Ramadi Iraqi soldiers waving the Iraqi flag and holding the ISIS flag upside down, as a symbol of ISIS’s downfall in the city.[/caption]
Main events of the week
After around seven days of fighting, the Iraqi Army took over most of the city of Ramadi. According to reports, most of the ISIS operatives were killed in the fighting and a small number fled the city. Photos shown on Iraqi television on December 28, 2015, show the Iraqi flag flying in the government compound that housed ISIS’s headquarters. According to an Iraqi Army spokesman, although ISIS forces have been defeated, there are still some pockets of resistance in the city (estimated at around 20% to 25% of the area of the city). The Iraqi Prime Minister, who rushed to Ramadi for a “victory visit,” said that by the end of 2016, the removal of ISIS from Iraq would be completed. The US and other Western countries that belong to the coalition congratulated the Iraqi Prime Minister on the achievement.
The city of Ramadi is the capital of the Sunni Al-Anbar province (the largest province in Iraq). It was occupied by ISIS on May 15, 2015, in what seems, in retrospect, the pinnacle of ISIS’s territorial achievements. When its liberation by the Iraqi Army and the Sunni tribes that support is completed, it will mark the most significant achievement of the campaign against ISIS. From ISIS’s perspective, the possible loss of Ramadi is the latest in a series of setbacks that it has suffered in Iraq (and in Syria) over the past year (the loss of the cities of Tikrit and Baiji north of Baghdad, and Sinjar, west of Mosul).
Although the next strategic target of the Iraqi Army, supported by the coalition, is the city of Mosul, ISIS’s territorial base in Iraq, there is still the need to cleanse Al-Ramadi and its surroundings and the whole Al-Anbar province from the presence of ISIS (which continues even after the conquest of Ramadi). In the ITIC’s assessment, the current “target” is the city of Fallujah, the jihadists’ stronghold in Iraq during the period of the US Army presence, which was cut off from its supply lines and from the core of the area under ISIS’s control after the conquest of Ramadi. This week, however, there have already been reports of clashes in the city and its surroundings, and it has reportedly been surrounded by the Iraqi Army.
This week, the US and coalition forces continued their airstrikes against ISIS targets. During the week, dozens of airstrikes were carried out by means of fighter planes, attack aircraft, and UAVs. The main airstrikes:
Syria– the airstrikes were concentrated in the areas of Al-Hasakah, Al-Raqqah, Marea (north of Aleppo) and Ain Issa. The airstrikes targeted ISIS operatives, buildings, battle positions and vehicles, among other things.
Iraq– the airstrikes were concentrated in the areas of Ramadi, Fallujah, Kisik, Mosul, Baiji, Habbaniyah and Sinjar. The airstrikes targeted ISIS operatives, IED manufacturing sites, firing positions, buildings, bunkers, staging zones, headquarters, car bombs, artillery, and checkpoints, among other things.
The coalition’s anti-ISIS campaign
In Iraq, the coalition forces attacked ISIS targets in the city of Ramadi, thereby providing air support to the Iraqi Army forces that took over the city. Steve Warren, spokesman for the international coalition against ISIS, detailed the activities and operations carried out in the city of Ramadi to support the Iraqi Army forces. Among other things, he said that the international coalition was working in Syria’s eastern desert and in the mountainous area north of Baiji, in support of the Iraqi security forces (US Department of State website, December 22, 2015).
According to a report in the French newspaper Le Parisien, during the past year ISIS lost over 14% of the areas that it had controlled in 2014. According to the report, following the massive attacks, a trend of withdrawal has been identified among ISIS operatives in northern Syria. The report hypothesizes that this may be due to a change in ISIS’s strategy (Le Parisien, December 24, 2015).
