEDs against vehicles and soldiers.
    • Syria: ISIS’s activity continued to center on the Euphrates Valley, in the Deir ez-Zor-Al-Mayadeen region. Prominent modus operandi included targeted killings and attacks on vehicles.
    • The Sinai Peninsula: This week, ISIS continued its guerrilla activity against the Egyptian security forces in northern Sinai, most of which consisted of activating IEDs. In one noteworthy incident, an Egyptian army force was ambushed near Jabal al-Halal (about 60 km south of Al-Arish). Two soldiers were killed and five others were wounded. Thousands of residents who fled their homes when ISIS took over the villages in the Rabi’a region have not yet returned.
  • Noteworthy counterterrorism operations this week occurred in the following countries:
    • Libya: a spokesman for the Libyan National Army (under the command of Khalifa Haftar) announced the killing of ISIS’s leader in North Africa. The incident took place in the city of Sabha, about 650 km south of Tripoli. Eight other commanders were killed along with him.
    • Lebanon: Lebanese internal security forces uncovered an ISIS network numbering 15 operatives. All the members of the network were killed in clashes that took place in the Wadi Khaled region, in the northeast of the country.
ISIS’s activity in the various provinces around the world
Summary of ISIS activity this week
  • On September 24, 2020, ISIS’s Al-Naba’ weekly published an infographic entitled “The Harvest of the Fighters,” summarizing ISIS’s activity on September 17-23, 2020. According the infographic, during this period ISIS carried out 58 attacks around the world, compared to 42 in the previous week (i.e., an increase of about 38% in the scope of the attacks). A total of 26 attacks were carried out in Iraq, 12 of them in the Diyala Province. Attacks were also carried out in ISIS’s other provinces in Africa and Asia: Syria (15); West Africa (7); Sinai Peninsula (3); Somalia (3); Khorasan, i.e., Afghanistan (2); and Central Africa (2) (Al-Naba’ weekly, Telegram, September 24, 2020).
  • A total of 119 people were killed and wounded in these attacks, compared to 121 last week. The largest number of casualties (42) was in Iraq. The other casualties were in the following provinces: West Africa (35); Syria (25); Somalia (8); Sinai Peninsula (4); Khorasan, i.e., Afghanistan (3); and Central Africa (2) (Telegram, September 24, 2020).
Activity of Salafist jihadi organizations
The Salafist jihad localization process

In his latest article, journalist-researcher Hassan Hassan deals with the process of localization of Sunni Salafist jihad. He estimates that elements in radical jihadist organizations will not focus on “exporting” violence to the West, but instead on infiltrating local communities and building influence.[1]

The change in the orientation of Sunni jihadi organizations: from global activity to local activity
  • There are signs that radical Sunni organizations are changing the three pillars of their activity: transnational terrorism, suicide bombings and excommunication, i.e., accusing other Muslims, who do not follow their path, of being infidels (takfir). Instead, these organizations are focusing on infiltrating local communities and building influence. The significant transformation is happening in various countries, including Afghanistan, Yemen and Mali.
  • Jabhat al-Nusra (the Al-Nusra Front), al-Qaeda’s offshoot in Syria, provides an illustrative example of how the jihadist threat is changing across the region. In 2016, the group argued the merits of country-focused jihad over global jihad, stating that in the current moment, a focus on anything other than the local fight would be an “unacceptable distraction.” Thus, the group changed its tactics. Simultaneously, the group has moved away from the other two pillars of suicide bombing and excommunication, part of the grander effort not to alienate locals. In Yemen, the base of Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), the branch has renounced international operations and stopped recruiting foreign fighters as part of an agreement with local tribal and religious leaders.
The reasons for the change
  • One could easily dismiss these changes as limited or temporary, but there are two reasons to believe that they represent a genuine trend.
    • First, Sunni jihadists have become more involved in local struggles and prefer not to carry out global actions. Also, these Sunni jihadists sought to distinguish themselves from the hard-liners (i.e., ISIS) through relative moderation and localism, in order to gain local support. They are advocating a move away from a “jihad of the elite” that looks down on the masses, and toward a “jihad of the people” that respects local communities and reflects their priorities.
    • Second, pro-Iranian Shiite groups such as Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Islamic Dawa Party in Iraq, which pioneered transnational terrorism and suicide bombings, were the first to change their orientation and shift from a global worldview to a focus on the local arena. Over time, however, Shiite militant groups abandoned suicide bombings, which they came to view as counterproductive. Instead, they shifted from transnational terrorism to a more nationalist approach, infiltrating and then dominating local politics.
  • The Sunnis, who followed in the footsteps of the Shiites and also carried out suicide bombings, are now copying this Shiite orientation and basing their radical activity on a local strategy rather than an international one. In this context, the author notes that in 2003, Ramadan Shalah, the former leader of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, told the Saudi newspaper Al-Hayat in an interview that the tactic of suicide bombings had been borrowed from the Shiites (i.e., Iran and Hezbollah).
Summary and Conclusions

