Spotlight on Global Jihad (May 27 – June 3, 2020)

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Armored vehicles of the Russian Military Police during the 14th joint Russian-Turkish patrol (Idlib Plus, June 2, 2020)

Armored vehicles of the Russian Military Police during the 14th joint Russian-Turkish patrol (Idlib Plus, June 2, 2020)

Wheat field set on fire.

Wheat field set on fire.

ISIS operatives setting fire to a tractor of the Tribal Mobilization fighter south of Mosul (Telegram, May 31, 2020)

ISIS operatives setting fire to a tractor of the Tribal Mobilization fighter south of Mosul (Telegram, May 31, 2020)

ISIS commanders captured by Popular Mobilization operatives (al-hashed.net, June 1, 2020)

ISIS commanders captured by Popular Mobilization operatives (al-hashed.net, June 1, 2020)

Overview
  • Over the past week, there was a decrease in the intensity of ISIS’s activity in Iraq, Syria and the various provinces around the globe, after ISIS concentrated its effort on carrying out the wave of attacks known as the Raids of Attrition. On May 28, 2020, ISIS released an infographic summarizing its activity in the 10 days of the Raids of Attrition (May 14-23, 2020). According to ISIS, 228 attacks were carried out around the globe during the Raids of Attrition[1]. This is a significant increase in the scope of attacks compared to the waves of attacks that ISIS managed to carry out in 2019 (about 100 attacks were carried out in December 2019, and more than 90 in April 2019).
  • Most of the attacks carried out by ISIS as part of the Rates of Attrition were in Iraq (132, about 58%), followed by Syria (51, about 22%). They are followed by provinces and countries where far fewer attacks were carried out: West Africa (15), Sinai (9), Central Africa (6), Libya (4), Somalia (3), Afghanistan (2), Pakistan (1), the Philippines (1) and India (1) (Telegram, May 28, 2020).
  • An editorial published in ISIS’s Al-Naba’ weekly discusses the ISIS’s current strategic concept. The editorial states that the overall goals of jihad: defeating the “infidels” and implementing Islamic law, have not changed. However, the way to realize them has changed, in the era after the fall of the Islamic State with its territorial control. The editorial notes that in the new era, guerrilla warfare is the most effective modus operandi. In view of the enemy’s superiority in terms of scope of forces and means, guerrilla warfare means choosing the location and timing of the battle against the enemy and carrying out attacks against it by small groups. These attacks are designed to inflict severe damage on personnel and military equipment, to wear down the enemies and cause them to despair. This will enable ISIS to exercise territorial control in the future, i.e., to reestablish the Islamic State, which remains ISIS’s long-term strategic goal (Al-Naba’, May 28, 2020).
  • The editorial in ISIS’s weekly is intended mainly for ISIS operatives. Its purpose is to clarify ISIS’s current strategic outlook and to raise morale after the blows dealt to ISIS with the fall of its territorial strongholds in Iraq and Syria and the killing of its leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. The main message in the editorial is that ISIS has not abandoned the overall goal of establishing the Islamic State, but the way to achieve it is through guerrilla warfare and wearing down the enemy until convenient circumstances arise.
The Idlib region

This week as well, the ceasefire has been maintained in the Idlib region, except for sporadic incidents, mainly exchanges of artillery fire.

