The International Institute for Counter-Terrorism Monthly Summary of Events: January 2016
During the month of January, the trend of terrorist attacks against civilians and security services continued throughout the West Bank and over the Green Line. The attacks were carried out in the framework of car ramming attacks near IDF checkpoints, stabbing attacks against security forces at checkpoints, penetration of West Bank settlements with the goal of stabbing civilians, and shooting attacks. Five Israelis, including civilians, were killed in these attacks during the month of January. One of the most prominent attacks was the shooting of Israelis on Dizengoff Street in Tel Aviv, which was carried out by an Arab-Israeli resident of Arara. The terrorist fled to his hometown and was killed by Shin Bet Special Forces and the police after a week-long manhunt.
A number of Hamas networks were discovered in the West Bank and Jerusalem. One of the cells was recruited by the son of the leader of Hezbollah and its goal was to attack Israeli targets. Another cell was planning to assassinate the Prime Minister.
Hamas continued to carry out high-trajectory fire drills towards the sea. At the same time, one of the Salafist organizations in the Gaza Strip directed high-trajectory fire at Israel. In response, the IAF attacked Hamas targets in the Strip. In one incident, the IAF foiled an attempt to plant explosive devices along the perimeter fence around the Gaza Strip. In addition, two Hamas attack tunnels collapsed, killing over eight members of the organization.
Hezbollah made good on its threat to avenge the killing of Samir Kuntar in December 2015, which was attributed to Israel. Explosive devices were detonated next to an engineering vehicle that was opening a patrol route in the area of Har Dov. The IDF responded with massive artillery fire. The incident ended without casualties.
After many months of investigation and the administrative arrest of several Jewish terror suspects, indictments were filed against two suspects in the Duma arson attack.
Coalition air forces attacked targets in areas under the control of the Islamic State and Al-Nusra Front. Approximately 176 air strikes were carried out during the month, which focused on Raqqah, Hasakah, Omar oil fields, Tal Afar, Deir Ezzor, Tadmur and north of Aleppo.
The Russian Air Force attacked rebel targets throughout Syria. Most of the attack missions departed from the military airport in Latakia, while others left from airbases in Russian territory. Over the course of the month, Russian forces focused on attacking targets in the provinces of Aleppo, Hamat and along the northeast border of Latakia Province. Other attacks were carried out in Raqqah, Deir Ezzor, north of Damascus, Tadmur and the southern Syrian Golan Heights.
Bashar al-Assad’s forces, with air support from Russia and help from ground forces from Iran and Hezbollah, succeeded in re-capturing territory throughout Syria. Among the liberated areas and cities were the town of Salma in Latakia Province, the town of Rabia in western Latakia Province, and the town of Sheikh Muskin, which is located along the road leading from Damascus to Daraa. In addition, the Syrian army – along with militia forces and Russian air support – launched an attack on Daraa and Deir Ezzor. In Deir Ezzor, over 85 civilians and 50 regime soldiers were killed in an attack by the Islamic State against government strongholds.
Several significant bombing attacks were carried out by rebel groups throughout Syria. In the city of Qamishli, which is located in the Kurdish region of northern Syria, 16 people were killed and 30 others were injured in a double suicide-attack on two restaurants. In addition, 23 people – mostly Ahrar al-Sham fighters – were killed in a truck bomb explosion in Aleppo. At least 29 people were killed and dozens more injured in a double attack by the Islamic State using a car bomb and a suicide terrorist in the Alawite quarter of Homs. In another attack carried out by the Islamic State in the Shi’ite town of Sayyidah Zaynab, in the suburbs of Damascus, over 71 people were killed and over 100 were injured when a car bomb exploded at a bus station at the same time as two suicide terrorists detonated among the crowds.
