Main events of the week
The international campaign against ISIS
US and coalition airstrikes
- This week, the US and coalition forces continued their airstrikes against ISIS targets. During the week, a few dozen airstrikes were carried out by means of fighter planes, attack aircraft and UAVs. Following are the main airstrikes (US Department of Defense website):
- Syria– the airstrikes were concentrated in the areas of Al-Hasakah, Ain Issa (northwest of Al-Raqqah), Marea (north of Aleppo), Palmyra, Deir al-Zor, Al-Raqqah, and Abu Kamal. The targets included a headquarters, operatives, battle positions, checkpoints, vehicles, oil and gas facilities, and fuel storage sites.
- Iraq– the airstrikes were concentrated in the areas of Fallujah, Kisik, Ramadi (west of Mosul), Sinjar, Sultan Abdullah (south of Mosul), and Tal Afar. The targets included headquarters, operatives, battle positions, artillery positions, buildings, vehicles (including car bombs) and heavy machinery.
American demand from Turkey to block its border with Syria
- The US administration has demanded that Turkey completely block its border with Syria.In this context, the US has demanded that Turkey significantly reinforce the area near the border with Syria, in order to enable maximum supervision of the area. The Americans did not specify the exact number of soldiers required for this mission. However, senior US Defense Department officials believe that a force of around 30,000 troops is needed to close the section of the border between Jarabulus and the Turkish city of Kilis.According to senior Turkish officials, Turkey has begun to implement a number of measures to increase the supervision at the border, but they believe that the US estimates (regarding the size of the force needed) are exaggerated (The Wall Street Journal, November 28, 2015).
- Turkey serves as ISIS’s main logistical backup.ISIS operatives, weapons and supplies routinely pass through its territory. Inter alia, foreign fighters from Western Europe cross the Turkish border on their way to Syria and back. In the ITIC’s assessment, most of the movement by ISIS operatives takes place in the area of the Jarabulus border crossing, with the Turkish city of Kilis serving as a logistics base for ISIS operatives (elsewhere along the border, movement by ISIS operatives is restricted by the Kurdish forces which control most of the Syrian areas along the Syrian-Turkish border).
- According to French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, in order to combat ISIS, it is essential for ground forces to fight alongside the air forces. He mentioned the Assad regime’s Syrian Army, the Kurdish forces and the Free Syrian Army as possible forces for the task. However, he stressed that France would not send ground troops to Syria(Sputnik, November 26, 2015).
- German Chief of Staff Volker Wieker says that Germany plans to send troops to the Middle East as part of its contribution to the coalition fighting against ISIS in Syria.According to Wieker, Germany will send 1,200 troops. The German aid will also include the deployment of fighter planes and surveillance aircraft to escort the French aircraft carrier sent to the Eastern Mediterranean. According to him, Germany is negotiating with Jordan and Turkey about the possibility of using the bases in their territory for operating the German planes. The plan still has to be approved by the Bundestag. According to the German chief of staff, the deployment of troops will begin immediately after approval is obtained (Financial Times, November 30, 2015).
- British Prime Minister David Cameron announced his decision to expand Britain’s military campaign against ISIS. According to Cameron, ISIS poses a major threat to Britain and its citizens, and therefore requires a comprehensive response against it. For the time being, however, he ruled out the possibility of deploying British Army units on the ground (British Parliament website, November 26, 2015). British Defense Secretary Michael Fallon confirmed Britain’s intention to send Tornado and Typhoon fighter planes and unmanned Reaper drones to the Middle East. According to Fallon, Britain must step up its airstrikes against ISIS, especially in the area of Al-Raqqah (Sunday Telegraph, November 28, 2015). On December 1, 2015, the British Cabinet voted unanimously in favor of the British airstrikes in Syria. The decision will be brought before Parliament on December 2, 2015.