Joint patrols on the M-4 highway continue
  • The joint patrols of the Russian and Turkish armies continued this week. On May 28, 2020, Turkey and Russia carried out their 13th joint patrol on the M-4 highway (Aleppo-Latakia). Once again, the patrol went beyond the town of Ariha (about 10 km south of Idlib). The Turkish army reportedly deployed its forces in a wide area comprising the route of the joint patrol. In addition, aircraft (apparently Russian) flew overhead (Edlib Media Center – EMC, May 28, 2020). Closing the region by the Turkish army was intended to prevent demonstrations and incidents of residents blocking the M-4 highway, as was recently done by demonstrators. The 14th joint patrol, carried out on June 2, 2020, also proceeded without any unusual events.
Main incidents last week
  • On June 2, 2020, the rebel organizations repelled a Syrian army attempt to advance about 10 km north of Maarat Nu’man (Idlib Plus, June 2, 2020).
  • On June 1, 2020, the rebel organizations fired an antitank missile at a Syrian army force about 10 km north of Maarat Nu’man. Syrian soldiers and fighters were killed (Edlib Media Center – EMC, June 1, 2020).
  • On May 31, 2020, the Syrian army fired artillery at targets about 10 km southwest of Jisr al-Shughur. It also fired mortar shells at targets south of Idlib (Idlib Plus Facebook page, May 30, 2020).
Senior ISIS operative killed by the Headquarters for the Liberation of Al-Sham
  • On May 29, 2020, operatives of the security apparatus of the Headquarters for the Liberation of Al-Sham tried to arrest Mohamad Mustafa al-Hussein, a senior ISIS operative from the village of Al-Nayrab (about 10 km southeast of Idlib). He was killed in the exchange of fire. It was reported on social media that he was cold-bloodedly murdered at home, in front of his mother and father (Twitter, May 30, 2020). The Headquarters for the Liberation of Al-Sham reported that the operative who was killed had coordinated most of ISIS’s activity in the areas around Idlib. He received operatives who fled other areas and sent them to attack operatives of the Headquarters for the Liberation of Al-Sham (Ibaa, May 30, 2020).
Northeastern Syria

The intensity of ISIS’s activity in Syria decreased this week. It mainly consisted of detonating IEDs, machine gun fire at SDF vehicles moving on the roads and targeted killings.

The area of Deir ez-Zor, Al-Mayadeen, and Albukamal
  • On June 1, 2020, a commune leader was shot and killed about 14 km north of Al-Mayadeen (Telegram, June 1, 2020).
  • On May 30, 2020, three SDF fighters were targeted by machine gun fire about 14 km north of Al-Mayadeen. All three were killed (Telegram, May 30, 2020).
  • On May 29, 2020, an IED was activated against an SDF vehicle about 10 km north of Deir ez-Zor. Two fighters were killed (Telegram, May 30, 2020).
  • On May 28, 2020, an IED was activated against an SDF vehicle about 4 km northeast of Albukamal. Several fighters including a commander were killed or wounded (Telegram, May 30, 2020).
  • On May 27, 2020, an SDF intelligence vehicle was targeted by machine gun fire on the road leading to the Al-Omar oilfield, about 10 km north of Al-Mayadeen. An SDF fighter was wounded (Telegram, May 28, 2020).
  • On May 26, 2020, an IED was activated against a tanker carrying oil for the Syrian regime on the road leading to the Al-Omar oilfield, about 14 km north of Al-Mayadeen. The tanker went up in flames. It belonged to Al-Qaterji, a Syrian MP and commander in the Homeland Defense Forces (Telegram, May 26, 2020).
The Al-Raqqah area
  • On May 30, 2020, an IED was activated against an SDF-affiliated commune leader at his home, about 15 km north of Al-Raqqah. He was wounded and his house was damaged (Telegram, May 30, 2020).
Eastern Syria (Al-Sukhnah-Palmyra region)
  • On May 28, 2020, an IED was activated against a vehicle carrying Syrian soldiers and their “agents” about 35 km north of Palmyra. Two soldiers were killed and two others were wounded (Telegram, May 30, 2020).
Southern Syria
The Daraa area
  • On May 27, 2020, two Syrian soldiers were targeted by machine gun fire several dozen kilometers east of Daraa. They were both killed (Telegram, May 27, 2020).
The Iraqi arena
Highlights of ISIS’s activity during the past week

This week, the intensity of ISIS’s activity in Iraq decreased. It consisted of detonating IEDs, attacking an Iraqi army compound, firing mortar shells, sniper fire, and arson.

