Air strikes carried out by the United States and allied countries have been successful in killing thousands of jihadists and assisting Kurdish fighters, as well as stymying the flow of foreign fighters pouring into Iraq and Syria to fight for the Islamic State. Islamic State recruitment slowed during 2016, as a result of the increasing air campaign against the group led by the United States as well as financial hardships faced by fighters. The flow of foreign fighters into Iraq and Syria slowed more than 90% between 2015 and 2016, dwindling from approximately 2,000 fighters per month on average in 2015, to 200 per month in 2016. The number of jihadists has remained steady as the influx of foreign fighters continues, and as of April 2016 it was estimated that over 20,000 foreign fighters were in Syria fighting for the Islamic State. These individuals most likely entered Syria through it's porous and poorly patrolled border with Turkey. Experts contend that most of the foreign fighters coming into Syria and Iraq come from Tunisia, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Russia and France. Approximately 150 fighters from the United States have entered Syria or Iraq and are either fighting for the Islamic State or have been killed in battle, according to estimates released in February 2015. The Chief of the National Counterterrorism Center, Nick Rasmussen, said that “the rate of foreign fighter travel to Syria is without precedent, far exceeding the rate of foreigners who went to wage jihad in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Yemen or Somalia at any other point in the past 20 years.”
A report released by the New York based security and intelligence services organization the Soufan Group in early December 2015 provided evidence for claims that since mid-2014, the number of foreign fighters fighting with ISIS has more than doubled. The group's report issued in June 2014 claimed the jihadi organization boasted 12,000 fighters; in December 2015 it claimed that number is more along the lines of 30,000. An analysis of the travel paterns of these fighters revealed 8,000 fighters made their way to ISIS strongholds from the Middle East, 5,000 came from Europe, and 4,700 came from the former Soviet Republics. The report also estimates that 20-30% of foreign fighters who have travelled to fight for ISIS have returned to their home countries.
The Islamic State stronghold of Raqqa is being run mostly by foreign fighters, according to eyewitness reports from refugees. During the early days of the conflict these fighters were coming to Syria with a vested interested in the Syrian civil war, fighting for or against the Syrian people. Now when they come, they are interested in the experimental creation of a new Islamic Society based on harsh Sharia law, and the fate of the Syrians is of no consequence. Thomas Hegghammer, Director of terrorism research at the Norwegian Defense Research Establishment, explained that “Many think it is a historical project that they can be part of, and that they will be remembered for being among the first - almost like the companions of the prophet.” Troops in the ranks of the Free Syrian Army have learned to fear and respect these foreign fighters, who often come battle-hardened from other conflicts and are more valuable than local jihadis in prisoner exchange deals. Many of these foreign fighters see their presence in Syria and Iraq as a permanent thing and have begun to marry local women and “settle down.”
There are an estimated 150-200 American citizens who are fighting with various groups against ISIS in Syria and Iraq as of August 2015, according to the U.S. Congressional research Service. These American “volunteers” are from 31 states, with an overwhelming majority of them hailing from Texas. Over half of these individuals (68%) had served in the U.S. armed forces in some capacity. To read the Bellingcat investigative report into Americans fighting against the Islamic State, please click here.
Rumors of a violent ISIS attack on Australian territory sparked counterterrorism raids that ended with the arrest of 15 people suspected of having communicated with ISIS in late 2014. These individuals supposedly were coordinating a terrorist attack in Sydney Australia in which they were planning to grab a random passerby on the street and behead them in public draped in the ISIS flag. This attack, according to Australian officials, was clearly designed solely to shock and terrify citizens. The suspects are being charged with conspiracy to prepare for a terrorist attack. The Australian government knows of about 60 Australian citizens who are currently in the Middle East fighting for ISIS, and about 100 local supporters in Australia.