During 2015, ISIS did indeed lose vast areas that it had controlled, mainly in Iraq but also in Syria. In Iraq, the Iraqi Army and Shiite militias took over the important cities of Tikrit and Baiji, north of Baghdad, and the Kurdish forces (Peshmerga) took over the Sinjar region. In Syria, the Kurdish forces (YPG) managed to take over the cities of Kobani and Tell Abyad and to create territorial contiguity along most of the Syrian-Turkish border. ISIS also suffered blows in the area of the Al-Yarmouk camp south of Damascus (from where it is expected to evacuate its operatives and their families); in the southern Syrian Golan Heights (where the ISIS-affiliated Al-Yarmouk Martyrs Brigade has weakened); and east and south of Aleppo (where the Syrian Army managed to break the siege on the Kuweyres military airbase and establish itself in the rural area south of Aleppo).
Russian involvement in the civil war in Syria
Russian warplanes continued their attacks in Syria, mainly in the areas of Homs, Idlib, Latakia, Aleppo, Deir al-Zor, and Damascus. According to the Russian Defense Ministry spokesman, during the past week, the Russian Air Force carried out around 300 sorties, during which it carried out more than 1,000 airstrikes in Syrian territory. According to the Russians, the airstrikes hit a training camp in Idlib, where instructors from countries neighboring on Syria were staying, destroyed an Ahrar al-Sham command post in Aleppo, hit trucks in Homs that were carrying weapons to ISIS, and destroyed three oil rigs, two oil tankers and a large number of trucks near Deir al-Zor (TASS News Agency, December 23, 2015).
According to the Russian Defense Minister, since commencing its operations, the Russian Air Force has carried out 5,240 sorties, including 145 long-range sorties. The achievements mentioned by the Defense Minister included the liberation of the Kuweyres military airbase in northern Syria and the expansion of the surrounding areas that are controlled by the Syrian Army. He also mentioned an additional achievement, the disruption of ISIS’s oil exports. According to the minister, more than 2,000 oil tankers have been destroyed and many infrastructure sites have been damaged. However, he believes that despite the airstrikes, oil smuggling by ISIS has not stopped and is now being carried out in small convoys at night, mainly near the Iraqi border (Reuters, December 25, 2015).
Amnesty International has published a report on the airstrikes carried out by the Russians in the areas of Homs, Idlib and Aleppo between September and November 2015. The report focuses on six incidents in which it claims that at least 200 civilians were killed and thousands more civilians were injured. The report includes evidence allegedly proving that the Russian authorities were trying to conceal incidents in which they hit civilians, in a mosque and in a field hospital, and fired indiscriminately at populated areas. According to the report, the Russian airstrikes in Syria are liable to be regarded as war crimes. The report also notes that there is proof that Russia used unguided cluster bombs attacks in civilian areas (Amnesty International website, December 23, 2015).
Russian officials were quick to deny the findings of the report:
According to Russian Presidential Spokesman Dmitry Peskov, the Russians have no information about the incidents mentioned in the report and therefore, they do not know whether the allegations are credible (TASS News Agency, December 23, 2015).
Russian Ministry of Defense Spokesman Igor Konashenkovdismissed Amnesty International’s allegations, saying that the organization’s accusations are false. According to him, the report does not provide evidence to support them (TASS News Agency, December 23, 2015).
According to Viktor Bondarev, commander of the Russian Air and Space Forces, there were no cases in which Russian pilots hit civilian targets such as hospitals, mosques or schools. He claims that these accusations are groundless, indicate a lack of credibility of the report and stem from a lack of evidence in the hands of its authors (TASS News Agency, December 27, 2015).
According to the Russian Chief of Operations, Russia is prepared to share with its partners, including the US, any information that could help in the war against ISIS. According to him, Russia expects reciprocity in this regard by the US and the other coalition countries. In response, the US Department of Defense spokesman said that the United States does not intend to cooperate with Russia regarding Syria as long as Russia supports the Assad administration (Sputnik, December 25, 2015; RT, December 27, 2015).
