Key Points

– 25 sleeper cell attacks were reported in June across NES, significantly less than the previous month (42 attacks in May)

– 15 of these attacks were claimed by ISIS

– 19 deaths were caused by sleeper cell attacks, and at least 39 people were injured. Attacks this month were thus deadlier than in May, which saw only 13 causalities.

– 9 died in Hol Camp due to attacks by ISIS members. Deaths are on the rise in Hol camp, as only 5 deaths were recorded in May. 30 people were arrested in Hol Camp, plus 2 families and drivers due to smuggling activities.

– 11 SDF operations led to the arrest of 54 ISIS suspects.

Map of Sleeper Cell attacks (black dots if claimed by ISIS, red dots if unknown) and SDF/Asayish raids (yellow headed pins) in NES in June 2021.

In-Depth

Out of 25 sleeper cell attacks, 11 happened in Deir ez-Zor region, 8 in Raqqa region, 4 in the canton of Heseke (Jazeera region) and 2 in the region of Manbij.

Even though attacks remain highest in number in Deir ez-Zor countryside, they are significantly lower than in May. In May, 29 out of the 42 Sleeper Cell attacks happened in Deir ez-Zor region. Around Busayrah no cell activity was reported which is due to the operations around the town throughout the month (see below).

Western Deir ez-Zor and Raqqa have still seen activity by so-called ‘flying checkpoints’ (temporary fake checkpoints set up by ISIS).

Attacks remain present, even after Ramadan, which usually sees a decrease in activities based on observations from the past years. This continuity in attacks can be due to the SAR & Russia’s campaigns against ISIS which has pushed cells across the Euphrates river and into NES.

Sleeper cells target security personnel, but also many civilians. 4 sleeper cell attacks targeted SDF or Asayish. One Civil Council member was injured in an attack claimed by ISIS. Through its official media channels, ISIS said its members targeted two cars of an “official and a member of the Civil Council” with machine guns, including Ali Muhammad al-Salem. Al-Salem is the head of the Farmers’ Union in Raqqa, which works to communicate between the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (AANES) and social groups and economic activities. The eastern countryside of Raqqa has recently witnessed the presence of ISIS sleeper cells which threaten workers in the Autonomous Administration’s boards and institutions.

Furthermore, ISIS still tries to implement sharia law in the area. In Al Sajar, in the countryside of Deir ez-Zor, ISIS bombed the home of a civilian accused of witchcraft.

With air surveillance by the International Coalition, the Counter-Terrorism Units conducted a thorough operation targeting ISIS sleeper cells in al-Busayrah, Deir ez-Zor countryside on 22 June 2021. The operation resulted in the arrest of 17 ISIS suspects. Several weapons, equipment and documents were confiscated.

In Hol Camp, the murders continue to be on the rise despite the arrest of an assassination cell at the camp.

ISIS also remains present in the camp by violently enforcing its rules on the camp inhabitants. Four women were beaten last week for going to the “unbelievers’ [ie Kurdish] hospital too often.” One woman was nearly murdered by a group of ISIS women. In the aftermath of the assassination attempt, a number of women, including the victim, had to remain in hiding from the group of ISIS women for several days before they could be rescued.

On June 21st, the SDF announced the arrest of four Iraqis related to ISIS who confessed their involvement in recent killings. They acknowledged having received commands from outside. The four Iraqis had entered the camp as civilians after the 2019 Baghouz campaign. They had received instructions from ISIS leaders through mobile devices using Turkish numbers to hold accountable all those who did not follow orders coming from outside. This order resulted in the assassination of three camp inhabitants.

Mid-June also saw the arrest of 15 smugglers in Hol Camp. Arrests in Hol Camp gave further indications of how smuggling routes out of Hol Camp lead into Turkish occupied areas of North and East Syria in order for the escapees to re-join ISIS. A Moroccan woman was arrested in Hol camp after her phone was searched and content found of her trying to smuggle her teenage son out the camp and back to ISIS.

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.