The Syrian Observatory For Human Rights

IS*IS in May 2023 | Nearly 30 civilians and combatants killed in 19 attacks across Syria, while intensive security campaign curb IS*IS cells’ operations in SDF-controlled areas

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. However, ISIS cells are still able to exploit opportunities to create a security vacuum and carry out assassinations, which clearly indicates that the “Islamic State” is still alive and kicking.


In the 106th month after the declaration of “Al-Baghdadi’s Caliphate,” ISIS carried out nine operations, including armed attacks and explosions, in areas controlled by SDF. Those operations left two civilians dead, while several combatants of formations operating in areas controlled by the Autonomous Administration sustained various injuries.


Those operations are distributed regionally as follows:


  • Al-Raqqah: One operations left one civilian dead.


  • Deir Ezzor: Six operations left one civilian dead.


  • Al-Hasakah: Two operations left no fatalities.


Further details on these operations are as follows:


  • May 5: A young man was killed and another was injured after being shot by unidentified gunmen, believed to belong to ISIS, who were on a motorbike near Abo Al-Naital village.


  • May 8: Two gunmen on a motorbike, who are believed to belong to ISIS, attacked an SDF military checkpoint with machineguns in Al-Dahla town eastern of Deir Ezzor.


  • May 9: Gunmen on motorbikes, believed to belong to ISIS, attacked the house of a doctor in Al-Harijiya village northern of Deir Ezzor within SDF-held area, after he refused to pay “Zakat”. However, no casualties were reported.


  • May 13: A guard in Al-Tabaka city in western Al-Raqqa countryside was killed by unidentified gunmen, who are believed to belong to ISIS.


  • May 15: A member of the Internal Security Forces “Asayish” was injured as a result of direct gunfire by unknown gunmen on a motorcycle, who are likely to be affiliated to the “Islamic State” organisation, in the town of Al-Izba in SDF-controlled areas in the northern countryside of Deir Ezzor


  • May 17: A leader in the Deir Ezzor Military Council survived an assassination attempt, as his car was targeted with a grenade thrown by unknown gunmen believed be affiliated to ISIS cells, while passing through the SDF-controlled village of Ajaja in the southern countryside of Al Hasakah. The leader was wounded and taken to hospital.


  • May 20: Several members of Syrian Democratic Forces were injured in the explosion of an IED planted in the SDF vehicle they were travelling in Abu Khashab in the north-west of Deir Ezzor. The injured members were taken to a hospital in Al-Raqqah.


  • May 28: Gunmen, believed to be of ISIS cells, detonated an IED in the early hours of Sunday, while a military vehicle of Syrian Democratic Forces was passing on the road to Um Madfaa in Al-Shaddadi district in the southern countryside of Al-Hasakah. The explosion resulted in the injury of four SDF members seriously.


  • May 28: Gunmen, believed to be of ISIS cells, on six motorcycles stormed farmlands in Souh Al-Theib area in Abo Hammam desert, east of Deir Ezzor and severely beat farmers there.



Meanwhile, SDF continued their security operations, backed by the International Coalition, persecuting and eliminating members of ISIS cells in north and east Syria. In the past month, SOHR documented 15 security operations by SDF, including 12 joint campaigns with International Coalition Forces. The 15 operations led to the arrest of 31 persons, including five ISIS commanders. Here are further details:


  • April 23: SDF-backed Counter-Terrorism Special Units (H.A.T.), backed by Coalition aircraft, carried out two separate operations in Al-Raqqah city and Al-Sahlabiyah village in the western countryside of Al-Raqqah to arrest ISIS members. The units cordoned off hideouts of ISIS members, before they arrested four members of ISIS cells. The arrested members worked on providing ISIS cells with intelligence information to carry out attacks against SDF members.


  • April 27: Special units of the Internal Security Forces (Asayish) carried out an airdrop operation with the participation of the “International Coalition” forces, in Mozan village in Al-Baghoz town in the eastern countryside of Deir Ezzor, and arrested the leader of an “ISIS” cell during the operation, where he was taken to a security centre. It is noted that the leader is a member in a Komin of the local council of Al-Baghoz council in Deir Ezzor countryside.