Turkish government reports and officials show the Islamic State is getting a steady stream of fighters coming from inside of Turkey. According to Turkish media over 1,000 Turkish citizens fled Turkey and joined IS. Most of these citizens represent dissafected youths drawn to the organization's radical extreme ideology and promises of $150 pay per day. The Islamic State released 49 Turkish hostages on September 20 who they had abducted in Mosul from the Turkish consulate there on June 11. The hostages were not rescued, they were released, and were taken to the Turkish capital Ankara immediately following their release. Turkish government officials have repeatedly denied that they paid any money for the release, and claim that they only used a strategy developed by their intelligence community to secure the hostages. The fact that they paid nothing for the hostages is unlikely, as ISIS makes most of it's money from exploitative measures such as collecting ransoms or imposing undue taxes. On October 13 Turkish police forces found a massive stockpile of weapons and explosive vests in the Turkish province of Gazientep, allegedly stored there by Islamic State members. According to Turkish officials, during the raid police seized 150 kilograms of C4 explosives, 20 vests for suicide attacks, and a number of guns and bullets. They believe the amount of explosives siezed was enough to destroy a small city. On November 22 Turkish President Erdogan met with US Vice President Joe Biden in Istanbul for discussions about the danger posed by the Islamic State and their mutual interest in defeating the militants. The two leaders met for four hours and although there were no firm mutual agreements made, according to officials the two countries were moving toward increased cooperation in the fight to defeat ISIS. The following day it was reported that Turkish and US officials had put aside their differences and were going to begin to work together in the fight against the Islamic State. The two countries have agreed to mutually arm and train opposition fighters in Syria, with Turkish soldiers providing on-the-ground training for fighters in the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and US forces providing equipment and logistical support. Turkey and the US will arm and train about 2,000 FSA fighters at the Hirfanli gendarmerie training camp in Anatolia.
German intelligence and security services believe that at least 400 German citizens have travelled to the Middle East to join ISIS, according to a report released September 22, 2014. This number includes 24 children, some as young as 13. Four young German women have also joined the group, with aspirations of marrying Jihadists that they reportedly met on the internet. The parents of the children had reported them missing, and only then was the situation addressed and recognized by police, German security services estimate that about 130 of these German citizens who trained and fought with ISIS have returned to the country. So far one German citizen identified only as a Turkish man has been arrested in Berlin after returning from an ISIS training camp.
The Islamic State militants called on their counterparts in Egypt's Sinai Peninsula on September 22nd to rise up against Egyptian security forces. ISIS spokesman Abu Muhammed al-Adnani encouraged the militants to "Attack their bases. Raid their homes. Cut off their heads". He also encouraged Islamic State supporters to kill members of any country involved in the US led coalition to stop their brutality. On November 4 Egypt's most active terrorist organization Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis swore allegiance to the Islamic State. According to a statement released by Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis leader, "After entrusting God we decided to swear allegiance to the emir of the faithful Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, caliph of the Muslims in Syria and Iraq and in other countries". The group terrorized the Sinai Peninsula in late 2014, carrying out a spate of attacks that killed 33 Egyptian security personnel and causing the Egyptian government to declare a state of emergency in parts of Northern Sinai.
Israeli police have said that they will be cracking down hard on any public show of solidarity with or support for the Islamic State. This includes on social media and in public places. Israeli police chief Yohanan Danino stated that youth these days are not only affected by what they physically see and experience, but also what they see and are exposed to on the internet. Because of this, Israeli police began a social media monitoring campaign aimed at quelling Islamic State support within Israel's borders. The Islamic State has found some supporters in the Gaza Strip, and during the week of December 1 threatening pamphlets with Islamic State symbols began appearing in Gaza, as well as an increased number of Islamic State stickers on cars and flags flying from homes and businesses. These pamphlets threaten Palestinian poets, musicians, and writers; one of them reads ""We warn the writers and poets of their wanton sayings and atheist deeds. We give the apostates three days to retract their apostasy and wantonness and enter the religion of Islam anew." These pamphlets created panic in the Gaza Strip because they mention the targetted individuals by full name. Threats were also included against Palestinian women in general, providing an ultimatum that the women abide by the style of attire approved by the Islamic State or face Sharia punishment. Palestinian political analyst Naji Sharab stated that "there is no denying that Islamic State exists in the Gaza Strip as a small group or as individuals." In addition to these flyers, stickers, and flags, Palestinian individuals have also begun sending out wedding invitations featuring the iconic Islamic State flag and emblem.
European security officials told news organizations on March 23, 2016, that they believe the Islamic State had trained approximately 400 fighters and sent them back to Europe to carry out attacks.