Main developments in Syria
In southern Damascus, the implementation of the evacuation agreement signed between the Syrian regime and ISIS and the Al-Nusra Front, under the auspices of the United Nations, was supposed to start. Under the agreement, some 2,000 ISIS operatives and their families will vacate the area of the Yarmouk refugee camp in southern Damascus. Clashes continued near the village of Mheen, south of the city of Homs. In the Aleppo province, battles continued between ISIS operatives and the Syrian Army in the area of the Kuweyres military airfield (east of Aleppo) and north of Aleppo. In southern Aleppo, the Syrian Army took over an important town located near the main highway and continues to establish its control over the rural area. Fighters of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards who are on the front line of the fighting south of Aleppo continue to incur heavy losses. In the Al-Raqqah province, ISIS lost control of the Tishreen Dam on the Euphrates River, which supplies electricity to the city of Aleppo.
Clashes continue around the village of Mheen, south of Homs. The Syrian Army claims to have taken over some territory dominating the area of the village of Mheen. Clashes have also been reported between ISIS operatives and the security forces in the area of two villages near Mheen (Hossein Mortada’s Facebook page, December 26, 2015).
On December 28, 2015, two car bombs exploded in the Alawite Al-Zahra neighborhood of the city of Homs.The blast reportedly killed more than 30 people and injured 90. No organization claimed responsibility for the attack (Sputnik, December 28, 2015). It was apparently carried out by ISIS, which has often detonated car bombs in this neighborhood, whose population is affiliated with the Syrian regime.
ISIS continues its guerrilla activity against the Syrian Army at the Kuweyres military airbase. This week, ISIS operatives reportedly detonated a car bomb near the airbase (Khaled Shaaban’s Facebook page, December 25, 2015). A video issued by ISIS shows its operatives firing anti-aircraft weapons at a fighter plane that was attacking targets (Aamaq, December 26, 2015). It seems, therefore, that despite the Syrian Army’s announcements, the area of the airbase has not been cleansed of ISIS operatives, who are conducting guerrilla warfare to try to prevent it from becoming fully operational.
Clashes continued this week between ISIS and the other rebel organizations north of Aleppo, near the Turkish border.ISIS is trying to establish its hold on the area while the rebel organizations are trying to keep ISIS away from the border and disrupt its logistical connection via Turkey. There were clashes this week at the following locations:
On December 24, 2015, ISIS operatives managed to halt an attempt by rebel forces to take over the village of Kafra, about 41 km north of Aleppo. The rebels operated with international coalition air support.
On December 28, 2015, the rebel forces took over the village of Doudyan from ISIS. Doudyan is located about 50 km north of Aleppo, near the Turkish-Syrian border (Al-Arabiya TV, December 28, 2015).
On December 25, 2015,ISIS operatives detonated a car bomb in the area of the village of Sarin, near the border between Syria and Turkey (Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), December 25, 2015).
The Syrian Army continues to expand its area of control in the rural area south of Aleppo.On December 20, 2015, it took over the village of Khan Touman, a stronghold of Jaysh al-Fatah (the umbrella framework of the rebel organizations, led by the Al-Nusra Front) (Enab Baladi, December 21, 2015; arabic.rt.com, December 20, 2015). The village of Khan Touman is located approximately 8.5 km southwest of Aleppo, near the main road between Aleppo and Homs. Two senior Al-Nusra Front commanders were killed in the fighting: Abu al-Muthanna al-Madani and Abu Muhammad Rustum (Khatwa, December 25, 2015; Hossein Mortada’s Facebook page, December 26, 2015).
On December 24, 2015, the Hezbollah-affiliated Al-Mayadeen TV channel aired a video documenting the Syrian Army’s progress near the village of Khan Touman. According to the video, families of foreign fighters from Chechnya, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, who had been living west of the village, have been seen leaving the area (YouTube, December 24, 2015).