The future radical activity arena may be dominated by Sunni jihadist groups, which will adopt the orientation of their Shiite counterparts and base their activity on struggles in the local arena. The US needs to adapt to the changing nature of the jihadist threat. The new jihadists will not focus on exporting violence to the West, but instead on infiltrating local communities and building influence. In practical terms, the strategy should include consistent and long-term American support and oversight for governments to fill the vacuum in restive areas.

The Syria arena
The Idlib region

In the Idlib region, exchanges of artillery fire continued between the Syrian army and the forces supporting it, and the rebel organizations, mainly HTS. The exchanges of fire focused on the region several dozen kilometers south and southwest of Idlib.

Antitank missile fired at a Syrian force south of Idlib
  • On September 27, 2020, the Obvious Victory operations room, encompassing several rebel organizations led by HTS, fired an antitank missile at a force of the Syrian army and militias supporting it about 30 km south of Idlib. Four soldiers were killed or wounded (Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, September 28, 2020).

ISIS’s activity in the Syria Province[2]

The region of Deir ez-Zor and Al-Mayadeen
  • On September 28, 2020, ISIS operatives broke into the house of an SDF intelligence operative about 20 km southeast of Al-Mayadeen. He was shot to death.
  • On September 27, 2020, an SDF intelligence operative was targeted by machine gun fire 8 km southeast of Al-Mayadeen. He was wounded.
  • On September 26, 2020, an SDF vehicle was targeted by machine gun fire northeast of Deir ez-Zor. The passengers were killed or wounded.
  • On September 26, 2020, an interrogator in an SDF prison was targeted by machine gun fire about 50 km southeast of Deir ez-Zor. He was killed.
  • On September 25, 2020, an IED was activated against an SDF vehicle about 10 km northeast of Deir ez-Zor. Two fighters were killed.
  • On September 23, 2020, an SDF intelligence operative was targeted by machine gun fire about 10 km north of Al-Mayadeen. He was killed.
  • On September 23, 2020, an SDF fighter was targeted by machine gun fire about 50 km south of Al-Mayadeen. He was killed.
  • On September 23, 2020, an SDF intelligence operative was targeted by machine gun fire about 5 km east of Al-Mayadeen. He was killed.
  • On September 23, 2020, an SDF intelligence operative was targeted by machine gun fire about 10 km north of Al-Mayadeen. He was killed.
Al-Hasakah region
Counterterrorism activity of the SDF and the International Coalition forces
  • On September 28, 2020, the International Coalition jointly with the SDF landed forces in the Markada Desert, about 80 km south of Al-Hasakah. During the operation, they apprehended an ISIS emir (senior commander) (Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, September 28, 2020).
The desert region southeast of Aleppo
  • On September 23, 2020, Syrian soldiers were targeted by machine gun fire in a desert area about 65 km southeast of Aleppo (About 20 km east of Khanaser). Several soldiers were killed or wounded.
The Iraqi arena
Map of the provinces in Iraq (Wikipedia)
Map of the provinces in Iraq (Wikipedia)
ISIS’s attacks in the various provinces[3]
Al-Anbar Province
  • On September 24, 2020, an IED was activated against an Iraqi army vehicle about 80 km north of Al-Rutba. Two soldiers were killed.
  • On September 23, 2020, an IED was activated against an Iraqi army vehicle about 80 km east of Al-Qaim. Two soldiers were killed and another was wounded.
  • On September 21, 2020, an IED was activated against Tribal Mobilization fighters south of Fallujah, about 50 km west of Baghdad. Two fighters were wounded.
Diyala Province
  • On September 25, 2020, an IED was activated against fighters of the Tribal Mobilization and the Iraqi Military Intelligence about 50 km northeast of Baqubah. One fighter was killed and three others were wounded.
  • On September 24, 2020, fighters of the Iraqi counterterrorism unit were targeted by sniper fire about 20 km northeast of Baqubah. One fighter was killed.
  • On September 24, 2020, an IED was activated against an Iraqi army vehicle about 60 km north of Baqubah. The passengers were killed or wounded.
Salah al-Din Province
  • On September 27, 2020, ISIS operatives detonated IEDs in the house of an Iraqi Border Police fighter about 60 km north of Baghdad. The house was destroyed. When a vehicle of the Tribal Mobilization arrived at the scene, it was targeted by machine gun fire. One fighter was killed and four others were wounded.
Kirkuk Province
  • On September 26, 2020, Iraqi policemen were targeted by machine gun fire about 40 km southwest of Kirkuk. One was killed and four others were wounded.
  • On September 25, 2020, ISIS operatives broke into the house of an Iraqi intelligence operative in a village about 10 km northwest of Kirkuk. He was shot to death.