Diyala Province
  • On May 27, 2020, an IED was activated against Tribal Mobilization fighters about 40 km northeast of Baqubah. Two fighters were wounded (Telegram, May 28, 2020).
Baghdad Province
  • On May 29, 2020, an IED was activated against a Popular Mobilization vehicle about 20 km southeast of Baghdad. Four fighters were killed or wounded (Telegram, May 29, 2020).
  • On May 28, 2020, an IED was activated against an Iraqi army vehicle about 20 km southeast of Baghdad. Five soldiers were killed or wounded (Telegram, May 29, 2020).
Kirkuk Province
  • On May 28, 2020, five mortar shells were fired at Tribal Mobilization forces about 30 km southwest of Kirkuk. Two fighters were wounded (Telegram, May 29, 2020).
Nineveh Province
  • On May 31, 2020, ISIS operatives set fire to a tractor and a wheat field of a Tribal Mobilization fighter about 40 km south of Mosul (Telegram, May 31, 2020).
Babel Province
  • On May 26, 2020, two Iraqi soldiers were targeted by sniper fire about 20 km southwest of Baghdad. One soldier was killed and the other was wounded (Telegram, May 28, 2020).
Al-Anbar Province
  • On May 31, 2020, an IED was activated against a Tribal Mobilization vehicle about 35 km northeast of Fallujah. The passengers were killed or wounded (Telegram, June 1, 2020).
  • On May 31, 2020, mortar shells were fired at two Iraqi army compounds in Al-Rutba. Two soldiers were wounded (Telegram, June 1, 2020).
  • On May 30, 2020, an Iraqi army compound was targeted by machine gun fire about 20 km southeast of Fallujah. Two soldiers were killed and two others were wounded (Telegram, June 1, 2020).
  • On May 30, 2020, an RPG rocket was fired at an Iraqi army compound southeast of Hit. One soldier was wounded (Telegram, May 31, 2020).
  • On May 30, 2020, ISIS operatives attacked an Iraqi army compound near the town of Rawa. Five soldiers were killed or wounded (Telegram, May 30, 2020).
Counterterrorist activities by the Iraqi security forces

Salah al-Din Province

  • On May 31, 2020, the Samarra Operations Headquarters announced that 12 wanted operatives and suspected ISIS operatives had been apprehended in a large-scale operation of the Iraqi army and police. In addition, seven ISIS guest houses were located and destroyed and 23 IEDs were neutralized (Al-Sumaria, May 31, 2020).

Nineveh Province

  • On June 1, 2020, a Popular Mobilization force captured two ISIS commanders about 10 km northwest of Mosul. One of the commanders was in charge of ISIS’s bombing activity in the Nineveh Province (al-hashed.net, June 1, 2020).

Al-Anbar Province

  • On May 31, 2020, an Iraqi police force captured four ISIS operatives in the Fallujah district, about 45 km west of Baghdad (Al-Sumaria, May 31, 2020).

Al-Basra Province

  • On May 31, 2020, intelligence forces of the Iraqi Interior Ministry exposed an ISIS sleeper cell in the Al-Basra Province and detained two of its operatives. This thwarted several attacks which were supposed to take place in other provinces, including Baghdad and the Kurdistan region (Al-Sumaria, May 31, 2020).

Babel Province

  • On May 31, 2020, an Iraqi army commando force operating about 40 km southwest of Baghdad located an ISIS guest house. A total of 13 IEDs, weapons, explosives and military equipment were found (Facebook page of the Iraqi Defense Ministry, May 31, 2020).
Weapons and military equipment seized by the Iraqi army (Facebook page of the Iraqi Defense Ministry, May 31, 2020)     Weapons and military equipment seized by the Iraqi army (Facebook page of the Iraqi Defense Ministry, May 31, 2020)
Weapons and military equipment seized by the Iraqi army
(Facebook page of the Iraqi Defense Ministry, May 31, 2020)
Iraqi army commando force during activity against ISIS southwest of Baghdad (Facebook page of the Iraqi Defense Ministry, May 31, 2020)     Iraqi army commando force during activity against ISIS southwest of Baghdad (Facebook page of the Iraqi Defense Ministry, May 31, 2020)
Iraqi army commando force during activity against ISIS southwest of Baghdad
(Facebook page of the Iraqi Defense Ministry, May 31, 2020)
The Sinai Peninsula
ISIS activity
  • On May 30, 2020, an IED was activated against an Egyptian army armored vehicle in Jabal al-Maghara, about 60 km southeast of Al-Arish. Two officers, one of them with the rank of lieutenant colonel and five soldiers were killed. The armored vehicle was destroyed (Telegram, May 31, 2020). According to tribal sources in northern Sinai, two officers and three soldiers were killed when their vehicle exploded in Jabal al-Maghara, in central Sinai. One of the officers killed was Mohammad Fadel, commander of the 269th Infantry Battalion (Al-Araby Al-Jadeed, May 30, 2020).