The Revolutionary Guards continue to incur heavy losses
The Iranian Revolutionary Guards continue to incur heavy losses.Over the past two weeks, more than 15 fighters from the Revolutionary Guards have been killed in the fighting south of Aleppo. Since the start of the Syrian ground offensive in early October 2015, over 120 fighters of the Revolutionary Guards have been killed in Syria, including several dozen officers.In the past month, at least 35 Iranian fighters were killed.
The number of Iranian fatalities continues to rise steadily even though, according to media reports, the number of Iranian troops in Syria has decreased in recent weeks (their number has dropped from between 1,500 and 2,000 fighters to fewer than 1,000 fighters). In the ITIC’s assessment, the high number of fatalities indicates that the fighters of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards continue to fight at the front in the Syrian Army’s current ground offensive, which is still treading water without any dramatic achievements.
This week there were clashes between ISIS operatives and the Syrian Army, concentrated in the Deir al-Zor industrial zone and the area of the military airbase. On December 23, 2015, three car bombs exploded in the industrial zone. The explosion caused the death and injury of dozens of armed men (the media foundation of the Lebanese Resistance, December 23, 2015). According to a later report, the Syrian security forces took control of a few places in the industrial zone, implicitly cleansing them of the presence of ISIS operatives (Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), December 26, 2015).
ISIS operatives detonated a car bomb near the Deir al-Zor military airbase (Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), December 28, 2015). A Twitter account affiliated with the Syrian regime posted photos of ISIS operatives killed in the fighting with the Syrian Army at the airbase (Ivan [email protected], December 26-27, 2015).
This week, ISIS reportedly lost control of the Tishreen Dam on the Euphrates River, and a number of nearby villages. On December 26, 2015, a Twitter account probably affiliated with the Syrian Army posted a video showing Aqid (Colonel) Talil Slaw, spokesman for the Syrian Democratic Forces, an umbrella framework of Kurdish and Arab groups which apparently supports the Syrian regime. The spokesman congratulates the troops for taking over the dam (Ivan [email protected]; bbc.com/Arabic, December 26, 2015).
Tishreen Dam, located on the banks of the Euphrates River, was built in 1999 to generate electricity. There is a power plant nearby, which is a major source of electricity for the city of Aleppo. If the report of its takeover from the hands of ISIS is confirmed, this will be an additional blow for ISIS.
Evacuation of ISIS operatives from south of Damascus
According to a report from December 25, 2015, buses arrived at the Al-Qadam neighborhood, west of the Al-Yarmouk refugee camp in southern Damascus, in order to evacuate at least 2,000 ISIS operatives and their families. The evacuation was to be carried out as part of an agreement reached under the auspices of the UN. According to the reports, the Syrian Army is supposed to receive the weapons left behind by the ISIS operatives who leave the area (Al-Jazeera TV, December 25, 2015). Under the agreement, the ISIS operatives and their families will be sent to Al-Raqqah (Al-Arabiya TV, December 25, 2015). It was also reported that under the agreement, Al-Nusra Front operatives will also be evacuated, and will be permitted to take only their personal weapons (arabic.rt.com, December 26, 2015).
According to a report from December 26, 2015, Army of Islam operatives and Al-Nusra Front operatives are disrupting the implementation of the agreement to evacuate the operatives and their families, and are preventing the convoys from getting through. This is apparently in response to the death of Jaysh al-Islam Commander Zahran Alloush (see below) (arabic.rt.com, December 26, 2015).
Killing of a Jaysh al-Islam commander
Jaysh al-Islam Commander Zahran Alloush was killedin a Russian airstrike in the rural area east of Damascus. A number of other senior officers were killed along with him (Al-Kufiya, December 26, 2015). Later, the Syrians claimed that it was the Syrian Air Force that killed him. Issam Buweidani, aka Abu Hammam, was appointed as his replacement (Al-Durar al-Shamiya, December 26, 2015). The Al-Nusra Front sent its condolences to Jaysh al-Islam and wished his replacement success (SNN, December 25, 2015).
