The International Institute for Counter-Terrorism Monthly Summary of Events December 2016
During the month of December, the Shin Bet and the IDF thwarted several plans by terrorist organizations to execute attacks in the State of Israel. Several terrorist organizations, including Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, tried to establish terror cells in the West Bank and establish themselves with the local population, as well as recruit fighters from foreign countries such as Pakistan. In addition, a plan by Arab-Israeli residents of the Negev to attack IDF soldiers in southern Israel was thwarted. Meanwhile, several terrorist attacks were carried out against security forces and civilians in the West bank and Jerusalem. The attacks, in which several people were injured, took the form of stabbings, vehicle rammings and shootings at cars on West Bank roads. In addition, the Israel Police arrested MK Basel Ghattas after his immunity was removed by the Knesset on charges that he transferred cell phones to security prisoners.
During the month, international and Arab media sources reported that the Israel Air Force had twice attacked targets in Syrian territory in the area of Zabadani, which is located on the Syrian side of the border with Lebanon, and Al-Mezze Military Airport in the capital of Damascus. In addition, it was reported that a senior member of Hamas’s drone department was killed by assassin fire in Tunisia, an assassination that was attributed to Israel.
In the Gaza Strip, several Hamas militants were killed this month in a tunnel collapse. In addition, shots were fired at an IDF patrol on the border of the Gaza Strip and the IDF responded with tank fire directed at a Hamas post. During the month, a rocket was fired by the Islamic State from the Sinai Peninsula towards Israel but it landed in Egyptian territory.
During the month of December, Syrian army forces – with Russian aerial assistance and assistance from Shi’ite militias – liberated the city of Aleppo from the control of rebel forces. After most of the city was liberated, a truce was reached in the framework of which the majority of civilians and dissident rebels were evacuated to Idlib. Prior to the evacuation, many reports were received that the Syrian army was carrying out mass executions of residents. In addition, Iranian forces and Hezbollah created difficulties and even prevented the evacuation against the backdrop of the continuing siege on several Shi’ite villages in Idlib. After the evacuation was completed, a comprehensive ceasefire was declared in Syria, led by the governments of Russia and Turkey.
During the month, air strikes continued in large parts of Syria. The Syrian and Russian Air Forces attacked rebel targets inside and around Idlib while coalition air forces, led by the US, continued to strike IS targets in north and northeast Syria. The number of air strikes, which totaled 318, was lower than the number in November. After Palmyra was re-captured by IS fighters from Syrian and Russian army forces, there was concern that IS fighters plundered the anti-aircraft systems that were abandoned by the fleeing forces and, therefore, coalition planes attacked IS weapons arsenals in the city itself.
Following the capture of Palmyra, IS fighters continued their attacks against regime targets in the area and even managed to paralyze the T-4 Syrian Air Force base using Grad rockets as well as down two Syrian combat helicopters. In northern Syria, battles continued in the city of Al-Bab between IS fighters and Turkish army forces. Meanwhile, the Turkish army announced that it would increase its number of forces fighting in Syrian territory. In addition, the US Ministry of Defense announced that it would send reinforcements of approximately 200 soldiers to Syria. In addition to reports of battles in the north, it was reported that the IS was moving heavy combat equipment from Mosul towards Raqqah.
During the month of December, a unity government was declared following several weeks of disagreement on it’s identity.
The Lebanese army continued to act against Jabhat Fatah al-Sham targets north of Arsal. Meanwhile, the Deputy Mayor of Al-Ayn in Baalbek was killed when the car he was riding in exploded.
During the month of December, Egyptian security forces continued to act against IS fighters in the Sinai Peninsula. As part of its operations, the Egyptian army successfully thwarted several bomb attacks while also attacking IS targets from the air. Most of the operations were concentrated in the areas of Al-Arish and Sheikh Zuweid. In addition to operations by security forces, part of a building belonging to Al-Azhar Institute in Sinai was bombed by anonymous agents.
During the month, Egyptian security forces and authorities announced their intention to ease the passage of goods and residents between the Gaza Strip and the Sinai Peninsula. This announcement was made at the same time as a report that the Sinai branch of the Islamic State had instructed its fighters to stop the transfer of goods and weapons to Hamas in the Gaza Strip, seemingly against the backdrop of reports that Hamas had arrested dozens of IS fighters in the Gaza Strip. Nevertheless, four Hamas militants were killed when a tunnel on the Egypt-Gaza Strip border was flooded by Egyptian security forces as part of their struggle against the smuggling of weapons and terrorists.
