Main Events of the Week
Following the murder of the Jordanian pilot, the Royal Jordanian Air Force carried out intensive airstrikes against ISIS targets in both Syria and Iraq (up to now, the Jordanians have only carried out airstrikes in Syria). The Commander of the Royal Jordanian Air Force said that the airstrikes would continue. ISIS published a detailed list of Jordanian pilots and offered financial rewards to anyone who kills or wounds a Jordanian pilot.
ISIS claimed that one of the Jordanian airstrikes killed a female American aid worker who was in its hands. The White House confirmed that she was killed, but there is no reliable information about the date and circumstances of her death.
After the liberation of the city of Kobani, Kurdish forces began to repel ISIS from the surrounding countryside. ISIS forces are retreating and are trying to curb the Kurdish forces’ advance towards the city of Aleppo and the Idlib province. Apart from that, there have been no significant developments this week in the rest of the battle zones in Syria and Iraq.
Following the killing of around 30 Egyptian soldiers, and the wounding of dozens, last week the Egyptian Army carried out intensive security activity in northern Sinai against Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis (the ISIS branch in Sinai). According to Egyptian sources, 151 operatives of the organization were killed, including 47 senior operatives. Egyptian combat helicopters participated in this activity. ISIS, on its part, published a photo of an operative in Sinai carrying a Strela (SA-7) anti-aircraft shoulder missile, as a demonstration of the organization’s anti-aircraft capabilities.
The international campaign against ISIS
US and coalition airstrikes
- US and coalition airstrikes in Syria and Iraq continued during the week. Dozens of airstrikes were carried out during the week. The intensive airstrikes by the Royal Jordanian Air Force in retaliation for the murder of the pilot were salient, and were carried out not only in Syria (as was the case up to now), but in Iraq as well.
- Following are the locations of the airstrikes:
- In Syria,dozens of airstrikes in the rural area of Kobani (Ayn al-Arab) continued, although ISIS operatives have withdrawn from the city. Airstrikes were also carried out in the areas of Al-Raqqah and Deir al-Zor. The airstrikes damaged logistics facilities, ISIS military units, positions, weapons, vehicles and oil production equipment.
- In Iraq, airstrikes were carried out in the areas of Mosul, Kirkuk, Baiji, Tal Afar, Al-Assad, Fallujah and Al-Qaim. The airstrikes damaged ISIS military units, checkpoints, weapons, buildings, vehicles and boats which were used by ISIS.
Royal Jordanian Air Force airstrikes
- On February 8, 2015, Royal Jordanian Air Force Commander Major General Mansour al-Jabour presented the intensive airstrikes carried out by the Royal Jordanian Air Force. The airstrikes, which were coordinated with the international coalition, began in the days following the killing of Jordanian pilot Muadh al-Kasasbeh. On February 5, the Royal Jordanian Air Force attacked 19 ISIS training centers; On February 6, the Royal Jordanian Air Force carried out 19 sorties, attacking ammunition depots, logistics centers, fuel depots and military equipment; On February 7, the Royal Jordanian Air Force carried out 19 sorties, attacking ISIS operatives and camps. Al-Jabour noted that the Royal Jordanian Air Force airstrikes helped hit the ISIS fuel production network (Jordanian News Agency, February 8, 2015).
- The Royal Jordanian Air Force Commander said that the Royal Jordanian Air Force did not attack civilian buildings at any stage. He added thatthe primary goals of the air strikes are: hitting the top leadership of ISIS; hitting the organization’s “exports” (this presumably means mainly its exports of petroleum products); destroying ISIS’s training camps; hitting its command and control capabilities and hitting the organization’s operatives. According to the Royal Jordanian Air Force Commander, in the days ahead the Royal Jordanian Air Force is expected to carry out many sorties and attack ISIS targets (Jordanian News Agency, February 8, 2015).
