73 months since the declaration of Caliphate State: ISIS adopts new strategy, assassinating tribal elders… Death of Russian commander spurs military campaign… Mass grave discovery uncovers new field executions • The Syrian Observatory For Human Rights
The Syrian Observatory For Human Rights

73 months since the declaration of Caliphate State: ISIS adopts new strategy, assassinating tribal elders… Death of Russian commander spurs military campaign… Mass grave discovery uncovers new field executions

Syrian Observatory for Human Rights


August 2020


Although 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” in March 2019, recent developments on the ground indicate that ISIS has not been fully eliminated. ISIS continues launching military operations and counter attacks which are met with security campaigns by Coalition forces and their Syria Democratic Forces partner throughout SDF-controlled areas, in addition to military operations by Russian and regime forces against ISIS cells in areas under their control.

Despite the great losses which ISIS has sustained, including the loss of almost all of its territory with the exception of few positions in the Syrian desert, the killing of the organization’s leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdad in a U.S. airstrike, and the arrest of a large number of ISIS commanders, ISIS cells still exploit opportunities to create security vacuum and carry out assassinations, which clearly indicate that the “Islamic State” is still alive and kicking.

Assassinations of tribal elders: New ISIS strategy

On August 2, SOHR sources said that ISIS cells adopted a new strategy by attacking tribal dignitaries and elders, as gunmen opened fire on a vehicle carrying dignitaries of “Ekaydat” tribe on the outskirts of Hawayij village in the eastern countryside of Deir Ezzor. The attack left the driver and the uncle of the head of “Ekaydat” tribe dead, while the brother of the tribe’s head sustained injures. On July 31, SOHR activists reported that two unknown assailants on a motorcycle shot dead the “Mukhtar” of Al-Dahla village in Deir Ezzor countryside that dawn, while he was going to the mosque. The victim was a prominent dignitary of “Al-Bakarah” clan.

Instability and security campaigns

As ISIS cells continued their operations in August, SOHR activists documented, on August 28, the killing and injury of 16 regime soldiers in the desert of Homs. According to Observatory sources, six members of the 11th Division were killed and ten others injured, some seriously, in an IED explosion targeting their bus. The IED had been planted by Islamic State members on the road between Hmima and T3 toward Palmyra city in the eastern countryside of Homs.


On the same day, Observatory activists also documented the killing of six members of the regime’s military intelligence, after ISIS members opened fire on their vehicle, using machineguns, on the road between Deir Ezzor city and Al-Mayadeen.


Since the 24th of March 2019, SOHR has documented the killing of at least 689 regime soldiers and loyalists of Syrian and non-Syrian nationalities, including at least two Russians, and 140 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.


Additionally, four civilians working in gas fields, 11 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 291 ISIS members were also killed in attacks and bombardment in the same period.


On August 23, Russian jets executed intensive airstrikes on ISIS positions in the Syrian desert for the third consecutive day. Moreover, on August 25, the regime-backed Palestinian “Liwaa Al-Quds, working under the guidance of Russian forces, started with other regime loyalists a new sweeping operation in Deir Ezzor desert. The operation covered an area stretching from Al-Shawla desert in western Deir Ezzor to Al-Bokamal desert to the east, with the purpose of searching for ISIS cells, in retaliation for the killing of a Russian general in an earlier IED explosion in Deir Ezzor.



Al Hool camp: escape attempts and tribes’ mediations

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” hosting 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 akin to, or 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.

On August 14, reliable sources informed the Syrian Observatory that the Internal Security Forces (Asayish) transported 58 ISIS families of some 166 people, from Al-Hawl camp in south-eastern Al-Hasakah to “Rouj” camp near Al-Malikiyyah city in the far north-eastern Syria, near the Syria-Turkey border. This action was a part of the efforts to ease the pressure on Al-Hawl camp, which accommodates an unmanageable large number of families of ISIS members.


According to SOHR sources, “Rouj” camp had been expanded before these families were even sent there. The recently-transported families would be isolated from the civilian families in “Rouj” camp because of their extremist ideology, while more families would be brought to the camp.


While on August 11, reliable SOHR sources confirmed that the Internal Security Forces (Asayish) foiled a new attempt by women of ISIS family to escape from Al-Hawl Camp in the south-eastern countryside of Al-Hasakah. Four Russian women, with four of their sons, were attempting to escape from Al-Hawl camp, after coordination with the driver of a water tanker truck affiliated to the “Syrian Red Crescent”, who used to deliver water daily to the immigrant section in the camp.



Islamic State’s abductees: ignored and unaccounted for

Although nearly 17 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.

On August 26, SOHR activists reported that the first responders in Al-Raqqah began to recover bodies from cemetery No. 27 in al-Furussia area in the province’s western sector, a few days after its discovery with the help of locals. According to the team, the discovered cemetery contained more than 20 bodies belonging to women, aged between 20 and 30, who were subjected to field executions during the Islamic State control of the province.


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” declared 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 people and harnessed them to build a “caliphate”, and traded openly back and forth with one of Syria’s neighbouring 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 clear and present danger to everyone.

At the Syrian Observatory once more, we renew our call to the UN Security Council, all organizations concerned and countries that claim to respect and champion human rights globally to act immediately to stop the crimes and violations committed against the Syrian people by the Islamic State and many other active actors on the ground, 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.