The Rojava Information Center has recorded 95 sleeper cell attacks in the month of August, incuding attacks carried out by ISIS and Ahrar al-Shaab- resulting in 35 recorded deaths.

Key Facts:

  • August saw a 15% increase in overall attacks since July (c. 95 up from 85).
  • The month saw 64 ISIS-claimed attacks and 14 claimed by Turkish-linked group Ahrar al-Shaab, including 35 claimed and unclaimed killings.
  • Ahrar al-Shaab focused a majority (57%) of its attacks in the Jazeera region, including cities along the Turkish border and inside the proposed ‘buffer zone’ such as Sere Kaniye, Dirbesiye, and Qamishlo.
  • Turkish-linked group uses assassinations and IEDs to target SDF and security forces, claiming it seeks “revenge” on behalf of Turkish-backed forces already occupying Afrin.
  • Meanwhile, ISIS targets and assassinates mukhtars (village elders) in Raqqa and Deir-ez-Zor, seeking to drive Arab population away from the Autonomous Administration.

This month has seen an increase in attacks by Ahrar al-Shaab (see below for more info on the sleeper cell organisation’s links to Turkey). Ahrar al-Shaab focused a majority (57%) of its attacks in the Jazeera region, including cities along the Turkish border and inside the proposed ‘buffer zone’ such as Sere Kaniye, Dirbesiye, and Qamishlo. Of 35 total deaths, 7 deaths were claimed by Ahrar al-Shaab and 18 by ISIS, with 10 left unclaimed. All 7 of Ahrar al-Shaab’s documented stabbings, beheadings and assassinations took place in the Jazeera region, close to the border regions where Turkey is threatening occupation.

Meanwhile, ISIS continued to target and assassinate mukhtars (village elders) in Raqqa and elsewhere, seeking to drive the local, Arab population away from the Autonomous Administration. Raqqa saw 4 attacks targeting mukhtars, with local council leaders also targeted in Deir-ez-Zor. The security situation in Deir Ez-Zor has remained mostly unchanged: the majority of attacks across North East Syria still occur in the newly-liberated region, as also the majority of SDF raids. The region saw 49 attacks and 20 claimed and unclaimed killings, with RPG attacks, mines, and armed assaults on checkpoints a daily occurrence.

The security of Tabqa has remained stable, with only one SDF raid and no attacks, whereas the city of Raqqa faced an increase of attacks since July. The city of Raqqa faced 7 attacks, plus more in the surrounding countryside. The Jazeera region, encompassing major cities such as Hasakah, Qamishlo, Amude and Dirbesiye, was the site of 7 motorcycle and car bombings, plus grenade, IED and armed attacks, as well as assassinations of SDF and Asayish (Internal Security Forces).

Meanwhile. over 78 members of ISIS and other cells were arrested during 39 SDF and coalition raids of August, including high ranking Isis member, Anwar Mohammad Hadoushi, from Belgium who is believed to be involved in the Paris and Brussels attacks.

Note on Ahrar al-Shaab’s links to Turkey:

Several factors indicate a high likelihood of Turkish intelligence involvement in Ahrar al-Shab’s activities, with the group operating in a similar fashion to previously-active Turkish-linked groups such as Harakat al-Qiyam: (1) focusing propaganda on the ‘PKK’ and ‘PYD’; (2) using the Turkish phrase “Zaytin Dali” to refer to Operation Olive Branch; (3) using its telegram channel to push Turkish propaganda lines over PKK links to SDF.

Most significantly, (4) Ahrar al-Shab have stated they are responding to “attacks on our people in the areas of Olive Branch and the Euphrates Shield”, clearly aligning themselves with the Turkish occupation in Afrin. We can provide further background and comment on the group if needed.

RIC researcher Robin Fleming said:

“Through its use of assassinations and IEDs to target SDF and Asayish (internal security), Turkish-linked group Ahrar al-Shaab seeks to destabilise society and security in North East Syria, in tandem with Turkey’s continued threats and troop movements along the border.

Turkey is by no means solely responsible for the sleeper-cell attacks being carried out daily in North East Syria, but it has long demonstrated its desire to attack and destabilise the democratic project here by any means possible – including open support for jihadist groups.

Meanwhile, ISIS continues to launch daily attacks throughout the autonomous regions, in particular targeting ‘mukhtars’ (local community leaders) in Raqqa as well as security elements in Deir Ez-Zor. Scores of lives are lost in these attacks, which seldom make headlines outside of the local news.

Whether the work of ISIS in Deir-ez-Zor or Turkish-linked terror group Ahrar-al-Shab in Hasekeh, the intention and impact of these attacks on the local, civilian population is the same. They are intended to prevent co-operation between co-existing peoples in North East Syria, destabilise infrastructure and shatter the fragile peace in the region, paving the way for the expected Turkish invasion.”

Please contact us for the fully sourced data-set sortable by incident type and location, live map showing all ISIS and other sleeper-cell attacks since the start of the year, and further analysis.

This data was produced in collaboration with OSINT researcher Caki, and can be explored on the live map here and the database.

Get in touch if you have any questions or are interested in covering the database.

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