MESOPOTAMIA NEWS BY MEIR INTELLIGENCE & TERRORISM INFORMATION CENTER / ISRAEL – Spotlight on Global Jihad (May 23-29, 2019)

Main events of the week
  • In the Syrian arena, the Syrian army offensive in the Idlib region appears to have lost momentum. This week, the Syrian army managed to recapture the town of Kafr Nabudah, east of the Al-Ghab Plain, and repel counterattacks by the rebel organizations. However, the Syrian army was unable to advance in the main area of the attack (northwest of Hama, in the eastern Al-Ghab Plain) and the secondary area (the Kabanah region on the Kurd Mountains, southwest of Jisr al-Shughur). At the same time, intensive airstrikes by the Syrian and Russian air forces continued, both in support of the Syrian army ground forces and in order to hit the targets of the rebel organizations in the Idlib area.
  • In the Iraqi arena, ISIS’s intensive terror and guerrilla activity in the various provinces continued. The main modus operandi was the use of IEDs, sniper fire, mortar shells, car bombs and executions. This week, ISIS’s Al-Nabā’ weekly published an article calling on the organization’s operatives to set fire to fields in Syria and Iraq. According to the article, setting fire to the fields will cause the burning of millions of dunams of grain in light of the imminent harvest season, causing economic damage.

 

  • Throughout the world, the “routine” activity of ISIS’s provinces and networks continued: in the northern Sinai Peninsula, IEDs were detonated against Egyptian army soldiers traveling on the roads; in Nigeria, ISIS operatives attacked Nigerian army camps and convoys in the northeast of the country; in Chad and Cameroon, ISIS operatives attacked local army forces; in the Congo, near the border with Uganda, the attacks against the Congolese army continued; in Somalia, in the area of the city of Bosaso in the northeast of the country, attacks against local police continued; in Afghanistan, ISIS operatives carried out a series of operations against the Afghan army, intelligence personnel and local dignitaries who collaborate with the Afghan government; in Pakistan, ISIS operatives eliminated intelligence personnel; in Bangladesh, an IED was detonated against local police vehicles in the capital, Dhaka; in the Philippines, ISIS operatives attacked a Philippine army force on the island of Jolo in the south of the country; in Yemen, an IED was detonated against a motorcycle carrying Al-Qaeda operatives.
Main events in Syria
The Idlib area

Overview

  • The village of Kafr Nabudah, east of the Al-Ghab Plain, continued to be the main fighting zone. This week, the Syrian army managed to take over the village once again, after the rebel organizations captured it last week. The Syrian army ground attack began on May 26, 2019, after two consecutive days of airstrikes and artillery fire (Butulat Al-Jaysh Al-Suri, May 25, 2019).
  • On May 26, 2019, the Syrian army and the militias supporting it completed their takeover of Kafr Nabudah and its mopping up from the presence of the Headquarters for the Liberation of Al-Sham and other organizations controlled by it. According to Syrian media, the Syrian army destroyed large quantities of weapons and military equipment of the rebel organizations (Al-Ikhbariya Channel, May 26, 2019; Orient TV, May 27, 2019). Apart from that, it seems that the Syrian army attempts to advance northward on the eastern outskirts of the Al-Ghab Plain were halted by the rebel organizations.
  • According to a report by the head of Russia’s Reconciliation Center in Hmeymim, Maj. Gen. Viktor Kupchishin, the Syrian army repelled a counterattack of the rebel organizations on the night of May 26, 2019. According to the report, about 450 operatives of the Headquarters for the Liberation of Al-Sham (the Al-Nusra Front, in the Russian report) took part in the attack, along with seven tanks, artillery support, and rocket fire. The Syrian army allegedly destroyed three tanks and killed about 100 operatives (Sputnik, May 28, 2019).

The village of Kafr Nabudah, a fighting zone between the Syrian army and the rebel organizations (Google Maps)
The village of Kafr Nabudah, a fighting zone between the Syrian army and the rebel organizations (Google Maps)

