Regional Intelligence Digest: 5th - 12th November 2015

Regional Intel Report 10th to 16th December 2015

In this week’s Middle East Regional Intelligence we see no significant military changes on the ground in Syria and Iraq. The most prominent ISIS activity of the past week was a large-scale attack by suicide bombers, carried out with truck/car bombs or explosive belts in Iraq and Syria. ISIS carried out lethal terrorist attacks against an Alawite neighbourhood in Homs, rival rebel organisations north of Aleppo, Kurdish forces in the area of Al-Hasakah, the Iraqi Army in the area of Ramadi, an Iraqi governmental institution in the vicinity of Samarra, Shiite and governmental targets in Baghdad, and the Kurdish Peshmerga forces near the Iraqi-Syrian border.

This terrorist offensive, which is unusual in scope and carried by dozens of suicide bombers may, in Global Risk Awareness Analyst Team assessment, indicate that ISIS is in distress in the various battle zones, especially in Iraq.

RUSSIAN INVOLVEMENT IN THE CIVIL WAR IN SYRIA

Russian warplanes continued their attacks in Syria, mainly in the areas of Latakia, Al-Hasakah, Deir al-Zor, Hama, Idlib, Aleppo and Damascus. At the same time, Russia stationed a submarine armed with cruise missiles in the eastern basin of the Mediterranean Sea, off the coast of Syria. Cruise missiles were launched from the submarine at ISIS targets in Al-Raqqah, a distance of 1,500 km from the coast.

In the meantime, tension continues between Russia and Turkey, which began after the interception of the Russian aircraft. During the week, there were two incidents: The first incident occurred when a photo of a Russian soldier carrying a rocket launcher on his shoulder during a voyage by a Russian ship in the Bosporus Strait was distributed (the Turkish Foreign Minister called this provocation); Another incident occurred on December 13, 2015, when a Russian warship sailing in the Aegean Sea fired warning shots at a Turkish fishing boat. Following the incident, Turkish Prime Minister Davutoğlu said that Turkey was examining possible measures against Russia and would impose sanctions on Russia if necessary. He added, however, that Turkey remained open to negotiations with Moscow.

MAIN DEVELOPMENTS IN SYRIA

This week as well, there were no significant changes on the ground. This week was marked by a large number of car bomb and suicide bombing attacks carried out by ISIS against the rebel forces north of Aleppo, against the Kurds in the area of Al- Hasakah, and in an Alawite neighbourhood in Homs. These attacks killed dozens of people. In the Homs province, ISIS operatives managed to retake the village of Mheen and two nearby villages southeast of Homs. In southwest Aleppo, the Syrian Army managed to take over several villages, killing dozens of Jaysh al-Fatah operatives (an Islamic umbrella framework led by the Al-Nusra Front).

HOMS PROVINCE

During the week, ISIS reported a number of successes in the area southeast of Homs (where there were local clashes last week as well). According to ISIS, its operatives recaptured the village of Mheen and two nearby villages from the Syrian Army. In addition, large quantities of weapons reportedly fell into ISIS’s hands.

THE AREA OF PALMYRA

On December 10, 2015, the Syrian Army reported finding a truck bomb, apparently abandoned by ISIS in the city of Palmyra (YouTube, December 10, 2015). According to a report on the Hezbollah-affiliated Lebanese website Al-Ahed News, ISIS operatives abandoned the truck bomb and fled. The truck bomb’s target was a Syrian position in an area ten km west of the city of Palmyra.

ALEPPO PROVINCE

On December 11, 2015, ISIS claimed responsibility for the detonation of a booby- trapped APC in the staging zone of rebel organisations in the village of Jarez, about 40 km north of Aleppo (near the border with Turkey). The booby-trapped APC was driven by a suicide bomber codenamed Haydarah al-Badrani. The explosion had killed and wounded dozens, including Abu al-Hassan, commander of the main force of Al-Jabha al-Shamiya, a framework of rebel organisations operating in northern Syria.

Local skirmishes continued in the rural area south of Aleppo. According to a report from December 12, 2015, Syrian Army troops managed to take over six villages in the area of Qurayhah, in the rural area south of Aleppo.

DAMASCUS

An agreement has apparently been reached between ISIS and the Al-Nusra Front, in which, Global Risk Awareness Analyst Team have reasons to believe the Syrian regime is also involved. The agreement pertains to the control over parts of the Yarmouk refugee camp and the nearby neighbourhoods (south of Damascus).

According to reports, an accord has been reached, through intermediaries, with regard to the neighbourhoods of Al-Hajar al-Aswad (an ISIS stronghold), the Yarmouk refugee camp, and Al-Tadamon. Under the agreement, the gunmen who will be evacuated from these areas will be sent to Idlib (an Al-Nusra Front stronghold) and to Al-Raqqah (an ISIS stronghold), and about 140 wives and children of ISIS operatives will also be sent to Al-Raqqah. State authorities will resume control over the places that are evacuated. It was also decided that the withdrawal of the gunmen will be backed by sureties from the UN and a number of other countries. However, we should wait and see whether and how the agreement is implemented in practice.

