Sleeper-Cell Report: Major operation in Hol Camp leads to high number of arrests

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Key Facts

  • In general, the number of attacks and raids saw  no significant change between February and March, with 27 attacks and 15 raids in March, and 28 attacks and 16 raids in February.
  • Sleeper-cell attacks claimed 33 lives in March, including a tribal elder, and a leading religious figure – a slight increase from the fatalities in February, which were 30.
  • In the village of Jezrah, in Deir-ez-Zor countryside, a Newroz festival was attacked, resulting in 1 death and  2 injuries.
  • Over the month of March, 77 individuals were arrested, excluding arrests in Hol Camp.
  • After 19 people died in Hol Camp in February – including a foreign NGO staffer – international pressure grew on internal security forces to provide better security in the camp. 
  • On 28 March, 6000 SDF and Asayish (Internal Security Forces) launched a clean-up operation in Hol Camp, resulting in the arrest of 70 people for the month of March (the operation is still ongoing).This brings the total number of arrests in Hol Camp for the month of March to 81.
  • This month, there were 16 deaths in Hol Camp, including 2 women – a slight decrease since February.

In Depth

27 attacks occurred in the month of March, not including 13 attacks in Hol Camp which would bring the total number to 40. 25 of those attacks took place in the countryside of Deir-ez-Zor, and the remaining 2 took place in Raqqa. One of the attacks – a house raid in Raqqa – was claimed by ISIS. The other attack targeted a military vehicle. In total, 20 attacks were confirmed to have been carried out by ISIS, leaving the other 7 attacks unclaimed. 4 IEDs were used this month, but the majority of attacks were made use of targeted gunfire, as well as one beheading.

15 raids occurred in March: 7 in Heseke, with 47 individuals arrested; 1 in Raqqa, resulting in 5 arrests; and 7 in the Deir-ez-Zor countryside, with 25 total arrests. Again, this does not include the 6 raids which took place in Hol, which resulted in 81 arrests.

7 months have now passed since the protests in Deir-ez-Zor following the assassination of Sheikh al-Hifil. In August, the month in which the protests occurred, 32 deaths were documented. The number of deaths decreased significantly in the following three months, falling as low as only 10 confirmed fatalities. But by December, deaths had already returned and surpassed the number of August 2020, when civilians in Deir-ez-Zor were protesting the lack of security and stability.  

Following August, an increase in raids was noticeable in September, but after September the number of monthly raids once again decreased.

Comment from Robin Fleming, researcher of the Rojava Information Center:

“Despite the fact that deaths did decrease and raids did increase following the protests of August 2020, that progress was not maintained showing that no true stability has been achieved in the region, with deaths and raids having returned to the rates we were seeing previously. It is likely that, with little true progress being made, and the region of Deirez-Zor remaining unstable, we will see more protests and political tensions in the coming months.

Though we have seen a low number of attacks in February and March, we predict an increase in the next months, due to the fact that in both 2019 and 2020, during the month of May, around the time of Ramadan, attacks increased drastically.

The most significant development in March would be the operation begun in Hol Camp in response to the high number of fatalities we have been seeing this year, with 20 deaths in January, 19 in February and 16 in March.The first phase of the so-called Humanity & Security Campaign, which began on 28th of March, led to 125 arrests, so it is likely we will see more progress, and hopefully see the numbers of attacks, escapes and fatalities decrease as the arrests increase.”

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.