  • So far, in the Kabanah area, on the Kurd Mountains, 13 km southwest of Jisr al-Shughur, the Syrian army failed in its attempts to take over the area with Syrian and Russian air support. On May 26, 2019, it was reported that Syrian fighter jets carried out airstrikes against rebel organization forces in Tell Kabanah (Butulat Al-Jaysh Al-Suri, May 26, 2019). On May 27, 2019, it was reported that Syrian fighter jets carried out 14 airstrikes against the Kabanah road and Syrian helicopters dropped nine barrel bombs on Kabanah (Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, May 27, 2019).
  • The Kurdish village of Kabanah is located on the summit of a mountain 1,300 meters high, the second highest of the Kurd Mountains. This is a rocky, mountainous region, with routes which are hardly navigable. The village of Kabanah overlooks the Al-Ghab Plain in the east, the villages of the Latakia Province in the west, and the town of Jisr al-Shughur in the northeast. The Syrian army and the rebel organizations attach great importance to controlling the Kabanah area since it enables them to control vast areas with artillery fire and advance towards further areas under the rebel control.
 The village of Kabanah (Google Earth Pro)    The area of the village of Kabanah, on the Kurd Mountains, southwest of Jisr al-Shughur (Google Maps).
Right (marked in red): The area of the village of Kabanah, on the Kurd Mountains, southwest of Jisr al-Shughur (Google Maps). Left (marked with a white arrow): The village of Kabanah (Google Earth Pro)

Airstrikes

  • At the same time, intensive airstrikes by Syrian and Russian fighter jets continued this week, both in support of the Syrian army ground forces in the various fighting zones and in order to hit rebel organization targets in the Idlib area. According to a report by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, Syrian army helicopters dropped many dozens of barrel bombs on various towns and villages, including Kafr Nabudah and the Kabanah area. Barrel bombs were also dropped in the area of the town of Khan Shaykhun, east of Kafr Nabudah (Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, May 25, 2019). The Headquarters for the Liberation of Al-Sham reported that Russian fighter jets fired rockets at the village of Al-Habeet, 54 km south of Idlib (Ibaa, May 25, 2019).
Barrel bomb hitting Khan Shaykhun (Ibaa, May 25, 2019)    Barrel bomb dropped by a Syrian army helicopter on the town of Khan Shaykhun, north of Hama
Right: Barrel bomb dropped by a Syrian army helicopter on the town of Khan Shaykhun, north of Hama. Left: Barrel bomb hitting Khan Shaykhun (Ibaa, May 25, 2019)

Interim summary of losses in the fighting in the Idlib area (updated to May 27, 2019)

  • The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that since April 30, 2019, a total of 824 people had been killed. At least 309 of the dead belonged to the rebel forces, 269 to the Syrian army and the forces supporting it, and 246 were civilians (Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, May 27, 2019).
Eastern Syria
  • ISIS continued its terrorism and guerrilla activity in the Euphrates Valley and the area of Al-Mayadeen and Deir ez-Zor area. Following are the main attacks carried out in the past week:
    • On May 25, 2019, a school building was blown up about 17 km east of Al-Mayadeen. The building was formerly used as an SDF command post but was abandoned several weeks ago (Deir ez-Zor 24, May 25, 2019).
    • On May 27, 2019, machine gun fire hit an SDF vehicle about 49 km northeast of Deir ez-Zor. Three SDF fighters were killed and three others wounded (announcement by the Al-Sham Province – Al-Khayr as published on Telegram, May 27, 2019).
    • On May 24, 2019, a hand grenade was thrown at SDF forces in the town of Al-Basira, about 14 km north of Al-Mayadeen. Two fighters were wounded (announcement by the Al-Sham Province – Al-Khayr as published on Telegram, May 26, 2019).
    • On May 26, 2019, at noon, two SDF fighters were killed by machine gun fire about 38 km east of Deir ez-Zor (announcement by the Al-Sham Province – Al-Khayr as published on Telegram, May 26, 2019).
    • On May 27, 2019, a motorcycle bomb was detonated against an SDF vehicle in the town of Al-Basira, about 14 km north of Al-Mayadeen. Five fighters were killed (announcement by the Al-Sham Province – Al-Khayr as published on Telegram, May 28, 2019). The explosion took place near the SDF Military Police Headquarters in Al-Basira (Deir ez-Zor 24, May 28, 2019).
The detonation of the motorcycle bomb (Deir ez-Zor 24, May 28, 2019)     ISIS’s motorcycle bomb parked near several cars, at least one of which is an SDF vehicle.
Right: ISIS’s motorcycle bomb parked near several cars, at least one of which is an SDF vehicle. Left: The detonation of the motorcycle bomb (Deir ez-Zor 24, May 28, 2019)

