The International Institute for Counter-Terrorism Monthly Summary of Events: February 2016
During the month of February, attempted terrorist attacks continued in the form of settlement penetration, attempted stabbings of security forces and shooting attacks. A female border guard was killed and her friend was seriously injured in an attempted combined terrorist attack at Damascus Gate in Jerusalem, which included sub-machine guns, knives and explosives. The three terrorists in this attack were shot and killed by security forces at the scene. In another attack, an IDF soldier was killed and a civilian was injured in a stabbing attack at the Rami Levy branch near Sha’ar Menashe. In another attack, an IDF officer was killed by stray IDF bullets as soldiers tried to prevent a stabbing attack at the Gush Etzion junction. Palestinian security forces were also involved in carrying out shooting attacks, including an attack in which three soldiers were killed when a Palestinian security guard shot them.
In contrast to most of the attacks in the current wave of terrorism, which have been concentrated in the West Bank and Jerusalem, several stabbing attacks took place this month in the center of the country as well. An IDF soldier sustained light injuries when he was stabbed at a bus station in Ashkelon by a Sudanese refugee inspired by the Islamic State. In another attack, a security guard at the Central Bus Station in Ramle sustained light injuries when he was stabbed by two female, 13-year-old Israeli-Arab students who lived in the city.
During the month, the Palestinian Authority faced attempts by Iran to influence and operate in PA territory. PA security forces arrested five people suspected of establishing infrastructure for the Shi’ite organization, Al-Sabirin, which is supported by Iran. Meanwhile, the PA spoke out against Iran’s intention to pay compensation to the families of the terrorists in the current wave of terrorism.
In the Gaza Strip, Hamas terror tunnels continued to collapse. In most of the incidents, several militants were killed or injured and rumors spread that Israeli security forces were involved in the collapse of the tunnels. During the month, Hamas worked to improve its aircraft capabilities by attempting to smuggle multicopter drones from Israeli territory into the Gaza Strip, but the attempts failed.
According to reports in the foreign media, the IAF attacked sites in Syria on at least two different occasions. In one attack, Syrian weapons warehouses were targeted in the Qalamoun Mountains region of Syria, and in another incident Syrian army weapons warehouses were attacked south of Damascus.
In the political arena, legislation was passed in the United States and several European countries restricting the activity of the BDS movement against the State of Israel.
Towards the end of February, the US and Russian Foreign Ministers arrived at an agreement on imposing a ceasefire between the forces operating in Syria. In addition, it was agreed that the ceasefire would not apply to the IS and Al-Nusra Front. Despite the ceasefire agreement and its actual implementation, numerous violations of the agreement by both camps were noted.
Before and after the ceasefire was announced, coalition air forces continued to attack areas under the control of the IS and Al-Nusra Front. During the month of February, 218 air strikes were carried out against IS and Al-Nusra Front targets in northern and eastern Syria. While the majority of coalition states continued their offensive operations, the Canadian government announced that it was going to stop its air strikes within Syria and Iraq but would continue to provide assistance and intelligence to the operating forces. The Russian Air Force also continued to attack rebel targets throughout Syria, including in the southern part of the country. In Aleppo and Idlib, hospitals and schools were bombed by Russian air forces, which led to large number of casualties among the civilian population.
During the month, Assad’s regime forces and Kurdish rebels noted many successes against rebel organizations and global jihad. Syrian army forces – aided by Russian air forces, Hezbollah forces and Iraqi militias – captured the village of Kafin and the town of Tel Rifaat, which are located north of Aleppo, seized control of the Bashkawi-Ratyan road from Al-Nusra Front and Jaysh al-Mujahideen, and captured the town of Ataman, which is located three kilometers north of Daraa. Kurdish forces captured three villages east of Afrin as well as the town of al-Shaddadi in Hasaka Province. Nevertheless, Russian forces began to suffer heavy losses, such as a Russian military advisor who was killed in a shelling by the IS in northwest Latakia Province.