Jaysh al-Islam is an umbrella framework of Islamic rebel organizations that are taking part in the fighting against the Syrian regime, with Saudi support. Jaysh al-Islam is one of the most prominent rebel organizations that are ideologically affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood. The organization is a member of a political framework known as the Islamic Front, together with other organizations affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood and a number of Salafist organizations.
Main developments in Iraq
The Iraqi Army has managed torecapture most of the city of Ramadi, capital of the Al-Anbar province, which had been taken over by ISIS in May 2015. The city was retaken after being surrounded by the Iraqi Army for several weeks, and (unsuccessful) attempts to take it over. On December 28, 2015, the Iraqi Army managed, after around seven days of fighting, to take over the government buildings in the city center. According to a spokesman for the provincial administration, there still remain weak pockets of resistance in vast parts of the city, but it will soon be completely cleansed. According to the Iraqi government, after the complete takeover of the city of Ramadi, the Iraqi Army will shift its efforts to retaking the city of Mosul.
On December 22, 2015, the Iraqi security forces began an extensive campaign to liberate the city of Ramadi, with air support from the US-led coalition.On December 26, 2015, the Iraqi Army took control of the Ramadi Dam, located on the western outskirts of the city, and its environs (Al-Sumaria, December 26, 2015). On December 27, 2015, the Iraqi Army managed to take over the area of Al-Hawz, in central Ramadi, south of the government building compound, which had been ISIS’s main stronghold in the heart of the city (RT, December 27, 2015). According to a report from December 28, 2015, the government building compound in the city center is controlled by the Iraqi Army (Al-Jazeera TV, December 28, 2015). According to the Iraqi Army spokesman, ISIS’s forces in the city have been defeated and all that remains is to cleanse pockets of resistance. ISIS operatives who withdrew from the city left behind a ruined city littered with roadside bombs and landmines.
According to reports from Ramadi, ISIS still holds about 20% of the city, and clashes with ISIS are still ongoing in about 25% of the area of the city.Around 250 ISIS operatives were reportedly killed during the fighting in the city (Al-Sumaria, December 28, 2015). Senior ISIS commander Ammar Badawi al-Issawi was reportedly killed in the fighting (Hossein Mortada’s Twitter account, December 26, 2015). Dozens of ISIS operatives, including officers, have reportedly fled Ramadi towards the Syrian border (Sky News, December 23, 2015).
US Secretary of State John Kerry congratulated the Iraqi government on the liberation of Ramadi and noted that the United States and the international coalition countries were supporting Iraq’s struggle. Steve Warren, spokesman for the international coalition, congratulated Iraq on behalf of the coalition, saying that the coalition would help the Iraqi government rebuild the city (Coalition spokesman’s Twitter account, December 28, 2015).
ISIS-controlled Fallujah, situated between Ramadi and the capital Baghdad, is now in the crosshairs of the Iraqi Army.Concurrently with the takeover of the city of Ramadi, the Iraqi Army surrounded the city of Fallujah, in orderto prevent it from becoming a source of support for ISIS operatives in the city of Ramadi. According to an Iraqi Army report, 44 ISIS operatives were killed and 12 booby-trapped houses were blown up south of Fallujah (Shafaq News, December 27, 2015). According to a report from December 27, 2015, the Iraqi security forces broke into the Nuaimiya neighborhood on the southern outskirts of the city, killing about 300 ISIS operatives (Al-Arabiya TV, December 27, 2015).
Steve Warren, spokesman for the international coalition against ISIS, said that according to an ISIS document discovered in Fallujah, ISIS’s leaders had instructed their operatives to present themselves as Iraqi fighters and commit crimes against civilians before withdrawing from Fallujah, so that the Iraqi forces would be blamed. ISIS operatives were ordered to blow up mosques, torture and murder civilians, and break into homes, among other things (US Department of State website, December 22, 2015).
