Sleeper Cell Report: Number of attacks stays steady as SDF raids increase in August

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SDF Counter-Terrorism Units on their way to conduct a security operation with support from the international coalition in Deir ez-Zor’s northern countryside.

Key Points

– 12 sleeper cell attacks documented, the same as July

– Only 2 attacks definitively claimed by ISIS, a record low since RIC reporting began

– The attacks resulted in 12 deaths, including a child in Al-Ahmar in Deir ez-Zor who was shot by a gunman

– 6 of the attacks were in al-Hol camp, killing 8 people. Al-Hol also saw 4 raids leading to 8 arrests.

– Across NES, SDF conducted 17 raids (including in al-Hol) resulting in 89 arrests; a 3.5x increase over July’s arrest numbers (24)


Of the 12 attacks this month, ISIS claimed only two attacks. Both were executions of individuals in their homes in Deir ez-Zor. The first was carried out with a silencer pistol on Ayman al-Ibrahim in the village of Jazrah, on the accusation of belonging to the SDF. The second was a similar attack on an individual in a home in Busyrah. 

Other attacks by unknown assailants and gunmen also in Deir ez-Zor, resulted in the deaths of 4 other individuals, including a child in al-Ahmar. A group of men with suspected ties to the regime targeted an SDF patrol in Jadid Akidat, killing 3 and wounding 2 others, who were taken for treatment at the US base at Omar Oil Field.

A girl walks in al-Hol camp during RiC’s recent visit.

The number of murders in al-Hol Camp stayed the same from July, at 8, resulting from 6 attacks. Of the victims, 3 were Syrian IDPs and 5 were Iraqi refugees, and 4 were men and 4 were women. Most of the victims were killed by a gunshot to the head. This suggests a pattern, and many in the camp believe the murders were connected to ISIS. However, this has not been corroborated in statements given to Asayish forces in the camp during investigations, and so far ISIS themselves have not officially claimed the murders. This could be for a number of reasons, including a change in ISIS media strategy, a disruption in their media team, or decentralization in planning and execution, or other causes.

Also during August, four raids in al-Hol led to the arrest of 8 individuals attempting to smuggle women out of the camp. Notably, a new type of incident also occurred this month, in which a masked, armed man threatened employees in the Norwegian Refugee Council to pay “tribute” for their staff operating inside and outside the camp. This resulted in the NRC’s withdrawal of their staff. While the masked man was thought to be connected with ISIS, ISIS also did not officially claim involvement.

The decrease in attacks from earlier this summer likely has something to do with the increase in SDF raids this month. Amongst the 17 raids conducted in August, 2 resulted in the simultaneous arrests of large numbers of people. 34 people were arrested in a single sweep of makeshift IDP camps along the Raqqa-Tabqa road. 4 of them were direct ISIS affiliates and the remaining 30 were arrested for providing shelter and logistical support to ISIS’s efforts to infiltrate IDP camps in the area. Many raids were conducted with the support of the international coalition and air support.

In another raid around Abu Khashab in the western countryside of Deir ez-Zor, 18 people connected to ISIS and Turkish backed militias were arrested. During this raid, SDF forces found weapons and documents proving involvement in several assassinations and bombings ordered by intelligence centers in Turkey and the occupied territories. Other raids conducted by the SDF this month also turned up links to Turkish intelligence.

Please contact us for the fully sourced data-set sortable by incident type and location, the 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 partially explored on the live map here.