Reactions in Jordan to the execution of the Jordanian pilot
- On February 3, 2015, ISIS published a video showing the Jordanian pilot Muadh al-Kasasbeh being executed by fire inside a cage. Jordan’s King Abdullah II cut short his visit to the United States and returned to Jordan. After his return, he visited the General Headquarters of the Armed Forces, met with the Chief of Staff and announced that Jordan’s response to the “criminal and cowardly” act would be severe (Jordanian News Agency, February 4, 2015). A strong protest arose in Jordanian society and politics. After the photos of al-Kasasbeh being burned to death were published, demonstrations and protests broke out in Amman (attended by Queen Rania), Karak, Zarqa, Ramtha and other cities in Jordan. The demonstrators demanded that the government take revenge, shouting “Death to ISIS”.
- Following is a summary of the Jordanian responses to the execution up to now (as of February 10, 2015):
- Increasing the Jordanian bombings against ISIS following the murder of the pilot al-Kasasbeh: Jordanian “military sources” told an Al-Hayat correspondent that Jordan now has “a private vendetta” against ISIS (Al-Hayat, February 5, 2015). In practice, Jordan increased its airstrikes against ISIS, in both Syria and northern Iraq (the Mosul area), as detailed above. The media reported that the airstrike in Mosul killed over 35 ISIS operatives (Sky News in Arabic, February 6, 2015). This was the first time the Royal Jordanian Air Force attacked targets in Iraq since Jordan joined the coalition (up to now, there has been a kind of “division of labor” among the partners of the US: Arab air forces joined the US in its airstrikes in Syria, and Western air forces assisted it in Iraq). Jordanian TV (February 6) broadcast photos documenting Royal Jordanian Air Force planes taking off to carry out airstrikes and returning at the end of the airstrikes.
- The release from prison of a senior jihadi operative who is hostile to ISIS: on February 5, 2015, Jordan released the kingdom’s most senior Salafist-jihadi, Issam al-Barqawi (Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi), who is opposed to ISIS. The Prosecutor General of the State Security Court dismissed the charges against al-Maqdisi and ordered his immediate release on probation. Upon his release from prison, al-Maqdisi said that he had tried to intervene for the release of Muadh al-Kasasbeh. He said that he had negotiated with ISIS and other jihadi organizations in the Middle East but to no avail, because ISIS deceived him. He condemned the execution of al-Kasasbeh by fire, adding that ISIS is harming the image of the Salafist-jihadi movement and creating an internal rift between Muslims (Al-Rai Media Channel, February 6, 2015).
Issam al-Barqawi (Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi) is a senior Salafist-jihadi operative who supports the Al-Nusra Front (Al-Qaeda’s branch in Syria) and vehemently opposes ISIS. In June 2014, he was released from a Jordanian prison after serving four years in prison for his involvement in terrorism. From the perspective of the Jordanian regime, his release was intended to strengthen the opponents of ISIS among the Salafist-jihadi movement as part of a policy of divide and conquer. He was arrested again in late October 2014 and was released again after the murder of the Jordanian pilot.
Main developments in Syria
The city of Kobani
- After the liberation of the city of Kobani, Kurdish forces began to repel ISIS from the surrounding countryside. The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) reported on February 9 that over the past two weeks, the Kurdish forces (YPG) took over 128 of the 350 villages in rural Kobani, out of 350 villages in the Kobani countryside; most of the villages were liberated without resistance. Battles are still ongoing west of Kobani, with ISIS forces attempting to curb the Kurdish forces’ advance towards the city of Aleppo and the Idlib province.
- On February 8, 2015, a Twitter account affiliated with the Al-Nusra Front posted a video with photos of one of its suicide bombers, by the name of Abu al-Izz al-Ansari, who carried out a suicide bombing attack in the heart of Damascus on a bus carrying Hezbollah operatives from Lebanon. It was claimed that the attack killed several Hezbollah operatives and that it was carried out in retaliation for the murder of Syrians by the Syrian Army and the rape of women by Hezbollah operatives (Twitter account affiliated with the Al-Nusra Front; YouTube, February 8, 2015).
