The International Institute for Counter-Terrorism Monthly Summary of Events: March 2016
During the month of March, the wave of terrorist attacks continued against civilians and security forces in Jerusalem and the West Bank, as well as in the center of the country. A Palestinian terrorist who infiltrated into Israeli territory after returning from pilgrimage in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, embarked on a stabbing spree on the Jaffa promenade in Tel Aviv. A tourist from the US was killed in the attack and 11 other civilians were injured until the terrorist was shot and killed by police forces. On the same day, two police officers were severely wounded in a shooting attack in Jerusalem that was carried out by two terrorists. That same day, a civilian was severely wounded in a stabbing attack in Petah Tikva. In other terrorist attacks that took place during the month, an Israeli civilian was critically injured in an axe attack in Maale Adumim, four soldiers were lightly injured in two ramming attacks in Kiryat Arba, a female soldier was severely injured in a stabbing attack at the Ariel Junction and two soldiers were wounded in two separate stabbing attacks.
Following the publication of information according to which Iran is financing the families of the terrorists in the current wave of terrorism, the Palestinian Authority publicly protested the move. Nevertheless, the PA and Hamas continued the wave of incitement against the State of Israel. Against the backdrop of these events, security forces made a failed attempt to disrupt incitement broadcasts on Hamas’s television channels.
During the month, it was cleared for publication that the Shin Bet had thwarted several plots by terrorist organizations to attack within Israel. Four young residents of East Jerusalem were arrested on suspicion of joining the Islamic State while another Palestinian was arrested on suspicion of establishing a terrorist cell in Egypt with the intention of carrying out attacks against Israeli targets.
Terrorist activity could be felt along Israel’s southern borders. At least five members of Hamas were injured in a tunnel collapse in Zeitoun and another member was killed in a different Hamas tunnel in Sajaya. While Hamas continued its tunnel activities, three rockets were fired from the Gaza Strip into Israeli territory. In response, the Israeli Air Force attacked Hamas targets in the northern Gaza Strip. In addition, an IDF vehicle was struck by gunfire from Egypt while driving between Nitzana and Mount Harif.
During the month of March, coalition air forces, including the Russian Air Force, continued to strike targets in areas under IS and Al-Nusra Front control. To date, 132 targets have been attacked. In this framework, the US Department of Defense released information concerning the death of Abd al-Rahman Mustafa al-Qaduli, number two in the Islamic State’s hierarchy, during an attempt to arrest him.
Syrian army forces, with the help of the Russian Air Force, captured the city of Palmyra from the Islamic State. In addition, Assad’s forces cut off the road linking Palmyra to Al-Raqqah. Syrian forces acted at the same time to liberate the city of al-Qaritin, which is located in the center of the country, from the Islamic State. On the other hand, Syrian rebels captured the al-Tanf crossing along the Syria-Iraq border from IS forces, and the Kurds announced their intention to declare a federation in the territories under their control.
A ceasefire went into effect between Assad’s forces – Assad’s army, Iran, Hezbollah and Russia – and moderate rebel organizations. The ceasefire did not include the IS, Al-Nusra Front and the organizations loyal to them. Despite the ceasefire, numerous violations by both sides have been noted; according to a Syrian human rights organization, 23 civilians, including children, have been killed since the beginning of the month. In areas under IS and Al-Nusra Front control, approximately 552 people have been killed since the beginning of the month, while talks began in Geneva to find a solution to the civil war in Syria.
After announcing that it had achieved its goals in the operation, Russia reported that it had begun to withdraw its forces from Syria. Nevertheless, the Russian Air Force continued to attack targets throughout Syria and, according to a statement by the Kremlin Chief of Staff, Sergei Ivanov, the S-400 missile defense system will remain in Syria despite the withdrawal of Russian forces.
