ISIS in January: sleeper cells continue to operate in regime and SDF-held areas…security chaos in “Al Hawl” camp…and International Coalition and SDF continue operations against ISIS
Despite the facts that 66 months have passed since the declaration of the so-called caliphate of the “Islamic State”, one year after the group was declared defeated and four months after the killing of its leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdad in a U.S. airstrike, the group is regaining strength, and this is clearly reflected in the increasing number of sleeper cells’ operations in various areas in north-eastern Syria, and in the stepping up of activities such as kidnappings for ransom, assassinations, extortion, death threats and the illegal taxations on civilians under the name of “zakat”.
From December 29, 2019 to January 2020, The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights has reported that the group continued its resurgence after being transformed from “caliphate” to “sleeper cell” organization, waiting for the right moment to perpetrate its attacks.
Security chaos, assassinations and extortion… ISIS exploits disorder
Exploiting the security chaos that prevails in regime and SDF-held areas, ISIS cells carries out several assassinations and targeting against SDF, Syrian regime and a number of civilians, as well as blackmailing civilians into paying ransoms under the name or pretext of “Zakat”.
On January 20, ISIS cells targeted an oil truck in Al Mankhar area north of Al-Karamah district in rural Al-Raqqah. The truck caught fire and the driver was seriously injured.
On January 19, the group’s members attacked regime forces and loyalists’ positions in Al-Mayadeen desert, east of Deir Ezzor, and started firing several rocket-propelled grenades, followed by an exchange of machine-gun fire between the two sides. The attack wounded 19 regime soldiers.
On January 14, Syrian Observatory sources reported an ambush carried out by ISIS against regime forces. ISIS seized cattle of nearly 2,000 animals belonging to four shepherds in Al-Faydah area in Al-Mayadin desert, tricking the shepherds into reporting the incident to regime forces, which in turn led the regime to send military forces to the eastern desert of Deir Ezzor. On their way, regime forces clashed with ISIS members who were present in the area.
After the clashes, when the regime’s columns were on their way back, ISIS members ambushed one of these columns causing heavy losses among regime forces. At least 11 regime soldiers and loyalists were killed in addition to the killing of two shepherds.
On the same day, six masked men on motorcycles roamed the streets of Al-Kubar town in Deir ez-Zor, asking shopkeepers to pay what they called “zakat” for the “Islamic State”.
On January 12, unidentified men, believed to be ISIS cells, threw a grenade at a civilian’s home in al-Basir town in rural Deir ez-Zour, after being previously threatened to pay $10,000, but he refused to pay.
On The 10th of the same month, SOHR activists reported that four members of the group on motorcycles roamed the city of Al Busayrah, chanting “the Islamic State will remain”.
On January 6, a bus carrying soldiers of the regime’s 11th Division was ambushed on the international highway near Sabikhan town in eastern rural Deir ez-Zor, at least seven soldiers were killed and 14 others injured.
SOHR sources also reported that the areas of “Autonomous Administration” had seen popular discontent due to the release of a number of the group members. On January 8, the Syrian Observatory learned that the “Autonomous Administration” in northern and north-eastern Syria” and SDF released ten people in al-Hasakah city after mediations by tribal elders and dignitaries; the ten persons were arrested earlier for dealing with ISIS. This action came few days after the release of at least 39 persons from Deir ez-Zor, Al-Hasakah and Al-Raqqah, by SDF after mediations by tribal elders and dignitaries. Meanwhile, SOHR monitored widespread public discontent with SDF’s decision to release people accused of dealing with ISIS without being tried.
On January 2, SOHR sources reported that Syria Democratic Forces continued their security campaigns, with the International Coalition support, within areas under their control in Deir ez-Zor province. These campaigns target smugglers and arms dealers in order to restore security their areas. SOHR sources reported that a large force of SDF, backed by Coalition helicopters, raided Al-Shuhayl town in the eastern countryside of Deir ez-Zor on Thursday morning, targeting houses of arms dealers and smugglers accused of being involved in helping ISIS members to escape during the period when ISIS was besieged in their last enclave east of Deir ez-Zor near Syria – Iraq border.
According to Syrian Observatory sources, at least eight wanted men were arrested, and a civilian displaced from Al-Mayadeen city was wounded by indiscriminate gunfire.
The Syrian Desert “Al Badia”… ISIS controls 1.8 percent of Syrian territory
Despite the fact that the so-called “caliphate” was eliminated and announced defeated in Syria, ISIS still controls some 3,283 square kilometers, equivalent to 1.8 percent of the total area of Syria.
The group’s activities in the Syrian desert, west of the Euphrates River, in areas controlled by regime forces and allied militias of Syrian and non-Syrian citizens are still continuing, with attacks and ambushes in al-Suwayda desert, Raqqa, Deir ez-Zor and Homs.
