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ISIS ‘sleeper cells’ are using benefit of US-Iran tensions to make a comeback

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ISIS ‘sleeper cells’ are using benefit of US-Iran tensions to make a comeback


  • Amid heightened tensions concerning the US and Iran in January, anti-ISIS operations led by the US ended up paused for two months.
  • That halt has specified ISIS, observed as mostly defeated very last year, a opportunity to regroup and reassert alone in Iraq and Syria.
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BEIRUT (AP) — The Islamic Point out group’s self-styled “caliphate” across components of Iraq and Syria appeared largely defeated final yr, with the reduction of its territory, the killing of its founder in a US raid and an unparalleled crackdown on its social media propaganda machine.

But tensions among the United States and Iran and the resulting clash about the US armed service presence in the region present a comeback prospect for the extremist group, whose remnants have been slowly building up a guerrilla campaign over the earlier yr, specialists say.

American troops in Iraq had to pause their operations from ISIS for nearly two months amid the tensions. From the other facet, Iranian-backed Iraqi militiamen who at the time targeted on fighting the militants have turned their awareness to evicting US troops from the Middle East.

In the meantime, Islamic State team sleeper cells intensified ambushes in Iraq and Syria in the earlier few months, killing and wounding dozens of their opponents in both nations. Activists and citizens say the assaults have intensified because the US killed top rated Iranian normal Qassem Soleimani in a January three drone strike at Baghdad’s airport.

It is not clear whether the uptick is linked to the repercussions that followed from the strike, and it is achievable some of the attacks had been planned prior to Soleimani’s killing. US officials deny seeing any unique boost in ISIS actions.

“They haven’t taken advantage of it, as much as we can see,” claimed James Jeffrey, the State Office envoy to the intercontinental coalition fighting the Islamic Point out.

Mervan Qamishlo, a spokesman for Syria’s US-backed Kurdish-led drive, stated the intensification of ISIS attacks commenced even before, because Oct, when Turkey began a military services operation versus Kurdish fighters in northern Syria.

Still, the militants evidently obtained at minimum temporary respiratory space as the killing of Soleimani, together with a senior Iraqi militia leader, brought Iran and the US to the brink of all-out war and outraged Iraqis, who viewed as the strike a flagrant breach of sovereignty.

On January five, Iraq’s parliament named for the expulsion of the five,200 US troops from the state who have been there considering the fact that 2014 on a mission to practice Iraqi forces and aid in the combat in opposition to ISIS. The US-led coalition then set the combat in opposition to ISIS on maintain to concentration on guarding its troops and bases. It said previous 7 days that it experienced resumed all those functions immediately after a ten-working day halt.

“This rigidity will for confident assist Daesh, as all forces combating it come to be chaotic with other matters,” warned Abdullah Suleiman Ali, a Syrian researcher who focuses on jihadi groups, making use of the Arabic acronym for ISIS.

Amongst other points, he claimed Iran-US tensions aid give ISIS the possibility to restructure as its new chief, Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi, strengthens his grip. Al-Qurayshi was announced in the post soon after longtime chief Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was killed by a US raid in Syria in October.

“The day the American-Iranian clash commenced, Daesh started off intensifying its attacks,” stated Rami Aburrahman, who heads the Britain-primarily based Syrian Observatory for Human Legal rights, an opposition war keep track of.

On January fourteen, IS released a cross border assault from Syria into Iraq, killing an Iraqi officer. A day later on, ISIS fighters attacked an Iraqi pressure in the central Salaheddine region, killing two soldiers and wounding 5. Two days later, an Iraqi intelligence main was killed in a car bomb north of Baghdad.

A single of the deadliest attacks transpired in Syria on January 14, when ISIS fighters stole some two,000 cattle from a village in close proximity to the japanese town of Mayadeen. A single of the four shepherds that possess the cattle informed authorities, and a Syrian govt armed forces power was despatched to the spot, exactly where they had been satisfied by ISIS fireplace.

As the forces returned to their base, ISIS gunmen laid an ambush, killing 11 troops and professional-govt fighters as well as two shepherds.

IS printed images demonstrating bodies of soldiers reported to have been killed in the attack, alongside with a wrecked armored car or truck and an overturned truck.

On the exact same day, 7 shepherds had been identified shot dead west of the eastern city of Deir el-Zour. On January four, 21 shepherds were being located shot in the back of their heads, their arms were tied driving their backs.

Dozens of customers of the US-backed Kurdish-led Syrian democratic Forces have been killed above the earlier months in attacks claimed by ISIS as very well.

With the agonizing strikes, ISIS is “getting gain to strengthen its affect” and send a concept to their supporters that they are continue to sturdy, reported Omar Abu Laila, an activist from Deir el-Zour now dependent in Europe.

“Some civilians really don’t dare leave their houses after sunset because of dread of Daesh,” Abu Laila explained.

The group is also trying to restore its presence on social media and the internet — a key ingredient to its skill to raise economic support from abroad and recruit new fighters.

IS users and supporters have for several years sown anxiety and projected electricity with the grisly video clips they produced on social media showing beheadings, amputations and victims burned to demise or thrown from buildings.

In latest weeks, European authorities, coordinated by Europol, have shut down 1000’s of ISIS propaganda platforms and communication channels in an unparalleled crackdown. In individual, the crackdown compelled ISIS’s news agency and other channels off the Telegram textual content messaging program, the group’s main outlet since 2015.

“The Europol campaign of November experienced a large influence on ISIS assist networks on Telegram,” mentioned Amarnath Amarasingam, a terrorism researcher at Queen’s University in Ontario, Canada.

Given that then, the extremists have shifted to other messaging platforms like the Russia-centered TamTam, Canada-based Hoop Messenger and BCM Messenger. They also experimented with to get again on Twitter using hacked accounts, Amarasingam explained.

So much, individuals endeavours have not been incredibly thriving as worldwide authorities get the job done to chase them down on these stores as nicely.

“None of this is seriously matching the existence they experienced on Telegram from 2015 onwards,” Amarasingam claimed.

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