The governance crisis continued to grip Lebanon. A president was not yet chosen, which delayed the chain of appointments in the Lebanese security system. The Christian-Maronite member of Parliament, Samir Geagea, expressed support for the candidacy ofMichel Aoun for the Lebanese presidency, in contrast to members of the “March 14 Alliance” pro-Saudi camp. The reason for Geagea’s withdrawal from the presidential race and for his support of Aoun seemingly stemmed from Saad al-Hariri’s support of Franjieh for the presidency. At the same time, the leader of Hezbollah expressed his support for Aoun for the presidency during an unplanned speech that he gave on the matter.
The Lebanese army continued to defend its eastern and northeastern borders from penetration by Syrian rebels. Most of the gun battles took place along the border near Ras Baalbek in the area of Wadi al-Mesyada, as well as in the northern part of the town of Arsal.
There was significant unrest among Palestinians in refugee camps as a result of, among other things, the UNRWA intention to cut their aid.
The northern Sinai Peninsula continued to suffer from terrorist attacks carried out by the Sinai Province of the Islamic State, most of which were directed at security forces but also targeted energy transport infrastructures in the area. Most of the incidents focused on the areas of Al-Arish and Sheikh Zuweid, and were mainly characterized by the planting of explosive devices and roadside charges. In one of the attacks, four soldiers were killed – including a colonel – and 16 others were injured when a roadside charge exploded next to an armored military vehicle in the northern Sinai Peninsula. In another roadside charge explosion, two soldiers were killed and another six were injured. In addition, pipes transporting natural gas to Jordan from Al-Arish and between Al-Arish and Damietta were blown up.
On the opposing side, Egyptian security forces continued their operation to purge the Sinai Peninsula of an Islamic State presence. In an Egyptian Air Force strike against Islamic State targets near Egyptian Rafah, over 15 suspected members of the organization were killed. During another operation, four soldiers were killed and eight others were injured while 30 gunmen were killed and 10 others were injured.
Operations by the Sinai Province of the Islamic State were also carried out in Egypt’s tourist areas. Three tourists (two Austrians and a Swede) were stabbed by three terrorists who infiltrated their hotel from the sea in Hurghada. In Cairo, gunmen opened fire and threw Molotov cocktails at a bus and hotel where Israeli tourists were staying. No one was hurt in the incident. During a police raid of an apartment in Giza, nine people were killed, including six police officers, in an explosion.
The Egyptian Parliament held an assembly for the first time in four years.
The Hashemite Kingdom continued to look anxiously to events on the northern border with Syria. While the number of Syrian refugees staying in Jordan increased, security forces made efforts to thwart attempts at border-jumping, penetration by hostile elements, and even drug smuggling attempts.
The Jordanian authorities released the deputy of the Muslim Brotherhood from detention.
Coalition air forces attacked Islamic State-controlled targets. In one such attack carried out by the US, a building in Mosul used to store IS cash stockpiles was attacked. According to some reports, millions of dollars were destroyed in the attack. In another attack, the IS leader of Tel Afar Province was killed. In total, 529 attacks were carried out throughout Iraq, mostly in the area of Ramadi, but also in areas south of Mosul, Tikrit, Erbil and Haditha.
US Special Forces, in cooperation with Iraqi forces, began to operate more frequently near the city of Mosul. At the same time, British Special Forces operated in the area of Mount Sinjar and near the Syrian border.
Terrorist bombings continued throughout the country, especially in the capital city of Baghdad and its northern suburbs. In an IS attack on a shopping mall in the center of Baghdad, 18 people were killed and 13 others were injured when two gunmen detonated a car bomb at the entrance to the mall and then opened fire and threw grenades in every direction. One of the terrorists detonated his explosive belt and the second was shot and killed by police. In another incident, at least 20 people were killed in a double suicide attack at a coffee shop in the city of Muqdadiya, north of Baghdad. An unusual incident occurred when three American contractors were kidnapped in Baghdad by gunmen belonging to a pro-Iranian Shi’ite militia.
The Saudi Arabian Embassy was opened in Baghdad for the first time in 25 years.
Despite the agreement reached regarding the unification of the governments of Tripoli and Tobruk, a national unity government has not yet been established in practice.
