ISIS in 2019: “Caliphate” shifts from a “State” to “sleeper cells”, regaining a strong foothold in the Syrian Desert, killing hundreds of regime soldiers and loyalists, Deir ez-Zor a hotbed for chaos and exploitation by ISIS… and “Al Hol mini-state” is ticking-bomb
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights
2019 has been a crucial year for ISIS, as it was the year that saw the group’s military defeat by SDF in collaboration with the international coalition to counter “ISIS”, after the group’s last battle in Al-Baguz in Deir ez-Zor. Despite eight months after the Islamic State was declared defeated and its alleged caliphate eliminated and several months after the killing of its leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the group concludes another chaotic year that continues to bear witness to the group’s existence and its transformation from a “caliphate” as it was claiming to “Sleeper cells” waiting for the right moment to carry out operations. From December 29, 2018 to December 29, 2019, several area was a scene of ISIS resurgence, through kidnappings for ransom, assassinations, extortion, death threats and illegal taxation under the name of “zakat.”
The killing of Al-Baghdadi and defeat of the “Islamic State”… A turning point in the 5-year-old “state”
The beginning of last year marked a crucial moment and a turning point for the 5-year-old “caliphate” founded by the “Islamic State”, where the main goal of the international coalition to counter the group was achieved by breaking the stranglehold of the group over most of the Syrian territory and declaring the elimination of the “caliphate state” in March, after months of violent battles in Baguz area of Deir ez-Zor.
SDF and the international coalition have not only defeated the “Islamic State” the “caliphate”, but also targeted the group’s leaders. On October 27, the Syrian Observatory reported that eight helicopters took-off from “Sarin” airport in a straight line between the Turkish – Syrian border, over Jarabulus city, al-Rai, Azaz, Afrin, until Idlib countryside in Barisha village, In a mission to target ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. According to SOHR sources, the remains of al-Baghdadi’s body after he blew himself up were transferred to the Iraqi base, “Ayn al-Assad”.
The operation carried out by the international coalition also resulted in the death of Abu Hassan al-Muhajir, spokesman for the “Islamic State”, in addition to some nine other members, including leaders of the group, two women and one child were among the nine dead. The targeted house was purchased from a jihadist leader days ago and identified himself in front of the residents of the area as an Aleppan. On October 28, SOHR reported a new operation of the “coalition” during which it carried out an airdrop over Hawi area in Jarabulus, west of the Euphrates river, where a family believed to be Iraqi was arrested in the area, suspected of belonging to “Islamic State” organization, then the helicopter left again.
The Syrian Desert “Al Badia”… ISIS controls 1.8 percent of Syrian territory
Despite the fact that the so-called “caliphate” was eliminated and the announcement of the defeat of the group in Syria, the “Islamic State” continues to spread over an area of about 4,000 square kilometers, from Jabal Abu rajmin area in the northeast of Palmyra, to the desert of Deir ez-Zor and its western countryside, in addition to other areas in As-Sukhnah desert, north of the administrative border of Sweida province, equivalent to 1.8 percent of the total area of Syria, where the group continues its activity in the Syrian desert and west of the Euphrates river in areas controlled by regime forces and loyalists of Syrian and non-Syrian citizens, through attacks and ambushes in al-Suwayda desert, Raqqa, Deir ez-Zor and Homs.
Over the past year, SOHR has monitored the group’s operations and activities. Several explosions of ISIS planted landmines were reported in Deir ez-Zor. A landmine exploded while vehicles of the Palestinian “Al-Quds Brigade” was passing by the place, targeting the commander of the brigade in deir ez-Zor sector, injuring him in addition to killing at least five members, while two officers of regime forces were killed as a result of being targeted by the group deep in al-Bukamal desert in the eastern countryside of Deir ez-Zor. According the Syrian Observatory sources, the group was able to kill 30 members of regime forces and allied militias in the Syrian desert through attacks, targets, ambushes and bombings from December 20 to December 26, during the same period, four civilians working at a gas station were killed about 12 km away from the Al-Hill gas field in Homs desert near the administrative border of Deir ez-Zor province.
From March 24 to today, the Syrian Observatory documented the death of at least 309 members of regime forces and loyalists of Syrian and non-Syrian citizens, including at least two Russians, in addition to 37 members of Iranian-backed militias of non-Syrian citizens, all killed during isis attacks, bombings and ambushes in the west of the Euphrates, Deir ez-Zor, Homs and Sweida. The Syrian Observatory also documented the deaths of four civilians working in the gas fields as a result of the group’s attacks, while the Observatory documented the deaths of 103 Isis members, who were killed during the same period during attacks, bombings and targets.