Many foreign Islamic State fighters have returned to their countries of origin after training in Iraq and Syria, and have joined what are considered “sleeper cells.” These cells, like the groups that carried out the 2015 Paris attacks or 2016 Brussels airport and train station bombings, are small, secretive, technogically savvy, and intelligent. During an interview on April 25, 2016, U.S. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper confirmed that intelligence officials were investigating evidence of ISIS cells in Germany, England, Italy, and various other European countries.
Charlie Hebdo Attack
At 11:30a.m. local time on January 7, 2015, two gunmen dressed in black and armed with Kalishnakov assault rifles approached the headquarters of satirical French newspaper
Charlie Hebdo located in Rue Nicolas-Alpert, Paris. The two gunmen, later identified as Cherif and Said Kouachi, made their way into the building shooting maintenence staff and caretakers as they went. After forcing a terrified Charlie Hebdo writer to unlock the door to the second floor meeting room where an editorial meeting was currently underway, they entered the room and called out many of their victims by name before they began shooting wildly. The gunmen killed ten people in the meeting including all of their intended targets before fleeing the building shouting "We have avenged the Prophet Muhammad" and "Allahu Akbar." As the gunmen were in the process of fleeing the scene of the massacre, police arrived outside of the Charlie Hebdo offices.
A gun battle ensued between the gunmen and police officers, and eventually the gunmen escaped after killing Muslim Police Officer Ahmed Merabet.
During the search for the Charlie Hebdo suspects, a lone individual shot dead a policewoman and injured a man in a Paris suburb. Initially it was dismissed that the two attacks were related, but upon further investigation it seemed as if they were planned in conjunction. The lone gunman escaped the scene of the attack after a shootout with police and re-emerged a few hours later at a Kosher supermarket in Porte de Vincennes, Paris. The gunman was then identified as Amedy Coulibaly. Coulibaly had just begun to recite his evening prayers to Mecca when the supermarket was stormed by French special forces who immediately shot him dead and released the remaining 15 hostages. The French authorities recovered 4 dead bodies from the store, all of them Jewish individuals. The Jews killed while being taken hostage at the store were buried in Israel on January 13 2015. A video of Amedy Coulibaly was released posthumously in which he pledged allegiance to the Islamic State. It is believed that this video was filmed sometime between when the Charlie Hebdo shootings began and when Coulibaly took the people hostage at the Kosher supermarket.
November 13 Attack (Bataclan Theater, etc...)
On November 13, 2015, terrorists affiliated with the Islamic State carried out a planned and coordinated terror attack on seven separate targets in Paris, France. People enjoying their Friday night out in the city at a soccer game, a concert, and at various restaurants had their lives changed drastically in a defining attack for the Islamic State terror group. The first attack occured at the Stade de France, the country's national sports stadium. At a friendly football match (not played for rank) between France and Germany attended by French President Francois Hollande, a bomber detonated himself outside of the stadium at 9:20pm local time after his explosive vest was discovered by a venue security gaurd. A second bomber did not attempt to enter the stadium, and detonated himself a few moments after the first explosion. It is a popular practice for fans to light fire-crackers during the games, so the crowd was not dispersed and the teams kept playing folowing the initial explosions. President Hollande was evacuated immediately, and once security inside the stadium realized what was happening they stopped the game and had the fans come down onto the field. A third bomber detonated himself at a McDonalds restaurant close to the stadium thirty-three minutes after the second stadium bomber detonated.
At 9:20pm, almost simultaneous with the first suicide bomb detonation at the Stade de France, attackers opened fire at people eating dinner at Le Carillon cafe and Le Petit Cambodge on streets rue Bichat and rue Alibert. The assailants fled in two vehicles following the attack, in which they killed eleven people. Twelve minutes after the start of this attack, at 9:32pm, an attacker opened fire on the Cafe Bonne Biere killing five and injuring eight. Four minutes later, at nearby restaurant La Belle Equipe, multiple terrorists opened fire killing nineteen and injuring nine before fleeing in vehicles. At 9:40pm a suicide bomber was seated at the Comptoir Voltaire cafe, and placed an order before detonating his explosives killing himself and seriously injuring fifteen.
