The following research is based on information gathered by Flashpoint, its analysts, and data collections. For September’s report, click here.
It is fair to say that ISIS worldwide operations in October 2021 were dominated largely by Iraq, Afghanistan, and Nigeria. Remarkably, there were once again only a tiny sliver of attacks claimed in Syria (2) as many as ISIS claimed in far-off locales like Kashmir and Uganda.
Indeed, there were at least 7 times as many attacks in October 2021 that were claimed by ISIS in the Democratic Republic of Congo as compared to Syria. While it is fair to presume that at least some ISIS attacks in the central Syrian desert may not always be rigorously tabulated by the group’s official media, it seems hard to ignore the persistent, precipitous drop-off in attacks in what was once ISIS home territory. Here’s our breakdown.
ISIS targets by country
The top countries targeted by ISIS in October 2021 that were officially claimed by ISIS are: Iraq (33%), Nigeria (24%), Afghanistan (21%), Democratic Republic of Congo (11%), Pakistan (2%), Somalia (2%). Reflecting a similar spread, the top provinces targeted globally in October 2021 were Nigeria’s northeastern Borno State (21%), Afghanistan’s eastern Nangarhar Province (14%), Iraq’s Kirkuk Province (11%), and the DRC’s North Kivu Province (9%).
ISIS targets by city
The list of specific locations targeted most frequently in October was topped by the Afghan city of Jalalabad (12%) and also included Iraq’s Al-Azim District (4%), the Afghan capital Kabul, and the area surrounding the Iraqi city of Baiji (3%).
Demonstrating the primary modus operandi of ISIS fighters based in Afghanistan, at least half of all 26 officially claimed ISIS/ISKP attacks in Afghanistan during October 2021 were bombings or suicide bombings, including deadly attacks targeting worshippers at Shiite mosques.
Another key statistical takeaway relates to geography: 65% of the claimed attacks in October 2021 took place in Afghanistan’s eastern Nangarhar Province (near the border with Pakistan), and 58% allegedly took place in the city of Jalalabad.
Afghanistan’s new Taliban rulers have real reason for concern. At least 77% of all claimed attacks by ISKP in October specifically targeted rival Taliban militants. Indeed, ISIS has launched more than fifty attacks against the Taliban since the latter’s takeover of the country.
There were an additional 3 attacks claimed by ISIS in neighboring regions of Pakistan in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province—1 in the city of Peshawar and 2 others in South Waziristan Agency. All three were targeted assassinations, including one that allegedly killed a prominent rival Taliban commander Noor Zaman–who was reportedly “affiliated with the Haqqani Network” and had just “returned to South Waziristan from Afghanistan a few days ago. He was in Kabul during the Taliban takeover.”
These attacks highlight the Taliban’s inability to provide the security they promised Afghans, including their own members. Furthermore, the Taliban’s ongoing campaign against the country’s Salafist communities risks further exacerbating sectarian tensions and boosting recruitment for ISKP, whose members are Salafists, unlike the majority of Afghanistan’s population.
The convergence of these factors suggests a likely escalation in violence in the short to medium term, as the Taliban seeks to dismantle a group intent on challenging its promise to Afghans and the international community: to deliver security and deny terrorist groups the ability to operate in the country. Meanwhile, the high-profile assassinations of Taliban commanders like Mawlawi Hamdullah Rahmani and Noor Zaman will likely usher in a more aggressive response from the Taliban (and the Haqqani Network).
The movement of ISIS operations north and east from Iraq’s Saladin and Anbar Provinces towards Kirkuk Province (cited in our report last month) has continued, with a surge of attacks in Kirkuk’s Al-Rashad and Al-Riyad areas. ISIS also claimed responsibility for a bloody incident in late October targeting a village in Diyala Province that killed 15 people and wounded 17 others. ISIS attacks in Iraq during October chiefly focused on Iraqi Federal Police and other law enforcement personnel (28% of the total) and both Sunni and Shiite pro-government militiamen (23%).
A series of high-profile attacks in Iraq, however, may have obscured a more complex statistical reality. Operations claimed by ISIS in Iraq have been on the steady decline over the past several months. In July, ISIS claimed 65 attacks in Iraq; in August, there were 63; in September, there were 49; and, for October, there were only a total of 40. It remains to be seen if this waning trend will continue.
Nigeria continues to represent the vast bulk of ISIS operations in West Africa, with a total of 29 attacks in October officially claimed by the group, 90% of which were in Nigeria’s northeastern Borno State. Notably, no specific location in Nigeria was attacked more than twice during October and claimed attacks were spread fairly evenly across a triangular area starting with the Niger/Nigeria border, running to Gombe, and back east towards Nigeria’s border with Cameroon.
There was somewhat of an upsurge in officially claimed ISIS attacks in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) during October 21. While the previous three months averaged between 8-10 attacks per month, in October, ISIS claimed 14.
At least 36% of those 14 claimed attacks specifically targeted “Christian infidel” civilians in the DRC’s North Kivu and Ituri Provinces. Two unusual ISIS bombing attacks in October in the capital Kampala of neighboring Uganda have raised fears that the violence may now be spreading beyond the borders of the DRC.
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