- On February 8, 2015, there were violent clashes between ISIS and the Syrian Army and other rebel groups. These clashes took place in Aleppo (the Bab al-Nasr area), in the suburbs of Aleppo and in the Aleppo countryside (the villages of Dabiq and Souran).
- ISIS continues to pursue its opponents in the Al-Raqqah province. Last week, ISIS beheaded three people on charges of collaborating with the Syrian regime. Another person was beheaded in the rural eastern area the Al-Raqqah for “practicing witchcraft” (SOHR, February 8, 2015).
Beheading of a “witch” in the rural eastern area of Al-Raqqah (Twitter account affiliated with ISIS, February 9, 2015)
Deir al-Zor province
- On February 10, 2015, fighting resumed around the military airfield of Deir al-Zor. The Syrian Air Force bombed ISIS targets around the airfield. ISIS in turn shelled the airport with mortars and rockets (SOHR, February 10, 2015).
Main developments in Iraq
Prime Minister of Iraq: the Iraqi Army is preparing to recapture Mosul
- Speaking at a press conference in Germany, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi saidthat the Iraqi Army was preparing to recapture the city of Mosul from ISIS, with the help of the Peshmerga and the international coalition.He noted that the goal is to liberate Mosul with minimum casualties among military personnel and civilians. He added that he expected Germany to train the Iraqi security forces, and especially the police, to control the various cities after Mosul is liberated (Al-Arabiya TV, February 6, 2015). The US administration is currently examining the question of whether Iraq is ready to carry such a counterattack (Al-Jazeera’s English-language website, February 9, 2015).
In the ITIC’s assessment, al-Abadi’s statement is overly optimistic, since it is doubtful whether the Iraqi Army is fit to carry out an extensive counterattack to recapture a big city like Mosul (even if the Iraqi Army receives support from the United States and the coalition). This is because the Iraqi Army still faces fundamental problems at both the military level (training, equipment, morale) and the domestic political level (a lack of national Sunni-Shiite cohesiveness in Iraq).
- On February 7, 2015, a Twitter account affiliated with ISIS posted a report about a suicide bomber codenamed Abu Hajer al-Ansari who blew himself up with an explosive belt inside a group of operatives of one of the Shiite militias in Baghdad. Dozens of people were killed and injured as a result (Twitter account affiliated with ISIS, February 7, 2015).
- On February 7, 2015, a Twitter account affiliated with ISIS reported on fierce battles taking place in Ramadi between ISIS and the Iraqi Army and the militias that assist it. This is part of ISIS’s efforts to “cleanse” the remaining pockets of resistance in the Sunni province of Al-Anbar.
Salah al-Din province
- On February 5, 2015, a website affiliated with ISIS posted a photo of an Iraqi Army helicopter allegedly shot down on February 4 in the city of Samarra (independent website affiliated with ISIS, February 5, 2015).
The conduct of the Islamic State
The death of an American hostage
- A statement attributed to the Islamic State claimed that Kayla Jean Mueller, an American woman abducted by ISIS, was killed in the Jordanian bombing on February 6, 2015. The statement included photos of buildings where Mueller was allegedly staying at the time of the Jordanian airstrike.A Jordanian spokesman claimed that the statement is part of ISIS’s “criminal propaganda”. The US government initially announced that it had no proof that Mueller was killed, but later the White House confirmed that she was not alive. However, it is not clear when Ms. Mueller was killed and under what circumstances.
- Kayla Mueller was a 26-year-old American woman who worked for a humanitarian organization in Syria. According to media reports, she came to Syria via Turkey to help the Syrian refugees. She was abducted from a hospital in Aleppo in August 2013, while caring for the wounded. ISIS reportedly demanded USD 6.6 million in return for her release, but did not get it. It was reported that she was the last American woman held by ISIS. The White House announced that there was at least one more US citizen being held hostage in the Middle East (Haaretz daily and AP, February 11, 2015).