The Prime Minister of Lebanon, Tammam Salam, appointed the Minister of Agriculture as his representative to the 5th Extraordinary Islamic Summit on Palestine and Al-Quds, instead of the Foreign Minister. This decision apparently stemmed from Salam’s intention to reduce the friction with Sunni states against the backdrop of the Foreign Minister’s closeness to the camp that supports Hezbollah. Furthermore, exchanges continued between Hezbollah and its supporters, and supporters of Saudi Arabia, seemingly in light of the refusal by the Lebanese Prime Minister, who identifies with Hezbollah, to support the two Saudi initiatives against Iran in the framework of the Arab League Summit. During the summit, Hezbollah was even declared a terrorist organization. Most of the Arab League states voted in favor of the decision, except for Lebanon and Iraq.
During the month, reports surfaced regarding the intention of the Special Tribunal for the killing of former Lebanese Prime Minister, Rafic Hariri, to place direct blame on Hezbollah for his murder. It should be noted that these reports have not been verified.
In a television interview that took place during the month, the Secretary General of Hezbollah threatened to attack nuclear and biological research facilities in Israel as well as Air Force planes.
The battle against the Islamic State in northeast Lebanon continued, in the framework of which one soldier and eight terrorists were killed in gun battles in the area of Ras Baalbek. In addition, 14 Islamic State fighters and 18 Al-Nusra Front fighters were killed in battles between the two organizations that spilled over from Syria into northern Lebanon. In response, Lebanese army and Hezbollah forces bombed IS and Al-Nusra Front posts in the area of Ras Baalbek and Arsal. Five IS fighters were arrested in eastern Lebanon in possession of explosive vests.
The Lebanese army expressed its protest to leaders of the Ayn al-Hilweh Palestinian refugee camp near Sidon due to multiple cases in which camera drones located Lebanese army barriers and camps in the area. In addition, Palestinian demonstrations against the reduction in assistance from UNRWA led to the closure of the organization’s offices in southern Lebanon. In the framework of internal clashes, two Palestinians were killed in a gun battle between Fatah and an Islamic organization in the Ayn al-Hilweh refugee camp.
During the month, an Egyptian airliner traveling from Alexandria to Cairo and landing in Larnaca, Cyprus, was hijacked. All of the passengers and crew were released and the hijacker, who carried out the hijacking because of a romantic issue, turned himself in to security forces.
In the framework of clashes between the Egyptian army and the IS in the Sinai Peninsula, several terrorist attacks were carried out against police officers and civilians, in which 22 officers and three civilians were killed. In the framework of the battle in the Islamic State’s Sinai Province, ten fighters were killed battles with security forces in Karam al-Qawadis. In another incident, approximately 60 fighters were killed and over 40 others were injured in Egyptian Air Force strikes in the suburbs of Rafah and Sheik Zawid. Approximately 19 additional fighters were killed in an army raid on the villages of al-Gura and Abu Tawila, which are located near Sheikh Zawid.
In the framework of reconciliation attempts between Hamas and Egyptian authorities, a delegation of senior Hamas officials visited Cairo in order to bring about reconciliation between the two sides and to end the destruction of tunnels between the Sinai Peninsula and the Gaza Strip. Later, Hamas withdrew its forces form the Sinai Peninsula as part of reconciliation attempts with the Egyptian authorities. Despite this, during an operation by the Egyptian army to locate tunnels, Egyptian security forces discovered a three-kilometer long tunnel connecting the Gaza Strip to the Sinai Peninsula. According to reports, the tunnel belonged to Hamas and was used to smuggle weapons into the Gaza Strip.
In central Egypt, a car bomb was detonated in one of the neighborhoods of Giza. According to assessments, the target of the attack was a building in which three senior police officers resided. The attack took place against the backdrop of the international observer force in Sinai, which cleared out three roadblocks in the northern Sinai Peninsula following IS attacks in the area.
Jordanian security forces killed several Islamists suspected of terrorism during an operation to uncover sleeper cells in Palestinian refugee camps in Irbid, which is located close to the Syrian border. One police officer was killed by gunfire during the operation.
Authorities in the Kingdom banned the Muslim Brotherhood from holding internal elections on the pretext that it did not meet the preconditions.