U.S. blues-rock band The Eagles of Death Metal were playing a sold-out show at the Bataclan theater on Boulevard Voltaire, when at approximately 9:45pm three men dressed in all-black toting AK-47 assault rifles entered the concert hall. Shouts of “Allahu Akbar” were heard and the gunmen started firing calmly into the crowd. Some concert-goers initially mistook the machine-gun fire for pyrotechnics, but it soon became clear that they were in danger. The initial attack lasted for 10-20 minutes, with the attackers re-loading three or four times each while lobbing grenades into the frenzied crowd. Band members managed to escape the theater soon after the attack began, but some of their crew members were killed. The attackers began to round up a group of 60-100 hostages at 11:00pm, and shortly after midnight French police launched an assault on the Bataclan theater. Two terrorists detonated their suicide vests when police stormed the building, one was shot by police, and one escaped. Eighty-seven people were killed by the terrorists at the Bataclan theater. Syrian and Egyptian passports were found on the bodies of the attackers, but these proved to be fake. In total these attacks killed 129 people and injured over 350.
A state of emergency was declared in France by President Hollande in the days after the attack, which was then extended until the beginning of 2016. The French army carried out it's largest air strikes on ISIS yet on November 15, 2015, dropping 20 bombs on the self-proclaimed capital in Raqqa. Hollande vowed to “mercilessly,” fight terrorism while on a visit to the Bataclan theater after the attacks.
French security forces carried out raids on multiple suspected terror cells across the country over the week after the attack. Using tips from locals and intelligence information gathered with the help of governments of the United States, Syria, and France's European neighbors, French police pinpointed the suspected location of the organizer of the November 13 attack and descended upon the apartment building on November 18, 2015. The French police attempted to enter the apartment but ended up simply alerting the individuals inside to their presence, because the door was reinforced and they were unable to breach it until larger equipment was brought. Once the door was breached the French police engaged in a fierce gun-battle with multiple terrorists who were obviously planning another attack. One of the individuals in the apartment detonated a suicide vest after exchanging fire with the officers, rocking the building and causing a commotion outside. All suspects in the apartment were killed, and DNA evidence confirmed the following day that the organizer of the November 13 attack, Abdelhamid Abaaoud, was one of the victims in the raid.
A report issued in mid January 2015 including US ordered and independent assessments concluded that the United State's (at the time of publication) 3 month long air strike campaign against ISIS had failed to slow the progress of the terrorist organization. Experts and analysts demonstrated in the assessment that the Islamic State militants had in fact expanded and increased their hold in Syria since the begining of the US and allied forces bombing campaign.
Although groups like Hamas and Fatah have continued to deny it, The Islamic State has begun to take a foothold in the Palestinian territories. Israeli security sources claim that in late 2014 and early 2015 hundreds of Hamas and Fatah supporters have defected to the Islamic State. Following the attack on the satirical French news magazine Charlie Hebdo in January 2015, thousands of supporters of the Islamic State crowded the streets of Gaza in protest of the publishing of images of Mohammed by the magazine, and in support of the violent attack that left twelve people dead. Similar demonstrations took place in Ramallah and Hebron. These protestors attempted to storm the the office of the French Cultural Center in Gaza, and burned French flags while chanting calls for the slaughter of French nationals. Palestinian security forces were dispatched to the protest area, where they arrested seven Islamic State supporters. Palestinian security forces have arrested in total fifteen supporters of the Islamic State, and have been fighting the rise of the Islamic State along with Israeli security forces. It was revealed on January 18 2015 that a number of would-be jihadists "training" to join the Islamic State had been arrested in November and December in Galilee, Northern Israel. The seven Arab Israeli citizens were apprehended by Israeli security forces after apparently participating in "training" sessions during which they slaughtered sheep, practiced riding horses, learned how to properly make and hurl a molotov cocktail, and participated in target shooting activities. The individuals arrested included Adnan Ala al-Din, a 40 year old prominent lawyer from Nazareth, and brothers who had had issues with Israeli security forces in the past. Ala al-Din presented himself to the security forces as the Senior Commander of the Islamic State in Palestine at the time of his arrest.