During the month, several bombings were carried out and resulted in many casualties, mainly in the capital of Damascus and its suburbs. In the Shi’ite town of Sayyida Zeinab, two attacks were carried out by the IS, which included car bombings and suicide terrorists. At least 155 people were killed in the attacks and over 300 others were injured. The organization also carried out a double terrorist attack in the city of Homs with a car bombing that claimed the lives of approximately 60 people. The continued Western and Russian coalition attacks on the IS has exacted a high price for the organization. There were increasing reports that the IS was in the financial distress in Syria and Iraq. According to reports, wages to IS fighters were cut, and benefits and perks such as snacks and energy drinks were canceled. Meanwhile, the organization increased its tax enforcement on civilians residing in territories under its control.
The Lebanese army, in collaboration with Hezbollah, continued to foil penetration attempts by the IS and Al-Nusra Front along the northeast border of the country, with emphasis on the northern border area of the town of Arsal. Exchanges of fire between the two organizations were also noted in the same area.
During the month of February, the media reported that Hezbollah had started to operate the air radar of the advanced interception system in Lebanese territory, which affects IAF activity in the sector. Meanwhile, the leader of the organization gave several speeches in which he threatened to attack the ammonia tank in Haifa should the State of Israel attack Lebanon.
In addition, he expressed his full support for Michel Aoun as candidate for the Lebanese presidency as well as his dissatisfaction with Sunni countries increasing contact with Israel. Nasrallah’s criticism of the Gulf States in general, and Saudi Arabia in particular, the involvement of Hezbollah and Iran in Syria and its impact on the political system in Lebanon, led Saudi Arabia to cancel a grant in the amount of three billion dollars that was earmarked for the purchase of French weapons for the Lebanese army. Hezbollah’s influence on the legal system in Lebanon led the Justice Minister, Ashraf Rifi, to submit his resignation to the government.
During the month of February, Egyptian security forces continued their efforts to defeat the Islamic State – Sinai Province. The majority of its operations were carried out in Al-Arish, Sheikh Zuweid and Rafah, and resulted in the death and injury of dozens of operatives. However, Egyptian security forces also suffered several losses as a result of the organization’s offensive operations. In a roadside explosion next to an armored military vehicle, four soldiers were killed – including an officer with the rank of Colonel – and 16 others were injured. In another explosion of two roadside bombs, one civilian was killed and 16 others were injured near the village of Rumana in northern Sinai. Egyptian security forces also operated in the capital of Cairo and four suspects were killed during a raid on terrorist targets.
During the month, the Egyptian army continued its operations against the smuggling tunnels that connect the Gaza Strip and Sinai Peninsula. Several Hamas tunnels were discovered and destroyed but over 2,800 Palestinians were allowed to cross over into Sinai through the Rafah crossing.
During the month of February, there was a rise in the number of refugees arriving from Daraa following the increased air strikes in the region. In addition, the Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan severed its ties with the head movement in Egypt in an effort to distinguish itself against the backdrop of criticism from Arab countries.
During the month of February, the coalition air force continued to attack targets in IS-controlled areas. 442 targets were attacks by coalition planes, most of which were located in Mosul in northern Iraq. Among the targets that were bombed was the mufti of the Islamic State. However, coalition forces did not limit their operations to the air and, according to an eyewitness report, three British Special Forces soldiers were injured in an ambush carried out by the IS near the city of Mosul. While Western air forces mainly attacked global jihad targets, the Turkish Air Force continued to attack PKK targets in northern Iraq. In addition, there were increased reports that Iran was also carrying out drone attacks against IS targets in Iraqi territory.
The Iraqi army began to prepare for an operation to capture the city of Mosul from the IS. The preparations included the deployment of 4,500 soldiers in the area of Al-Makhmur in northern Iraq. Meanwhile, the Iraqi army increased its forces in Anbar Province after it liberated additional areas around the city of Ramadi, thereby opening the main traffic axis between the city and the capital of Baghdad. In addition to the ongoing fighting in Anbar Province and the preparations for combat in the area of Mosul, Iraqi security forces began to strengthen the defense of Baghdad by building a ditch and a wall around the capital in order to prevent terrorists from entering the city.