Russian involvement in the civil war in Syria
- This week as well, Russian fighter planes carried out a large number of airstrikes against targets in Syria. Most of the airstrikes were carried out in the areas of Hama, Idlib, Deir al-Zor, Aleppo, Homs, Daraa, Latakia, and Damascus. According to a report by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), since Russia began its airstrikes, more than 1,500 people have been killed, a third of them civilians. According to the report, these airstrikes killed 419 ISIS operatives and 598 operatives of the Al-Nusra Front and other rebel organizations. They also killed 485 civilians, including 117 children and 47 women (AFP, November 30, 2015).
- At the same time, Russia is continuing its media war against the United States and coalition countries. According to Dmitry Peskov, press spokesman for the President of Russia, the international coalition airstrikes against ISIS over the past 15 months have actually caused the area under its control to expand. According to Peskov, Russia’s airstrikes are the ones that led to a change in ISIS’s expansion, even though they only began a short time ago. According to him, Russia has proposed to cooperate with the coalition countries in the areas of intelligence and identifying targets, but so far they have not agreed to do so (Sputnik, November 28, 2015).
Interception of the Russian plane by Turkey (update)
- The incident of November 24, 2015, when a Turkish fighter plane shot down a Russian Sukhoi-24 fighter plane, continued to make waves.Russian President Vladimir Putin stated that the incident would have serious implications for relations between the two countries, and accused Turkey of providing ISIS with financial support (i.e., purchasing oil) and military defense.At the same time, Russia has taken a series of steps against Turkey: the Russian Ministry of Defense announced the cessation of military coordination with Turkey. Russia also announced the adoption of a series of economic sanctions.Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has advised Russian citizens not to go to Turkey, “for security reasons” (RT, November 28, 2015).
- At the military level, the Russian Chief of Staff announced that as an immediate response,the Russian attack aircraft would be escorted by interception aircraft. In addition, the flagship of the Russian naval force will be stationed in the Mediterranean Sea, off the coast of Latakia, and will be equipped with an S-300 air defense system. The Russians have also deployed S-400 air defense systems on Syrian soil. According to Russian President Putin, Russia has deployed the air defense systems in Syria because it is committed to protecting the Russian aircraft (conflict-news.com, November 27, 2015). On the other hand, a spokesman for the coalition forces said that the deployment of S-400 air defense systems in Syria would not affect the coalition airstrikes on Syrian territory (Sputnik, November 27, 2015).
Main developments in Syria
This week, there were no significant changes on the ground in northwestern Syria. This week, Jaysh al-Fatah, an umbrella framework headed by the Al-Nusra Front, had local achievements in the rural area southwest of Aleppo. The Syrian Army suffered a series of local setbacks northeast of Latakia and southeast of Homs. Iranians and Hezbollah, which support the Syrian Army, reportedly incurred additional losses in these battles, including a senior Iranian officer with the rank of brigadier general who was killed in the area of Aleppo.
- According to Kurdish sources, some 50 American soldiers entered the area of Kobani, near the Syrian border with Turkey. They did so based on the approval recently granted by US President Obama, to send US special forces on missions of coordination with the with local forces (AFP, November 26, 2015). These soldiers will probably train the local YPG Kurdish forces. According to a source in the Kurdish forces, the purpose of the American military delegation is planning the capture of the Jarabulus area (the main area ISIS operatives pass through on their way to and from Turkey) and the city of Al-Raqqah (ISIS’s so-called capital). These forces will also coordinate between the international coalition and the forces on the ground (aljazeera.net, November 27, 2015).
The area of Aleppo
- This week as well, fighting continued in the rural area south of Aleppo.
- According to a report from November 28, 2015, Jaysh al-Fatah operatives have captured the village of Tell Bajer (about 27 km southwest of Aleppo), which had been held by the Shiite militias supported by Iran. A video posted on YouTube shows several dozen of these militia fighters fleeing the area, while Jaysh al-Fatah tanks and armored personnel carriers enter it (Twitter account affiliated with Jaysh al-Fatah, YouTube, November 28, 2015).
- On November 27, 2015, Al-Nusra Front operatives blocked an attempted advance by a force supported by Iran towards the village of Al-Huwayz, approximately 8.5 km south of Aleppo (Al-Nusra Front-affiliated Twitter account, November 27, 2015). The Al-Nusra Front has issued a video in which one of its operatives reports that it has killed over 20 Iranian soldiers and Hezbollah operatives and has taken a number of operatives prisoner (Shaam Network’s Facebook page, November 27, 2015).