Over the past few months, the Syrian Observatory has monitored several attacks by the Islamic State (IS) on regime forces and loyalists positions in Al-Khor area of Al-Mayadeen in the eastern Deir Ezzor countryside, where violent clashes took place between both sides, and were accompanied by shelling and exchange of targeting. Sources told the SOHR that a convoy of the National Defense Forces came out of the city of Al-Mayadeen accompanied by ambulances and to transfer the wounded as a result of the clashes to “al-Salam” hospital in the city. On 26 October, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported violent clashes, with various types of weapons, between members of the Islamic State (IS) and regime forces took place in the desert of al-Sukhna in eastern Homs countryside.
On October 9, the Syrian Observatory reported that ISIS operations were still active in the Syrian Desert, where an attack was carried out by ISIS members on positions and a convoy of regime forces and loyalists north of Sukhna in Homs desert, where violent clashes took place between both sides, during which the group set ambushes and detonated IEDs and mines while the convoy was passing by, while the regime’s warplanes participated in repelling the attack. The Syrian Observatory documented casualties resulting from clashes, ambushes and shelling, at least 12 members of regime forces and loyalists of Syrian and non-Syrian citizens were killed, in addition to three ISIS members were killed.
East of the Euphrates… ISIS members resort to chaos, bombings and suicide attacks
During the same period, from December 29, 2018 to December 29, 2019, the group continue its escalating activity through its affiliated cells within the eastern Euphrates region, in SDF-held areas, through detonation of IEDs and suicide attacks, in addition to assassinations with individual weapons and machine guns targeting “SDF” and its staff. SDF-held areas and the international coalition within the eastern Euphrates continue to witness an escalating activity resurgence of the Islamic State and its cells, both secretly and publicly.
Despite the coalition’s and “SDF” large security campaigns of air strikes, raids and arrests on a daily basis and the arrest of the group’s cells members, however, ISIS continues to be active increasingly in Raqqa and its countryside, rural Deir ez-Zor, Hasaka city and its countryside and other places in the eastern Euphrates region, whether through assassinations by planting IEDs and mines or detonating booby-trapped vehicles, in addition to armed attacks with machine guns targeting primarily “SDF” members and its collaborators and civilians linked to “SDF” in any way.
The group has not only been secretly active in the region, but has publicly threatened anyone who collaborates with “SDF” by targeting them if they not “repent”, such as posters that were put up on the mosques walls of “Abu Hardoub” town in rural Deir ez-Zor, in addition to demanding financial royalties from merchants and wealthy people in rural Deir ez-Zor in exchange for not being exposed to their business or attacking their oil wells and tanks.
In mid-October, SOHR reported that two IS operatives within the sleeper cells of the group, attacked a security point of the “military council of Raqqa” in Raqqa city, where violent clashes broke out between the two operatives on one hand, the “military council of Raqqa” and “the Internal Security Forces” on the other, at the point near the Basil Circle in the city. The clashes coincided with immense use of hand grenades by the two operatives. The Syrian Observatory learned that the two operatives deliberately blew themselves up with explosive belts after they were surrounded by guards of the security checkpoint, following clashes lasted for more than 75 minutes, before the relative calm returned to the city amid a constant alert of the military council of Raqqa and “Asayish”.
On October 5, SOHR reported that an explosion rocked the town of Al-Jerzi located in the countryside of eastern Deir ez-Zur, caused by a landmine exploded during the passage of a military vehicle of the Internal Security Forces “Asayish,” resulting in the injury of seven members. The Syrian Observatory reported a day earlier, that gunmen from the cells of the “Islamic State” bombed the building of SDF’s “Civil Council” in al-Dahla village in the eastern countryside of Deir ez-Zur after it was booby-trapped with IEDs, causing widespread destruction in the building without reported any casualties.
On the first of October, the “Syrian Observatory” reported that an IED exploded on the road to “al-Omar” oil field in rural Deir ez-zur, during the passage of a car carrying employees working at the field, which led to the death of three employees. SOHR sources said that an IED exploded after the passage of a convoy of the Syrian Democratic Forces from the area, apparently, the target was the convoy of “SDF”.
As part of resurgence of the group through its cells in several areas, on September 29, SOHR learned that ISIS masked men targeted by a hand grenade the house of Engineer Ahmed Al-Ali (head of the maintenance department of the Water department of the Civil Council of Deir ez-Zur) in Al-Busaira city, without reported any causalities. This attack was the second of its kind in September, where those operations were aimed at pressuring the civilians to submit to the group’s demands to pay $15,000 as “Zakat”.
