- Syria: In the Idlib region, exchanges of artillery fire continued between the Syrian army and the forces supporting it, and the rebel forces south of Idlib. Russian warplanes continued to carry out airstrikes against the rebel enclave in Idlib. The Deir ez-Zor-Al-Mayadeen region: There was an explosion in a gas pipeline that runs from the eastern part of Hama to the Al-Shadadi region. The explosion of the pipeline stopped the flow of gas in the area. ISIS did not issue an official claim of responsibility but its operatives were apparently behind the attack.
- Iraq: The main event this week was a car bomb explosion in the western Al-Anbar Province, killing and wounding at least 15 Iraqi soldiers and Tribal Mobilization fighters. As part of their counterterrorism operations, this week, Iraqi security forces detained a senior ISIS commander in charge of manufacturing ISIS’s IEDs in Iraq. This is the latest in a series of senior ISIS figures who were recently detained or killed in Iraq.
- Egypt: Three Egyptian soldiers were killed, including an officer with the rank of colonel, when an IED was activated against an Egyptian army foot patrol south of the city of Rafah. ISIS’s Sinai Province claimed responsibility for the attack.
- Africa: ISIS carried out noteworthy attacks in Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. In Nigeria, ISIS operatives temporarily took control of the town of Dikwa in the northeast of the country. ISIS operatives took control of a UN aid center in the town, and abducted several aid workers. In the Congo, 35 soldiers were killed in an attack carried out by ISIS’s operatives in the Beni region, in the northeast of the country. In Niger, ISIS operatives blew up a high-voltage pylon in the Diffa region. According to ISIS’s claim of responsibility, the attack was part of the “economic war” being waged by ISIS in the various provinces.
- Counterterrorism in Europe: In Germany, a Muslim preacher of Iraqi descent was sentenced to prison for recruiting ISIS fighters throughout Germany. Turkey arrested three ISIS operatives who had attempted to illegally cross the border from Syria. Materials for preparing IEDs were found in their possession.
The Syrian arena
Provinces of Syria (Freeworlamaps)
The Idlib region
- During the week, exchanges of artillery fire continued in the region south and southeast of the rebel enclave in Idlib almost on a daily basis between the rebel forces headed by HTS, and the Syrian army and the forces supporting it (Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, February 2021). Russian fighter jets carried out airstrikes against rebel targets in the western part of the enclave (Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, February 20, 2021).
- HTS operatives detained several operatives of rival organizations in the rebel enclave. On February 25, 2021, several ISIS operatives were detained in Al-Atareb, east of Aleppo (@smmsyria Twitter account, February 25, 2021). On February 28, 2021, two operatives of Hurras al-Din, an organization affiliated with Al-Qaeda, were detained (Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, February 20, 2021).
The desert region (Al-Badia)
- ISIS operatives attacked a force of Syrian army troops and the forces supporting them between the provinces of Hama, Aleppo and Al-Raqqah. Nine Syrian soldiers and fighters of the forces supporting them were killed and several others were wounded. Communication was lost with 12 other soldiers and it is unclear whether they managed to flee or were captured by ISIS. In support of the Syrian army troops, Russian fighter jets carried out several airstrikes against ISIS in the area (Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, February 20, 2021).
The Deir ez-Zor-Al-Mayadeen region
- The Syrian Oil Ministry reported an explosion in the gas pipeline that runs from the eastern part of Hama to the Al-Shadadi region. The explosion occurred in the Abu Khashab area, about 70 km north of Deir ez-Zor, and the gas supply was stopped (SANA, February 27, 2021). For the time being, no organization has claimed responsibility. However, it seems that ISIS was behind the attack, which is quite similar to the “economic attacks” which have recently been carried out by ISIS against civilian infrastructure in the various provinces.
The pipeline being blown up (SANA, February 27, 2021)
- Following are additional noteworthy incidents:
- On February 25, 2021, an “infidel sorcerer” (as referred to in ISIS’s statement) was targeted by machine gun fire in Sabha, about 25 km southeast of Deir ez-Zor.
- On February 23, 2021, an SDF roadblock about 15 km north of Al-Mayadeen was targeted by machine gun fire and RPG rockets. Two SDF fighters were wounded.
- On February 27, 2021, an IED was activated against an SDF vehicle east of Karamah, about 40 km east of Al-Raqqah. The passengers were wounded and the vehicle was put out of commission. Several days before, on February 23, 2021, an IED was activated against an SDF vehicle north of Al-Raqqah. Two SDF fighters were killed and the vehicle was put out of commission.
