Regional Intelligence Digest: 5th – 12th November 2015
MAIN EVENTS OF THE WEEK
- According to media reports from the conflict zones, the Syrian Army’s ground offensive, with Iranian and Russian air support, has been halted. The rebel organisations, led by the Al-Nusra Front and ISIS (which are collaborating in face of the common enemy) took the initiative and are now expanding the areas under their control south of Aleppo and north of Hama. If they continue to advance, the rebel organizations are liable to cut off the Syrian forces in the area of Aleppo from their logistic hinterland in the areas controlled by the Syrian regime. On the other hand, according to Syrian media reports, the Syrian Army managed to lift the siege on the Kuweyres military airbase, east of Aleppo.
- Additional information published in the media reinforces the conclusion that the Russian plane was downed in Sinai as a result of the explosion of an IED, planted on board in Sharm el-Sheikh. ISIS, on its part, began a media campaign (including in Russian) presenting the interception of the plane as an act of revenge for the airstrikes carried out by the Russians against it in Syria. ISIS spokesmen threatened to carry out additional acts of revenge, including in Russia itself. We have more detail on ISIS actions below.
- In the meantime, ISIS continues to establish its control over the important city of Sirte, in northern Libya. ISIS is brutally forcing local residents to obey the strict Salafist code of conduct (as it has done in Iraq and Syria), imposing taxes and detaining or killing its opponents. At the same time, ISIS is establishing its military infrastructure in Sirte, including through the establishment of a new training center for new fighters who will fight in the ranks of ISIS throughout Libya.
- A network calling itself The Caucasus Fighters, made up of Chechen and other operatives from the northern Caucasus, has issued a video showing weapons allegedly seized from a Russian force operating in the Latakia region. The video shows the unit commander, codenamed Hamza the Chechen, next to another fighter in the unit holding what he claims is a Russian bulletproof vest. According to Hamza the Chechen, the Russians withdrew, leaving behind large quantities of weapons and equipment.
- The rebel organizations continue to expand the area under their control south of the city of Aleppo. This week the Al-Nusra Front took over a few strategic locations in the village of Al-Wadihi. Thus the rebel organisations are approaching the main highway between Aleppo and Hama, and are threatening to cut off the Syrian Army in and around Aleppo from its logistic and military hinterland. On the other hand, the Syrians reported that they had managed to remove the siege on the Kuweyres military airbase, east of Aleppo.
- This week, the Al-Nusra Front expanded the areas under its control, as part of what it calls the second stage of the battle to regain control of the southern part of Aleppo. This week, Al-Nusra Front operatives managed to take over a few strategic locations in the area of the village of Al-Wadihi, about 11 km south of Aleppo. The places they took over are Tall Al-Sarwu, Tall Al-Maqbarah and Tall Teena Khaled (Twitter accounts affiliated with the Al-Nusra Front, November 5, 2015). An Al-Nusra Front’s Twitter account posted photos showing its operatives firing rockets at an Iranian force in Tall Al-Sarwu and Tall Al-Maqbarah (Al-Nusra Front’s Twitter account, November 5, 2015).
- According to recent media reports, Russian airstrikes have caused great destruction in Al-Raqqah, ISIS’s so-called capital. The main bridge connecting the city of Al-Raqqah to its periphery was reportedly attacked, among other things. According to local residents, ISIS, which controls the city, has cut off the city’s water sources and does not allow its residents to go to the Euphrates River to fetch water. The supply of electricity in the city has been disrupted and electricity is available only during predefined hours. ISIS operatives have also set up many checkpoints on the main streets of the city and in its residential neighborhoods.
- ISIS operatives reportedly released a group of 37 Syrian Christians, part of a group of 200 Christians who were abducted by ISIS in February 2015. The group returned to the village of Tel Tamer, in the Al-Hasakah province in northeastern Syria. According to members of the group, negotiations to release the remaining captives This is the second group of Christians released by ISIS in the wake of negotiations
- Fighting between ISIS and the Iraqi Army continues around the city of Ramadi and in Samarra, north of Baghdad, with no significant changes on the ground. The Iraqi Defense Ministry announced that US forces operating in Iraq had finished training 4,800 Iraqi soldiers to fight against ISIS. Their training included, among other things, fighting in built-up areas and fighting against guerrilla warfare on the part of ISIS.
- On November 8, 2015, a double suicide bombing attack was carried out in the city of Baghdad. In the attack, two car bombs driven by suicide bombers exploded in the Shiite neighborhood of Al-Sadr, in Baghdad. As a result, seven people were killed and ten others were injured. ISIS was apparently behind the attack. ISIS occasionally detonates car bombs in the Shiite neighborhoods of Baghdad in order to sow fear and to harm the Shiite-affiliated Iraqi government.