At the same time, identical SOHR sources confirmed that the Emir of ammunition of the “Islamic State” has returned in Tel Abyad, accompanied by 150 members to the city, amid reports of the return of “sons of Albullo” known to be associated with the “Islamic State”. A source from “Selouk” town told SOHR that the media coordinator of IS, who filmed the scenes of throwing the victims by the group members in Hoteh’s hole, reappeared in the town, knowing that he is the cousin of the first Emir within IS in Tel Abyad area.
The number of fighters, civilians, oil workers and officials in service agencies who were assassinated by ISIS members in four provinces: Aleppo, Deir ez-Zor, Raqqa and Al-Hasakah, as well as “Manbij” area in northeastern Aleppo province, controlled by SDF, raises to 415 persons, where the Syrian Observatory monitored the assassination of 131 civilians by those cells, including six children and five women in the eastern countryside of Deir al-Zour, Al-Hasakah countryside, Raqqa city and its countryside and Manbij region, in addition to the assassination of 280 of SDF fighters, including local commanders in the same areas and four members of the International coalition. The Syrian Observatory also counted dozens of casualties as a result of these assassinations.
Al Hawl camp… “The groups’s mini-state” remains without a plan to deal with it as chaos continues
With the end of the so-called “caliphate state”, attention has turned to a new crisis that is considered the legacy of the group, Al-Hawl refugee camp and displaced persons, which has become more like a “mini-state” of the group’s members and families, a crisis that most countries in the world ignore it in order to avoid repatriating their citizens who Join the group’s members, where chaos and lack of security are widespread within the camp, which is considered as a time bomb threaten to resurgence of “the Islamic State” or another terrorist group more dangerous than ISIS.
According to SOHR statistics, Al Hawl camp is home to at least 68,607 people: 8,450 Iraqi families, including 30,765 Iraqis, 7,809 Syrian families, including 28,069 Syrian nationals, and the rest, 9,773 people, of European, Asian, African and other nationalities, among 2,824 families.
With the widespread security chaos all over the camp, on December 8, SOHR documented the killing of a woman of “Turkestan” nationality in al-Hawl camp in the eastern al-Hasakah countryside, according to the Syrian Observatory’s information, the woman was strangled to death by women of “Islamic State” organization families who are held in “Hawl” camp in rural al-Hasakah, due to her refusal to commit to wear clothes in accordance with Sharia, according to views of the perpetrators of the operation.
Islamic State’s abductees… Complete disregard and unknown fate despite the defeat of “caliphate state”
Although nearly ten months have passed since the international coalition’s announcement to eliminate “IS” as a dominant force east of the Euphrates River, and with the recent developments over the past period, however, the issue of ISIS’s abductees cloaked in a silence by all sides without any clarification about the fate of thousands of abductees, where fears continue for the life and fate of the abductees, including Father Paolo Daololio, Bishops John Ibrahim and Paul Yazji, Abdullah Al Khalil, a British journalist, sky news journalist and other journalists, in addition to hundreds of abductees from Ain Al Arab (Kobane) area and Afrin, as well as the people of Deir ez-Zor.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, with all continuing crimes and violations against Syrian civilians, including death threats against its workers by the Islamic State and all the killers in Syria, SOHR renews its vow to continue its work by monitoring, documenting and publishing all violations and crimes that committed against the Syrian people.
At the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, we also renew our call to the UN Security Council to refer war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Syria to the International Criminal Court so that all the criminals and killers of the Syrian people punished.
The Syrian Observatory also points out that it had already warned before the announcement of the “Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant” about the “state of its caliphate” in Syria and Iraq, that this organization did not aim to work for the benefit of the Syrian people, but rather ISIS continued to kill Syrians and civilians who were displaced and wounded by millions.
The “Islamic State” recruited children in the so-called “cubs of the caliphate”, controlling over the Syrian people wealth and harnessed it to build “caliphate”, through the gates open back and forth with one of Syria’s neighboring country.
The Syrian Observatory also renews its appeal to the international community for a solution to “Al Hawl mini-state” crisis, which is considered a time bomb that threatens to explode at any moment.
At the Syrian Observatory, we renew our call to the UN Security Council and all organizations and countries that claim to respect human rights in the world, to act immediately to stop the crimes and violations committed against the Syrian people, by the Islamic State, and to establish competent courts for prosecuting them.
We call on them to help the Syrian people to reach the state of freedom, democracy, justice and equality, which preserves the rights of all components of the Syrian people without discriminating between religions, sects and ethnicities, which have been and will continue to coexist for the future of Syria, despite media campaigns, which is working to destroy the social infrastructures of the Syrian nation.