Brutal application of Sharia law by ISIS
- On February 7, 2015, a Twitter account affiliated with ISIS posted a video on YouTube showing the execution of three people accused of abducting a Muslim and stealing his money. The three were crucified after being killed (Twitter account affiliated with ISIS, February 7, 2015)
The confessions and executions of the three people accused of “crimes” (Twitter account affiliated with ISIS, February 7, 2015)
- On February 7, 2015, a Twitter account affiliated with ISIS posted a video showing the morality police (Al-Hesbah) stopping a truck carrying alcohol. They claimed that the shipment was intended for areas controlled by the Kurdish forces. The morality police smashed the bottles of alcohol and set them on fire (Twitter account of a news agency affiliated with ISIS, February 7, 2015).
Seizure of the truck carrying alcohol and the destruction of its contents (Twitter account affiliated with ISIS, February 7, 2015)
Islamic education for girls in Al-Raqqah
- On February 4, 2015, a Twitter account affiliated with ISIS announced the opening of a center for Islamic law studies for girls, under the auspices of the ISIS education office in the Al-Raqqah province. The institution is apparently attended by girls who have graduated from high school (Twitter account affiliated with ISIS, February 4, 2015).
ISIS’s interest in light helicopters
- On February 2, 2015, a Twitter account affiliated with ISIS published an urgent call to engineers working in industries in Iraq, Syria and Egypt, to send plans for the Islamic State (this is an implicit reference to building or assembling light helicopters, since a photo of a light helicopter appeared alongside the call) (Twitter account affiliated with ISIS, February 2, 2015).
Photo of a light helicopter, included in the posting (Twitter account affiliated with ISIS, February 2, 2015)
Palestinians and Israeli Arabs
Senior Hamas official’s car blown up following his sermon against ISIS
- On February 6, 2015, unknown perpetrators blew up the car of a senior Hamas official in the central Gaza Strip, Sheikh Sami al-Hams, who lives in the Nuseirat refugee camp. The explosion completely destroyed the car (Filastin al-Aan, February 6, 2015). According to eyewitnesses, Sheikh Sami al-Hams, a preacher in Nuseirat, attacked ISIS in a Friday sermon in a local mosque (Sawt Fatah, February 6, 2015).
Jihadist from Rafah killed in the ranks of ISIS in Libya
- Abd al-Ilah Qishta, a 25-year-old from Rafah, was killed on February 6, 2015, in the city of Derna, eastern Libya, during battles between the Libyan Army and jihadi organizations. Qishta left his family in Rafah a few months ago and joined the ranks of ISIS in Libya (Rai al-Youm, February 7, 2015).
- According to a relative of the deceased, Abd al-Ilah Qishta was a prominent Hamas military operative in Rafah until he decided to leave the Gaza Strip and fight in Libya (Rusaifa News, Libya, February 7, 2015). Following his death, the Qishta family in Rafah posted an official death notice on its website (the Qishta family’s website, February 7, 2015).
Abd al-Ilah Qishta from the Gaza Strip, killed in battles between jihadists and the Libyan Army (the Qishta family’s website, February 7, 2015)
A local jihadi organization by the name of Majles Shura Shabab al-Islam operates in the city of Derna in eastern Libya. In November 2014, the organization announced that it was joining the Caliphate which was established by ISIS, and its men pledged allegiance to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. The death of Abd al-Ilah Qishta may indicate that jihadi operatives from the Gaza Strip are fighting in the ranks of organizations affiliated with ISIS in Libya (although most of the jihadi operatives in the Gaza Strip make their way to Syria).
