ISIS sleeper-cell attacks rise by 63% following Turkish invasion, November figures confirm:

Key Facts:

  • Following the Turkish invasion, sleeper-cell attacks have risen 63%, with 83 documented attacks in November compared to 51 in September
  • 15% of the attacks remained unclaimed, leaving 85% claimed by ISIS. Some unclaimed attacks likely committed by Turkish-backed cells
  • 38 claimed deaths, compared to 12 in September – a 216% increase, though down from October which saw 51 deaths
  • Joint SDF and Coalition raids remain low, November only seeing 23 recorded raids
  • The number of arrests (29) is down on September (48) but consistent when compared to last month (27)
Map of documented sleeper-cell attacks and raids in November, 2019, (OSINT)

ISIS continues to focus the majority of its attacks on the region of Deir-ez-Zor. 58% of November’s attacks occurred in Deir-ez-Zor, claiming 21 lives per ISIS’ own claims. The region of Heseke, including many large cities such as North and East Syria’s de-facto capital Qamishlo, Heseke city and camp Al-Hol, faced a large number of attacks as well- calculated at 21 total attacks and 15 deaths, 10 of which remained unclaimed by any group.

The large prevalence of unclaimed attacks in the Heseke region which bore the brunt of the Turkish invasion may point to the involvement of Turkish-backed sleeper cells, as ISIS issue swift claims for any attack they commit – and even some where there involvement is unclear. In particular, a November 11 bombing in Qamishlo which killed five civilians was not claimed by ISIS, with local security forces reporting that the perpetrators had been arrested and confessed to receiving direction and payment from Turkey.

ISIS claimed 9 of the 10 attacks which occurred in Raqqa this month, two of which resulted in fatalities. Raqqa saw 5 raids this month, and at least 8 individuals were arrested. The number of incidents in Manbij remains low. No fatal attacks are believed to have taken place in Manbij, and in November at least 10 arrests took place.

ISIS has continued to target Muhktars, or village elders, as well individuals connected to the SDF. 8 such assassinations have been documented this month, 2 of them were mukhtars and the remaining 6 were council members involved with the administration; including Imran al-Shaker, Amer al-Mufleh, and others. This month, ISIS also claimed responsibility for the assassinations of two Armenian Christian priests in the village of al-Zer, while travelling on the road from Heseke to a church in Deir-ez-Zor, with the intention to restore it. The victims were Hanna Ibrahim and his father Ibrahim Hanna Bido. Unusually, ISIS also claimed an assassination attempt against a female member of the Syria Future Party, Lina Abdulwahid.

RIC researcher Robin Fleming said:

“In the wake of the Turkish attacks, it’s become clear that ISIS feels revitalized in the chaos the invasion has created. On the other hand, despite the continuation of joint SDF and Coalition raids, they have not maintained their previous consistency. Much of the progress made in the months following the territorial defeat of ISIS in Baghouz has been reversed, with the numbers of attacks having dramatically risen in the nearly two months since Turkey invaded North and East Syria.

We have also seen ISIS target vulnerable groups and community leaders, with the assassinations of Armenian Christian priests Hanna Ibrahim and his father Ibrahim Hanna Bido being the foremost examples of this. Meanwhile, circumstantial evidence suggests Turkish-backed sleeper cells are growing increasingly active in the border regions.”

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 of sources here.

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

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  2. […] of Islamic State sleeper cell attacks between September and August, the month of November witnessed a 63 percent upswing compared to September. Following the initial months of combat in north-eastern Syria, the number of […]

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