Jabal al-Maghara (Wikimapia)
Jabal al-Maghara (Wikimapia)

ISIS’s activity around the globe
Africa

Nigeria

  • On May 30, 2020, operatives of ISIS’s West Africa Province attacked a Nigerian army compound in Borno State, in northeastern Nigeria. One soldier was killed and several others were wounded. In addition, weapons and ammunition were seized (Telegram, May 31, 2020).

Niger

  • On May 29, 2020, operatives of ISIS’s West Africa Province repelled an attack of the Nigerien army in the border area between Niger and Nigeria. Several soldiers were killed or wounded (Telegram, May 31, 2020).

Democratic Republic of the Congo

  • On May 26, 2020, operatives of ISIS’s West Africa Province attacked two Congolese army compounds in the area of Beni, in northeastern Congo (about 50 km west of the border with Uganda). A total of 20 soldiers were killed. The ISIS operatives seized weapons and ammunition (May 28, 2020).
  • On May 24, 2020, operatives of ISIS’s West Africa Province killed a soldier and took two Congolese military intelligence operatives prisoner. The prisoners were executed. In addition, weapons and ammunition were seized (Telegram, May 26, 2020).

Cameroon

  • On May 26, 2020, operatives of ISIS’s West Africa Province attacked a Cameroonian army compound in northern Cameroon (near the border between Cameroon and Nigeria). Eight soldiers were killed and several others were wounded. The ISIS operatives seized weapons and ammunition (Telegram, May 26, 2020).

Mozambique

  • Researcher Eleanor Beevor recently published an article analyzing jihadist activity in the Cabo Delgado region of northern Mozambique, ISIS’s Central Africa Province. Following are the highlights of the article:
    • Background of the violent Islamic activities in northern Mozambique: Since 2017, the Cabo Delgado region has been tainted with violence, causing the deaths of 700 people and leaving 100,000 people homeless. ISIS operatives are striving to take over the region due to its proximity to Mozambique’s natural gas fields, which are expected to bring the country tens of billions of dollars in revenues. The Mozambican army failed to suppress the violence, and this led to the intervention of Russian mercenaries from the Wagner Company, who arrived in the region in September 2019 to support the local army. However, they underestimated the strength of the operatives of ISIS’s Central Africa Province, suffered defeats and are now reassessing the situation.[3]
    • Islamist activity in the face of resistance by the population and governmental military activity: the Islamist activity was concentrated in the Cabo Delgado Province, also due to increasing complaints from local residents. These complaints stem from poverty, unemployment, and government alienation. Gradually, the local residents realized that they would not benefit from the discovery of natural gas deposits, and this increased their frustration. This created fertile ground for a wave of Islamist preachers who arrived in the region, mainly from Tanzania, in 2014 and 2015. These preachers found the local frustrated young Muslims to be a highly attentive audience. These preachers not only instilled their radical Islamic worldview, but also promised local residents loans for setting up small businesses in exchange for their loyalty. Recruiting these young people was accelerated in light of the Mozambican army’s suppression.
    • The start of ISIS’s activity: ISIS’s Central Africa Province began its preparations for military activity in 2015 and set up training camps there. This activity created tension between them and the local Muslims due to the moderate Islamic tradition of most of the residents. It was only in May 2017 that Mozambique’s security forces responded to ISIS’s activity and began arresting many young people suspected of being involved. In response, militant Islamists (affiliated with ISIS) attacked a police station and government buildings, killing 17 people (October 2017). The results of the attack led to an increase in the number of (ISIS) operatives in the network.
    • The creation of the branch of ISIS’s Central Africa Province in Mozambique: ISIS issued its first claim of responsibility for carrying out an attack in Mozambique in June 2019, on behalf of the Central Africa Province. Fighters of the province from Mozambique maintain limited coordination with their counterparts in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The limited coordination is maintained with a militia operating in the Congo, called the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF). This militia was established in 1996 with the aim of establishing a Muslim state based on Islamic law in the Congo. Congolese operatives are also perceived as operatives of ISIS’s Central Africa Province. The activity of ISIS’s Central Africa Province in Mozambique is becoming more efficient but, in the author’s estimation, local social conditions will affect the continued operation of the province.
Asia