- At the Kuweyres military airbase, east of Aleppo, local clashes continued between the Syrian Army and ISIS operatives (SOHR, November 28, 2015). ISIS posted photos of a Tunisian suicide bomber who was sent to carry out a car bomb attack at the airbase. According to a report on the SOHR website from November 29, 2015, funerals were held for 24 Syrian Army officers killed in battles with ISIS operatives in the area of the airbase, including a colonel (aqid) and two officers with the rank of captain (naqib) (syriahr.com, November 29, 2015).
The area of Al-Qalamoun
- After lengthy negotiations lasting over a year, a prisoner exchange took place between the Lebanese government and the Al-Nusra Front. In the prisoner exchange, 16 Lebanese soldiers were freed in exchange for eight Al-Nusra Front detainees. In exchange for the Lebanese soldiers, the Al-Nusra Front will reportedly receive equipment and supplies, and will be permitted to transfer its casualties from the area of Al-Zabadani to Beirut Airport and from there to Turkey for treatment (Al-Arabiya al-Hadath, November 29, 2015). In addition, three Hezbollah operatives captured by the Al-Nusra Front in the clashes in the area of Aleppo were released (Twitter account of the manager of the Voice of Beirut radio station, November 29, 2015). A two-day ceasefire was declared in the area of Al-Qalamoun in order to facilitate the prisoner exchange.
- In the area of the town of Mheen, southeast of Homs, clashes continued this week between ISIS and the Syrian Army, assisted by an Iranian force and Hezbollah operatives. The Syrian Army was reportedly hit in these clashes. According to a report from November 27, 2015, nineteen soldiers who tried to advance in the area east of Mheen, with Russian air support, were killed. In this incident, ISIS operatives managed to destroy four tanks and an armored personnel carrier (a3maqagency.wordpress.com, November 27, 2015).
- According to a report by the Al-Nusra Front from November 27, 2015, its operatives have taken over Jabal al-Zahiyah, approximately 33 km northeast of Latakia, near the Syrian-Turkish border. A video issued by the Al-Nusra Front shows bodies of Syrian Army soldiers and weapons seized, including a tank, a bulldozer, Kalashnikov rifles and machine guns (Al-Nusra Front-affiliated Twitter account, November 27, 2015).
- The Al-Nusra Front’s media foundation issued a video documenting its operatives executing Syrian Army soldiers apparently taken prisoner by the Al-Nusra Front at the Abu al-Duhur military airbase. The speaker in the video presents the chain of events that led to the takeover of the military airbase (conflict-news.com, November 25, 2015).
At the beginning of September 2015, taking advantage of a sandstorm in the area, Al-Nusra Front operatives managed to take over the Abu al-Duhur military airbase after a siege lasting around two years. About 250 Syrian Army fighters who had barricaded themselves there were taken prisoner, and dozens of soldiers were killed. According to reports at the time, Al-Nusra Front operatives seized aircraft, helicopters, ammunition and a large quantity of equipment at the airbase. It now appears that many Syrian Army soldiers who were taken prisoner by the Al-Nusra Front were executed.
- ISIS is waging a propaganda campaign against Russia, in which it highlights the civilian losses in Al-Raqqah while refraining from mentioning the losses suffered by its military infrastructure. On November 26, 2015, ISIS issued a video showing burnt cars, destroyed buildings, people injured and children killed as a result of Russian airstrikes on the city of Al-Raqqah. One of the speakers in the video claims that the Russians used cluster bombs in their airstrikes (a3maqagency.wordpress.com, November 26, 2015).
The Southern Syrian Golan Heights
- The fighting between the ISIS-affiliated Al-Yarmouk Martyrs Brigade and Jaysh al-Fatah, led by the Al-Nusra Front, is causing resentment and anger among local residents. Local inhabitants used their Facebook pages to call on the operatives’ families to bring their sons home and avoid a civil war and acts of revenge, especially in light of the fact that the operatives on both sides are residents of the same region. Clerics and notables called on the operatives to stop the fighting and turn to arbitration by a “Legal Committee” (Syria Newsdesk, November 24, 2015).