  • April 28: SDF-backed Counter-Terrorism Special Units (H.A.T.), backed by Coalition Forces, carried out a security campaign in Al-Dashishah desert after monitoring ISIS members’ movements in that area, where they arrested a senior ISIS commander called “Saleh Dahmash.” The security campaign coincided with raids nearby the targeted site. According to SOHR sources, the arrested commander was engaged in smuggling operations and transportation of ISIS cells in desert areas in Al-Hasakah in SDF-controlled areas, and he supervised logistical affairs.


  • May 2: Special security units of SDF, with aerial support by the International Coalition, launched an arrest campaign in Al-Hawl town in Al-Hasakah countryside and arrested an ISIS member, who works on transporting weapons to ISIS cells inside the camp and smuggling ISIS members from the camp to other areas, and arrested another collaborator with ISIS, where equipment was confiscated from their house.


  • May 3: SDF-backed Counter-Terrorism Special Units (H.A.T.), with the participation of International Coalition aerial and ground forces, carried out a security campaign in Al-Busayrah town in the eastern countryside of Deir Ezzor, arresting an ISIS member, after asking him, via loudspeakers, to surrender. During the campaign, documents and equipment were found proving his involvement in operations executed by ISIS cells in that area.


  • May 6: Members of a patrol of the International Coalition and SDF arrested an ISIS leader, who is believed to be a leader of first line, in Hazima town in Al-Raqqa countryside. Moreover, the forces arrested two civilians from the region, who are believed to belong to ISIS.


  • May 8: Counter-Terrorism Units and International Coalition Forces carried out a joint security operation in Abu Al-Naytal village in the northern countryside of Deir Ezzor, with the participation of 14 military vehicles of the Coalition, along with the flight of Coalition helicopters over the region and firing stun grenades near the targeted site. The operation led to the arrest of two ISIS cells.


  • May 15: International Coalition Forces, with the participation of the SDF-backed Counter-Terrorism Special Units, carried out an airdrop in the early hours of Monday, on a house in Al-Huwayja area in Al-Mashlab neighbourhood in the east of Al-Raqqah city. Five helicopters participated in the operation, where two helicopters carried out the airdrop, while the three others hovered at a low altitude over Al-Mashlab neighbourhood. SOHR activists reported hearing heavy machinegun fire by the Coalition helicopter in different areas. According to SOHR sources the operation started at 01:00 am, and it was accomplished at 02:30 am. However, the identities of people targeted by this operation remained unknown, but sources suggested that they were members of ISIS cells.


  • May 15: Anti-terrorism units of SDF launched a security operation in Al-Dashisha town in southern Al-Hasakah countryside, with aerial and ground support from the International Coalition, searching for ISIS cells, where an ISIS commander and his companion were arrested with weapons and documentaries that prove that they belong to ISIS in their possession.


  • May 16: International Coalition Forces, with the participation of Syrian Democratic Forces, carried out an air drop this dawn, targeting a house in the SDF-controlled town of Abu Al-Naytal in the northern countryside of Deir Ezzor. The security forces called upon the residents, via loudspeakers, not to leave their homes during the campaign, before they arrested a man called “Mohamed Matshar Al-Sorour” who had worked for ISIS security service.


  • May 19: Units of the Internal Security Forces (Asayish), backed by International Coalition helicopters, carried out a security operation in Theban town in the eastern countryside of Deir Ezzor, searching for ISIS cells. The operation led to the arrest of two ISIS Emirs (top commanders) and a collaborator with ISIS.


  • May 27: SDF-backed Special Units, backed by International Coalition aircraft, stormed the house of an oil investor in the SDF-controlled village of Abu Al-Naytal in the northern countryside of Deir Ezzor, before asking him to surrender via loudspeakers. The security operation led to the arrest of the oil investor for “dealing with ISIS cells.”



In the Syrian desert, however, ISIS continued its operations, including ambushes, armed attacks and explosions, in areas under the control of the Syrian regime and its allies, especially in Al-Rasafah desert, the surrounding areas of Jabal Al-Bishri in Al-Raqqah, the frontlines of Ithriyah, Al-Rahjan and other frontlines in the eastern countryside of Hama, the desert of Al-Sukhnah, Palmyra in Homs countryside, Deir Ezzor desert and the administrative border between Al-Raqqah and Deir Ezzor.


