Sleeper Cell Report: Attacks concentrate exclusively in Deir ez-Zor in October

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Opening ceremony for the Women’s Asayish General Center in Deir ez-Zor on October 11, 2021

Key Points

– 13 sleeper cell attacks documented, 9 confirmed ISIS attacks

– The attacks resulted in 8 deaths, including assassinations of civilians and tribal leaders

– According to camp authorities, there were no killings in Al-Hol this month

– Across NES, SDF/Asayish (Internal Security Forces) conducted 21 raids resulting in 69 arrests and 3 deaths of ISIS affiliates


Overall, within AANES territory the rate of attacks has stayed steady this month, maintaining a drop since earlier this year. However, the SDF tells RIC that recorded sleeper cell attacks took place exclusively in Deir ez-Zor, consolidating a trend in this direction we have seen throughout the summer and fall. The attacks included assassinations of civilians, including a doctor shot inside a hospital while on duty, and tribal leaders, including an assassination attempt on the life of Muhammad al-Badr, the sheikh of al-Bu Salih of al-Bakkara tribe. The attempt injured him, and killed his brother Hamid al-Badr. The attacks are in tune with a statement ISIS issued through its media channels in the summer, saying that it would kill tribal sheikhs and figures dealing with the SDF.

Also notable, but not counted in our figures, is the continued escalation of hostilities between ISIS cells and Iranian-backed militias in the areas bordering SDF territory, west of the Euphrates river. There were at least four attacks in October; the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-backed Hashemiyoun faction also opened five new recruiting offices in eastern Deir ez-Zor. There are now about 30 recruiting centers for Iranian-backed militias in the countryside of Deir ez-Zor, west of the Euphrates River and outside SDF controlled territory. This year, the militias have increased their activity and recruitment efforts in Deir ez-Zor following devastating Israeli air strikes on their bases in January. It could be that this recruitment push has stoked anti-Shia sentiments in the region- perhaps rallying ISIS in turn.

Also not counted in our figures is a coordinated attack ISIS launched on October 6th against multiple Syrian Arab Army locations including in the desert of the town of al-Tabani, and other sites in the desert of al-Masrab town, west of Deir ez-Zor.

On October 11th, the Women’s Asayish of Deir ez-Zor opened a headquarters to further coordinate their activities across the region.

This month saw no killings in Al-Hol, a welcome respite. Outside the camp in the surrounding areas in Heseke, an SDF raid resulted in the arrest of an individual who was an integral part of the informal Hawala money transfer network within the camp. Additionally, RIC was able to document at least three thwarted attempts to smuggle individual and families out of the camp during October.

Syrian IDP women and children prepare to be released from Al-Hol camp to Raqqa countryside in September

October 11th also marked the sixth anniversary of the founding of the SDF. In a statement for the occasion, the SDF spokesman Ferhad Shami clarified three goals for the SDF going forward,  “liberating the occupied areas, eliminating ISIS sleeper cells, achieving community development, and maintaining security and stability in the liberated areas.”

While ISIS continues to be a lingering threat in the region, it is far from the only type of sleeper cell that operates in the AANES territory. One SDF raid on October 6th in Deir ez-Zor resulted in the arrest of Jamil Hassan al-Rahim, a Turkish intelligence agent who confessed to planning assassinations and bombings against the SDF forces and providing Turkish intelligence with coordinates and photos of sensitive military and security locations. Raids this month on ISIS affiliates also brought to light links with Turkish intelligence- a pattern that suggests blurred lines between the groups.

Please contact us for the fully sourced data-set sortable by incident type and location.