Coalition forces continued to attack targets in IS-controlled territories, and 449 targets were attacked during the month of March. At the same time, the Turkish Air Force continued to attack PKK targets in northern Iraq, and in one such attack over 65 suspected PKK members were killed. Some of the attacks were carried out in response to the murder of a Turkish soldier by the organization north of Mosul.
The IS continued to carry out attacks against Iraqi security forces. In this framework, approximately 334 civilians were killed and approximately 426 others were injured during the month in attacks throughout the country for which the organization claimed responsibility. Most of the attacks took place near or within the capital of Baghdad, but also in the towns of Diyala and Al-Hillah. In addition, the organization continued to carry out attacks against both Iraqi and American military targets, as demonstrated by the death of eight security officials in a suicide attack in the western suburbs of Baghdad, and the death of 18 soldiers in an IS attack against the Ayn al-Assad Air Force base where American soldiers were also staying. The organization also claimed responsibility for the downing of an Iraqi reconnaissance plane that fell into IS-controlled territory near the city of Kirkuk.
During the month, there were increased reports of attacks against Kurdish targets in the area of Sinjar, in which rockets with chlorine gas chemical warheads were used. In addition, IS forces used chemical weapons against the Kurdish town of Taza in Kirkuk Province. A three-year-old girl was killed and close to 600 others required medical attention. Later, US Special Forces – in cooperation with Kurdish Special Forces – captured Daoud al-Afaria, a senior IS member who was responsible for the organization’s chemical weapons, in Mosul. In addition, the US Department of Defense reported that a senior IS official, Abu Omar al-Shishani, had likely been killed.
Regarding the ground battle, there were reports that IS forces had withdrawn from several towns, including Hit, Kabisa and Rutba in western Iraq, across the border with Syria. The Iraqi army reported that it had begun a campaign to recapture Mosul from the IS.
During the month of March, the US Embassy in Iraq issued a warning against a “catastrophic” collapse of the Mosul Dam.
There were increased reports of French Special Forces operations against the IS in Libya, and the Libyan army continued its efforts to recapture Benghazi from the IS. At the same time, the army reported that it had liberated the city of Sabratha from the organization.
The Libyan Air Force attacked and sank a fishing boat in Sirte that was used by the IS to transfer weapons.
Two Italian captives were killed and two others were released following battles in the city of Sabratha. In addition, two gunmen attacked a police blockade near Sabratha. Later, the IS used a car bomb and gunmen to attempt an attack against a water pumping facility approximately 80 km. from the Sarir oil field, one of the central oil fields in eastern Libya.
Security forces in the capital of Tripoli declared a general state of emergency against the backdrop of the unity government’s intention to begin ruling within the city.
Elections for Majlis (Parliament) and the Assembly of Experts concluded. The reformist camp won 37.5% of 223 seats in Majlis, the conservatives won 46% and another 16.5% went to independent candidates. Repeat elections will be held for the 67 remaining seats. In the election for the Assembly of experts, incumbent Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani won seats.
During the month, according to an official announcement by the Iranian regime, ballistic missiles were launched from several points throughout the country in a military exercise by the Revolutionary Guards. In response to the launch, which constituted a flagrant violation of the UN Security Council resolution, the US, France, Germany and Britain began the process of reinstating some of the sanctions that were imposed on Iran in the framework of attempts to prevent nuclear armament. In this context, it was noted that senior officials from a mining development and trading company in North Korea, which is under sanctions by the UN Security Council, had visited Iran. The company is involved in the trade of weapons and ballistic missile-related equipment, and has ties to North Korea’s nuclear program.
The European Parliament voted to impose an arms embargo on Saudi Arabia as a result of its continued attacks on Yemen. Even though this decision does not obligate the member states, the Saudi army and Houthi rebels in Yemen declared a temporary ceasefire along the border between the two countries and carried out a prisoner exchange deal.