Main developments in Iraq
This week, the Iraqi Army continued its efforts to establish control around the city of Ramadi. According to sources in the Iraqi Army, it has managed to break through ISIS’s fortifications in the east of the city. On the other hand, ISIS attacked the oil refinery compound in the city of Baiji, in an attempt to regain control over the region (unsuccessfully). Despite the security measures in place in Baghdad, the wave of attacks initiated by ISIS continued, although it decreased in scope this week.
The city of Baghdad and its environs
- Due to the intensified security measures in Baghdad following a wave of lethal terrorist attacks in the city, there was a decline in the scope of attacks this week. Nevertheless, two people were killed in Baghdad in two explosions. Eleven others were wounded (Radio Sawa, November 27, 2015). On November 28, 2015, four IEDs were located and neutralized. A rocket launcher was also located (Shafaq News, November 29, 2015).
- Even after the takeover of the area of Sinjar by the Peshmerga forces, the fighting still continues. Nine Peshmerga operatives were killed on November 28, 2015, when an IED exploded south of Sinjar (Al-Bawaba, November 28, 2015). On November 28, 2015, another mass grave of Yazidis murdered by ISIS was discovered in Sinjar. Around 110 bodies were found in the grave (BBC in Arabic, November 28, 2015).
- According to Iraqi military sources, the Iraqi Army is surrounding the city of Ramadi. According to them, the Iraqi Army managed to break through ISIS’s fortifications in the east of the city (Al-Bawaba, November 28, 2015; Al-Sabah al-Jadid, November 28, 2015). According to US media reports, ISIS operatives are preventing civilians from fleeing from Ramadi, threatening to kill anyone who tries to flee (The Wall Street Journal, December 1, 2015).
- According to Iraqi Army reports, ISIS suffered dozens of losses in a coalition airstrike in the Al-Anbar province (November 29, 2015). Equipment belonging to ISIS was also destroyed in the airstrike (Kull al-Iraq, November 29, 2015). According to an Iraqi security source on November 29, 2015, ISIS’s governor of the Al-Anbar province, Anwar Hamad (aka Abu Harith al-Qadi), was killed in an international coalition airstrike in the Ramadi city center (Al-Baghdadia TV, November 29, 2015).
Salah al-Din province
- On November 23, 2015, ISIS attacked the oil refinery compound in the city of Baiji, in an attempt to regain control over the region (Al-Quds al-Arabi, November 23, 2015). ISIS issued a video claiming to have taken control of a power plant northeast of the city of Baiji (Aamaq, November 24, 2015). On the other hand, on November 29, 2015, Hadi al-Ameri, a senior commander of the Shiite militias that support the Iraqi Army, announced that the Baiji district had been completely liberated from the hands of ISIS (The Iraqi Al-Mustaqbal News website, November 29, 2015).
- On November 29, 2015, Iraqi security forces announced that they had killed 75 ISIS operatives west of Samarra, one of them a senior commander. They also claimed that a large quantity of equipment belonging to ISIS had been destroyed. The senior commander who was killed was Ali Abdallah al-Assafi, the military commander in charge of the western part of the city of Samarra (Mujaz al-Iraq, November 29, 2015).
Egypt and the Sinai Peninsula
- During the week, the Egyptian security forces continued their military activities against ISIS’s Sinai branch. In this context, they carried out intensive activity, mainly in the area of Rafah, Sheikh Zuweid and Al-Arish.In the activity, dozens of jihadists were killed, dozens of suspects were detained, weapons were confiscated and many IEDs were neutralized.