During the month of February, the IS continued its offensive operations against the Iraqi regime, the Kurds and even Sunni tribes that stood in its way. The majority of operations were characterized by bomb attacks on Shi’ite mosques and security forces. In a double suicide attack in the Shi’ite city of Sadr City, over 30 people were killed and approximately 50 others were injured. In a suicide attack that was carried out during a Shi’ite funeral in Diyala Province, at least 40 people were killed and 58 others were injured. In the city of Fallujah, which is under IS control, a heavy gun battle was reported between the IS and Sunni tribal fighters that ended in the killing of most of the tribal heads. In the Sinjar region, it was reported that the IS attacked Kurdish targets using rockets with chemical warheads containing chlorine and mustard gas.
During the month, there were reports that the Mosul Dam was in danger of collapsing. The US Embassy in Iraq even published a warning of a potential collapse and referred to it as having “catastrophic” consequences for Iraq in general, and for Baghdad in particular.
During the month of February, the Presidential Council declared the formation of a Libyan National Unity Government, but by the end of the month the decision had not yet been implemented. The Libyan army continued to its war effort against the IS in Libya. The Libyan Air Force attacked several IS targets in Derna and Benghazi, and even lost a MiG-23 fighter aircraft as a result of anti-aircraft gunfire. On the ground, the Libyan army continued its efforts to capture Benghazi from the IS and it also reported that the army had liberated the city of Sabratha from the organization. Despite the efforts of the Libyan government and security forces to defeat the IS, there were increased reports that the United States, Germany, France, Britain and Italy intended to attack IS targets throughout the country. During the month of February, several intelligence gathering missions by the British Air Force were identified, in addition to reports about French Special Forces operations in the country.
Despite suffering losses, the IS continued its power struggle over Benghazi and Derna, and even attacked the oil pipeline west of Zuwetina Port. However, the organization suffered a heavy blow when it lost one of its military leaders in a US air strike. During the attack on an IS training camp in Sabratha, at least 49 IS fighters were killed along with two Serbian diplomats who were being held captive by the organization.
During the month of February, elections were held for the Islamic Consultative Assembly and the Council of Experts. The Reformist camp won 37.5% of the 223 seats in the Assembly, the Conservatives won 46% and another 16% went to independent candidates. Repeat elections will be held for the remaining 67 seats on March 29, 2016. In the elections for the Council of Experts, the incumbent President of Iran, Hassan Rouhani, and former President of Iran, Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, both won seats.
Despite the removal of sanctions from Iran and the common interests shared by the Republic of Iran and Russia, the latter delayed the first transfer of the S-300 air defense system, claiming that payment had not yet been transferred by the Iranian regime.
The Palestinians also tried to get closer to Iran and benefit from the removal of sanctions against the Republic. During the month of February, a Hamas delegation arrived in Iran in order to hold talks with senior government officials.
During the month of February, the battle over the southern border of the Kingdom continued against the Houthi rebel forces in Yemen. According to the authorities, over 375 Saudi civilians have been killed near the border since the start of the fighting in Yemen. Saudi aerial defense systems intercepted several Scud missiles that were fired from Sanaa towards populated areas in Saudi Arabia, including the Khamis Mushait Air Force Base from which the majority of aerial attacks into Yemen originated. As a result of the continued bombardment on Yemen, the European Parliament voted in favor of a weapons embargo on Saudi Arabia. However, the decision is not binding on the member states.
During the month, security forces carried out several waves of arrests of terror and espionage suspects. 32 people were arrested on suspicion of spying for Iran while 33 others, including foreign citizens, were arrested on suspicion of involvement in terrorism. Despite the arrests, four civilians were killed and at least 18 others were injured in an integrated attack on the “Imam Ridha” Shi’ite mosque in Al-Aqsa Province, which included a suicide bombing and small-arms fire.