The Islamic State continued its attacks in the oil crescent. The organization attacks oil terminals and oil reservoirs in Es-Sidra and Ras Lanuf. During the attacks, which were spread out over several days, the IS used high-trajectory fire, suicide terrorists and raid squads. In addition, an oil pipeline west of Al-Zueitina port was blown up.
For several days, the Islamic State attacked the power station in Benghazi using high-trajectory and anti-tank fire. In addition, the organization detonated a truck bomb at a police training center in the city of Zliten, killing at least 60 people. Over the course of the month, the organization captured the city of Bin Jawad. On the other side, air strikes continued against IS targets in the city of Sirte. According to some reports, these attacks were carried out by the French Air Force.
Against the backdrop of the Islamic State’s increased power in Libya, reports also increased about the intention of the US, Germany, France, Britain and Italy to attack IS targets throughout the country. In addition, Sudan deployed military forces along the border with Libya out of concern over penetration attempts by the organization.
Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) published a warning and called for attacks against Italy as a result of its involvement in Libya.
A report by the UN Atomic Energy Commission determined that Iran had met its requirements in the framework of the nuclear agreement. As a result of this announcement, the UN Security Council was instructed to remove the sanctions that had been placed on Iran. Even the European Union and the United States removed the sanctions that they had placed on Iran. Following the removal of the sanctions, the President of Iran visited Italy and France, and signed purchase agreements for civilian aircraft and the establishment of factories for car manufacturing in Iran. However, the United States imposed new sanctions on 11 companies and individuals involved in supplying materials to create ballistic missiles in response to Iran’s test fire last October.
Together with the removal of sanctions, Iran and the US carried out a prisoner exchange in the framework of which five Americans who had been held by Iran were returned to the US in exchange for the release of seven Iranian prisoners. During the month, the Iranian Navy arrested ten US Navy personnel and confiscated their two riverine boats after they had accidentally crossed into Iranian maritime territory. The arrested personnel and their boats were released two days later.
In protest of the execution of Shi’ite Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr in Saudi Arabia, a crowd of Iranians set fire to the Saudi Arabian Embassy in Iran.
Law enforcement authorities executed 47 convicted terrorists, including Shi’ite Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr. In response, there was unrest in his hometown of Al-Awamiyah. In addition, the Saudi Arabian Embassy in Iran was set alight, which led to the severance of diplomatic relations and aviation ties between the two countries, as well as sharp condemnation from the UN Security Council.
As a result of the low price of oil and a blow to the country’s cash flow, Saudi Arabia considered listing shares in the oil giant, Aramco, which is worth over ten trillion dollars. In addition, the Saudi government prepared programs for applying VAT to goods in another two years.
The authorities in Saudi Arabia claimed that over 375 Saudi civilians have been killed near the border since the start of the battle in Yemen. In one attack, three civilians were killed and 11 others were injured from missiles that were fired from Yemen to Jazan.
As part of the war on terror, the Saudi authorities began to fingerprint everyone who purchases a SIM card or mobile device.
Four people were killed and at least 18 others were injured in a simultaneous shooting attack and suicide bombing at the Imam Rida Shi’ite mosque in al-Ahsa region.
The Saudi-led Arab coalition continued to carry out air strikes against Houthi rebels throughout Yemen. A substantial number of the attacks were carried out around the capital of Sanaa. In addition, the Arab coalition navy captured the port in Al-Mukalla, the capital of Hadramawt Province, from AQAP.
The port city of Aden experienced the majority of terrorist attacks, which were carried out by the Islamic State and AQAP. Most of the targets were characterized as symbols of the regime and security forces. Ten people were killed in a car bombing during an attack on the house of the Aden Police Chief. Seven people were killed in a car bombing carried out by the Islamic State outside the presidential palace in the city. In addition, AQAP assassinated a judge in the city while the governor of Aden Province survived an assassination attempt. In another attack, an oil pipeline connecting oil reserves to the oil terminals in Aden was bombed.