- On November 24, 2015, a combined terrorist attack was carried out at the Swiss Inn Hotel in Al-Arish.A legal committee was staying at the hotel at the time, after having arrived to monitor the parliamentary elections in the northern Sinai Peninsula. First, a car bomb exploded at the entrance to the hotel, and then a suicide bomber wearing an explosive belt blew himself up. A third terrorist entered the hotel and opened fire in all directions. Four people were killed in the attack: a policeman and three judges. Twelve people were wounded, nine of them members of the Egyptian security forces (Facebook page of the Egyptian Armed Forces spokesman, November 24, 2015).
- ISIS’s Sinai province claimed responsibility for the attack in an official statement posted on an ISIS-affiliated Twitter account (November 24, 2015). The terrorist who drove the car bomb was Ismail Ahmed Ismail, 21, a student from the village of Al-Sheikh. The terrorist with an explosive belt who blew himself up was Omar Mahmoud Abd al-Fattah Ahmed, 30, a student from Madinat Nasr (near Cairo). According to Egyptian media reports, the two men arrived in the Sinai Peninsula about three months ago (Al-Youm al-Sabea, November 27, 2015).
- Following the attack, the Egyptian security forces raised the level of alert in most of the neighborhoods in the city of Al-Arish. They increased their military presence, closed the entrances to southern and western Al-Arish, and increased the checks at checkpoints. They also raised the level of alert in Sheikh Zuweid (Al-Watan, November 25, 2015).
Attack at a checkpoint south of the city of Giza
- Two masked men riding a motorcycle shot and killed two police officers and two other people, members of the Security Directorate of Giza (about 11 km south of Cairo). The attack was carried out at a checkpoint in Al-Manawat (youm7.com, November 29, 2015). Subsequently, internal security agencies in Egypt announced that they knew the identity of the perpetrators. On November 28, 2015, an ISIS-affiliated website posted a claim of responsibility by ISIS’s Egypt province for killing at least five Egyptian Interior Ministry officers and wounding many others (dabiqnews.com, November 28, 2015).
The global jihad in other countries
The Derna region
- The Shura Council of the Jihad Fighters in Derna, which is affiliated with Al-Qaeda, has begun a campaign to take over the Al-Fataeh region southeast of Derna from ISIS. This week, there has been no change in the situation on the ground and the campaign against ISIS strongholds has not yet been decided. According to jihadi sources, this is because the Libyan Army, under Haftar’s command, is harming the supply routes to the Shura Council of the Jihad Fighters in Derna and occasionally attacks its positions (Al-Wasat, November 25, 2015; aljazeera.net, November 28, 2015).
- On its Twitter page, Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, Al-Qaeda’s official branch in North Africa, published statements praising its commander Hamid al-Shari’i, who was killed on the road between Derna and Benghazi. According to them, the commander was killed in an ambush along with other operatives from his unit. They had left Derna to help their people in Benghazi but were ambushed before they could reach their destination.
- A senior ISIS operative in charge of ISIS’s information office, codenamed Abu Jalal the Moroccan, was killed in an airstrike carried out by the Air Force of the Islamic government of Tripoli in the area of Sirte on November 24, 2015 (eremnews website, November 24, 2015; Facebook page of the Libyan Air Force, November 24, 2015).
- On November 25, 2015, ISIS eliminated two Salafi sheikhs and a young man, because of their opposition to ISIS, which controls the city (about 355 km southeast of Sirte). ISIS claimed responsibility for killing one of the sheikhs, Walid Taher al-Shagheri (Al-Hayat, November 27, 2015; Akhbar Libya 24, November 27, 2015).
ISIS’s terrorist activity
- On November 24, 2015, a suicide bomber wearing an explosive vest blew himself up near a bus carrying members of Tunisia’s presidential guard. At least 12 members of the guard were killed. The blast occurred on the main avenue of the capital, Tunis (Reuters, November 25, 2015).
- ISIS issued a claim of responsibility for the suicide bombing attack.According to the statement, the explosion killed several dozen members of the presidential guard in the heart of Tunis. According to ISIS, the attack was carried out by a terrorist codenamed Abu Abdallah the Tunisian. Tunisian authorities announced that the real name of the terrorist was Hussam al-Abdelli, a 27-year-old street vendor from a working-class neighborhood near the capital, Tunis. His neighbors said that during the past three years, he had undergone a process of radicalization and began to isolate himself and spend most of the time at home and at the mosque. Al-Abdelli was detained in August 2015, on suspicion of membership in a terrorist organization, and books on jihad were found in his possession, but he was released in accordance with a court ruling (Reuters, November 25, 2015; akhbardawlatalislam.wordpress.com, November 25, 2015; France 24, November 26, 2015).