ISIS operatives released by SDF forces

  • On May 24, 2019, the SDF forces released 85 detainees accused of being ISIS operatives. The release took place in the village of Al-Kisra, about 78 km north of Deir ez-Zor. The ceremony was attended by Ghassan al-Yusuf, joint chairman of the civilian council of Deir ez-Zor and several tribal dignitaries (Deir ez-Zor 24, May 25, 2019).
  • In the ITIC’s assessment, the ISIS operatives released belonged to tribes in the area. The presence of tribal dignitaries in the ceremony was intended to serve as a “pledge” that those operatives would not return to operate within ISIS. In addition, it contributes to alleviating the tension between the SDF forces, which are mostly Kurdish, and the tribespeople in the Deir ez-Zor area, who are Sunni Arabs. On the other hand, there is still a risk that the released operatives will rejoin ISIS (which is present in the Deir ez-Zor area) and resume terrorist activity.
ISIS operatives released by the SDF forces in the village of Al-Kisra, north of Deir ez-Zor, with tribal dignitaries attending the ceremony (Deir ez-Zor 24, May 25, 2019)     ISIS operatives released by the SDF forces in the village of Al-Kisra, north of Deir ez-Zor, with tribal dignitaries attending the ceremony (Deir ez-Zor 24, May 25, 2019)
ISIS operatives released by the SDF forces in the village of Al-Kisra, north of Deir ez-Zor, with tribal dignitaries attending the ceremony (Deir ez-Zor 24, May 25, 2019)
Northern Syria
ISIS attacks in the Al-Raqqah area
  • ISIS attacks in the Al-Raqqah area continue:
    • On May 25, 2019, an IED was activated against an SDF vehicle about one kilometer west of Al-Raqqah. Six fighters were killed and wounded and the vehicle was damaged (Telegram, May 25, 2019).
    • On May 25, 2019, an IED was activated against a truck in central Al-Raqqah. One fighter was killed and another wounded (Telegram, May 25, 2019).
Main developments in Iraq
ISIS’s terrorist and guerrilla activity
  • Following are ISIS’s main terrorist and guerrilla activities in the various provinces:
    • Diyala Province: A Tribal Mobilization fighter was executed about 50 km north of Baqubah (Telegram, May 22, 2019).
    • Diyala Province: A mortar shell was fired at an Iraqi army base about 40 km northeast of Baqubah (Telegram, May 22, 2019).
    • Al-Anbar Province: A car bomb was detonated at a Popular Mobilization staging zone near the city of Al-Qaim (close to the border with Syria). Eight fighters were killed and wounded (Telegram, May 24, 2019).
    • Al-Anbar Province: Several IEDs were detonated against Iraqi army soldiers west of Ramadi. Nine soldiers were killed and wounded (Telegram, May 24, 2019).
    • Al-Anbar Province: An IED was detonated against a vehicle carrying Iraqi army soldiers south of Al-Qaim, killing four Iraqi soldiers (Telegram, May 26, 2019).
    • Salah al-Din Province: A Tribal Mobilization member allegedly serving as an agent of Iraqi Military Intelligence was killed 14 km north of Baghdad (ISIS’s Amaq News Agency announcement as published on Telegram, May 26, 2019).
    • Salah al-Din Province: A Tribal Mobilization base about 30 km southeast of Shirqat (about 90 km south of Mosul) was raided. Two IEDs were activated against a rescue force (announcement by the Iraq Province – Tigris Region as published on Telegram, May 25, 2019).
    • Nineveh Province: ISIS operatives attacked Tribal Mobilization forces west of Shirqat, killing five Tribal Mobilization fighters (announcement by the Iraq Province – Tigris Region as published on Telegram, May 25, 2019)
    • Diyala Province: An Iraqi army camp 6 km southeast of Baqubah was targeted with sniper fire. Two Iraqi army soldiers were killed (Telegram, May 28, 2019).
    • Diyala Province: Mortar shells were fired at a Shiite village about 70 km northeast of Baqubah (Telegram, May 28, 2019).
    • Nineveh Province: An IED was detonated against a Tribal Mobilization vehicle south of Mosul (Telegram, May 27, 2019).
    • Nineveh Province: A Tribal Mobilization fighter was killed in an IED explosion about 35 km south of Mosul (Telegram, May 27, 2019).
    • Salah al-Din Province: An IED was detonated against an Iraqi army vehicle southwest of Samarra, killing two soldiers and wounding three others (Telegram, May 27, 2019).
    • Nineveh Province: An IED was detonated against the vehicle of a Tribal Mobilization commander about 100 km southwest of Mosul. The commander was seriously wounded (Telegram, May 27, 2019).
    • Salah al-Din Province: An IED was detonated against a Popular Mobilization vehicle southwest of Samarra. Two Popular Mobilization fighters were killed and three others wounded (Telegram, May 27, 2019).
    • Salah al-Din Province: An IED was detonated against a Tribal Mobilization vehicle southwest of Kirkuk. Three Tribal Mobilization fighters were killed and two others wounded (Telegram, May 27, 2019).
    • Kirkuk Province: An IED was detonated against a Popular Mobilization vehicle east of Samarra. The fighters in the vehicle were either killed or wounded (Telegram, May 27, 2019).
    • Diyala Province ISIS operatives carried out several attacks against Tribal Mobilization fighters about 80 km north of Baqubah (Telegram, May 28-29, 2019).
New modus operandi: setting fire to fields

