Regional Intelligence Weekly Digest – 29th October 2015 – 5th November 2015
This digest has been compiled for SecurityMiddleEast.com by GlobalRiskAwareness a leading cyber intelligence company.
MAIN EVENTS OF THE WEEK
- This week has been marked by the crash of a Russian plane in northern Sinai, in which its 224 passengers were killed. ISIS has claimed responsibility for downing the plane through social media accounts. There is still no final verification for this claim of responsibility, but the possibility that it was indeed an ISIS attack that caused the plane crash cannot be ruled out. Prime Minister David Cameron stated this Wednesday that exists a strong possibility of a bomb or an explosive device placed at the plane. CNN reported that a US intelligence official assessed that there was a high probability that the crash was caused by an explosive charge that went off on the plane. Later this Thursday, President Obama stated the same.
- The Syrian Army’s ground offensive in northwestern Syria, with an emphasis on the rural area south of Aleppo, failed to progress this week as well. ISIS operatives managed to take over most of the city of Al-Safirah, south of Aleppo, thereby threatening the Syrian Army’s supply line to Aleppo. There have been no significant developments in the areas of Idlib and Hama, which were also targets of the Syrian attack.
- In Iraq, fighting continues between the Iraqi security forces and ISIS around three important cities: the area of Ramadi in the Al-Anbar province, which the Iraqi Army is seeking to take over (so far unsuccessfully); the area of the oil city of Baiji, where ISIS is trying to take over key areas in its vicinity, after Baiji fell into the hands of the Iraqi Army; and the area of the city of Samarra, south of Baiji, where ISIS began an attack against the Iraqi forces.
- While the Syrian Army’s ground offensive in northwestern Syria is making no progress, Russian Air Force planes carried out multiple airstrikes in Syria this week. The airstrikes were concentrated on the areas of Aleppo, Idlib, Homs, Hama, Latakia, and Damascus. According to Russian reports, the airstrikes damaged the military infrastructure of ISIS and the Al-Nusra Front. Russia’s Defense Ministry dismissed allegations that the airstrikes also hit civilian targets (TASS News Agency, November 2, 2015).
- The Russian Army chief of staff said that since the beginning of the airstrikes in Syria, which began on September 30, Russia’s forces had carried out 1,391 sorties in Syria, destroying 1,623 terrorist targets. These targets included 249 ISIS command posts, 51 training camps, and 131 storage sites. He said that ISIS had turned some of the areas under its control into fortified sites, including underground tunnels and shelters. He claimed that the Russian airstrikes had enabled the Syrian forces to attack in Aleppo, Latakia, Idlib, Homs and Damascus, and to liberate extensive areas (Sputnik, October 3, 2015). According to one report, 279 ISIS operatives and 131 Al-Nusra Front operatives were injured in these airstrikes (ISIS Twitter, October 29, 2015).
- This week, fighting continued between the Iraqi security forces and ISIS in several areas: the area of the city of Ramadi (which Iraqi Army is striving to take control of), the area of the city of Baiji (which is in the hands of ISIS), and the area of the city of Samarra, north of Baghdad (and south of Baiji).
EGYPT AND THE SINAI PENINSULA
- During the week, the Egyptian security forces continued their intensive counterterrorism activities against operatives of the Sinai province of the Islamic State. As part of the operation, the Egyptian security forces have carried out numerous airstrikes, mainly against terrorist bases in the area of Al-Arish, Rafah and Sheikh Zuweid. During their operation, the Egyptian security forces discovered four bunkers containing a large quantity of army uniforms and two-way radios (Al-Watan, October 27, 2015). The security forces also destroyed a tunnel on the border with the Gaza Strip (Al-Watan, October 30, 2015).
- Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi issued a presidential decree extending the state of emergency in several regions in the northern Sinai Peninsula by another three months. As part of the state of emergency, a daily general curfew has been declared, from the afternoon until the next morning (Al-Masry al-Youm, October 28, 2015).
- Sinai province operatives continued to carry out attacks against the security forces, some of which were thwarted.
- On October 31, 2015, a Russian passenger plane on its way from Sharm el- Sheikh to Russia crashed in the northern Sinai Peninsula. The plane’s 224 passengers, Russian tourists, were killed. The plane crashed around 55 minutes after taking off. Contact with the plane was reportedly cut off 22 minutes after take-off (Al-Watan, October 31, 2015).