  • On September 24, 2020, several mortar shells were fired at Tribal Mobilization forces in a village about 40 km southwest of Kirkuk. ISIS reported accurate hits.
  • On September 24, 2020, ISIS operatives captured an Iraqi intelligence operative near Kirkuk and executed him. On the other hand, the Security Media Cell, affiliated with the Iraqi Prime Minister’s Office, announced that ISIS’s report was fabricated, using photos taken outside of Iraq. Iraqi Intelligence categorically denied that one of its men had been killed by ISIS (Al-Sumaria, September 27, 2020).
Two ISIS operatives (the one on the left holding a knife) standing behind an Iraqi intelligence operative before executing him (Telegram, September 25, 2020)
Two ISIS operatives (the one on the left holding a knife) standing behind an Iraqi intelligence operative before executing him (Telegram, September 25, 2020)
Nineveh Province
  • On September 23, 2020, ISIS operatives broke into the house of a Tribal Mobilization fighter about 30 km southeast of Mosul and executed him.
Counterterrorism activities by the Iraqi security forces
Nineveh Province
  • On September 26, 2020, Iraqi security forces located an ISIS weapons depot about 60 km southeast of Mosul. They found mainly explosives (Facebook page of the Iraqi Defense Ministry, September 26, 2020).
ISIS IEDs and tripwires found southeast of Mosul (Facebook page of the Iraqi Defense Ministry, September 26, 2020)
ISIS IEDs and tripwires found southeast of Mosul
(Facebook page of the Iraqi Defense Ministry, September 26, 2020)
  • On September 24, 2020, an Iraqi Military Intelligence force located a weapons depot in the area of Makhmur, about 70 km southeast of Mosul. The depot contained about 50 mortar shells and rockets of various types (Al-Sumaria, September 24, 2020).
Al-Anbar Province
  • On September 26, 2020, an Iraqi army force carrying out searches about 30 km northwest of Baghdad located several dozens of IEDs and tripwires for activating them. In addition, two IEDs and tripwires were located in the northwestern part of Ramadi (Facebook page of the Iraqi Defense Ministry, September 26, 2020).
Two IEDs consisting of canisters of plastic explosives found by the Iraqi army in northwestern Ramadi (Facebook page of the Iraqi Defense Ministry, September 26, 2020)  ISIS’s IEDs located by the Iraqi army northwest of Baghdad (Facebook page of the Iraqi Defense Ministry, September 26, 2020).
Right: ISIS’s IEDs located by the Iraqi army northwest of Baghdad (Facebook page of the Iraqi Defense Ministry, September 26, 2020). Left: Two IEDs consisting of canisters of plastic explosives found by the Iraqi army in northwestern Ramadi (Facebook page of the Iraqi Defense Ministry, September 26, 2020)
Salah al-Din Province
  • On September 26, 2020, the Popular Mobilization fired artillery at ISIS operatives about 90 km northwest of Baghdad. According to the Popular Mobilization, accurate hits were observed and ISIS sustained casualties (al-hashed.net, September 26, 2020).
“Work accident” of ISIS operatives in western Iraq
  • On September 26, 2020, an ISIS car bomb exploded in an ISIS hiding place in the western Al-Anbar Province while operatives were working on it. Five ISIS operatives were killed (Al-Sumaria, September 27, 2020).
The Sinai Peninsula
The Bir al-Abd region – Rabi’a area[4]
  • On September 28, 2020, an IED was activated against an Egyptian army tank in a village about 10 km southeast of Rabi’a. The tank was damaged.
  • On September 22, 2020, an Egyptian army vehicle was attacked near the village of Aqtia, south of Rabi’a. The passengers were killed or wounded (Telegram, September 24, 2020).
Residents still prevented from returning home
  • On September 27, 2020, five thousand families, including children and sick people from the villages of Janain, Qatia, Aqtia and Al-Marih were reportedly still waiting to return to their homes which they had been forced to leave due to ISIS’s takeover. Many of them are still left without a roof over their heads as winter approaches (Shahed Sinaa– al-Rasmia Facebook page, September 27, 2020).
Al-Arish region
  • On September 26, 2020, an IED was activated on the Al-Arish highway. An Egyptian army officer and soldier were killed (Facebook page Shahed Sinaa – al-Rasmia Facebook page, September 26, 2020)
  • On September 26, 2020, an Egyptian army officer and soldier were killed in the explosion of an IED on the Al-Arish highway (Facebook page Shahed Sinaa – al-Rasmia Facebook page, September 26, 2020)
Jabal Halal area
  • On September 23, 2020, armed operatives ambushed an Egyptian army force near Jabal Halal, in northern Sinai (about 60 km south of Al-Arish). Two soldiers were killed and five others were wounded (Shahed Sinaa – al-Rasmia Facebook page, September 23, 2020). So far, no organization has claimed responsibility, but in the ITIC’s assessment, it was ISIS.
Rafah region
  • On September 27, 2020, an IED was activated against an Iraqi army bulldozer in the village of Rafi’ah, south of Rafah. The bulldozer was damaged (Telegram, September 29, 2020).
ISIS’s activity around the globe[5]