Egypt and the Sinai Peninsula
Intensive activity by the Egyptian Army against the jihadists in Sinai
- Last week, the Egyptian Army carried out intensive security activity in northern Sinai against Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis (the ISIS branch in Sinai) and additional jihadi elements. The activity focused on the areas of Sheikh Zuweid, Al-Arish and the Egyptian Rafah and included the use of Apache helicopters. “Informed sources in northern Sinai” reported that as part of the military operations against the jihadists in early February 2015, 151 operatives were killed, including 47 senior operatives (Al-Youm al-Sabea, February 7, 2015).
- On February 6, 2015, a Twitter account affiliated with ISIS shared a photo from the information office of the ISIS Sinai province published the day before. The photo shows an ISIS operative carrying a Strela (SA-7) anti-aircraft shoulder missile on his shoulder (Twitter account affiliated with ISIS, February 6, 2015; file sharing website, February 5, 2015). In the ITIC’s assessment, the presence of shoulder-fired missiles in Sinai in the hands of jihadi operatives is liable to endanger Egyptian Army aircraft as well as Israeli aircraft.
Interview with an Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis commander
- According to Reuters (February 5, 2015), in mid-January 2015 a Reuters correspondent interviewed one of the commanders of Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis (the ISIS branch in Sinai). The interview took place in a remote location in Sinai. The commander who was interviewed (with a heavy Bedouin accent) admitted that his organization was inspired by the Islamic State and noted that his organization was working to establish an Islamic state in Egypt.
- The commander admitted that his organization was currently suffering from more difficulties than in the past: “Our numbers are smaller than before,” he said. “Lots of people were killed. Lots of people were detained. [The Egyptian] security forces are everywhere.” He noted that since last year, about 1,000 operatives were killed and about 500-600 operatives were detained by the Egyptian security forces. According to the commander, the destruction of tunnels from the Gaza Strip to northern Sinai has deprived the jihadi operatives of vital arms supply routes: “There are far fewer weapons [today] because tunnels have been destroyed. It is difficult to move weapons [from the Gaza Strip to Sinai].”
Global jihad organizations in other countries
Senior official of Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) killed in a targeted killing
- Harith al-Nadhari, one of AQAP’s most prominent authorities on Islamic religious law, was killed in a targeted killing carried out by means of a US drone. Three of his escorts were killed along with him. The targeted killing took place in the Shabwa province, in southern Yemen, on January 31, 2015. AQAP confirmed the report (Al-Arabiya TV, February 5, 2015; Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, February 5, 2015). In a recent video, Harith al-Nadhari listed the necessary conditions for carrying out suicide bombing attacks. In an audiotape released on January 9, 2015, al-Nadhari claimed responsibility on behalf of AQAP for the attack in Paris on the newspaper Charlie Hebdo (YouTube, January 9, 2015).
Libya: Call on jihadi organizations in North Africa to join ISIS
- ISIS’s “Tripoli province” in Libya, which claimed responsibility for the attack at the Corinthia Hotel, recently posted a video on a jihadi website. The video was issued by the “information office of the Tripoli province”. The codename of the speaker in the video was Abu Suleiman al-Tareqi. In the video, he addresses (in Tuareg, one of the Berber languages) the “brothers” in Libya, Mali and Algeria,calling on them to pledge allegiance to the Islamic State and to practice jihad.Another speaker, codenamed Abu Umar al-Tareqi, addressed the “brothers” from the Tuareg tribes and called on them to pledge allegiance and emigrate to the Islamic State. These calls may indicate ISIS’s intention to expand the areas of its influence in North Africa beyond Libya, where it has gained a foothold.
Stabbing attack in France
- On February 3, 2015, three French soldiers were attacked with a knife in Nice, in the south of France, while guarding the Jewish community center. The three soldiers were slightly injured. The attacker was caught and arrested.
- The attacker is Moussa Coulibaly, around 30, from a family of immigrants from Mali. He has a criminal record (property and violent crimes). About a week before the stabbing attack in Nice, Moussa Coulibaly was deported from Turkey to France. He was detained and questioned by the French intelligence services on suspicion of planning to join the jihadi terrorist organizations in Syria. After being questioned, he was released and he then carried out the stabbing attack in Nice.