According to SOHR statistics, the group currently controls an area from Jabal Abu Rajmin area in the northeast of Palmyra, to the desert of Deir ez-Zor and western countryside, as well as al-Sukhnah desert, north of the administrative border of Sweida province.
Over the past month, SOHR has monitored the group’s operations and activities, where several explosions of ISIS planted landmines were reported in Deir ez-Zor desert.
On January 24, an old landmine planted by ISIS exploded in Al-Bahra town in rural Deir ez-Zor, killing a child.
SOHR has documented since past January 2019 to date 245 fatalities, including 65 women and 69 children killed by landmines, unexploded bombs and collapse of war-damage residential buildings in various Syrian areas and cities such as Homs, Hama, Deir ez-Zor, Aleppo and southern Syria.
Over the past few months, the Syrian Observatory has reported several attacks carried out by the Islamic State on of regime and loyalists positions in al-Khor area in al-Mayadeen desert, east of Deir ez-Zor, where violent clashes took place between the two sides, accompanied with shelling and exchange of fire. Sources informed the Syrian Observatory that a column belonging to the National Defense Forces (NDF) left the city of al-Mayadeen accompanied with ambulances, transporting the wounded in to Al-Salam Hospital in the city.
On October 26 2019, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that violent clashes broke out, in which various types of weapons were used, between members of the Islamic State and regime forces in al-Sukhna desert in eastern rural Homs.
Al Hawl camp “ISIS mini-state” : Chaos continues and no solution on the horizon
With the end of the so-called “caliphate state”, attention has turned to a new crisis that is considered to be the legacy of the group, Al-Hawl refugee camp for the displaced, which has become more like a “mini-state” of the group’s members and families. A true crisis that most countries in the world still ignore in order to avoid repatriating their unwanted citizens who joined the group. Chaos and lack of security are widespread within the camp, making it a time bomb that may result in the resurgence of “ Islamic State” or other terrorist groups more dangerous than ISIS.
According to SOHR statistics, Al Hawl camp is home to at least 68,607 people: 8,450 Iraqi families consisting of 30,765 Iraqi citizens; 7,809 Syrian families consisting of 28,069 Syrian nationals; and 9,773 people of European, Asian, African and other nationalities, among 2,824 families.
With the widespread security chaos all over the camp, on January 14, security forces found the body of a woman killed by radical women inside al-Hawl camp, and according Syrian Observatory sources, the victim refused to espouse and adhere to the ideology of the Islamic State and was therefore killed.
On January 8, members of Internal Security Forces (Asayish) found the body of a female Iraqi refugee inside Al-Hawl Camp in far south-east of Al-Hasakah countryside.
It was revealed that she was killed by extremist women of ISIS families, using a hammer and a sharp tool, for refusing the group’s ideology; an incident that became more frequent in ”al-Hawl mini-state” camp.
On January 15, Reliable sources informed the Syrian Observatory that two children died and their mother was injured, after a fire broke out in a tent in ‘Al Hawl mini-state’ camp. The burnt victims are family members of ISIS group of Turkish nationality. The fire was likely to have been caused by extremist women of the group families’ members.
Islamic State’s abductees: ignored and unaccounted for despite the defeat of the “caliphate state”
Although nearly 11 months have passed since the International Coalition’s announcement of the defeat of ISIS which was a dominant force east of the Euphrates River, and with the recent developments over the past period, however, silence still surrounds the issue of ISIS’s abductees. All sides remain quiet and provide no clarification on the fate of thousands of abductees, where fear continues to grow for the lives 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.
With the continuing crimes and violations against Syrian civilians, including death threats against SOHR workers by the Islamic State and other killers and criminals in Syria, The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights renews its vows to continue its work by monitoring, documenting and publishing all violations and crimes that committed against the Syrian people.
We, at the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, renew our call to the UN Security Council to refer those ‘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 are brought to justice.
The Syrian Observatory also points out that it had already warned, well before “Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant” announced itself as “ Caliphate State” in Syria and Iraq, that this organization did intend to work for the Syrian people and serve their interest, but rather ISIS continued to kill innocent Syrians, who had been suffering the brutality of war and violence and became displaced.
Furthermore, the “Islamic State” recruited children in the so-called “cubs of the caliphate”, and controlled the wealth and resources of Syrian peole and harnessed them to build a “caliphate”, and traded 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 genuine threat to everyone.
At the Syrian Observatory, we renew our call to the UN Security Council, all organizations concerned 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 appropriate courts for prosecuting the perpetrators. We call on all parties concerned to help the Syrian people to reach freedom and achieve democracy, justice and equality, which will preserve the rights of all Syrian people, with all its various diverse constituents, without discriminating against religions, sects and ethnicities that have been and will continue to coexist in Syria now and in the future despite all the media campaigns which are actively working to destroy the diverse social fabrics of the Syrian nation.