Africa

Nigeria
Thirty Nigerian troops killed in ISIS ambush
  • On September 25, 2020, ISIS operatives ambushed and attacked a convoy of the Nigerian army and the forces supporting it in the northeast of the country (about 50 km west of the Nigeria-Chad-Cameroon tri-border area). According to ISIS, 30 members of the Nigerian security forces were killed and others were wounded. In addition, weapons and ammunition were seized (Telegram, September 26, 2020).
  •   According to “security sources” in Nigeria, 18 people were killed in an attack carried out by “militants.” The incident occurred when security personnel were escorting residents back to their homes, after they had abandoned them (BBC, September 28, 2020; Reuters, September 26, 2020).
Weapons, ammunition and equipment of the Nigerian army seized by ISIS operatives (Telegram, September 27, 2020)   Weapons, ammunition and equipment of the Nigerian army seized by ISIS operatives (Telegram, September 27, 2020)  
Weapons, ammunition and equipment of the Nigerian army seized by ISIS operatives
(Telegram, September 27, 2020)
Additional ISIS attacks
  • On September 26, 2020, an ISIS squad entered a village in Borno State in northeastern Nigeria and took three people prisoner – two fighters of the forces supporting the Nigerian army and a Christian civilian. All three were shot dead.
  • On September 25, 2020, ISIS operatives attacked a Nigerian army checkpoint about 80 km northwest of Maiduguri, the capital of Borno State. One soldier was killed and others were wounded. In addition, weapons and ammunition were seized.
Nigerian army weapons and equipment seized in ISIS’s attack on the checkpoint (Telegram, September 26, 2020)
Nigerian army weapons and equipment seized in ISIS’s attack on the checkpoint
(Telegram, September 26, 2020)
  • On September 23, 2020, ISIS operatives attacked a Nigerian army checkpoint about 15 km south of Maiduguri. Several soldiers were killed or wounded.
  • On September 23, 2020, ISIS operatives attacked a Nigerian army checkpoint about 100 km northeast of Maiduguri. Three soldiers were killed and others were wounded.
Niger
  • On September 27, 2020, a squad of ISIS operatives broke into the International Red Cross offices in a town in southeastern Niger (about 3 km north of the border between Niger and Nigeria). The operatives set fire to a vehicle and seized another vehicle.