During the month of December, several bomb attacks took place in other parts of Egypt. Over 25 worshippers were killed in a suicide attack by the IS at the entrance to a Coptic cathedral in the capital of Cairo, and several police officers were killed in an explosion near a police barrier on the road connecting Cairo to the pyramids in Giza – an attack for which the Hasm movement claimed responsibility.
Security authorities reported this month that traces of explosive material were found on the bodies of the victims in the Egyptian plane crash in the Mediterranean Sea last May.
During the month, at least ten people were killed – including security forces and tourists – in a shooting and hostage attack at Al-Karak tourist site in southern Jordan. The IS claimed responsibility for the attacks. In addition, several police officers were killed during raids on suspects’ houses in Karak.
During the month, the operation to liberate the city of Mosul from the IS continued, during which tens of neighborhoods in eastern Mosul were liberated to date, according to the Iraqi army. The operation to liberate the city was carried out on the ground by the Iraqi army and Shi’ite militias, with aerial assistance from coalition aircraft. In addition to the operation to liberate Mosul, coalition aircraft continued to strike IS targets throughout Iraq, including the town of Qaim, which is located on the border with Syria. In total, 185 air strikes were carried out, approximately 100 less than in November. Meanwhile, Denmark announced that it was ending its participation in the coalition air strikes.
In contrast, the IS continued to carry out terrorist attacks throughout the country, mostly car bombings, especially in the capital of Baghdad, the cities of Fallujah and Diyala, and liberated neighborhoods in the city of Mosul.
During the month, the Turkish Air Force continued to strike PKK targets in the north of the country.
During the month of December, the Libyan government and Libyan National Army (LNA) announced that the battle in the city of Sirte was over and that the IS fighters who were in the city had been defeated. Meanwhile, the US Department of Defense announced that it had ended its activities in the framework of the same operation to liberate Mosul.
During the month, LNA forces announces that they had seized control of Al-Sidra and Ras Lanuf oil terminals but later Libyan militias that were expelled from Benghazi attacked the oil terminals in Al-Sidra. Meanwhile, LNA forces launched an attack in terrorist strongholds in Benghazi by placing a siege around the neighborhoods using tanks and bombardment by naval ships along the coast. During the battle, several soldiers were killed by a car bomb and suicide terrorists dispatched by the IS.
The LNA, led by Khalifa Haftar, continued to clash with Government of National Accord (GNA) forces during the month of December, as part of the struggle for power over the country. In addition, LNA combat planes struck Benghazi Defense Brigades (BDB) targets in Jufra Province in the center of the country. In the capital of Tripoli, battles erupted between various militias against the backdrop of claims of kidnappings and other crime.
Toward the end of the month, a Libyan airliner was hijacked and landed in Malta. The two hijackers, supporters of former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, sought political asylum before releasing all of the passengers.
During the month of December, Iran expressed its anger over the US Congress vote to extend the sanctions regime against it, and even sent several threatening messages regarding the implications of the vote on the continuation of the nuclear agreement. Despite this, Iran signed an agreement with Boeing to purchase 80 passenger aircraft, apparently at a significantly discounted price. In addition, it was reported that the Iranian currency was at a new low despite improving relations with the West, likely in response to concerns over the election of Donald Trump to the US Presidency. During the month, several officers and soldiers from the Revolutionary Guards were injured by explosive devices and car bombs in Sistan-Balochistan Province, which is located near the border with Pakistan. Some of the incidents took place as a result of operations by Iranian forces against Balochi underground fighters in the area.
During the month, it was reported that government computing systems were attacked by what it called a “digital bomb”. According to the reports, Iranian hackers breached secure systems and planted malware that destroyed the computers, similar to the malware that attacked a Saudi oil company in 2013.
During the month of December, it was reported that Saudi Arabia intended to sell up to 49% of its holdings in the national oil company, Aramco. Meanwhile, it was reported that the government intended to invest over 50 billion dollars in the private sector in order to decentralize the Kingdom’s funding sources.
During the month of December, the battle continued between the Yemeni army supported by the Sunni coalition and Houthi rebels against the backdrop of the civil war ensuing in the country. Most of the battle was focused on Najran, Shabwah and Sana’a Provinces, including the areas of Asir and Jizan located on the Saudi border. In addition, an air strike was carried out against an Iranian cargo ship facing the coast of Yemen, in which seven Pakistani sailors were killed.