EGYPT AND THE SINAI PENINSULA
- During the week, the Egyptian security forces continued their intensive counterterrorism activities against operatives of the ISIS’s Sinai province. As part of their operation, the Egyptian security forces have carried out numerous airstrikes, mainly against terrorist bases in the areas of Al-Arish, Rafah and Sheikh Zuweid. In an extensive military operation, the Egyptian security forces detained several dozen suspects, destroyed terrorist infrastructure and confiscated weapons, cars, motorcycles and uniforms of the Egyptian security forces. The Egyptian security forces also reportedly killed ten militants in the village of Al-Jura who were in charge of manufacturing rocket warheads.
- On the other hand, Sinai province operatives continued to carry out attacks against the Egyptian security forces, some of which were thwarted.
- Additional information based in part on intelligence, quoted by Western media, reinforces the conclusion that the Russian plane was downed as a result of an IED planted on the plane by ISIS.
- A senior British security source said that British intelligence had intercepted conversations between ISIS operatives with a British accent after the Russian plane crash in Sinai. They are suspected of being the ISIS operatives who prepared the bomb that was planted in the Russian plane.
- Egyptian sources close to the investigation of the crash said that after the analysis of the two black boxes from the plane, the prevailing assessment is that an IED planted on the plane caused the crash. According to the sources, this has not yet been conclusively proven. The Russians believe that an employee at the airport in Sharm el-Sheikh planted the IED on the plane, unknown to the Egyptian security officials.
- In the meantime, ISIS is conducting a media campaign presenting the downing of the plane as an act of revenge for the airstrikes carried out by the Russians in Syria and threatening to carry out additional terrorist attacks:
- On November 4, 2015, ISIS’s Sinai province issued an audio file in which it again claimed responsibility for downing the Russian aircraft over Sinai. The speaker notes that the downing of the plane was “an imperative of Allah”. The speaker also says that ISIS will choose when and how to explain how it carried out the operation. He adds that the plane was downed on the anniversary of the pledge of allegiance to ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi (archive.org, November 4, 2015).
- ISIS’s media foundation in the Nineveh province released a video entitled “The Downing of the Russian Plane – Revenge for our People in Al-Sham (Syria).” The video shows a group of Western-looking operatives, including a Russian speaker who congratulates the Sinai province for downing the plane. He addresses President Putin directly, calling him a pig, and says that the Russians will be sorry for sending planes, equipment and soldiers to fight against ISIS, since they [ISIS operatives] will reach every one of them and will not content themselves with destroying their planes, and will carry out attacks in their country and will slaughter them.
- ISIS media foundation in the Aleppo province released a video entitled “Healing the Soul by killing the Russians.” In the video, ISIS claims responsibility for downing the plane and explains how Russia established ties with Iran, attacked the houses of Muslims in Syria and, in effect, constitutes another branch of Assad’s army. The video shows Syrian civilians praising the downing of the Russian plane and anticipating “more successes.”
- On November 8, 2015, Serbia’s Foreign Ministry issued a statement that two employees of the Embassy of Serbia in Libya (a man and a woman) had been abducted in the city of Sabratah, in western Libya (68 km west of Tripoli). No details about the employees were given.
- According to local sources in Libya, ISIS operatives took control of two trucks loaded with flour, which were on their way to Jafrah, in the south of the country. The trucks were unloaded in Sirte and the drivers were released. Last week, this happened again, with trucks of flour on their way to the south of the country. The flour was unloaded and sold to bakeries in the city of Sirte for a high price.
- According to ongoing reports, ISIS continues to impose its rule on the local population in the city of Sirte: ISIS has granted a final extension to shop owners in the city who have not yet paid the poll tax (jizya). According to a jihadi source, ISIS operatives in Sirte detained five Libyan citizens who refused to pay the poll tax. They threatened to kill them if their families did not pay the tax. ISIS also warned the shop owners whose occupations are prohibited by the Islamic court that ISIS set up in the city that they must change their sphere of operation (ISIS has banned the sale of cigarettes, perfume, cosmetics, women’s clothing apart from the hijab, underwear for men and women, and CDs of movies and songs). ISIS has also banned the existence of cafés for smoking hookahs, and beauty salons.
