The following research is based on information gathered by Flashpoint analysts and data collections. For December’s report, click here.
The Death of ISIS Leader Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi
Early in the morning of February 3, 2022, U.S. special operations forces carried out a raid near Atmeh in northwestern Syria’s Idlib Province that led to the death of ISIS leader Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi. While the raid was a significant victory for the U.S. in its war on ISIS, there is little evidence from past history to suggest that al-Qurayshi’s death will have a major lasting impact on ISIS military operations, particularly on far-flung battlefields such as Nigeria, Mozambique, and Afghanistan.
An October 2019 raid that led to the death of former ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi forced a reorganization of leadership roles, but has not led to the demise of the organization–and Abu Bakr served as ISIS leader during five years that were arguably the most prolific years of the group’s existence. By contrast, Abu Ibrahim has only been in charge for half that time, with few especially noteworthy achievements to speak of. He was never actually featured in any propaganda from the group, neither in video nor audio form. There is also always the lingering possibility that the vacuum created by Abu Ibrahim’s death may lead to more capable (and ruthless) individuals taking the reins of ISIS central command.
Key takeaways: January 2022 ISIS attacks
- The drumbeat of ISIS operations in January was interrupted by a cascading wave of attacks in Syria, vaulting that nation to the top of the tally of claimed ISIS attacks worldwide. Setting aside Syria, the other countries most frequently targeted in official ISIS attacks remained Nigeria, Iraq, and Afghanistan.
- Despite several high-profile incidents, the overall number of ISIS attacks in Iraq appears to be continuing downwards, with Iraq at risk of being eclipsed by Nigeria in terms of official claims of attacks. This appears to be, at least in part, due to a persistent slide in the number of ISIS attacks in Iraq—despite several high-profile incidents that took place in January.
- ISIS militants in Afghanistan have expanded their campaign of violence to remote corners of the country, yet the overall number of ISIS attacks in Afghanistan dropped in January 2022. Nonetheless, this may merely be a reflection of seasonal weather conditions inhibiting additional operations. At least 94 percent of ISIS attacks in Afghanistan in January specifically targeted rival Taliban fighters.
- Activity by Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) fighters affiliated with ISIS in January has remained somewhat quieter following the arrival of Ugandan soldiers in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
- In light of historical trends and the somewhat decentralized military infrastructure of ISIS, it is unlikely that the reported death of ISIS leader Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi will have a palpable impact on local ISIS operations in various key battlegrounds around the world.
ISIS targets by country
No other country worldwide was targeted more than twice by ISIS during the month of January.
ISIS targets by city
No other municipal area worldwide was attacked by ISIS militants more than three times during the month of January. The list of specific locations targeted most frequently in January was:
- Al-Hasakah in Syria (6%)
- The Afghan capital of Kabul (5%)
- The Meluco area of Mozambique’s Cabo Delgado Province (3%)
- The Somali capital of Mogadishu (3%).
ISIS attacks by country
Iraq and Syria
After months of diminishing and languishing activity in their longtime heartland, ISIS militants have clearly launched an attempted comeback in northern and eastern Syria–with an apparent focus on freeing Islamic State prisoners held in Syria’s Hasakah Province and destabilizing the areas surrounding the Syrian cities of Raqqah and Deir al-Zour. A bloody attack and revolt at the Sinaa prison in the Ghweiran area of the city of Hasakah took U.S.-backed SDF fighters a week to put down—at the cost of an estimated 500 lives—374 ISIS militants, 77 prison staff, 40 SDF fighters, and 4 civilians.
A local resident of Hasakah interviewed by The New York Times claimed that ISIS militants had barged into his home seeking to use it as a hideout, all of the external assailants were of Iraqi origin: “They were complaining about the internet—they said ‘the Syrian internet is slow.’” It remains unclear how many ISIS loyalists may still be on the run, and security forces on both sides of the Iraq-Syria border have reportedly mobilized in order to stop any potential wave of infiltrators.
Despite several high-profile incidents in the country, the downward statistical trend has continued for ISIS in Iraq in January 2022–and Iraq barely edged out Nigeria for second place in the tally of most recorded individual ISIS attacks during the month.
At least a third of claimed ISIS attacks in Iraq in January took place in northern Kirkuk Province, with less than 20 percent each of the total in the traditional ISIS hotbeds of Anbar and Diyala Provinces. Nonetheless, there has been a series of recent attacks in the Tarmiyah area just north of the Iraqi capital Baghdad that have resulted in casualties and have spurred airstrikes and combing operations.
Afghanistan and Pakistan
Overall claimed attacks by ISIS in Afghanistan have decreased by more than 30% since November and December. However, this is likely to be at least in part a reflection of Afghanistan’s “fighting season”—and the cyclical pause in armed combat that takes place between December and March.
Although the focus of ISIS operations in the Afghanistan/Pakistan area in January 2022 was primarily the Afghan capital Kabul, the group carried out attacks in at least 5 other Afghan provinces. ISIS activity has remained relatively light in eastern Afghan city of Jalalabad—a long-time major hub for ISIS—and surrounding Nangarhar Province. At least 94% of ISIS attacks in Afghanistan during January explicitly targeted rival Taliban militants, a statistic that has continued to climb since the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan last fall.
In the past 45 days, ISIS and the Pakistani Taliban (TTP) have issued conflicting claims of responsibility for at least two attacks on Pakistani police personnel in areas to the north and east of the Pakistani city of Rawalpindi. Neither group has offered any explanation for the discrepancies, nor is it likely that the attacks were carried out by them jointly. The TTP has recently insisted that ISIS is an anti-Islamic conspiracy by regional intelligence agencies, and ISIS reviles the Taliban—both Afghan and Pakistani alike—as apostates.
West Africa (Nigeria, Niger, Cameroon)
ISIS operations in Nigeria during January 2022 were particularly clustered in the south-central and southeastern portions of Borno State in and around the Sambisa Forest. The overall number of ISIS claimed attacks in Nigeria has remained relatively constant over the past four months, and the group now claims more attacks in Borno State than any other geographic province on the planet.
On January 10, ISIS-affiliated militants launched a bloody assault on the Tukur Buratai Military College in the town of Buratai, allegedly killing 10 soldiers and—in the words of ISIS—dealing “a new security blow to the Nigerian army in one of its most prominent military institutions.”
ISIS also claimed responsibility for a handful of attacks elsewhere in West Africa, including specifically Niger and Cameroon. The attack in Cameroon was of particular note—ISIS militants attacked a position held by African coalition troops near the town of Maltam in northern Cameroon, allegedly killing 3. Maltam is located less than 20 miles from the Chadian capital N’Djamena.
Central and Eastern Africa
Although unclear at this point whether it is a case of correlation or causation, since the recent introduction of Ugandan troops into northeastern DRC, there has been a sharp drop in the number of claimed ISIS attacks in the region—from 11 in November to four in December and six in January. The arrival of Ugandan soldiers has been a controversial subject among some Congolese, but there are at least some initial positive (albeit circumstantial) signs.
The upswing in claims of responsibility for ISIS attacks in Mozambique has continued in January, with a particular focus on the villages surrounding Meluco and Mueda in Mozambique’s Cabo Delgado Province (which combined account for more than two-thirds of the total for the month).
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