Afghanistan

  • On May 31, 2020, an IED was activated against Afghan police in the capital Kabul. Three policemen were killed or wounded (Telegram, May 31, 2020).
  • On May 30, 2020, an IED was activated against a bus carrying employees of the Afghan government-affiliated Khurshid TV station in the capital Kabul. Ten employees were killed or wounded (Telegram, May 30, 2020). According to Afghan media reports, the bus that was attacked was carrying a team from a local TV station. Two people were killed, one a journalist and the other a technician. Six members of the team were wounded. This was reportedly the second attack in the past two years against employees of the TV station (Afghanistan Times, May 30, 2020).

Afghan security guard near the bus against which the IED was activated (Afghanistan Times, May 30, 2020)
Afghan security guard near the bus against which the IED was activated
(Afghanistan Times, May 30, 2020)

  • On May 27, 2020, hand grenades were thrown at an Afghanistan police checkpoint in Jalalabad. Several policemen were wounded (Telegram, May 27, 2020).
Indonesia

Attack in the southern part of the Island of Borneo

  • According to a report by ISIS’s East Asia Province, on June 1, 2020, the organization attacked an Indonesian police station in the southern part of the Island of Borneo. A senior police officer was killed. In addition, a police vehicle was set on fire (Telegram, June 1, 2020). According to local media, a police officer was killed in the attack. The terrorist who carried out the attack was also killed (Jakarta Globe, June 2, 2020). This activity is unusual since attacks by ISIS’s East Asia Province are usually carried out in the southern Philippines, although the province’s operatives also have a presence in Indonesia and Malaysia.

Indonesia does not allow ISIS operatives and their families to return home

  • Muhammad Mahfoud, Indonesia’s Minister of Political, Legal and Security Coordination, announced that Indonesia did not intend to repatriate Indonesian ISIS operatives incarcerated in Syria. He said, “There is no plan to repatriate terrorist operatives. We will not allow operatives of a foreign terrorist organization to return to Indonesia …” The minister cited figures from the CIA, according to which 689 Indonesians were abandoned in Syria, but the identity of only 288 of them has been verified (the number of Indonesians apparently refers to ISIS operatives and their families who are staying in the Al-Hol refugee camp). Indonesians who traveled to Syria to join ISIS reportedly burned their passports and all other means of identification (The Straits Times, Singapore News website, February 11, 2020).
Counterterrorism and preventive activity
The US guarantees a cash reward for information about ISIS’s key propagandist
  • On May 28, 2020, the US Department of State’s Rewards for Justice program announced a reward of up to $3 million for information leading to the location or identification of Muhammad Khadir Musa Ramadan, a senior leader of and key propagandist for ISIS. According to the announcement, Ramadan, who was born in Jordan, is a longtime senior official in ISIS who supervises its day-to-day media activity around the globe. Ramadan has overseen the planning, coordination, and production of numerous propaganda videos, publications, and online platforms that included scenes of brutal and cruel torture and mass execution of innocent civilians. Underscoring his violent extremism, he led an effort to cleanse ISIS of moderate opinions, imprisoning members of ISIS’s propaganda teams who did not meet his extreme interpretation of Islam. The announcement was published in English and Arabic (US Department of State’s Rewards for Justice website, May 28, 2020).

