Deir-ez-Zor continues to be the focus of ISIS-claimed attacks in North and East Syria
  • Attacks on village chiefs and people connected to AANES continued, claiming 7 lives in July and leading to protests and violence in Deir-ez-Zor in early August
  • Arson attacks on fields have ceased. Outside of Deir-ez-Zor ISIS could only conduct IEDs attacks; Deir-ez-Zor saw IEDs, assassinations and 2 motorcycle bombs
  • Attacks decreased 24% (45 to 34) in July as deaths, injuries and assassinations all decrease
  • Raids once again yielded a high number of arrests, with a second major Coalition/SDF sweep detaining 33 prisoners in Deir-ez-Zor
  • Explore all sleeper-cell data since the start of 2019 on our live map here

Total attacks decreased 24% in July, with 34 documented attacks this month against 34 last month. This means attacks have decreased 60% since May and 30% since the beginning of the year, showing that despite fluctuations including a spike around Ramadan, sleeper-cell attacks in 2020 have remained on a general downward trajectory.

Not only have attacks decreased this month, but their effectiveness has as well, with less fatalities and injuries in July than in previous months. Estimated fatalities decreased 18% (22 to 18) and injuries went down 35% (17 to 11). Seven of these fatalities consisted of assassinations of Muhktars (village elders) and council members.

While assassinations also decreased 42% (12 to 7) in July there remains a steady campaign targeting these individuals seeking to create fear and sow tensions which have showed no sign of decreasing, with the start of August witnessing the high-profile assassination of a tribal sheikh which sparked a day of protests across Deir-ez-Zor as locals demanded SDF catch the killer – with ISIS and Iranian regime-linked cells both suspected of having carried out the attack.

Protesters in Deir-ez-Zor demanding SDF bring the killers of a respected local sheikh to justice

79% of the attacks occurred in the region of Deir-ez-Zor, while all of the attacks outside of Deir-ez-Zor were located in either Raqqa or Manbij, and consisted only of IEDs. Deir-ez-Zor mostly faced IED attacks, the assassinations using firearms outlined above plus two bomb-laden motorcycles.

 Aside from the arson attacks we saw in May and June, which reached the border cities, the majority of 2020’s sleeper-cell attacks have focused on the Arab regions in the south leaving the cities along the Turkish border relatively peaceful.

Raids, while remaining low in general, also saw the second wave of the joint SDF-Coalition’s ‘Deterrence of Terror’ campaign. Ovrall, 6 raids took in Deir-ez-Zor, 2 in Raqqa,  and 5 near Heseke and Shadahdi. These raids resulted in an estimated 43 arrests, with 33 of the 43 arrests occurring during the second wave of ‘Deterrence of Terror’.

Comment from Robin Fleming, a researcher with the Rojava Information Center:

“While this month’s data shows no drastic change in terms of number of attacks or deaths, which both saw small decreases, it is clear underlying tensions remain. The assassinations of Muhktars and council members, repeatedly highlighted in RIC’s monthly reports, are of particular significance. Not only do these assassinations dissuade those who are or are thinking of cooperating with the AANES it also serves to divide the population of Deir-ez-Zor from the AANES and other regions of North and East Syria. These problems came to the forefront with the protests seen at the beginning of August in response to the assassination of the prominent Sheikh Muttshar al-Hifil of the Al-Akidat tribe, which occurred on 4 August.

Protesters demanded that the SDF and internal security forces find those responsible for the killing of their leader and say they want to start to see results for the efforts of stabilizing the region. The figures show that SDF are succeeding in driving down the number of sleeper-cell attacks, but ISIS and other actors retain the capability to severely disrupt the situation in Deir-ez-Zor.”

Comment from Omar Abu Layla, Deir-ez-Zor 24, on the protests occurring in Deir-ez-Zor

“There are many reasons (For the recent protests in Deir-ez-Zor), mainly the deteriorating security situation in the eastern Deir-ez-Zor countryside… Insecurity is attributed to the corrupt military commanders running the area and neglecting the risks that have claimed the lives of dozens of innocents, including tribal dignitaries from the prominent local tribe.

The solution is replacing all military commanders in the area with efficient ones in coordination with sheikhs and dignitaries in the area, who know well which force is most qualified to run the area. Giving the people of Deir-ez-Zor the ability to make decisions is one of the noblest values of democracy. Also providing services for residents of the area and reconstructing it on different levels, and civil society organizations need to provide employment opportunities to the people of Deir-ez-Zor in order to end the unemployment problem.”

Comment from USAID-funded stabilization coordinator in Deir-ez-Zor:

“Something now is considerably obvious in SDF-held Deir-Ez-Zor, following the recent unrest and protests that followed a series of attacks targeting tribal leaders. Almost all tribe and clans, despite their divisions, agree there is no safer, reliable, organized alternative than SDF.

However, they believe building on the SDF project to establish more coherent, inclusive and local-led governance bodies is indispensable.”

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.