- ISIS has begun the construction of a new training center in the area of Sirte with the aim of training fighters for its ranks in Libya. The center is being built in the area of Al-Sawawa, located about seven kilometers east of the city. ISIS is reportedly forcing the city’s residents to enlist, and those who refuse are detained and tortured. ISIS’s training center is supervised by instructors originally from the Gaza Strip and Iraq: one is a Palestinian codenamed Abu Sufyan al-Ghadan, who served in the Hamas military wing, and the other an Iraqi named Jassam Mahmoud, aka Abu Omar al-Tikriti. On November 4, 2015, a powerful explosion was reported in the area of Al-Sab’ah in Sirte, where most of ISIS’s camps in the city are located. According to subsequent media reports, this was a demonstration of a car bomb explosion which was carried out in front of Libyan minors who recently enlisted in the ranks ISIS. The minors come from Sirte, Nofaliya and Ajdabiya.
- On November 5, 2015, Salafist Sheikh Faraj Al-Uraybi was murdered in the city of Ajdabiya, southeast of Sirte. ISIS claimed responsibility for his murder. He was the seventh Salafist sheikh recently murdered in the area. According to a security source in the city, the number of murders of imams, police and security officials, and civilian activists has reached 30.
- At least five people, including two American trainers, were killed on Monday, November 9th, at an Amman training compound by a Jordanian police officer who fired on them before he was shot to death, the government said.
- On the morning of November 4th, 2015, two men on a motorcycle reached a police checkpoint in Baruipara, near the capital Dhaka. The two motorcycle riders, who were wearing helmets, stabbed two police officers, shot at them and then fled the scene. On November 4th, 2015, ISIS’s Bangladesh province posted a claim of responsibility for the attack in the capital Dhaka (ISIS-affiliated Twitter account; justpaste.it, November 4, 2015).
- Two suicide bombings killed at least 43 people and wounded 240 others in the Borj al-Barajneh neighbourhood of South Beirut, November 12th. The bombs targeted a Shia community center, near to a Hezbollah-administered hospital. A third bomber was killed in one of the blasts before he could detonate his own explosives. The Islamic State claimed credit for the attack.
- During the last few weeks, there has been a growing trend of lively discourse on the Shumukh Al-Islam forum about flight and aircraft. The downing of the Russian Kogalymavia Airlines plane in the Sinai Peninsula on October 31, 2015 increased the scope of the conversations on the forum that dealt with flight and the possibility of attacking aircraft.
- On the backdrop of the forum discussions is the claim of responsibility for the attack by the Sinai Province of the Islamic State.
- Since it is clear that the narrator of the announcement was referring to the pledge of allegiance made by Ansar Bayt Al-Maqdis to the Islamic State, it should be noted that the organisation’s pledge of allegiance to the Caliphate was publicised on November 3rd last year.
- A significant portion of the discourse on the forum contained expressions of joy and praise for the success of the attack, and for the damage caused to the Russian and Egyptian governments. Some of the visitors even described the attack as “a 9/11 attack against Russia”. Alongside the words of praise, the discourse also included operative suggestions for bringing down planes, carrying out attacks in airspace, and the use of aircraft in the framework of jihad. Below are several examples, including posts that were published before the attack on the Russian plane:
- A forum participant nicknamed “Al-Maqdisi” wrote: “As usual, the [Islamic] State is closer to the truth. What strengthens the assumption that the Islamic State is responsible for the incident is the fact that there is a wealth of IGLA, and the Sinai mountains are three kilometers above sea level – which improves effectiveness. When visibility is good, a clearly identifiable, slow moving target, which lacks maneuvering capabilities and is easy to monitor – a target flying at a low altitude of just 9 kilometers – does not present any problem for the Libyan 9K338 Igla-S with a range of 6 kilometers.” In another post, “Al-Maqdisi” suggested setting up an assembly line for gliders after gathering information from the internet, arranging a training course on the use of a glider, and transmitting the information to the Islamic State.
- A visitor to the forum published a post addressing engineers in the Islamic State, suggesting they find ways to disrupt GPS and other navigation tools on Coalition Force airplanes. In that context, the visitor claimed that the Iranians used “GPS Spoofing” in order to down the Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) belonging to American Intelligence (December 2011), and referred to an academic study on the subject titled “On the Requirements for Successful GPS Spoofing Attacks”.
- A forum participant nicknamed “abu osama” noted that several weeks earlier (September 2015), the Islamic State in Sinai Province ran a training course for its people on the subject of anti-aircraft and anti-tank attacks. In a photo report, a class on the subject of the 9K38 IGLA surface to air missile, and of the KORNET-(E) anti-tank missile was documented. The class included a slideshow on the subject as well as an exhibit of the weapons themselves.
- The forum participant nicknamed “al-Maqdisi” published a method – which he attributes to a Muslim physicist – for building anti-aircraft missiles independently. In an article he uploaded, he posted instructions for constructing a “heat-seeking missile” using components that can be purchased on the internet, alongside a technical explanation of the angle the missile should be aimed when targeting an airplane.
This report has been collected and collated by Global Risk Awareness, a leading Cyber Intelligence company.