According to SOHR sources, ISIS carried out ten attacks in the past month, killing 24 regime soldiers and proxy militiamen, including three Iranian-backed militiamen, while ISIS lost two members in clashes and security campaigns. In addition, two civilians and an unidentified persons were killed in the same period in ISIS attacks in the Syrian desert.


Here is a regional distribution of those attacks:


-Homs desert: Four operations left six combatants, an unidentified person and two ISIS members dead.


-Al-Raqqah desert: One operation left three combatants dead.


-Deir Ezzor desert: Four operations left 13 combatants, including three Iranian-backed militias, and two civilians dead.


-Aleppo desert: One operation left a combatant dead.


Here are further details on ISIS attacks in the Syrian desert in May:


  • May 2: Eight members of the regime’s Osoud Al-Sharqiya including a commander, and two civilians were killed after they went missing, by an ambush by ISIS members in Al-Salehiya and Al-Dawer areas in Deir Ezzor countryside. Accordingly, the number of people killed in ISIS attack rose to 13, including two civilians.


  • May 5: Two members of the Russian-backed 25th Division (Special Forces), led by Suhail Al-Hassan, were killed by the explosion of an IED planted earlier by ISIS, while their military vehicle was passing through Khanaser desert in the eastern countryside of Aleppo. It is worth noting that the two members were from Al-Adliliyah town in Rif Dimashq.


  • May 8: A member of the regime-backed Republican Guard Forces was killed by the explosion of a landmine planted earlier by ISIS in Subaykhan desert in the eastern countryside of Deir Ezzor. The member was from Gharibah village in the northern countryside of Deir Ezzor and aged 26.


  • May 13: A regime officer ranked first lieutenant from Kafr Sanif town in Tartous countryside was killed in an ambush by ISIS cells this morning, in Al-Sokhna town in eastern Homs countryside, while the gunmen fled to an unknown destination.


  • May 15: Three officers: a brigadier-general and two lieutenants, were shot dead by unknown gunmen, believed to be of ISIS cells, in Al-Rasafah desert in the southern countryside of Al-Raqqah. The three officers were from Sallamiyah area in the eastern countryside of Hama.


  • May 16: Gunmen believed to belong to ISIS fired a missile on a bus carrying civilians and combatants coming from Damascus towards Deir Ezzor on the road in Al-Sokhna desert eastern of Homs yesterday, where two regime soldiers and an unidentified person were killed.


  • May 16: A non-commissioned regime officer ranked lieutenant was injured due to the explosion of a landmine of war remnants, during a combing campaign searching for ISIS cells in eastern Deir Ezzor desert.


  • May 22: Gunmen believed to be of ISIS cells attacked a military vehicle of “Liwaa Al-Quds” in Al-Sha’rah area in Jabal Al-Ammour in east Homs desert, killing two members and injuring others.


  • May 25: A member of the regime-backed “Liwaa Al-Quds” was killed by the explosion of a landmine planted earlier by ISIS, while a military vehicle was passing in Al-Atoum area in east Homs desert as a part of a combing operation in the area. It is worth noting that the member was from Latakia province.


  • May 25: A regime soldier from Al-Duraykish area in Tartus province was killed during a combing operation in Deir Ezzor desert.



Islamic State’s abductees: ignored and unaccounted


Although nearly 50 months have passed since the International Coalition’s announcement of the defeat of ISIS which was a dominant force east of 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 (Kobani) area and Afrin, as well as the people of Deir Ezzor.


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.


SOHR has been all along warning against ISIS resurgence and stressing that the defeat of ISIS in Syrian territory, as declared in 2019, was “symbolic”, as ISIS has been only eliminated as a controlling power in populated areas. The daily attacks by ISIS fighters and cells throughout Syria, clearly indicate that the “Islamic State” is still alive and kicking. While the frequent security campaigns and military operations by regime forces, Russia, International Coalition, and SDF have all failed so far to curb or hinder ISIS’s escalating activities.


The Syrian Observatory also points out that it had already warned, well before “Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant” declared itself as a “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”, controlled the wealth and resources of the Syrian people and harnessed them to build a “caliphate”, and traded openly back and forth with one of Syria’s neighbouring countries.