– 38 attacks documented, 34 claimed by ISIS, including the 9 day-long Battle of Heseke
– The attacks resulted in 128 civilian and SDF deaths, primarily military personnel during the Heseke Battle
– 4 murders in al-Hol camp
– Across NES, SDF/Asayish (Internal Security Forces) conducted 19 raids resulting in 73 arrests, outside of ongoing sweeps during the Battle of Heseke
January was an explosive month for ISIS activity in SDF-controlled territory. The attack on Sina’a Prison in Heseke reminded the world that ISIS continues to pose a major threat to the region. However – as RIC documents every month in these reports – for the communities on the ground, the threat has never ceased. ISIS remains a well-funded and brutal organization that is able to recruit supporters in economically-underdeveloped North and East of Syria (NES) through ideological and financial rewards, as well as through bodily threats.
The nine-day-long attack on Sina’a Prison saw airstrikes by the US-led International Coalition flattening the prison area, including multiple civilian houses, and fighting raging in the streets of the Ghweiran district of Heseke. Concurrently, the SDF and Asayish conducted raids throughout all of North and East Syria to pursue escaped prisoners and other sleeper cells. RIC covered the events during the battle more extensively here. As counting individual raids conducted within the city proved impossible, they are reflected as a single raid for the purposes of this report. The remaining data reflect attacks and raids which occurred outside of Heseke during that week, and throughout NES during the rest of this month.
Besides the Battle of Heseke, NES was attacked 37 times in January. An emboldened ISIS buoyed by the ongoing attack in Heseke claimed almost all of their attacks, often brandishing an ISIS flag in the process. Notably, the day after the initial prison attack in Heseke, a series of coordinated attacks on SDF positions were carried out in Deir ez-Zor and continued throughout the region for the following three days.
NES also saw a number of attacks and ISIS activity before the attack on the prison, including the murder of a doctor in Deir ez-Zor, and assassinations of guards outside the Future Syria Party headquarters in Manbij. In Deir ez-Zor, ISIS posted flyers on mosques warning civilians to stay away from the SDF and threatening SDF personnel. There were also attacks on oil infrastructure, including the burning of Dar’as oil well, after ISIS failed to collect a $15,000 ransom demand. ISIS released a video of the burning well in which an ISIS militant says that the group will intensify its military actions against the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in the coming period – in retrospect, an ominous warning for the attack on Heseke.
Killings continued in al-Hol camp. Three Iraqi refugees and one paramedic working with the Kurdish Red Crescent, the local medical provider operating in the camp, were murdered. Following the murder of the KRC worker, the majority of NGOs ceased their work temporarily in the camp.