MAIN DEVELOPMENTS IN IRAQ

This week there has been no material change in the situation on the ground. In the city of Ramadi and the surrounding area and in the cities of Baghdad and Samara, ISIS carried out suicide bombing attacks and car bomb attacks and planted IEDs. This occurred concurrently with the wave of attacks carried out by ISIS in Syria.

THE AREA OF AL-JAZEERA (the Iraqi-Syrian border)

According to the Iraqi Interior Ministry, an Iraqi Army airstrike near the Iraqi- Syrian border killed at least 15 ISIS operatives and injured others. Those killed included Abu Amana al-Masri and Mohammad Hamid al-Alassafi, senior ISIS officials who were close to ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. The injured reportedly included one of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s aides, Abu Ali al-Anbari, who was sent to a hospital in Abu Kamal for treatment.

Two days earlier, ISIS issued a video documenting the fighting in northern Al- Jazeera. The video shows mortar shells and artillery being fired at the Kurdish Peshmerga forces’ headquarters, northeast of the city of Mosul. According to a report by ISIS, the attack also included suicide bombers who broke into the headquarters and killed 16 members of the Peshmerga.

ISIS FUNDING RESOURCES

Al-Jazeera TV reported that it had obtained original ISIS documents indicating how it operates the 27 oil fields under its control in Syria. According to the documents, about half of these oil fields are located in the Deir al-Zor province and the rest in the provinces of Al-Hasakah and Al-Raqqah. According to the documents, ISIS’s monthly revenues from the oil fields amount to around USD 60 million, around USD 34 million dollars of which comes from the 18 oil fields in the area of Deir al-Zor.

ISIS is collecting high profits from the production and the sale of oil. Assad regime was among the main buyers of oil from ISIS and that some of it also reached Turkey and the Kurdish areas.

In the past, ISIS’s revenues from the oil fields in Iraq and Syria were estimated at USD 100 million per month (September 2014). The documents obtained by Al-Jazeera (assuming that they are authentic) indicate that ISIS’s monthly revenues have dropped by tens of millions of dollars. Now the airstrikes of the US and its allies and Russia are focused on ISIS’s oil infrastructure and marketing system, with the goal of further reducing its profits from the production of oil, thereby harming its military and governmental capabilities.

EGYPT AND THE SINAI PENINSULA

During the week, the Egyptian security forces continued military operations against ISIS’s Sinai branch. In this context, they carried out intensive activity, mainly in the area of Rafah, Sheikh Zuweid, and Al-Arish. Many terrorist operatives were detained, infrastructure was destroyed, and cars and motorcycles without license plates were confiscated. In addition, the Egyptian security forces have stepped up supervision at checkpoints and set up many more mobile checkpoints.

Egyptian security sources reported that security apparatus uncovered a squad of women married to senior officials of ISIS’s Sinai province, who serve as collaborators to ISIS operatives. The Egyptian security forces detained a woman carrying a walkie-talkie and mobile phone chips intended for one of the operatives. ISIS operatives reportedly use women to transfer IEDs and plant them on roads used by military vehicles. They also help operatives monitor the activities of the Egyptian security forces.

EGYPTIAN REPORT ON THE RUSSIAN PLANE CRASH

The Egyptian commission of inquiry which investigated the circumstances of the Russian plane crash has prepared a preliminary report and sent it to the International Air Transport Association (IATA). The report states that no evidence of involvement of terrorist elements or other illegal activity was found in the Russian plane crash. According Ayman al-Muqaddam, chairman of the commission of inquiry, they are now waiting for Russia’s reports on identifying the bodies and determining the status of the victims.

Russian Presidential Spokesman Dmitry Peskov said he could not comment on the announcement but he could repeat the investigation by their experts, who concluded that the crash occurred due to a terrorist attack.

ISRAEL AND GAZA

ISIS announced the death of one of its commanders, Issa Abd al-Karim al-Laqta, aka Abu Aisha al-Ghazawi. He was killed on December 7, 2015, in a Russian airstrike on the city of Al-Raqqah, Syria.

According to Palestinian media reports, Issa Abd al-Karim al-Laqta, aka Abu Aisha al-Ghazawi, was from the Sheikh Radwan neighbourhood in Gaza. According to the reports, he was a former operative in the military wing of Hamas and decided to leave due to differences of opinion. About a year ago he went to Syria, where he joined ISIS. In Syria, he married and fathered a child. Six months ago, Al-Laqta threatened Hamas, saying that terrorist attacks would be carried out in the Gaza Strip and it would be turned into a “pool of blood” if Hamas didn’t release the Salafist operatives that it was holding. There are various versions regarding the circumstances of his death. According to one version, he was killed in the rural area of Aleppo, and according to another version he was killed in a Russian airstrike in the area of Al-Raqqah.

Another Israeli Arab who joined ISIS

A Muslim Israeli citizen who had served as a combatant in the IDF’s Givati Brigade recently joined the ranks of ISIS. He is a young man from the Arab town of Fureidis, in the outskirts of Haifa. According to his papers, he was discharged from the IDF in January 2014. He left Israel for Turkey and from there he went to Syria. He took his dog tags with him. The young man’s mother claims that his family has not been in contact with him for the past five years, because of a family feud. After leaving home, he enlisted into the IDF and since then they do not know what has become of him.

Our Middle East Regional Intelligence is provided by Global Risk Awareness – a leading Cyber Intelligence provider.