- The Tunisian President declared a curfew in the capital and reinstated the country’s state of emergency for one month. On November 25, his office announced the closure of the borders with Libya for 15 days due to the suspicion that the explosive belt had come from Libya.
- The authorities earlier announced the arrest of a squad that had planned to carry out concurrent attacks at a number of hotels and essential facilities and against politicians in the Sousse province. Some of the squad operatives were trained in Libya. Rifles, explosives and explosive belts found in their possession were confiscated.
- The Tunisian Interior Ministry announced that 26 individuals suspected of involvement in the network known as the Al-Furqan Battalion have been detained so far. That network consisted of two squads led by two operatives who had returned from Syria after fighting in the ranks of ISIS. According to Tunisian media report, some of the detainees have confessed that they had been waiting to receive explosive belts from a Tunisian operator in Sabratah, Libya. The Tunisian authorities surmise that the attacks were to be carried out in conjunction with the attacks in Paris (Reuters, November 17, 2015; Akher Khabar Online, November 11, 2015; Bawabat Ifriqya al-Ikhbariya, November 15, 2015; Al-Jarida, November 27, 2015).
- In the wake of the attack, on November 28, 2015, ISIS published an infographic describing the attacks that it had carried out in Tunisia. According to the information presented by ISIS, since the attack at the Bardo Museum in the city of Tunis on March 18, 2015, it has carried out six other attacks in Tunisia. According to ISIS, these attacks killed and injured 100 foreign nationals and 76 members of the Tunisian security forces (akhbardawlatalislam.wordpress.com, November 28, 2015).
In the ITIC’s assessment, the wave of attacks plaguing Tunisia since the attack at the Bardo Museum (March 2015)is being orchestrated by ISIS’s terrorist infrastructure located in Libya.This infrastructure has turned Libya into an “exporter” of terrorism to the countries of North Africa, with Tunisia apparently being perceived as a weak link and as the country in ISIS’s crosshairs.
- ISIS has claimed responsibility for the attack on worshippers at a Shiite mosque in northern Bangladesh(AFP, November 26, 2015).
On November 28, 2015, jihadi operatives attacked a UN base in Mali, in the northern city of Kidal.Three people were killed and some 20 others were injured. Two of those killed were Guinean members of the UN peacekeeping force. The other fatality was a civilian who worked at the base. A network affiliated with Al-Qaeda and calling itself Ansar Eddine claimed responsibility for the attack in a phone call with AFP. The attack was reportedly carried out in response to the desecration of their country by the enemies of Islam (Reuters, November 28, 2015).
- French intelligence officials claim that Salah Abdeslam, one of the terrorists who carried out the terrorist attacks in Paris and fled to Belgium, has managed to reach Syria. Salah Abdeslam fled Belgium in the midst of the widespread arrests, carried out by the local security forces. He was spotted in a car near the city of Liège, Belgium, from where he managed to get onto the highway to Germany (CNN, November 30, 2015).
Counterterrorism and preventive activity
- British Prime Minister David Cameron said that over the past year, the British police and security services had uncovered around seven terrorist networks planning to carry out attacks in Britain. These networks were affiliated with or inspired by ISIS. According to Cameron, the threat has increased in recent months because ISIS has started training its operatives in Syria to carry out mass-casualty attacks around the world (The Long War Journal, November 28, 2015).
The battle for hearts and minds
- ISIS published a Russian-language organ.The photo on the cover shows the wreckage of what ISIS claims is the Russian plane shot down over the Sinai Peninsula. The format is similar to that of ISIS’s English-language organ, Dabiq. This is another publication of ISIS’s “media empire,” which is directed at various target audiences around the world.
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