Two young Muslim men from Brooklyn were arrested for plotting to go to Syria to join the Islamic State on February 24, 2015. 19 year old Akhror Saidakhmetov and his 24 year old friend and roomate Abdurasul Hasanovich Juraboev worked meagar jobs in New York City to make ends meet, and were radicalized online through Islamic State sympathizers. Wearing Western attire and having normal 9-5 jobs working at a sandwich shop and repairing cell phones, the pair did not draw attention to themselves in public. They spent countless hours online in their apartment belonging to the parents of Saidakhmetov and became enamored with the Islamic State, often posting sympathetic messages on websites supportive of the actions of ISIS. On August 8, Juraboev posted on a group stating that he would even attack President Barack Obama if asked, and pondered “Is it possible to commit ourselves as dedicated martyrs anyway while here?” These posts grabbed the attention of federal agents, who met with Juraboev. During their interview Juraboev repeated his claim that he would kill President Obama if prompted to do so by the Islamic State. Despite this, federal agents chose not to meet with Juraboev again and instead resolved to monitor him and the people he associated with. Even while Juraboev knew he was being watched, he still continued to visit and post on websites sympathetic to the Islamic State and their activities. In order to carry out their plan to go to Syria, Saidakhmetov needed to attain his passport, which was in his mother's posession. In a phone call recorded by federal agents on February 19, 2015, he asked his mother for his passport, to which she replied asking him where he was plannng to go. Saidakhmetov stated confidently that he was going to join the Islamic State. A government informant who had been in touch with both young men helped them secure travel documents, although it is unclear whether Saidakhmetov did get his passport from his mother or not. Federal agents were waiting for Saidakhmetov on February 24, 2015, at Kennedy International Airport, where they made their arrest. Juraboev was arrested the same morning in their shared apartment. A third man, 30 year old Abror Habibov, was arrested simultaneously in Florida, accused of helping the two young men finance and plan their escape to Syria. This case marked the first time charges have been brought against someone in New York City for plotting to travel overseas to to fight for a terrorist organization.
Three British teenagers were arrested on March 15, 2015, after being stopped in Istanbul under suspicion of trying to get to Syria to join ISIS. British Security services tipped off Turkish police, who then arrested the two 17 year olds and one 19 year old and sent them back to the UK.
General John Kelly, the top U.S. General in South America, expressed concern about fighters travelling from South America, Latin America, and the Caribbean to fight for the Islamic State. Kelly said that at least 100 individuals from Jamacia, Suriname, Trinidad and Tobago, and Venezuela, have travelled to the Middle East to join ISIS.
In the first case of it's kind, on March 17, 2015, a Federal grand jury in New York indicted a U.S. military veteran on charges that he was conspiring to join the Islamic State. Tairod Nathan Webster Pugh, a 47 year old mechanic and U.S. Air Force veteran, had been fired from his job as an airplane mechanic in Kuwait in December 2014 and then travelled to Egypt. From Egypt he attempted to cross the border into Syria, but was sent back to Egypt and from there sent back to the United States. Upon his return to the U.S. on January 16, 2015, Pugh was immediately arrested and his belongings searched. On his laptop, police officers found research into entry points between Syria and Turkey.
United States authorities reported that they arrested more than 10 individuals with ties to the Islamic State over the weekend of July 4, 2015. Counterterrorism experts warned of increased likelyhood of a terrorist attack in the weeks leading up to American Independence day celebrations. All of the individuals arrested reportedly were radicalized online and had not travelled to train with the Islamic State. U.S. officials stated that not all of those arrested may be charged with terrorism related crimes because not all had direct links to terror organizations or were involved in active terror plots.
Turkey pledged to join the coalition fight against the Islamic State in July 2015, allowing U.S. forces to use their facilities and launch strikes against ISIS from Turkish military installations. In addition, the Turkish military intensified border security to help stifle the flow of Jihadists into Syria. Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu stated on August 3, 2015 that, ”There is no place [for the Islamic State] on Turkey’s borders. This is not the Turkey of just one week ago”(Washington Post, August 1, 2015).
Australian counter-terror officials stated that between January and August 2015 they prevented 336 suspected jihadist individuals from travelling from Australia to join terrorist organizations.
British Prime Minister David Cameron announced during a press conference on September 7, 2015, that two British jihadis in Syria fighting for the Islamic State had been killed by a drone strike during the previous days. This represents a significant change for the United Kingdom, which had previously only been involved in ISIS bombing missions in Iraq. Cameron staged the press conference to clarify that the strike was necessary and justified.
U.S. Assistant Attorney General John P. Carlin revealed in September 2015 at a Department of Justice briefing event that the Islamic State had approximately 28,000 foreign individuals fighting for them, hailing from over 100 countries.