During the month, over 100 Yemeni army soldiers were killed in two separate suicide attacks that were carried out by the IS at the entrance to military bases in the area of Aden. Meanwhile, the Yemeni army acted against AQAP strongholds in Balhaf, Shabwa Province, in addition to continued US drone strikes against IS fighters in Shabwa Province and east of the capital, Sana’a. In contrast, IS fighters blew up the only gas pipeline intended for export in the area of Al-Uqlah in Shabwa Province.
North and West Africa
During the month of December, several Burkina Faso army soldiers were killed in an armed attack on the Mali-Burkina Faso border. In addition, a French aid worker was kidnapped in Gao, Mali.
During the month of December, Al-Shabab Al-Mujahideen continued to carry out bomb attacks throughout the country, especially in the capital of Mogadishu. Some of the attacks were carried out using car bombs or truck bombs near police barriers or stations, while others were carried out using explosive charges on the streets of the capital. In one shooting attack, the military prosecutor was killed in Puntland region.
During the month, several militants belonging to the IS faction of Al-Shabab were killed in a gun battle with Somali security forces for the first time since the split in the organization. In addition, US Air Force planes attacked an Al-Shabab training camp in the south of the country.
During the month of December, Kenyan security forces arrested two Iranian citizens and one local citizen accused of gathering intelligence and planning a terrorist attack against the Israeli Embassy in the country. The detainees were released several days later under pressure from the Iranian government.
During the month of December, the Nigerian army continued to act against Boko Haram strongholds in Borno State. Despite declarations of the organization’s defeat, tens of people were killed in a double suicide attack carried out by the organization at a market in the city of Madagali.
During the month of December, operational activities against the Taliban continued throughout the country, with emphasis on Kunduz and Nangarhar Provinces. In contrast, Taliban fighters killed over 20 civilians in revenge for their failed attack against a local police station in Nash district, Kandarhar Province. In addition, eight people were killed in a shooting attack at the house of an Afghan Parliament member in the capital of Kabuk. In another attack attributed to the Taliban, five airport workers in Kandarhar were killed when shots were fired at their vehicle.
During the month, air strikes by manned and unmanned aircraft against IS fighters continued in Nangarhar and Jowzjan Provinces. At least 20 IS fighters were killed in at least five different attacks.
During the month of December, the Russian Ambassador to Turkey was shot and killed by an assassin during an exhibition in the city of Ankara. The assassin, a Turkish officer who was not on duty during the incident, shot the ambassador several times before declaring that it was an act of revenge for Russian operations in the Syrian city of Halab. The assassin was killed by Special Forces fire during an attempted takeover of the museum where the exhibition was held.
During the month, security incidents continued to take place against the backdrop of Kurdish underground activity throughout the country. In Istanbul, close to 40 people – mostly police officers – were killed and over 150 others were injured in a double suicide attack (a car bomb and a suicide terrorist) by the Kurdish TAK outside a soccer stadium, and over ten officers were killed in a car bomb explosion near the bus in which they were traveling in Keysari, in the center of the country. Meanwhile, approximately 20 Kurdish PKK militants were killed during a failed attempt to cross the border into the country.
The Indian Subcontinent and Southeast Asia
During the month of December, Malaysian authorities reported that a senior member of Aby Sayyaf was killed during an exchange of fire with security forces in Sabah, Borneo Island.
Europe and the United States
During the month of December, 12 people were killed and dozens more were injured in a vehicle ramming attack carried out by a Tunisian immigrant at a Christmas market in Berlin, Germany. The terrorist, who was under surveillance by German intelligence agencies, hijacked the truck, killed the driver and, after the attack, fled via France to Milan where he was shot to death during a gun battle with police. The IS claimed responsibility for the attack. Meanwhile, German police arrested two brothers from Kosovo suspected of planning to carry out a terrorist attack at a shopping center.
During the month, French authorities extended the state of emergency following the terrorist attacks that befell the country in the last year-and-a-half. Meanwhile, 11 people were arrested for suspected involvement and providing assistance to the perpetrator of the ramming attack in Nice on Bastille Day.
During the month, Australian security forces thwarted an attack that was planned for Christmas Day. Meanwhile, a commercial truck carrying gas tanks crashed and exploded at the entrance to the “Australian Christian Lobby” in Canberra, Australia.
In the city of Moyu, which is located in Xinjiang Province, China,a suicide terrorist driving an explosives-ridden car crashed into a government building. According to reports, four other terrorists who were with him were killed in the explosion.