The bus which ISIS claims carried soldiers going up in flames (ALBADIA24 Twitter account, December 30, 2020)
Main events of the past week
- This year’s Christmas festivities throughout the Christian world, which were held on a limited scale due to the spread of COVID-19, passed without attacks by ISIS supporters, despite their public threats.
- Routine attacks continued in ISIS’s various provinces in Syria, Iraq and throughout Africa and Europe. Noteworthy examples:
- Syria: ISIS operatives continued their intensive activity in the desert region west of the Euphrates Valley. One noteworthy incident was the attack on a bus carrying Syrian military personnel near Al-Sukhnah. According to ISIS, 40 soldiers were killed. According to the Syrian regime, they were civilians. In another incident, a convoy of oil tankers was attacked. According to ISIS, seven security guards were killed. According to the Syrian regime, the fatalities were civilians.
- Iraq: ISIS’s activity in northern and western Iraq focused on activating IEDs and sniper fire, and attacks on the Iraqi security forces, with no unusual incidents.
- The Sinai Peninsula: ISIS’s intensive activity continues in the northern Sinai Peninsula. The main types of attack were activating IEDs, firing at Egyptian army forces, and abducting civilians.
- Pakistan: ISIS operatives abducted and executed 11 coal miners, members of the Hazara Shiite ethnic minority in the province of Balochistan (in southwestern Pakistan). Attacks against Shiite minorities in Pakistan and Afghanistan are occasionally carried out by ISIS, which perceives Shiites as infidels who are fair game.
- Chechnya: In central Grozny, the capital of Chechnya, a stabbing attack was carried out against two policemen. One was killed and the other was wounded. Both of the attackers were shot dead. ISIS claimed responsibility.
The Syrian 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. The incidents occurred mainly on the northeastern part of the Al-Ghab Plain (about 40 km southwest of Idlib). Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) reported that its snipers had fired at forces supporting the Syrian army and killed four fighters (Ibaa, January 5, 2021).
ISIS’s activity in Syria
The region of Deir ez-Zor and Al-Mayadeen
- On January 4, 2021, an RPG rocket was fired at an oil tanker apparently belonging to the SDF, about 20 km southeast of Deir ez-Zor. The tanker was destroyed (Deir ez-Zor 24 Twitter account, January 4, 2021). So far, no organization has claimed responsibility for the incident. However, ISIS was probably behind it.
- On December 31, 2020, an SDF motorcycle was targeted by machine gun fire about 40 km northwest of Deir ez-Zor (on the east bank of the Euphrates River). Two fighters were killed.
The desert region (Al-Badia)
Deadly attack against a bus on the Deir ez-Zor-Palmyra road
- On December 30, 2020, a bus carrying civilians was attacked on the Deir ez-Zor-Palmyra highway, about 50 km southwest of Deir ez-Zor. According to the Syrian regime, 25 civilians were killed and 13 wounded. Sources in the Syrian opposition reported 39 killed (Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, December 31, 2020; SANA, December 30, 2020).
The site of the attack against the bus (Google Maps)
- ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack, but claimed that those killed were Syrian soldiers rather than civilians. According to ISIS, several IEDs were activated against a bus carrying soldiers of the 4th Division (a Syrian regime elite force) near Al-Sukhnah. After the IEDs were activated, ISIS operatives shot at the bus and it went up in flames. According to ISIS, 40 soldiers of the 4th Division were killed and six soldiers were severely wounded (Amaq, December 31, 2020).
- On January 1, 2021, forces of the Syrian army 17th Division and the Homeland Defense Forces launched searches for ISIS operatives, with the aim of securing the Deir ez-Zor-Palmyra highway (ALBADIA24 Twitter account, January 1, 2021).
- On December 24, 2020, ISIS activated an IED and fired at a bus carrying Republican Guard soldiers about 30 km southwest of Deir ez-Zor. Ten soldiers were killed. This may indicate that ISIS regards Syrian army vehicles moving in the desert region west of the Euphrates Valley as a preferred target.
Attack against a convoy of oil tankers
- On January 3, 2021, an ambush was set up for a convoy of oil tankers west of Ithriya. According to the Syrian regime, a “terror attack” was carried out against a convoy of oil tankers and three buses moving on the Ithriya-Salamiyah road. Nine civilians were killed and four were wounded (SANA, January 3, 2021).
- ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack. According to ISIS’s statement, its operatives set up an ambush and fired various weapons at a convoy of tankers carrying oil for the Syrian regime. According to the statement, the convoy was secured by forces of Hussam al-Qaterji (the owner of the Syrian Al-Qaterji oil company). Seven security guards were killed and three were wounded. Ten tankers went up in flames (Amaq and Telegram, January 5, 2021).