As part of the deepening rift between the Sunni and Shi’ite groups around the world, Saudi Arabia launched an international land exercise that included dozens of Sunni countries. At the same time, the Kingdom reached an agreement with other oil producers regarding freezing amounts of oil production in order to prevent the continued decline of prices in global markets.
During the month of February, the Arab coalition – led by Saudi Arabia – continued to attack Houthi targets throughout Yemen. The majority of the battles were focused in the area of the capital city of Sanaa and Taiz Province, which included battles between AQAP and Houthi forces. The Houthi forces did not limit themselves to ground forces and launched at least one ballistic missile at Al-Anad base in southern Yemen, which resulted in loss of life and damage to property.
During the month, the city of Aden experienced a significant number of AQAP terrorist attacks. In one incident, seven people were killed in a car bomb explosion outside the presidential palace, and seven others were killed in a car bomb explosion at a police checkpoint. The Islamic State also operated in the city and at least 13 people were killed in a suicide attack at a rookie camp. In addition, there were continued assassinations of senior officers in the city. The Deputy Intelligence Chief in Aden was assassinated outside of his home as was a senior officer in the Yemeni army.
On the ground, AQAP made several achievements, including the capture of the city of Azan in the southeast part of the country, Ahwar in southern Yemen, and the police headquarters in the city of Zinjibar. Nevertheless, American security forces continued to attack AQAP targets. In a US drone strike in Abyan Province, six AQAP gunmen were killed, including senior commander, Jalal Bal’idi. As a result of his death, clashes erupted between two factions within the organization in Zinjibar, killing nine and injuring seven others. Three more suspects were killed in another drone strike near the capital of Lahij.
Persian Gulf States
The crisis between the Persian Gulf States and Iran deepened. Several Gulf States announced that they would not allow Iranian ships to dock in their territory because of the decision made by most of the states to publish a travel warning for Lebanon in light of the tensions between Saudi Arabia and Hezbollah in Lebanon.
During the month of February, several incidents were reported in the context of global jihad in North Africa. In Algeria, four suspected AQIM members were killed in clashes with the army in Aïn Defla Province, and two other suspects were killed in the Boumerdès Mountains. Tunisia continued to express its opposition to international intervention in Libya, especially due to concern that a flow of refugees would ensue and jihadists would cross into its territory. Nevertheless, Tunisia began a joint maneuver with Algeria to prepare for international action in Libya. The purpose of the maneuver was to prevent refugees and terrorists from crossing into the country. In addition, Tunisia completed the establishment of a land barrier along the border with Libya and security forces even arrested ten suspected terrorists as they tried to cross the border into Libya. In Morocco, security forces arrested seven suspected terrorists on their way to cross the border into Libya.
In Mali, a soldier was killed along with four terrorists in an attack that targeted the UN base in Timbuktu. During the attack, a car bomb was detonated near a camp of peacekeeping forces, after which an armed squad attacked a police checkpoint nearby. In another incident, three people were killed by mortar fire directed at the UN base in Mali. AQIM claimed responsibility for both attacks.
During the month of February, an aerial disaster was averted when a Somali commercial airplane was forced to make an emergency landing in Mogadishu after a hole tore through the fuselage as the result of an explosion. Two passengers were lightly injured and a third passenger was killed after he was sucked out of the plane. Preliminary tests found remnants of explosive material in the area of the explosion. The plane originally departed from Jeddah in Saudi Arabia and made a stopover in Mogadishu, from where it was meant to continue to Djibouti. Later, Al-Shabab Al-Mujahideen claimed responsibility for the attempted downing of the plane in revenge for Western involvement in operations against the organization. In the published statement, the organization claimed that the goal was to attack a Turkish Airlines plane. In addition, it was discovered that the passenger who was sucked out of the plane was the one who brought the bomb on board, concealed in a laptop that he received from two airport employees.
During the month, Al-Shabab continued to attack African Union forces operating in the country, including their base located near the international airport in Mogadishu. In addition, it was reported that an Al-Shabab terrorist was planning to carry out an attack against UN and African Union forces in the country dressed in a stolen uniform.