US Department of State’s Arabic-language announcement about Muhammad Khadir Musa Ramadan, senior ISIS leader and key propagandist (US Department
US Department of State’s Arabic-language announcement about Muhammad Khadir Musa Ramadan, senior ISIS leader and key propagandist (US Department of State’s Rewards for Justice website, May 28, 2020)

The battle for hearts and minds
Publication of an audiocassette of ISIS Spokesman Abu Hamza al-Qurashi

Slide of ISIS’s spokesman’s audiocassette with the caption: “And the infidels will know who will be punished [i.e., Hell on Judgment Day]” (Telegram, May 30, 2020)
Slide of ISIS’s spokesman’s audiocassette with the caption: “And the infidels will know who will be punished [i.e., Hell on Judgment Day]” (Telegram, May 30, 2020)

  • On May 20, 2020, the Al-Furqan Media Foundation, ISIS’s official media foundation, released a new audiocassette of ISIS Spokesman Abu Hamza al-Qurashi. Following are the main topics addressed by ISIS’s spokesman (Telegram, May 30, 2020)
  • The COVID-19 pandemic: The spokesman described the COVID-19 pandemic as a “divine punishment” imposed on the “infidels” for their actions. The spokesman noted that ISIS operatives are now gloating in view of the suffering of the Crusaders [i.e., Christians] and are praying to Allah to increase their suffering.
  • Condemnation of the closure of mosques due to COVID-19: The spokesman criticized the clerics appointed by the Muslim rulers for calling for the closure of mosques. These clerics did not prevent people from congregating and did not take care of the hundreds of thousands of believers incarcerated in prisons and suffering from epidemics and diseases.
  • Condemnation of the agreement between the Taliban and the United States: This agreement, according to the spokesman, reflects the existing alliance between the Taliban (“those who abandoned Islam”), and the “Crusaders” (i.e., the US and the West). The objective of this alliance is to fight against the Islamic State. It also constitutes the basis for the establishment of the national government in Afghanistan, which includes members of the Taliban, who abandoned Islam, along with Shiite “idol worshipers.”
  • ISIS’s Iraq Province: The spokesman notes that the tribal militias have begun to gain confidence. According to the spokesman, they are influenced by the appointment of pro-American Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kazemi, which gives them hope. ISIS is prepared to teach them a lesson, in addition to its activity against the Shiites and the Crusaders (i.e., the US and the West). The spokesman addresses the Shiites in Iraq, noting that following the withdrawal of some of the US forces, they are expected to fight face-to-face with ISIS.
  • The activity of ISIS’s West Africa Province and condemnation of Al-Qaeda’s activity in Algeria: Al-Qaeda (those who have abandoned Islam) and the Crusaders (i.e., the West) are fighting to defeat ISIS in the West Africa Province, but ISIS operatives (“the soldiers of the Caliphate”) achieve victories. The spokesman also condemns Al-Qaeda for abandoning the fight against the Algerian army and becoming its “watchdog.”
  • Call to continue jihad and prepare for the next stage in the fight against the “infidels:” The speaker addresses Muslims everywhere and calls on them to join jihad and assist it with money and material means. The spokesman congratulates ISIS operatives on the Raids of Attrition and says that ISIS’s leader instructs them to increase their activity against the infidels and make an effort to release ISIS prisoners everywhere.

[1] During the wave of attacks, ISIS issued about 120 claims of responsibility. It appears that not all the attacks were accompanied by claims of responsibility shortly after they were carried out. This is not the first time that ISIS has carried out attacks and reported them only after a delay. Hence, it appears that the figure in ISIS’s infographic reflects the actual number of attacks that were carried out in the current wave of attacks.

[2] Eleanor Beevor, Who Are Mozambique’s Jihadists? IISS (International Institute for Strategic Studies, London, UK), 25 March 2020: https://www.iiss.org/blogs/analysis/2020/03/csdp-mozambique-jihadists


[3] The Wagner Group comprises Russian government mercenaries of sorts, who operate throughout the world, including in Mozambique. They were apparently not properly prepared for the living conditions in Mozambique and the high temperatures prevailing there. Upon their arrival, they became enemies of ISIS, which increased its activity against them, causing them to retreat in order to regroup. See:Azarrah Karim, Growing Terrorism in Mozambique, With Suspected Link to ISIS, Wreaking Havoc With No End in Sight. News24, 19 December 2019. https://www.news24.com/SouthAfrica/News/growing-terrorism-in-mozambique-with-suspected-links-to-isis-wreaking-havoc-with-no-end-in-sight-20191219 Wagner Group. Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wagner_Group



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