The site of the ambush for the convoy of the oil tankers (Google Maps)
- On December 31, 2020, an IED was activated against a force supporting the Syrian army in the Jabal al-Bishri region, about 75 km west of Deir ez-Zor. A Homeland Defense Forces fighter was killed (ALBADIA24 Twitter account, December 31, 2020).
- On December 30, 2020, an IED was activated against a Syrian army vehicle east of Hama. The passengers were killed or wounded.
Counterterrorism activities in the desert region
- On January 5, 2021, Russian fighter jets carried out airstrikes against ISIS in the desert region of Deir ez-Zor. The airstrikes mainly targeted ISIS hiding places. Several tunnels, where ISIS operatives were hiding, were destroyed. The airstrikes were reportedly carried out in preparation for a ground operation of searches for ISIS squads in the desert region (Khotwa, January 5, 2021).
- On January 4, 2021, an SDF roadblock was targeted by machine gun fire about 20 km east of Al-Raqqah. Three fighters were killed and another was wounded. An assault rifle was seized.
- On January 4, 2021, an IED was activated against an SDF intelligence operative’s vehicle in the northwestern part of Al-Raqqah. He was wounded.
- On January 1, 2021, an SDF vehicle was targeted by machine gun fire about 30 km east of Al-Raqqah. Seven fighters were killed or wounded.
An unusual attack of the Guardians of Religion Organization against a Russian army base
- On January 1, 2021, a car bomb was activated at the entrance to a Russian base in the village of Tal al-Saman, about 30 km north of Al-Raqqah. Afterwards, several ambulances arriving at the base were targeted by intensive gunfire. Five operatives of the Guardians of Religion Organization were reportedly killed during the attack and two Russians (apparently soldiers) were wounded (Kurdistan24, January 1, 2021). The Al-Qaeda-affiliated Guardians of Religion Organization claimed responsibility for the attack, which is the first of its kind carried out by the organization in this region (a Twitter account affiliated with Al-Qaeda, January 1, 2021).
The village of Tal al-Saman, north of Al-Raqqah, where the Russian army base was attacked (marked with an icon of an explosion) (Google Maps)
The Iraqi arena
Provinces of Iraq (Wikipedia)
ISIS attacks in the various provinces
Salah al-Din Province
- On January 3, 2021, a Tribal Mobilization fighter was targeted by machine gun fire about 60 km north of Baghdad. He was killed.
- On January 3, 2021, ISIS operatives in the Baiji region fired machine guns and RPG rockets at a Popular Mobilization compound. Several fighters were wounded.
- On January 2, 2021, Iraqi soldiers were targeted by machine gun fire about 80 km northeast of Baqubah. Two soldiers were killed and six were wounded.
- On December 29, 2020, Tribal Mobilization fighters were targeted by sniper fire about 80 km northeast of Baqubah. One fighter was killed and another was wounded.
- On December 29, 2020, an IED was activated against an Iraqi police vehicle about 40 km southwest of Kirkuk. The passengers were killed or wounded. In addition, an Iraqi policeman was killed by machine gun fire.
Counterterrorism activities by the Iraqi security forces
- On January 3, 2021, Coalition aircraft carried out an airstrike about 30 km south of Kirkuk. Two ISIS operatives were killed (Facebook page of Iraqi Armed Forces Spokesman Yahya Rasoul, January 3, 2021).
- On January 2, 2021, the Iraqi security forces carried out searches about 30 km south of Kirkuk. They found and destroyed four ISIS hiding places (Facebook page of Iraqi Armed Forces Spokesman Yahya Rasoul, January 2, 2021).
- On January 2, 2021, the Iraqi security forces captured an ISIS operative in the western part of Baqubah. He was responsible for the activation of an IED on December 25, 2020, against a liquor store in the Diyala Province. Following his interrogation, another IED that he had planted was neutralized (Al-Sumaria, January 2, 2021).
- On January 4, 2021, the Iraqi security forces operated about 100 km northwest of Mosul, in the region close to the Iraqi-Syrian border. The forces captured four suspects (apparently ISIS operatives) who had infiltrated into Iraq from Syria (Facebook page of Iraqi Armed Forces Spokesman Yahya Rasoul, January 4, 2021).
- On December 31, 2020, teams of the Nineveh Province Intelligence Directorate captured 12 wanted ISIS operatives (Al-Sumaria, December 31, 2020).