The city of Baghdad
ISIS continues to carry out attacks in Baghdad. On December 26, 2015, six civilians were killed and more than 20 were injured when three IEDs were detonated at various sites throughout the city (Al-Hurra, December 26, 2015). On December 27, 2015, a man was killed and five others were injured when an IED exploded in southern Baghdad (Sawt al-Iraq, December 27, 2015).
On December 25, 2015, US Special Forces and Kurdish counterterrorism forces carried out an attack against the ISIS headquarters in the area of Al-Riyadh (about 15 km southeast of Hawija and about 47 km southwest of Kirkuk). Hossein al-Assafi, a senior ISIS operative in Hawija, was killed in the attack, along with 12 other operatives. In addition, nine other operatives were detained (Al-Jazeera TV, December 27, 2015). ISIS denied the report about the operation carried out against it (Aamaq, December 27, 2015).
Egypt and the Sinai Peninsula
During the week, the Egyptian security forces continued their military operations against ISIS’s Sinai branch. In this context, they carried out intensive security activity, mainly in the area of Rafah, Sheikh Zuweid, and Al-Arish.According to Egyptian sources, many terrorist operatives were detained, infrastructure was destroyed, and cars and motorcycles were confiscated (Al-Watan; Al-Masry al-Youm, December 26, 2015).
Despite the Egyptian security activity, ISIS continued its attacks against the Egyptian security forces,some of which were thwarted by the Egyptian security forces:
On December 26, 2015, the Egyptian security forces foiled an attempt to plant an IED on the main road in Al-Arish, near the hospital. The operative was killed (Al-Watan, December 26, 2015).
On December 26, 2015, the Egyptian security forces neutralized an IED planted on a bridge leading to the Al-Dahiya neighborhood in Al-Arish (Al-Masry al-Youm, December 26, 2015).
On December 24, 2015, an Egyptian policeman was killed and two soldiers were injured when an IED exploded near an APC in western Al-Arish (Al-Youm al-Sabea, December 24, 2015).
On December 23, 2015, a girl was killed and her parents were injured when operatives of ISIS’s Sinai province fired mortar shells at a military convoy. The mortar shells hit a house in the village of Al-Tiara, south of Rafah.
Palestinians and Israeli Arabs
Detention of two young men from Nazareth who tried to join ISIS
On November 22, 2015, the Israeli security forces detained two young men, from the area of Nazareth, on suspicion of trying to join ISIS. The two are cousins: Omar Badr Hassan, 20, a resident of Reina, close to Nazareth, and Ahmad Talal Ahmad Saaida, 23, a resident of Umm al-Ghanam. Their interrogation revealed that in May 2015, they both went to Turkey in order to enter Syria and enlist in the ranks of ISIS.Before they left, Ahmad Saaida was in contact with ISIS operatives in Syria and Turkey, and received guidance and assistance from them about how to cross from Turkey into Syria.
While waiting near the border, the two men encountered Syrian refugee families fleeing from ISIS. After hearing their stories and being begged by their own families, they decided not to enter Syria and returned to Israel. Even after returning to Israel, they continued to be exposed to ISIS’s online incitement and maintained contact with an ISIS operative from Iraq. They considered going to fight in the ranks of ISIS and at the same time began to formulate a plan to carry out an attack in Israel. They chose Golani Junction (an important junction in northern Israel) as the target for carrying out the planned attack, because of the concentration of Israeli soldiers there. In preparation for the attack, they approached a third person with the intention of purchasing weapons from him (Israel Security Agency, December 24, 2015).