During the month, it was reported that the Saudi government had requested a 10 billion dollar loan from local banks.
During the month, battles continued throughout the country. In this framework, Arab coalition forces, led by Saudi Arabia, continued to attack Houthi targets throughout Yemen, with emphasis on the cities of Sanaa and Taiz. After a prolonged battle, coalition forces managed to break the Houthi siege on Taiz. Houthi sources reported having killed the leader of the IS in Yemen. Nevertheless, the ceasefire continued along the Yemen-Saudi Arabia border. The warring sides began to formulate a cease-fire to take effect in April to coincide with peace talks.
During the month, assassinations and terrorist attacks continued throughout the country. In this framework, the deputy intelligence commander in Aden was assassinated outside his home in the city. In addition, four people were killed and five others were wounded in a car bomb explosion. Sixteen people were killed, including four Catholic nuns, in an IS shooting attack on a nursing home in Aden. According to reports, the target of the attack was the Arab coalition headquarters located in the city. The IS claimed responsibility for the attack. Sources in Yemen claimed that the United Arab Emirates Mirage plane that crashed two weeks earlier near Aden had been shot down by AQAP using an SA-7 anti-aircraft missile.
In the framework of US drone attacks, four suspected AQAP members were killed in Shabwah Province, 12 AQAP fighters were killed in battles in the city of Aden, and eight others were killed in Abyan Province. During the battles, coalition forces used battle planes and helicopters. Later, 50 people were killed and 30 others were injured in a US air strike on an AQAP training camp in the mountains, west of Al-Mukalla, which is under the organization’s control.
Persian Gulf States
During the month, the Persian Gulf States declared Hezbollah, including all of its leaders and factions, a terrorist organization. Later, the Gulf States increased their monitoring of Lebanese civilians suspected of having ties to the organization and some of them were even deported from Kuwait since approximately 60 of them had ties to the organization.
A commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards declared his desire to annex Bahrain as an Iranian province.
North Africa and West Africa
Britain announced that it would send ground forces to Tunisia in order to help prevent the movement of Libyan terrorists into the country. Furthermore, Tunisian security forces killed five suspected terrorists who tried to cross the border from Libya.
Spanish security forces captured 20,000 army uniforms that were intended for use by various jihadist organizations in Syria and Iraq. The operation was carried out in the Spanish enclave, Ceuta, in North Africa.
52 Islamic State fighters were killed in battles against Tunisian security forces along the Tunisia-Libya border. At least ten security forces and seven Tunisian civilians were killed in an IS raid on army and police posts in the area of Ben Gardane. In addition, French Special Forces killed a senior French AQIM fighter in an operation in northern Mali.
AQIM fighters fired several rockets at a facility in the Krechba gas field in central Algeria. The organization declared that if its demands from the Western companies operating the facility were not met, the organization would continue to attack facilities in the area. In addition, the organization claimed responsibility for killing 14 civilians and two soldiers from the Ivory Coast army in an attack by six gunmen against three hotels in the Grand-Bassam resort area in the country, and for an attack against a hotel that houses the EU’s military training mission in Bamako, the capital of Mali.
Al-Shabaab Al-Mujahideen continued to carry out attacks against the civilian population. In this framework, at least 14 people were killed and 30 others were injured in a combined attack on a hotel in the center of Mogadishu. The terrorists used a car bomb after which they stormed the hotel and opened fire. In addition, at least 30 people were killed and 37 others injured in two attacks in the town of Baidoa. In the first attack, a car bomb was detonated in a market and in the second attack a suicide terrorist blew himself up inside a restaurant in the town. Meanwhile, Al-Shabaab fighters captured the port city of Garad in a naval raid as well as territories and villages in the area of Nugal, which is in Puntland. Al-Shabaab continued its attempts to carry out sophisticated attacks. An explosive device that was planted in a laptop computer exploded while two other explosive devices that were planted in printers were neutralized at the airport in Mogadishu.