Al-Shabab continued to carry out terrorist attacks throughout the country. In one attack, the organization claimed responsibility for a car bombing that claimed the life of the former Minister of Defense, and at least 14 people were killed and three others were injured in a combined attack on a hotel in central Mogadishu. In the latter attack, a car bomb was detonated after which gunmen stormed the hotel and opened small-arms fire. The organization also operated outside of the capital when it carried out two attacks in the town of Baidoa, killing at least 21 people and injuring 37 more. In the first attack a car bomb was detonated, and in the second attack a suicide terrorist blew himself up in a restaurant in the town.
During the month, Al-Shabab managed to take control of the port city of Merca, located 70 kilometers southwest of Mogadishu before retreating from the Somali army and African Union. In addition, the organization carried out a failed attempt to attack the agricultural town of Afgooye, which is located near the capital of Mogadishu, after it was pushed back by Somali security forces.
Kenyan security forces continued to battle the Somali Al-Shabab organization. During the month of February, Al-Shabab gunmen carried out an attack in Lamu Province, killing three people and injuring many more. In addition, it was leaked to the press that security forces had raised the alert level at the airport as a result of information indicating that Al-Shabab intended to carry out several suicide attacks against passenger planes arriving to the country’s airports. In response to some of the incidents and as part of its preventative efforts, the Kenyan Air Force attacked Al-Shabab targets in Somalia, including near the Nadaris refugee camp where Al-Shabab’s head intelligence officer was said to be located.
During the month of February, Boko Haram continued to carry out terrorist attacks against civilians in northern Nigeria, Cameroon and Chad. In Cameroon, four people were killed in a double suicide attack at a school, and at least 20 civilians were killed and 50 others injured in a double suicide attack in the village of Meme in northern Nigeria. In Nigeria, the majority of the organization’s attacks focused on raids of villages and suicide attacks in cities within Borno State, with emphasis on Dalori and Adamawa. Hundreds of villagers were killed in these attacks and grazing herds were looted. In Guie and Miterine in Chad, 14 people were killed and over 30 others were injured in three suicide attacks.
Nigeria’s armies continued to act against Boko Haram strongholds. According to some reports, in a series of military operations, security forces of both countries – sometimes in collaboration – killed over 400 Boko Haram terrorists and released over 2,000 hostages from the organization’s captivity. Most of the military operations took place in Sambisa Forest area in Nigeria and in the Kumshe village area in Cameroon.
During the month of February, the US army continued to strike the Islamic State in Afghanistan, with most of its operations focused on Nangarhar Province. 29 IS fighters were killed in a US Air Force strike on the organization’s radio station, and at least 28 others were killed in a drone strike in the same region. 43 IS fighters were killed in a joint operation between the US Air Force and the Afghan army. Operational activities in Nangarhar Province also targeted other organizations. Over 30 militants were killed in a ground operation by American forces in the Bandar region, in Nangarhar Province, including militants from the Khyber Agency and Lashkar-e-Islam. Due to increased US operations in Afghanistan, the US announced that it would increase its number of forces in southern Afghanistan.
Taliban attacks spread throughout most of the country during the month of February. In the northern Baghlan Province, Taliban fighters struck high-voltage lines and, as a result of the damage, there were notable power shortages across the country, including the capital of Kabul. In Parwan Province, at least 14 people were killed in a suicide attack that targeted police forces, and three other police officers were killed and at least ten civilians were injured when a police vehicle was struck by a roadside charge in Lashkar Gah, in Helmand Province. Approximately 13 people were killed and 30 others were injured when a suicide bomber riding a motorcycle detonated outside the house of the governor of Kunar Province. Two significant attacks took place in the capital of Kabul during the month: In the first attack, 20 people were killed and over 30 others were injured in a suicide attack in western Kabul, while 15 people were killed and 33 others were injured in the second attack when a suicide bomber detonated outside the Ministry of Defense.