The battle for hearts and minds
ISIS offers a reward to anyone who murders Jordanian pilots
- On February 4, 2015, an Islamic forum published a manifesto on behalf of the Islamic State’s general security bureau. The manifesto included a detailed list of Jordanian pilots, including the rank, place of residence and position of some of them. The general security bureau of the Islamic State of ISIS said that the Shura Council of the Islamic State had approved a financial reward of 100 gold dinars to anyone who kills or injures a Jordanian pilot, so that he is unable to fly or work within the coalition against ISIS. The source of this list, according to the Islamic State’s general security bureau, is a result of the interrogation of the Jordanian pilot Muadh al-Kasasbeh (Shabakat al-Jihad al-Alami Forum, affiliated with the global jihad, February 4, 2015).
Propaganda video with abducted British journalist John Cantlie
- On February 9, 2015, forums affiliated with ISIS posted a new video with abducted British journalist John Cantlie, who has been utilized by ISIS in the past for propaganda purposes. The video covers the situation in Aleppo and its surroundings, but most of the photos appear to be from the city of Al-Bab, east of Aleppo, and not from the city of Aleppo itself (probably in order to create the false impression that ISIS has complete control of the city and its environs).
- John Cantlie described the extensive destruction created in and around the city by the aircraft of the Syrian regime with, so he says, the assistance of American drones. He noted that a large part of the city, with its ancient architectural heritage, had been destroyed and that many of its residents had fled. On the other hand, Cantlie praised the services that the Islamic State provides to the residents for maintaining their daily routine. In the video, Cantlie is shown with groups of children who attend religious studies and is shown telling the camera: “These kids will form the Mujahideen of the next generation.” (shabakataljahad.net, February 9, 2015).
John Cantlie against the background of a ruined building allegedly located in Aleppo, which might actually be in the city of Al-Bab, east of Aleppo (shabakataljahad.net)
Left: French-speaking ISIS operative being interviewed by Cantlie. The operative called on Muslims in France to take action against those who harm their religion and praised Mohamed Merah, who carried out the shooting attack in Toulouse, which killed four Jews (shabakataljahad.net, March 19, 2012) Right: Children studying the Quran, the next generation of jihad fighters (shabakataljahad.net)
Computer game to encourage fighting in the Iraqi Army and the Peshmerga
- On February 1, 2015, a forum affiliated with ISIS posted a report about an online computer game where players can choose ISIS forces and fight in the Iraqi Army and the Kurdish peshmerga forces. The ISIS forces include high-quality graphics and look very realistic. The game, called ARMA (Armed Assault), is a tactical computer game for up to 40 players in each group. The game was released in 2006 by Czech computer game developer Bohemia Interactive (forum affiliated with ISIS, February 1, 2015).
The weekly publication Spotlight on Global Jihad monitors developments among ISIS and global jihad organizations in Syria and Iraq and in the Middle East as a whole. The publication also monitors terrorist activities around the world, directed, supported or inspired by the global jihad organizations in the Middle East.
 A “senior Jordanian source” reported that Jordan is considering a limited ground operation against ISIS in Syrian territory (Al-Arab al-Yawm, February 5, 2015). On the other hand, Jordanian “military experts” noted that carrying out ground operations against ISIS is not expected at this time, although Jordan possesses the ability to do so (Jordan Times, February 5, 2015).
The human rights organization SOHR has reported that at least 75 people were executed in Syria during the first month of 2015. Out of the 75 instances, at least four executions of women and seven executions of foreigner civilians (Arabs, Asians and Russians) were documented. At least 50 out of the 75 executions were carried out by ISIS (SOHR, February 4, 2015).
 Amedy Coulibaly is the name of the terrorist who carried out the attack at the Jewish supermarket in Paris. The two are not necessarily related, since Coulibaly is a common name among families of emigrants from Mali.