During the month, the battle continued between Al-Shabaab and the state. In this framework, the US Department of Defense reported that it had killed approximately 150 Al-Shabaab fighters in a drone strike on the organization’s training camp 195 km. north of the capital, Mogadishu. At least ten Al-Shabaab fighters were killed during a raid by US Special Forces on their base near Awdhegle,50 km. from Mogadishu. In addition, over 100 Al-Shabaab fighters were killed and approximately 100 others were arrested during battles with local security forces in the area of Galmudug, in northern Somalia. In another incident, the Kenyan army killed over 34 Al-Shabaab fighters in battles in Ras Kamboni and Afmadow.
Kenyan security forces issued a warning about Al-Shabaab’s intention to carry out several suicide terrorist attacks against passenger aircraft arriving to airports in the country.
During the month, the US established an operating base for drones in the area of Garoua in Cameroon, near the border with Nigeria. In addition, there were reports that Boko Haram was moving their base of operations to Taraba State.
The battle continued between the Nigerian army and Boko Haram. In this framework, 92 Boko Haram fighters were killed as a result of a joint operation by the armies of Cameroon and Nigeria against the organization’s camp in Kumshe. During the operation, over 850 villagers were released. 58 suspected Boko Haram members were killed in another operation by the Nigerian army to liberate ten villages from the hands of the organization. In another incident, over 19 Boko Haram fighters were killed during operational activity in Dalori. In the political realm, Nigerian authorities closed four cattle markets in northern Nigeria in order to impair Boko Haram’s financing.
Meanwhile, the organization continued to carry out terrorist attacks against civilians. For instance, 22 people were killed in a double suicide attack in the city of Maiduguri, tens of people were killed in a Boko Haram raid on several villages in Borno State in an effort to loot food and supplies from the villages, and at least 50 civilians were killed in a Boko Haram raid on Dalori village near the city of Maiduguri.
The battle in the country continued, in the framework of which the Taliban carried out many terrorist attacks throughout the country. 15 people were killed and 33 others were injured in a suicide blast outside the Ministry of Defense in the capital of Kabul. In addition, one person was killed when an explosives-ridden bicycle exploded near the US Embassy in Kabul. In another incident, at least three police officers were killed in a Taliban attack on a police headquarters and intelligence agency offices in Helmand Province. The Taliban continued to act against specific individuals, such as a general in the Afghan army and his bodyguard, who were killed in an explosion carried out by three suicide terrorists at his house in Kandahar Province. In addition, at least 13 people were killed and 30 others injured in a suicide blast carried out by a terrorist on a motorcycle outside the house of the governor of Kunar Province.
Close to 100 people were killed in battles between two different factions of the Taliban in Shindand District, Herat Province. The battles took place between Mullah Mansoor supporters and Mullah Rasool supporters against the backdrop of conflicts over succession for the leadership of the organization.
The battle between security forces and the Taliban continued, in the framework of which at least seven fighters were killed in battles with security forces near the capital of Kunduz Province. During the month, the US Army also operated against the organization and even attacked Taliban fighters in an air strike in Helmand Province.
In the framework of the battle against the Islamic State, nine IS fighters were killed in two US drone strikes in Achin District, Nangarhar Province, and at least 24 IS fighters were killed in battles with security forces in Nangarhar Province. Four IS fighters were killed in an attack against the Indian Consulate in Jalalabad, which included a car bombing and small arms fire. At least nine civilians were killed in the attack.
The battle against terrorist organizations continued. In this framework, 34 Taliban (TTP) fighters and five Pakistani soldiers were killed during a ground and air operation against terrorist strongholds in the area of Datta Khel in northern Waziristan.
Dissident groups continued to carry out terrorist attacks throughout the country, in the framework of which 70 people were killed and close to 340 others were injured in a suicide attack by a faction that split from the Pakistani Taliban, at Easter holiday events at a park in Lahore. In addition, 11 people were killed by a suicide terrorist at the entrance to a court in the town of Shabqadar in Charsadda District, near the Afghan border, in an attack carried out by Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, which is affiliated with the TTP.
