Weekly Regional Intelligence Digest – 12th – 19th November 2015
- The headline events of the week were the shooting and suicide bombing attacks carried out by ISIS in Paris by eight terrorists operating at six different sites. At least 130 people were killed in the terror attack. This operation, which was carefully planned and directed by ISIS, is a deviation from their known modus operandi in Western countries. These attacks demonstrate ISIS’s operational ability to carry out complex attacks in different places far from its bastions of power in Syria and Iraq. The attacks were followed by an ISIS media campaign threatening to carry out additional attacks against France and other Western countries, with a special emphasis in US.
- ISIS suffered a few painful failures on the ground: in Iraq, the Kurdish forces liberated the area of Sinjar and cut off the main supply route between Mosul and Al-Raqqah; in Syria, the Syrian Army had a few successes to the east and south of Aleppo. In addition, several senior operatives who either belonged to ISIS or were affiliated with it were killed: Abu Ali al-Baridi, commander of the ISIS-affiliated Shuhada al- Yarmouk Brigade, which operates in the southern Golan Heights, was killed in a suicide bombing attack initiated by the Al-Nusra Front; the British terrorist codenamed Jihadi John was supposedly killed in a US airstrike around the city of Al-Raqqah (to be confirmed); and Wissam Abd al-Zubaydi, ISIS’s leader in Libya, was killed in a US airstrike around Derna. All of these are operational setbacks to ISIS, which are liable to impel it to carry out further showcase attacks outside Syria and Iraq.
- In the rural area of Aleppo, the Syrian Army has had a number of successes since early November. The Syrian Army managed to take over the important city of Al-Safirah, southeast of Aleppo and lifted the siege on the Kuweyres military airbase. The Syrian Army also reportedly advanced toward the highway between Aleppo and Idlib. However, the fighting is still ongoing between the Syrian Army and the rebel organisations in the rural area south of Aleppo, and neither side has emerged as victorious.
- According to some interceptions it is noted that the rebel organisations, of which the most prominent is the Al-Nusra Front, are now concentrating large forces in the rural area of Aleppo in order to carry out a counterattack. These forces reportedly include more than 6,000 operatives equipped with armuored vehicles and anti-tank weapons. Several rebel organisations, including Jaysh al-Fatah and Ahrar al-Sham, have declared a state of emergency and called for a general mobilisation to protect the rural area south of the Aleppo.
- The Shuhada al-Yarmouk Brigade (the Al-Yarmouk Martyrs Brigade), an ISIS- affiliated military framework that operates in the southern Syrian Golan Heights, suffered a serious blow this week when the Al-Nusra Front managed to eliminate its senior command. On November 15, 2015, Shuhada Al-Yarmouk Commander Abu Ali al-Baridi, aka Uncle Abu Ali (Al-Khal Abu Ali), was eliminated. Two senior commanders in the brigade were killed along with him. They were eliminated by an Al-Nusra Front suicide bomber in the town of Jumla (31 km northwest of Daraa). The suicide bombing attack was carried out during a meeting of the brigade’s commanders. The organisation has appointed a new commander (“Emir”), codenamed Abu Obeida Qahtan. The brigade operatives have pledged allegiance to him.
- The main development in Iraq this week was the liberation of the city of Sinjar and the surrounding region from the hands of ISIS by the Kurdish forces. The city was liberated by Kurdish Peshmerga fighters, assisted by Yazidi fighters and with air support provided by the US-led coalition. The Kurdish forces reportedly took over from ISIS around 150 square km in the area of Sinjar. They now control key locations on Highway 47, the main supply route between Al-Raqqah (ISIS’s so- called capital in Syria) and Mosul (ISIS’s so-called capital in Iraq). The Kurdish forces are reportedly preparing to take over the city of Tal Afar, which lies between Sinjar and Mosul.
- The city of Sinjar and the entire region were taken over by ISIS in August 2014, at a time when ISIS was enjoying major successes in Iraq. Sinjar is the home of Iraq’s Yazidi community, whose members have been murdered, raped and sold into slavery by ISIS. According to reports, after the takeover of Sinjar by the Kurdish forces, a mass grave containing the bodies of 78 women was discovered there.
- The takeover of the city of Sinjar by the Kurdish forces represents another defeat for ISIS in Iraq, following the takeover of the cities of Tikrit and Baiji by the Iraqi Army and Shiite militias. It symbolises that the momentum of ISIS’s successes has been halted, at least in Iraq, with ISIS gradually losing important places to the Iraqi Army, the Shiite militias supported by Iran, and the Kurdish forces. At the operative level, cutting off Highway 47, the main route between Mosul and Al-Raqqah, is expected to make it difficult for ISIS to move its operatives and supplies between Iraq and Syria, although it will not prevent it entirely (there are other available routes between Iraq and Syria). The takeover of Sinjar also symbolises the importance of the Kurdish forces as a reliable and efficient ally, and illustrates their great contribution to the war effort against ISIS, in both Iraq and Syria.