Asia

The Philippines
  • On September 24, 2020, ISIS operatives exchanged fire with a Philippine army force on the island of Mindanao, in the southern Philippines. Three soldiers were killed (Telegram, September 25, 2020).
Counterterrorism and preventive activity
Libya
The killing of ISIS’s leader in North Africa by the Libyan National Army
  • On September 23, 2020, a spokesman for the Libyan National Army (under the command of Khalifa Haftar) announced that ISIS’s leader in North Africa, Abu Muadh al-Iraqi (AKA Abu Abdullah al-Iraqi), had been killed in a Libyan National Army operation. The incident took place in the city of Sabha, about 650 km south of the capital Tripoli. Eight other commanders were killed in the incident, and two of their wives were taken prisoner (saharamedias.net, September 23, 2020).
  • It was reported that Abu Muadh al-Iraqi’s name is Abdullah al-Rab’ai. He was an Iraqi Kurd who entered Libya from Turkey on September 12, 2014, along with another ISIS leader, codenamed Abd al-Aziz al-Anbari (i.e., an Iraqi from the Al-Anbar Province in western Iraq), using forged passports. After Al-Anbari, who served as ISIS’s leader in Libya, was killed, Abu Muadh al-Iraqi became ISIS’s leader in North Africa (CNN in Arabic, September 23, 2020).
Lebanon
ISIS network in northern Lebanon thwarted
  •   The General Directorate of the Lebanese Internal Security Forces announced that it had neutralized a network of 15 ISIS operatives in the north of the country. According to the directorate, the identities of the members of the network were verified following the arrest of three operatives. The network operated under the command of an operative with Syrian citizenship. On September 26, 2020, the General Directorate ascertained the whereabouts of the other members of the squad in an isolated house in the Wadi Khaled area, in northeastern Lebanon (near the Lebanese-Syrian border). When the force of the General Directorate began to surround the house, ISIS operatives opened fire at it with small arms. All the members of the squad were killed in the exchange of fire (Al-Nahar, September 27, 2020).
Clouds of dust rising during the clashes between the Lebanese army and ISIS operatives in Wadi Khaled (Al-Nahar, September 27, 2020).    Wadi Khaled, in northeastern Lebanon (Google Maps).  
Right: Wadi Khaled, in northeastern Lebanon (Google Maps). Left: Clouds of dust rising during the clashes between the Lebanese army and ISIS operatives in Wadi Khaled (Al-Nahar, September 27, 2020).

[1] Hassan Hassan, Sunni Jihad Is Going Local: Future extremists will focus not on exporting violence to the West, but on building influence in their own communities. The Atlantic, 15 February 2019: https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2019/02/sunni-jihad-turns-away-transnational-terrorism/582745/ Hassan Hassan is an investigative journalist. He is also co-author (with Michael Weiss) of the book ISIS: Inside the Army of Terror, published in 2015. The author is of Syrian descent and speaks fluent Arabic. His articles on prominent Islamic groups are highly regarded. He appears on leading TV shows.
[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