The battle between these organizations and political entities continued. Two Pakistani employees of the US Consulate in Peshawar who were involved in anti-drug operations were killed by a roadside charge in Mohmand Agency in northwest Pakistan. In addition, at least 15 civil servants were killed and over 30 others were injured by an explosive device on a bus in Peshawar.
During the month, several major terrorist attacks took place throughout Turkey. In an attack that was carried out by a suicide terrorist on a tourist pedestrian mall in Istanbul, for which no one claimed responsibility, five tourists were killed, including three Israelis. In addition, 14 people were injured, mostly Israelis. Despite the fact that no terrorist organization claimed responsibility, the attack was attributed to the Islamic State. In response, the Israeli counter-terrorism headquarters raised the terror threat in Turkey to “high concrete”. Meanwhile, the US Department of Defense issued a warning to all of its employees’ families to avoid visiting or staying in southern Turkey, with emphasis on the consulate in Adana, the Incirlik Air Base, Izmir and Mugla.
In another attack, at least 34 people were killed and over 75 others were injured in Ankara in a car bomb explosion, using a vehicle driven by a suicide terrorist. The car was detonated between two buses near the Central Bus Station in the city. Authorities identified the terrorist as a member of the Kurdish PKK, and two police officers were killed in a car bomb explosion in the town of Nusaybin in southeast Turkey. In response, the Turkish Air Force increased its number of aerial strikes against PKK targets in northern Iraq. Later, the Turkish Air Force attacked Kurdish PKK forces in ?dil District, ??rnak Province, while battles continued between Turkish security forces and the Kurdish underground, with emphasis on the area of Diyarbak?r.
Against the backdrop of cooperation between Middle Eastern countries, the Saudi Air Force placed four fighter aircraft at the Incirlik Air Base in order to attack IS targets in Syria.
The Turkish government and the EU reached an agreement regarding the return of refugees entering Europe via Turkey back to Turkey.
The Indian Subcontinent and Southeast Asia
During the month, operations continued against the Islamic State in the framework of which the Philippines army launched an extensive operation involving 2,000 soldiers against IS fighters in Lanao del Sur Province, in the southern part of the country. During the operation, 24 terror suspects were killed along with six soldiers and tens more were injured.
In addition, security forces in Malaysia arrested 13 suspected IS members.
In light of the rise of stabbing attacks in the country, reports surfaced that the regime in Bangladesh was considering canceling Islam as the country’s official religion, a proposal that was ultimately rejected by the Supreme Court.
Security forces in India continued to battle against radical organizations. In this framework, the Delhi Police reported that an Al-Qaeda training camp was set up in the area of Jharkhand. In addition, explosives and detonators were found in a hostel in the city of Ujjain. The Indian army raised the level of alert out of fear that Lashkar-e-Taiba was intending to attack one or more bases in the country, and a report was circulated by Indian intelligence services that indicated Goa and Rajasthan as the Islamic State’s preferred targets for an attack.
During the month, 31 people were killed and over 270 others were injured in suicide attacks in the Brussels Airport and in the city’s subway system. In the airport, 11 people were killed and at least 87 were injured when two suicide terrorists detonated their explosives-ridden suitcases. A third terrorist fled after his suitcase failed to detonate. In the subway, which left from the Maalbeek station, 20 people were killed and over 106 others were injured in an explosion by at least one suicide terrorist. The Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attacks. Against the backdrop of these attacks, several suspected terror suspects were arrested in Brussels, Paris and Italy.
French security forces arrested four suspects who planned to carry out a terrorist attack in central Paris. In addition, the manhunt continued for the suspected perpetrators of the Paris attack, and one gunmen and four police officers were injured in a police raid on the suspects’ house in Brussels. Two more suspects who fled were captured after an extensive manhunt. One of the suspects identified with the Islamic State.
The European Union announced that it was considering declaring Hezbollah, its military and political wings, a terrorist organization, apparently as a result of the decision made by the Arab League.