- On February 23, 2021, two SDF fighters were captured in the Tel Hamis area, about 60 km northeast of Al-Hasakah. They were later executed.
Russian helicopter crash
- The Russian Defense Ministry reported that a Russian Mi-35 helicopter on a reconnaissance mission in the Al-Hasakah region made an emergency landing. According to the Defense Ministry, this was due to a technical malfunction rather than gunfire at the helicopter, and the crew escaped unscathed (Kommersant, February 28, 2021). Local sources in Al-Hasakah said that three Russian soldiers and the helicopter commander had been killed (Khotwa, February 28, 2021).
The Iraqi arena
Provinces of Iraq (Wikipedia)
ISIS’s attacks in the various provinces in Iraq
- According to an ISIS report, on February 28, 2021, its operatives detonated a car bomb in the Haditha area, in the western Al-Anbar Province, about 120 km from the Iraqi-Syrian border. According to the report, the car was parked close to a group of Iraqi army soldiers and Tribal Mobilization fighters and was detonated against them. Eight Iraqi soldiers and Tribal Mobilization fighters were killed and at least seven others were wounded. According to an Iraqi security source, the car bomb exploded when a security forces team was trying to neutralize it. One soldier was killed and five others were wounded. In addition, six Tribal Mobilization fighters were killed, and several others were wounded (Al-Sumaria, February 28, 2021).
- On March 1, 2021, mortar shells were fired at an Iraqi army base in southern Jalula, about 75 km northeast of Baqubah. According to ISIS reports, the camp sustained damage. No casualties were reported.
- On February 28, 2021, a Popular Mobilization vehicle was targeted by gunfire in the Kanaan area, about 15 km southeast of Baqubah. Three fighters were killed and the vehicle was destroyed.
- On February 23, 2021, an IED was activated against a vehicle carrying a Tribal Mobilization fighter in the Al-Azim area, about 60 km north of Baqubah. The fighter was wounded and the vehicle was put out of commission.
- On February 24, 2021, Popular Mobilization fighters were targeted by machine gun fire near Kara Tapa, about 75 km north of Baqubah. Two fighters were wounded and an engineering vehicle was put out of commission.
Salah al-Din Province
ISIS’s economic war continues
- ISIS’s Al-Naba’ weekly reported two incidents in which ISIS operatives hit economic infrastructure in Iraq in what was dubbed “operations as part of the economic war against the dissent government [i.e., the Shiite government of Iraq] and its infidel militias.” According to the report, on February 11, 2021, ISIS operatives activated IEDs against high-voltage pylons and a generator in use by the Popular Mobilization forces in the Tikrit region. The report also stated that ISIS operatives had blown up a water well in use by the Tribal Mobilization north of Al-Alam, about 15 km north of Tikrit (Al-Naba’ weekly, Telegram, February 25, 2021).
The report in ISIS’s Al-Naba’ weekly about the attacks
(Al-Naba’ weekly, Telegram, February 25, 2021)
- On February 28, 2021, two Iraqi soldiers were targeted by gunfire in the Tarmiyah area, about 30 km north of Baghdad. One soldier was killed and the other was wounded.
Counterterrorism measures in Iraq
Senior ISIS commander detained west of Baghdad
- As part of the Iraqi intelligence counterterrorism activities, Nimr Baghdad, who was in charge of manufacturing ISIS’s IEDs in Iraq, was detained in Abu Ghraib area, west of Baghdad (Al-Hurra, February 25, 2021). Nimr Baghdad is another in a series of senior ISIS operatives who have recently been detained or killed by the Iraqi security forces. The list includes Abu Yasser al-Issawi, deputy ISIS leader and governor (wali) of the Iraq Province, and Ghanem Sabah Jawad, who was in charge of the transportation of suicide bombers and operatives, both killed in an airstrike on January 28, 2021; Muthanna Shataran al-Marawi, ISIS military commander in the desert area, killed on January 30, 2021, in western Iraq; Jabbar Ali Fayad, ISIS’s South Iraq commander, killed on February 2, 2021; and Muhannad Ahmad Habib, commander of North Baghdad and Karma, killed on February 4, 2021.
- During the week, the Iraqi security forces detained several ISIS operatives. The Iraqi Border Police located in the desert area (no specific location was mentioned, but it was probably near the Syrian border) several dozen rockets apparently hidden by ISIS operatives (Al-Sumaria, March 1, 2021).
- A force of the counterterrorism unit detained three ISIS operatives in Kirkuk (Al-Sumaria, February 28, 2021).
- A force of the counterterrorism unit detained three ISIS operatives south of Mosul (Al-Sumaria, February 28, 2021).