During the month of February, several terrorist attacks as well as counter-terrorism measures took place throughout the country. In Balochistan Province, several police officers were killed in suicide attacks, car bombings and shootings, most of which were carried out by the Taliban in Pakistan (TTP). Over 10 people were killed and 35 others injured in one suicide attack against a military convoy in the city of Quetta, the capital of the province. Security forces arrested over 20 people and killed over ten others in the province who were suspected of belonging to the Baloch underground.
Security forces also acted in Kohat, in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province, where they arrested 34 people suspected of belonging to the TTP, and in Punjab Province at least seven TTP militants were killed in a gun battle with the police. In addition, 12 militants from Lashkar-e-Jhangvi were killed in a battle with police in Karachi. Alongside arrests, three police officers were killed in a terrorist attack in the city of Faisalabad, and the TTP claimed responsibility for the bombing of a new girls’ school that was not yet staffed in northwest Pakistan. In Pakistan’s tribal region, the Pakistani army and US Air Force continued their offensive operations. Four people suspected of membership in a terrorist organization were killed, and three others were injured in a drone strike, while 34 Taliban terrorists and five Pakistani soldiers were killed during a ground and aerial operation against terrorist strongholds in the Data Khel region of northern Waziristan.
During the month of February, tensions continued along Turkey’s southern border. The government worked to prevent the entrance of tens of thousands of refugees who fled from the battles in Aleppo, Syria, and in light of the humanitarian situation that was created, the EU called on Turkey to allow in the refugees. However, Germany and France called on Turkey to limit the number of migrants crossing through the country to Europe. Alongside these reports, progress continued on the building of a separation wall along the Turkey-Syria border.
In light of the continued battles in Syria along the country’s southern border, the Turkish government continued to try and recruit Western countries for a ground mission in Syria, a move supported by Saudi Arabia and the UAE. As part of those plans, six Saudi F-15 jets were first deployed to Turkey’s Incirlik Air Force Base as part of a joint exercise between the two countries, and then four additional fighter jets were deployed to the same base in preparation for attacks against IS targets in Syria.
During the month, clashes continued between security forces and Kurdish forces within and outside of Turkey. Security forces continued to act against the PKK in southeast Turkey. For example, Turkish Air Force helicopters attacked PKK forces in Idil District, Sirnak Province. In addition, the Turkish government announced that it would not allow Kurds to base themselves in northern Syria and instructed the army to shell Kurdish targets in the Azaz region. The Kurdish underground also operated in the region and at least 28 people were killed in a car bomb explosion near a military convoy in Ankara.
The Indian Subcontinent and Southeast Asia
During the month of February, Indian security forces foiled an IS plot to attack foreigners, especially Israelis, in Goa and Maharashtra. In addition, one civilian and three gunmen were killed during a gun battle with security forces in Srinagar.
In Bangladesh, a Buddhist monk was beheaded by the IS at a monastery in Panchagarh in northern Bangladesh. In a police raid on an apartment in the capital of Dhaka, police confiscated bomb-making materials and 20 prepared bombs.
During the month, Western intelligence agencies published a severe travel warning to tourist areas along the coast of East Malaysia, and in the Philippines the IS accepted the declarations of loyalty by Islamist organizations in the country. In addition, sources at the airport reported that the Iranian Revolutionary Guards intended to carry out a kidnapping attack or to down a Saudi airplane in the Philippines, Malaysia or Indonesia in revenge for the execution of the Shi’ite preacher, Nimr al-Nimr, in Saudi Arabia in January 2016.
During the month of February, there was an increase in attempted terrorist attacks in Russia as a result of Russia’s involvement in the fighting in Syria. While Russian security forces foiled a series of bomb attacks that were planned by the IS in Moscow and Saint Petersburg, the organization succeeded in carrying out a suicide attack at a police checkpoint in Dagestan.
European countries continued their attempts to regulate the number of migrants entering EU territory. As part of these efforts, NATO ships began patrolling the Aegean Sea in order to prevent refugees from passing into Greece from Turkey.
The United States intensified its struggle against Lebanese Hezbollah’s international operations. In the framework of a joint operation between the US Drug Authority and enforcement authorities in seven countries around the world, four Hezbollah operati