The US continued to use drones against AQAP targets throughout the country. Five individuals suspected of ties to AQAP were killed in two different air strikes, two of which took place in al-Qutn in Hadramawt Province.
Persian Gulf countries
Several countries in the Persian Gulf, including Bahrain and Kuwait, severed their diplomatic ties with Iran against the backdrop of the crisis between Iran and Saudi Arabia. Sudan also joined in this move. In addition, security forces in Bahrain claimed that they had thwarted a plot by Hezbollah and the Iranian Revolutionary Guards to carry out a bombing in the country.
The border crossings between Oman and Yemen were closed for fear of an armed attack.
North Africa and Northwest Africa
Tunisia announced a night curfew in the country following protests and riots as a result of a rise in unemployment. In addition, security forces continued to operate against terrorist organizations and border-jumping attempts between Tunisia and Libya.
Four people suspected of belonging to AQIM were killed in clashes with the Algerian army in Ayn Difla. In addition, security forces arrested 270 Moroccans who were on their way to join the fighting in Libya.
AQIM increased its operations in the region of Mali and Burkina Faso. 23 people were killed and 60 others were injured in an AQIM attack on two hotels in Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso. At least four gunmen stormed the hotel, opened fire and threw bombs in every direction, and then took approximately 30 people hostage who were later freed by security forces. Among those killed were six Canadian citizens. In addition, a Swiss citizen involved in helping the local population was kidnapped from his house in Timbuktu, seemingly by AQIM.
Al-Shabab Al-Mujahideen, which is affiliated with Al-Qaeda, continued to operate throughout the country against both civilian targets and African Union targets. Nineteen people were killed an Al-Shabab attack on a hotel restaurant on Lido Beach in the capital of Mogadishu. Three people were killed in a suicide bombing at a restaurant in the center of the capital. In an attack on an African Union camp in southwest Somalia, over 50 Kenyan soldiers were killed and a similar number were captured.
Al-Shabab continued to attack security forces in the areas bordering Somalia. In one incident, five police officers were killed when a roadside charge exploded as they travelled in the area of Lamu Beach, while in another attack four individuals suspected of belonging to Al-Shabab were killed in a shootout with police in Malindi.
Boko Haram continued to carry out attacks in northern Nigeria and Cameroon. In addition to attacks on villages in the area of Madagali, Adamawa and near the organization’s stronghold in the Sambisa Forest – which were characterized by the destruction of the villages and the murder of their residents – Boko Haram fighters also raided villages near Chibok and plundered their food and animals.
In Cameroon, the attacks were characterized by the use of suicide bombers. At least 25 people were killed when four suicide terrorists blew themselves up in the town of Bodo in northern Cameroon, and at least ten others were killed in a suicide attack at a mosque. In addition, four people were killed in a double suicide attack at a school.
On the other hand, 14 Boko Haram gunmen were killed in battles with the Nigerian army in Yobe, while over 370 hostages being held by Boko Haram were freed in an operation by the Nigerian army.
Nangarhar Province served as a central point of friction between the Taliban, the Islamic State and the US. During the month of January, several air strikes were carried out, some with the help of drones, against IS targets in particular. Dozens of IS fighters were killed in these attacks. The battle between the IS and the Taliban also led to a high number of casualties on both sides.
Several terrorist attacks took place against foreign targets in general, and against foreign diplomatic missions in particular. In a suicide bombing at a French restaurant in the capital city of Kabul, two people were killed and 18 others were injured. In another attack in the capital, three people were killed and 23 others were injured in a car bomb explosion near the Russian Embassy. An armed attack on the Indian Consulate in Mazar-e-Sharif, which is located in Balkh Province, lasted 25 hours after the terrorists took cover inside the Consulate site (not within the Consulate itself). No Consulate personnel were injured. Two people were killed in a suicide bombing near the Pakistani Consulate in Jalalabad.
Many sources reported that Mullah Fazlullah, leader of the Taliban in Pakistan (TTP), was killed in a drone strike on his house in Afghanistan even though TTP officials denied this. According to the reports, five other people were also killed in the strike, including the leader’s wife and son.
