ISIS in February: regime and SDF launch large-scale security campaigns…Coalition continue co-operation with SDF to eliminate ISIS resurgence
Syrian Observatory for Human Rights
Despite the facts that 67 months have passed since the declaration of the so-called caliphate of the “Islamic State”, one year after the group was declared defeated and five 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 the 29th of January 2020 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.
All developments coincide with ongoing co-operation between the International Coalition and Syria Democratic Forces, in addition to the regime’s operations in its areas, to undermine ISIS cells’ activity.
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 February 15, masked gunmen opened fire on a military vehicle “Hammer” of SDF, in al-Shuhayl town in rural Deir Ezzor. The attack left two SDF fighters injured and damaged the vehicle, while rest of the members managed to escape. A civilian also sustained injury due to a random gunfire. The gunmen burned the vehicle before escaping.
While on February 9, regime and Iranian forces and Iranian-backed militias began a security campaign against ISIS cells and members in Jabal al-Bashri area south of Deir ez-Zor city. Regime forces began the campaign with intensive rocket fire on the area, in light of ISIS resurgence in the Syrian Desert, particularly in Deir Ezzor and Homs deserts.
On February 22, Syrian Observatory activists documented several assassinations in SDF-held areas in rural Deir Ezzor. Three SDF members were shot dead by unknown assailants in separate incidents in Al-Harmoushiyah village in the western countryside of Deir Ezzor, Daman village in the eastern countryside, and Al-Izbah village, north of Deir Ezzor city. Meanwhile, a civilian mediate reconciliation deals with Syrian regime was shot dead by unknown assailants in Al-Helwah village, near Al-Busayrah city. In Hawija Theban town, the body of a civilian was found with marks of gunshots on, after being missing a few days earlier. Another civilian was assassinated by masked gunmen inside his shop in Al-Helwah village in the eastern countryside of Deir Ezzor.
On February 18, two regime soldiers were killed, one of whom was a high-rank officer in the 17th Division, in an ambush by ISIS members in the south of Deir Ezzor city. ISIS cells are active in this area where they target Iranian militias and regime soldiers.
As more people were killed, it rose to 447 fighters, civilians, oil workers, and officials in service parties, the number of people killed in areas within the four provinces of Aleppo, Deir Ezzor, Al-Raqqah and Al-Hasakah, in addition to the SDF-held area of Manbij in the north-east of Aleppo.
Syrian Observatory documented the assassination of 145 civilians including eight children and five women by armed cells in the eastern countryside of Deir Ezzor, al-Hasakah countryside, al-Raqqah city and countryside, and Manbij area. In addition, 298 SDF fighters, including local leaders, were assassinated in the same areas.
Also four members of International Coalition were killed. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights Human also documented tens of injuries due to these assassinations.
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.
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 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 Hool 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, Internal Security Forces arrested three 15-year-old children and a woman of Iraqi nationality on February 15, against the backdrop of the killing of a member in the Internal Security Forces a few days earlier in “al-Hool Camp”.
While 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 be 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.