68 months after the declaration of Caliphate State: ISIS cells intensify attacks .. SDF security campaigns continue .. and women in “Al-Hool mini-state” attempt to spread chaos
Syrian Observatory for Human Rights
On the 23rd of March 2019, the Counter-ISIS International Coalition command and the leaders of Syria Democratic Forces announced the elimination of the so-called Caliphate of the “Islamic State” and the end of battles against the organization. The announcement asserted that the following phase would focus on security campaigns to eliminate ISIS remnants . However, such security campaigns, carried out up to date, fail to bring the spread of ISIS ideology and activities to an end, since ISIS cells exploit opportunities to create security vacuum and carry out assassinations, suggesting that the “Islamic State” is still well and alive.
Although six months passed after the killing of the organization’s 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 February 2020 to the 29th of March 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 March 11, Syrian Observatory activists reported that a group of Syria Democratic Forces, backed by four helicopters affiliated to the International Coalition, raided a refugee camp in Al-Shuhayl town in the eastern countryside of Deir Ezzor.
SDF members, using loudspeakers, asked everyone to hold on their tents, and called upon a displaced family from Hama to come out and surrender. The campaign led to arresting four persons of the displaced family. It was revealed that the arrested persons were former ISIS members.
On the same day, SOHR sources said that clashes broke out in the desert of Aleppo, between an armed group of ISIS cells and regime forces, in the areas of Hazm al-Sar and Al-Ja’ar. ISIS cells headed to Abu Mayal and Mikhlif villages where they killed several civilians and abducted two pick-up cars. The bodies of the two pick-up cars’ drivers were found on the following day.
While on March 17, masked men shot a former ISIS member who had enrolled in the ranks of Syria Democratic Forces.The masked men attacked a football stadium in al-Hwaij village in Deir Ezzor countryside. Eight masked men entered the stadium, expelled the players, and burned the body of the young man after killing him, then they fled after crying out for the “Islamic State” organization. On March 26, two members of SDF were killed and another was injured as a result of the explosion of an IED, planted by Islamic State cells, targeted a military vehicle in Theban area near Al-Omar oil field in Deir Ezzor countryside.
As more people were killed, it rose to 468 fighters, civilians, oil workers, and officials in service parties, the number of people who were 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 151 civilians including eight children and six women by armed cells in the eastern countryside of Deir Ezzor, al-Hasakah countryside, al-Raqqah city and countryside, and Manbij area. In addition, 311 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.
On March 21st, reliable sources informed the Syrian Observatory that Syria Democratic Forces and “Autonomous Administration in northern and north-eastern Syria” released more than 80 ISIS members. Those members had been arrested by SDF during the war against ISIS. According to SOHR sources, all released persons are Syrians and from Al-Raqqah, Al-Hasakah and Deir Ezzor.
It is noteworthy that some of the released members have served their sentence and some others have not. This action triggered widespread popular discontent for fear that these released members could return to fight in the ranks of ISIS, especially with ISIS members spreading widely in SDF-held areas.
While on March 27, 11 prisoners accused of belonging to the Islamic State managed to escape from SDF prison in Al-Kasra town in the western countryside of Deir Ezzor. SDF security units arrested all the prisoners and sent them back to prison.
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 two months, Syrian Observatory activists monitored several operations and attacks by ISIS, one of which was the detonation of a landmine planted by ISIS members in “Al-Bahra” town in rural Deir Ezzor on January 24. The explosion killed a child.
Over the past few months, the Syrian Observatory has reported several attacks carried out by the Islamic State on regime and loyalists positions throughout the Syrian Desert. Since the 24th of March 2019, SOHR has documented the killing of at least 364 regime soldiers and loyalists of Syrian and non-Syrian nationalities, including at least two Russians, and 67 Iranian-backed militiamen of non-Syrian nationalities. All were killed in attacks, bombings and ambushes by the “Islamic State”, west of Euphrates in the deserts of Deir Ezzor, Homs, and Al-Suwaidaa.
Also four civilians worked in gas fields, two shepherds and four other people were killed and documented by SOHR in the same period, from late March 2019 until today. They were killed in attacks by ISIS cells. While 119 ISIS members were also killed in attacks and bombardment in the same period.
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, extremist women of ISIS families killed an Iraqi volunteer in the ranks of Syria Democratic Forces, with a hammer.
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 12 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.