The Taliban continued to operate throughout the country against security forces and infrastructure. Seven people were killed in an attack on the police station in the town of Spin Baldek in Kandahar Province. In addition, the organization struck high voltage powerlines in the northern province of Baghlan, which caused a power shortage throughout the country, including the capital of Kabul.
During the month of January, several terrorist attacks took place throughout the country. In the city of Quetta in southwest Pakistan, 15 people were killed in a bombing outside a polio vaccination center. In Balochistan Province, five police officers were killed in a roadside explosion near their vehicle, while at least 10 people were killed and approximately 20 more injured in the tribal region outside Peshawar when a suicide bomber riding a motorcycle detonated near a police checkpoint.
The most significant attack took place at the university in the city of Charsadda, in Khyber Province, in which at least 19 people were killed and dozens more were injured by gunmen. At first, the Taliban in Pakistan claimed responsibility for the attack but a few hours later the spokesman for the organization denied its involvement in the attack.
Turkey suffered a significant terrorist attack directed against the country’s tourism industry. Ten people were killed and 15 more were injured, including Norwegian and German tourists, in a suicide bombing at Sultanahmet Square in Istanbul. The terrorist was identified as a Saudi who had registered as a refugee from Syria a week earlier. The Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack. In response, the Turkish army shelled IS-controlled territory in Syria and Iraq and, according to reports in Turkey, over 200 militants were killed in the artillery shelling. Most of the incidents in Turkey, and attacks of this type, affect the tourism industry as was demonstrated by the decision of leading cruise ship companies to cancel planned stops in the country in 2016.
Security forces continued to act against the PKK. Six people were killed and dozens more injured in a car bomb explosion near the police headquarters in Diyarbak?r.
The battle in Syria along the border with Turkey continued to flow into the country. Two people were killed by mortar bomb fire directed at a school in Kilis Province while a rocket fired from Syria hit a house in the city of Kilis itself.
Indian Subcontinent and Asia
During the month of January, Indian security forces acted to thwart several terrorist attacks in the country. The Delhi Police arrested Sheikh Shafi Armar, who received the title of emir from the leader of the Islamic State, on suspicion of planning terrorist attacks in the country. In addition, the alert was raised in several cities, including Dehradun and Bhubaneswar, due to fear of attacks. In one attack, which was carried out by Jaish-e-Mohammed, at least six people were killed at the Pathankot Air Force base located near the border with Pakistan. The attack lasted for several days as some of the terrorists found refuge on the base.
In Bangladesh, the police killed two members of a banned Islamic organization called “Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen” during arrests carried out in the suburbs of the capital, Dhaka. In addition, the authorities in Singapore expelled 27 construction workers from Bangladesh who were arrested on suspicion of being involved in terrorism.
Jakarta, the capital of Indonesia, suffered a terrorist attack by the Islamic State in which three civilians were killed and dozens more were injured. Four armed terrorists wearing explosive belts and armed with assault rifles attacked several targets throughout the city, including a branch of Starbucks. Among those killed was a Canadian citizen and a German citizen. As a result of the attack, several arrests were made in Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand.
During the month of January, North Korea carried out a nuclear bomb test in violation of the ruling made by the UN Security Council on the matter.
New Year’s Eve was marked by a rise in the terror alert and counter-terrorism operations throughout the world. In Brazil, some New Year’s events were cancelled while in New York a planned terrorist attack at a restaurant in the city was thwarted. In addition, the Munich police closed two train stations in the city for several hours due to an intelligence warning about a terrorist attack.
Several IS-inspired attacks took place in Europe and the US. In Philadelphia, a Muslim opened fire on a police car in the city, moderately injuring a police officer, and in the city of Marseilles, in France, a Jewish teacher was attacked by a student with a knife and a machete.
In Rwanda, the deputy to an imam in a mosque in the capital city of Kigali was killed as he attempted to flee from police custody after he was suspected of recruiting youth to fight for the Islamic State in Syria.