- An ISIS-affiliated news agency and ISIS-affiliated Twitter accounts published an announcement on behalf of operatives of ISIS’s Sinai province, claiming responsibility for downing the plane. The announcement was published in several languages (Turkish, French, Bosnian and German). In the announcement, they claimed that they had managed to down a Russian plane carrying over 220 passengers. According to the announcement, this was in response to Russia’s airstrikes in Syria. The announcement also mentioned that the Russians would have no security on Muslim soil or Muslim airspace (Aamaq News Agency, October 31, 2015). It also included a video ostensibly showing the downing of the plane by armed ISIS operatives (YouTube, October 31, 2015).
- ISIS’s claim of responsibility has not been verified, but cannot be ruled out. In any case, different and sometimes conflicting declarations by Egyptian and Russian sources as to the cause of the plane crash have appeared in the media to date.
- On November 1, 2015, the information office of ISIS’s Sinai province released a video entitled “From Sinai to Jerusalem,” in which the speakers emphasized the importance of Jerusalem in the eyes of the jihad fighters. One of the speakers in the video is Sheikh Abu Laith al-Libi, a senior Al-Qaeda commander who was killed on January 29, 2008, in an American attack in the border area between Pakistan and Afghanistan.
- One operative in the video says that all the activity carried out by the Sinai province is preparation for fighting against the Jews at Al-Aqsa Mosque. Another operative in the video addresses the Muslims in Jerusalem, calling on them to intensify their attacks on Israel. He emphasizes, “We in Sinai have not forgotten you and we swear by Allah not to abandon you.” Another operative, speaking in Hebrew, also sends a threatening message suggesting they are “coming from all over the world to slaughter you like sheep.”
- According to Algerian military affairs expert Aqid Ramadan, ISIS’s branch in Libya has recruited over 3,000 foreign fighters from more than 30 countries. According to a report from June 2015, 300 Boko Haram fighters are in Libya, and other fighters are waiting at the border between Mali and Niger on their way to Libya (Akhbar Libya, October 24-25, 2015).
- ISIS has announced a general mobilization in order to take over the area of Nofaliya, in eastern Sirte. The announcement came after the Shura Council of the Jihad Fighters, a rival organization affiliated with Al-Qaeda, took it over (Al-Bawaba, October 30, 2015). It was also reported that unidentified fighter aircraft had carried out attacks in areas controlled by ISIS in southern and western Sirte. According to several reports, Abdel Hamid al-Nuwari, a senior ISIS operative in Sirte, was killed in one of these attacks.
- The Shura Council of the Jihad Fighters in Derna and its suburbs, which is affiliated with Al-Qaeda, is working to establish its rule in the city of Derna. The organization issued a statement calling on ISIS operatives in the area of Al-Fataeh on the outskirts of Derna to “repent” and lay down their arms, promising them amnesty in return (Akhbar Libya, October 24 and October 30, 2015). The clashes between the two jihadi organizations began in early June 2015, following which the Shura Council of the Jihad Fighters took over most of the city of Derna. Clashes currently occur in the mountainous Al-Fataeh, the ISIS operatives’ last stronghold.
- According to several reports, ISIS operatives launched an offensive against the Shura Council of the Jihad Fighters of Ajdabiya and Libyan Army soldiers. Their goal was to complete ISIS’s takeover of the city of Ajdabiya, located about 355 km southeast of Sirte. In the meantime, ISIS is working to establish its control over the city: it has claimed responsibility for the killing of an imam at one of the city’s mosques, after he had refused to let an ISIS operative deliver a sermon. ISIS also claimed responsibility for killing a senior operative of the Shura Council of the Jihad Fighters of Ajdabiya. According to the city’s residents, around eight people in the city were murdered by ISIS operatives in October.
AL QAEDA CENTRAL
- Al-Qaeda issued an audiotape of a speech by its leader Sheikh Ayman al- Zawahiri about the recent events in the Al-Aqsa Mosque (concurrently with the wave of Palestinian terrorism). Al-Zawahiri, who appears with the Al-Aqsa Mosque in the background, begins his speech by saying that what is happening now in Jerusalem is a new jihad war. This war is being waged by the jihad fighters, “who defend Al- Aqsa with knives, stones, cars and whatever they have.” Al-Zawahiri calls on jihadists to set aside their disputes in order to face “the satanic coalition” of the US, Europe, Russia, the Shiites and the Alawites. Al-Zawahiri also calls for a campaign against the secular and national regimes in the Arab world.
- According to a report on an ISIS-affiliated website, ISIS recently published textbooks for its educational system in Syria and Iraq. These textbooks are designed to indoctrinate youngsters with the Salafist-jihadi worldview of ISIS and to train them for war against the so-called infidels.
- According to Global Risk Awareness Analyst Team Salafist-jihadi operatives who support Al-Qaeda or ISIS are liable to put these calls into practice in the Middle East and around the world, representing a huge increase in the risk level for some countries.