This week, ISIS’s Al-Nabā’ weekly (Issue 183) published an article stating that ISIS’s operatives had set fire to fields in Syria (in the Al-Hasakah Province) and Iraq (in the Diyala Province), causing great damage to “those who deviate from the path of Islam.” The article also noted that the harvest season was imminent, and called on the organization’s operatives to set fire to millions of dunams of grain and to damage facilities of an economic nature in Syria and Iraq (Telegram, May 23, 2018).

The article in the Al-Nabā’ weekly calling for the burning of fields in Iraq and Syria (Telegram, May 23, 2018)

The article in the Al-Nabā’ weekly calling for the burning of fields in Iraq and Syria
(Telegram, May 23, 2018)

  • The ISIS-affiliated Al-Abd al-Faqir Foundation joined the call in the Al-Naba’ weekly. The foundation published a poster on social media, which included a photo showing an ISIS operative using a flammable substance to set a field on fire. The poster quoted an excerpt from the article that appeared in the Al-Nabā’ weekly entitled “It looks like it’s going to be a hot summer!” (Telegram, May 26, 2019).

The poster published by the ISIS-affiliated Al-Abd al-Faqir Foundation, under the inscription, “It looks like it’s going to be a hot summer!” (Telegram, May 26, 2019)
The poster published by the ISIS-affiliated Al-Abd al-Faqir Foundation, under the inscription, “It looks like it’s going to be a hot summer!” (Telegram, May 26, 2019)

  • Initial implementation of the arson terrorism is evident on the ground. ISIS’s Amaq News Agency reported that the organization’s operatives in the Diyala Province had put a harvester out of commission in one of the villages and set fire to fields belonging to the members of the Popular Mobilization (i.e., Shiites)(Telegram, May 28-29, 2019).
Counterterrorist activities by the Iraqi security forces
  • The Iraqi security forces continued their counterterrorist activities in the various provinces. This activity included arrests, the destruction of ISIS facilities, and the detection of IEDs. Following are the main events:
    • Nineveh Province: Iraqi Military Intelligence forces ambushed and arrested a “terrorist operative” southeast of Mosul. The operative was responsible for sheltering suicide bombers in hiding places and driving them to carry out suicide bombing attacks (Al-Sumaria, May 26, 2019).
    • Al-Anbar Province: Iraqi Military Intelligence forces arrested a “terrorist operative” 5 km northeast of Fallujah. The operative’s two brothers were ISIS operatives who had fled to Turkey during the fighting (Al-Sumaria, May 26, 2019).
    • Diyala Province: Federal police forces uncovered two hiding places of “terrorist operatives” 43 km east of Baqubah. Explosives, weapons and ammunition were found in these hiding places (Iraqi News Agency, May 26, 2019)
    • Baghdad Province: Iraqi security forces set up a checkpoint west of Baghdad and thwarted an attempt by ISIS to smuggle a truck bomb into the capital (Al-Sumaria, May 27, 2019).
    • Al-Anbar Province: Iraqi security forces destroyed two ISIS camps in the western Al-Anbar Province. A number of ISIS operatives were arrested. In addition, large quantities of equipment and weapons were seized (Iraqi News Agency, May 27, 2019).
ISIS facility found in the western Al-Anbar Province (Al-Sumaria, May 27, 2019)    Military equipment and weapons found in one of the ISIS camps in the western desert of the Al-Anbar Province (Al-Sumaria, May 27, 2019).
Right: Military equipment and weapons found in one of the ISIS camps in the western desert of the Al-Anbar Province (Al-Sumaria, May 27, 2019). Left: ISIS facility found in the western Al-Anbar Province (Al-Sumaria, May 27, 2019)