Sleeper-Cell Report: Number of attacks increase but are less deadly, only one killing in Hol Camp

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An ISIS attack east of Raqqa led to the death of female Asayish officer Siham al-Shanan

Key facts

  • During the month of April, 40 sleeper cell attacks happened across North and East Syria. This represents a significant rise in attacks as compared to March (27) and February (28).
  • However, this rise in attacks did not lead to an increase of deaths: 26 people were killed through sleeper cell attacks, as compared to 33 in March.
  • The number of SDF and Asayish raids (22) remained stable as compared to previous months, and led to 44 arrests, not including arrests in Hol Camp.
  • The Hol Camp security operation, called “Humanity and Security Operation,” which began on March 28th, continued in April. Its second and last phase, carried out at the beginning of the month, led to 32 arrests. In total (March and April) the operation led to 158 arrests.
  • The number of deadly attacks in Hol Camp dropped significantly as compared to the months of February and March: we count only one confirmed killing for the month of April, as compared to 19 in February and 16 in March. During the security operation two dead bodies were found in the sewage system, but the date of their death is unknown.
  • Following the operation, 17 more people were arrested in Hol Camp over the month of April, one of which was a Dutch citizen.
Map of sleeper cell attacks and SDF/Asayish raids across NES in April 2021

In depth

Over the month of April, sleeper cell attacks rose over one third as compared to March (40 attacks in April as compared to 27 in March). Attacks were, as is usually the case, concentrated in the Deir-ez-zor countryside, and along the Euphrates river, up until Raqqa. A high number of attacks (36 out of 40) were claimed by ISIS, as compared to the month of March (20 attacks reclaimed by ISIS out of 27), indicating a rise in ISIS activity. 15 of the attacks included the use of IEDs.

In spite of this rise in number, the attacks in April led to less deaths than in March. However, one of the killings included two humanitarian workers from Heseke – Wateen Muhammad Ali and Muhammad Rashid al-Mahmid – who were shot in their car by unknown assailants riding a motorcycle in the city of Al-Shahil. Such attacks on civil society organizations are rare. Furthermore, a rigged bridge, claimed by ISIS, led to the death of one female Asayish, Siham al-Shanan (see photo) and several injured.

The raids conducted by SDF and Asayish led to 44 arrests of suspected ISIS members, a steep rise as compared to March (25). One raid also allowed to seizure of an ISIS-owned warehouse, storing around 140 explosive devices.

The Hol Camp operation, which mobilized around 6000 Asayish and SDF members and lead to a total of 158 arrests, seems to have had a significant impact on deadly attacks inside the camp. As number of deaths had soared since the beginning of the year, the fact that only one confirmed killing happened in April can be seen as a successful result of the operation. The deadly attack killed one Iraqi woman and injured two more people. The 17 further arrests in Hol Camp carried out after the closure of the operation included an expert in IED construction who was also involved in organizing sleeper cell attacks.

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.