Concern in the Palestinian Authority regarding ISIS activity during Christmas
According to a report by “Palestinian security sources,” on Christmas Eve the Palestinian Authority’s security apparatus raised the state of alert and deployed forces throughout Bethlehem. This was for fear that ISIS terrorist squads would carry out attacks among the Christians and tourists visiting the city. According to the reports, the preventive security apparatus received information that ISIS squads intended to carry out attacks in Bethlehem during the Christmas celebrations. As part of its preventive activity, PA security services detained around 12 Palestinians who support the Salafist ideology and ISIS (Quds News, December 25, 2015).
The global jihad in other countries
In the mountainous region of Al-Fataeh, south of Derna, intermittent fighting continues between the Shura Council of the Jihad Fighters in Derna, which is affiliated with Al-Qaeda, and ISIS. Faraj Kikban al-Ubaidi, a senior ISIS operative in Derna and one of the first operatives to pledge allegiance to ISIS, was reportedly killed in a Libyan airstrike in the area of Al-Fataeh. ISIS has not officially announced his death. Social networks also reported the death of Yunes Laqnashi, another senior ISIS operative. ISIS, on its part, claimed responsibility for several attacks carried out against operatives of the Shura Council of the Jihad Fighters in Derna (Al-Wasat portal, December 20 and 23, 2015; The Derna News Agency’s Twitter account, December 23, 2015; Twitter account of A Guest in your World, which presents itself as being from Derna, December 22, 2015; Libyan News Agency, December 24, 2015; Akhbar Dawlat al-Islam, December 22, 23, 25 and 27, 2015).
In light of the agreement being formulated for the establishment of a unity government in Libya, the Shura Council of the Jihad Fighters in Derna has issued a statement expressing its full support for any dialogue or a government that is formed, provided Islamic law is the only source of legislation (Twitter account of the Council’s Al-Ahed media foundation, December 24, 2015).This is how this jihadi organization, which is affiliated with Al-Qaeda, differentiates itself from ISIS, which is fighting against both governments, that of Tripoli and that of Tobruk.
According to a Sirte resident who recently left the city, it is cut off from the media and the Internet, and schools and banks are closed, as are most stores. Price rises have also been reported (alarabiya.net, December 24, 2015). ISIS’s propaganda arm in the Tripoli province issued a video entitled The Islamic Police in the City of Sirte, documenting the activity of the ISIS police force in the city (Akhbar al-Dawla al-Islamiyya, December 21, 2015).
Estimated number of ISIS operatives in Libya
The information chief at the Tunisian Interior Ministry estimates that ISIS in Libya numbers between 4,000 and 5,000 fighters. According to Radio Tunis, Tunisian civilians have also been appointed to hold command positions in ISIS’s branch in Libya (Akhbar Libya 24, December 25, 2015). According to an estimate of a French terrorism expert, ISIS in Libya numbers about 3,000 fighters (Le Figaro, January 24, 2015).
According to the Tunisian Interior Ministry, some 3,000 Tunisian operatives have gone to fight in Syria.Over 600 have returned to Tunisia, while around 800 have been killed in Syria (i.e., there are still around 1,400 Tunisian operatives in Syria). Charges have been filed against some of the operatives, and others have been forbidden to leave Tunisia. According to a study by the UN from July 2015, a significant portion of the Tunisians who left for Syria joined ISIS and a small number joined the Al-Nusra Front. There are also several hundred Tunisian jihadi operatives in Libya (aawsat.com, December 25, 2015).
In ISIS’s Yemen province, serious disputes have arisen between members of its leadership. The background of the disputes is the refusal of operatives, including several senior operatives, to obey their leader and their request to leave the province. On December 24, 2015, three senior ISIS leaders in Yemen and a few operatives issued a statement condemning ISIS’s leader (“Emir”) in Yemen. It is not yet clear how the internal debate will affect the organization’s activities in Yemen (The Long War Journal, December 28, 2015).
ISIS in the Philippines
An ISIS-affiliated Twitter account posted a video documenting ISIS operatives attending a training camp in the Philippines. The operatives, armed with rifles, are shown performing physical training, target practice and more ([email protected], December 20, 2015).