EGYPT AND THE SINAI PENINSULA
- During the week, the Egyptian security forces continued their military activities against ISIS’s Sinai branch. They carried out intensive activity in Rafah, Sheikh Zuweid and Al-Arish. Egyptian security forces also surrounded Jabal al-Magharah in central Sinai, to which jihadi operatives from north Sinai had fled. In this operation, dozens of jihadists were killed, dozens of suspects were detained, weapons were confiscated and many IEDs were neutralised.
- According to Russian authorities, Metrojet flight was downed with an explosive device. That was confirmed with the latest Dabiq magazine (ISIS Magazine), released on Monday, where claimed pictures of the device were published.
- The leader (“Emir”) of ISIS’s branch in Libya, Wissam Abd al-Zubaydi, aka Abu Nabil Al-Anbari, died this week in an airstrike. According to media reports, he was killed in an airstrike carried out by American planes on Derna (eastern Libya). According to the reports, Abu Nabil al-Anbari was recently appointed as Emir of ISIS’s branch in Libya by ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. He is considered a close associate of Al-Baghdadi and was the one who led ISIS’s attacks last year on Tikrit and Baiji after the takeover of Mosul.
- Al-Anbari founded the ISIS’s branch in Libya and, according to various reports, he was the governor of the Barqa province. The US Defense Department confirmed that the airstrike, carried out by an F-15, was directed against an ISIS commander with Iraqi citizenship operating in Libya, without providing further details.
- According to sources in the city of Sirte, ISIS’s stronghold in Libya, ISIS has given a number of foreign fighters the task of collecting money from local residents. The sources clarified that five ISIS operatives had arrived in Sirte from Syria and Iraq around two weeks ago, in order to take a large quantity of gold, US dollars and Egyptian pounds out of the city. The operatives who arrived in Sirte were led by Bashar Ali Abdallah al-Ansari, who came to Libya with operatives of various nationalities, including Tajikistan and the former Soviet Union, as well as Syria and Iraq.
- In the early evening of November 12, 2015, ISIS carried out a terrorist attack in a southern Shiite Hezbollah-controlled suburb of Beirut. Forty-three people were killed, most of them passersby, and around 240 were injured. The blasts also caused considerable destruction. The attacks were carried out by two suicide bombers wearing explosive belts, who blew themselves up almost simultaneously near Al- Rassoul al-Aazam Hospital.
- ISIS in Lebanon claimed responsibility for the attack via its social media, in an announcement published on November 12, 2015. According to the announcement, ISIS operatives had succeeded in carrying out an attack in the Hezbollah stronghold of Burj al-Barajneh using a booby-trapped motorcycle, attacking crowded areas in the southern suburb of Beirut. According to the Lebanese interior minister, five suicide bombers were supposed to participate in the attack.
- On the night of November 13, 2015, ISIS carried out a coordinated terrorist attack in six locations in Paris. Three squads carried out the attack, involving eight terrorist operatives. According to Paris Prosecutor François Molins, at least 130 people were killed. Three hundred fifty-two people were injured, 99 of them critically. The worst terrorist attack on French soil since the Second World War. It was also the largest attack ISIS has carried out in the West. ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack and launched a media campaign threatening France and other Western countries with more attacks.
- More to follow in a special report being prepared by Global Risk Awareness.
- On November 15, 2015, the Russia al-Yawm website reported that according to a report by Turkish security sources from November 13, 2015, five “extremist” operatives had been detained, including an operative with British citizenship. The Briton is Aine Lesley Davis, a close friend of the ISIS operative codenamed Jihadi John (who was apparently killed recently). The five, who crossed the border from Syria into Turkey last week, are suspected of planning to carry out attacks similar to those that took place in Paris on the day they were detained.
- An ISIS’s media foundation (Al-Hayat Media Center) recently published a video in Russian (with English subtitles) in which ISIS threatens to attack targets in Russia. The video says, among other things: “We will retake the Caucasus, we will not permit the rule of the dark forces once again. The Kremlin will be ours, the Ural [Mountains] will return [to our hands] … The Russian city [Moscow] will tremble as we call “Allah Akbar” [Allah is great] …”
- At the time of publishing a terror attack is under way at the city of Bamako, in Mali, at the Radisson Blue Hotel. According to the latest update from the scene, at least 9 individuals have been killed and these include French and Belgian citizens. We have reasons to believe the attack was perpetrated by 2/3 attackers. A hostage situation is under way with 170 persons. This Hotel is a place chosen by foreigners to meet.
This intelligence update has been prepared for SecurityMiddleEast.com by Global Risk Awareness a leading Cyber Intelligence Company.