The conduct of the Islamic State
A number ofdocuments seized by US Army Special Forces during a raid in Syria provide insight on how ISIS controls the population and how it manages its revenues. The documents also provide information about the bureaucratic hierarchy procedures, including rivalries between functionaries, as well as detailed laws passed by ISIS in the places under its control, which it has issued as religious rulings (fatwas). The documents show ISIS’s meticulous accuracy when it comes to managing the oil and gas resources that have fallen into its hands.
The documents indicate that ISIS has set up a special department to handle war booty, which is responsible for handling slaves, looted oil and antiquities. The documents also include a religious ruling issued by ISIS permitting the removal of organs from its prisoners in order to transplant them in ISIS’s operatives. According to the religious ruling, this is permitted even if it causes the death of the prisoner (Al-Arabiya TV, December 25, 2015).
Senior US officials say that the documents helped deepen their understanding of ISIS and how it controls the territories that it has taken over. The documents have also helped the coalition countries pinpoint weaknesses that helped them attack ISIS’s oil and gas infrastructure. The documents also prove that ISIS is not immune to the internal conflicts that characterize bureaucratic mechanisms everywhere (Daily Mail, December 28, 2015).
Counterterrorism and preventive activity
The United States
A report written by the Center for Cyber and Homeland Security at George Washington University indicates the extent of ISIS’s penetration of the United States. According to the report, there are hundreds of American citizens in the US who monitor ISIS’s activity on social networks. ISIS uses social networks to recruit operatives from around the world, including the United States. According to the report, for many Western citizens, the radicalization process begins at the computer, where it’s not hard to find ISIS supporters urging people to adopt radical ideologies.
According to the report, there is a small group of people in the US who have been influenced by ISIS’s ideology. Some of them have left their homes and gone to countries controlled by ISIS. In the opinion of the report’s authors, it is impossible to profile those who adopt ISIS’s ideology. They are very different from each other in terms of race, age, social class, education and family background. Their motives for joining also differ. It should be noted that a few days after the report was published, the San Bernardino attack was carried out by two people who were influenced by ISIS’s ideology (businessinsider.com, December 28, 2015).
The battle for hearts and minds
Threats against Jews in a speech by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi
ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi released an audiotape discussing ISIS’s recent setbacks. He notes that despite the difficulties, ISIS is coping successfully in the fighting in Syria and Iraq. He attacks the coalition established by Saudi Arabia to fight terrorism and says that ISIS “has not forgotten” Israel and will soon harm it. Following are a few statements in his speech to Israel and the Jews (Dawlat al-Khilafah al-Islamiyya, December 26, 2015):
The Jews are behind “infidel nations” that are afraid to wage war against ISIS on the ground.
ISIS has never forgotten Palestine for a single moment and will never forget it. The Jews will soon hear “ISIS’s fighters approaching” and their reckoning with the Jews will be harsh.
Palestine will never be the land of the Jews, but their cemetery.Allah gathered the Jews in Palestine only so that the Muslims kill them.
If the Islamic coalition led by Saudi Arabia were truly Islamic, it would be fighting on the Muslim side against the Russians and against the “Christians” (i.e., the US-led coalition) and would aim to kill the Jews and liberate Palestine.
The remarks by Al-Baghdadi to Israel and the Jews are unusual in scope, although they were a relatively short part of his speech, which was devoted mainly to Saudi Arabia. The last time Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi issued an audiotape was in May 2015. In that tape, he made no mention of Israel. It should be noted that in light of recent terrorist attacks in Israel, ISIS’s various provinces have issued videos including threats to Israel, and Al-Baghdadi’s remarks are a continuation of that. Therefore, ISIS is lately paying more attention to Israel and the Jews, possibly due to the campaign of Palestinian terrorist attacks. In the ITIC’s assessment, these threats could be translated into attempts to carry out attacks against Israeli and Jewish targets in Israel and along its borders, or abroad