For the first time since the fight against the Islamic State began, in September 2015 the United Nations placed international sanctions on four British individuals known to be fighting for ISIS. The individuals were known to be online recruiters for ISIS, and these sanctions included travel bans and seizure of assets.
Israeli security forces arrested seven individuals in September, three of whom were later charged with communicating with the Islamic State and plotting to carry out an ISIS sponsored attack in Israel. The individuals were arab-Israeli citizens who allegedly gathered information about IDF outposts, and were encouraged to carry out attacks by ISIS members who they were in contact with.
Spanish and Moroccan police arrested ten people suspected of engaging in recruitment activities for the Islamic State in October 2015. Spain's interior ministry clarified following the arrests of these individuals that they had belonged to a network that recruited and indoctrinated foreigners to fight for ISIS. According to the Spanish Interior Ministry, Spanish authorities were involved in the arrest of 71 suspected Islamic State militants and recruiters between January and October 2015.
The Russian province of Dagestan in the North Caucasus has been a hotbed for Islamic State recruiters, with hundreds of fighters being funneled into Syria every month according to reports from the Associated Press. High levels of unemployment, corruption, and poverty made citizens of Dagestan ideal candidates for extremists looking to bring fighters back to Iraq and Syria. The Caucasus region experienced a drop in violent crime and terror attacks during 2014-2015, thanks to these unstable individuals leaving the country and fleeing to fight for the Islamic State. Russian police estimated as of October 2015 that of the approximately 2,500 Russians fighting in Syria and Iraq for ISIS, 700 were recruited from Dagestan.
German-born hip-hop artist Denis Cuspert, who recorded under the name “Deso Dogg,” and joined the Islamic State in 2012, was killed during an air strike on October 16, 2015. Cuspert was a prominent recruiter for the Islamic State, using his multilingual skills to lure potential jihadis to Syria from all over the globe. He starred in many Islamic State propaganda videos because he spoke English relatively well.
The Israeli Shin Bet security service estimated in January 2016 that 50 Israeli Arabs had travelled to Syria or Iraq to fight for ISIS.
The United States entered discussions with Turkey about providing them with Aerostat technology, unmanned aerial vehicles, and anti-tunneling technology to better secure their border with Syria in late 2015 and early 2016.
Pentagon officials estimated that there were between 5,000 and 6,500 ISIS fighters in Libya as of early February 2016, more than twice the estimate released in Fall 2015. Dozens of top Islamic State leaders from Syria were sent to Libya to keep them out of the way of airstrikes, and to help train Libyan ISIS fighters. President Obama faced pressure to engage the Islamic State in Libya at the begining of his last year in office, but the President was reluctant to do so.
Police in Spain arrested seven people on February 7, 2016, suspected of supplying money, guns, computer equipment, and other materials to militants in Iraq and Syria through a secretive network. Russian authorities arrested seven Islamic State militants in Yekaterinburg the same weekend, who had allegedly planned bombing attacks on major Russian cities. During 2015, Spanish authorities arrested 102 people with suspected links to the Islamic State.
Two individuals from London were identified in early February 2016 as members of the infamous “Beatles” kidnapping and torture group. They earned the nickname the Beatles because they all had British accents. The first and most famous member, Mohammed Emwazi, aka Jihadi John, was killed in an airstrike in Syria in November 2015. Londoners Alexe Kotey (32) and Aiene Davis (31), were identified as Emwazi's comrades in torture and beheadings. The three individuals all attended London’s Al-Manaar Mosque, where they became friendly before leaving for Syria.
U.S. Intelligence officials announced in February 2016 that they expected ISIS to attempt an attack on U.S. soil within a year. Defense Intelligence Agency Director Lieutenant General Vincent Stewart claimed in his testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee on February 9, 2016, that ISIS, “will probably attempt to conduct additional attacks in Europe, and attempt to direct attacks on the U.S. homeland in 2016” (CNN, February 10, 2016). At the same hearing, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper asserted that ISIS and it's eight branches all over the Middle East and North Africa, were the number one terror threat facing the United States. This testimony followed the release of the 2016 “Worldwide Threat Assessment of the U.S. Intelligence Community;” to read the assessment, please click here.
ISIS affiliates in Libya took over the security headquarters in the city of Sabratha on February 23, 2016, beheading 12 security officers before being beat back by government forces. The militants struck as the Libyan army was busy conducting raids in other parts of the city, and occupied the government building for approximately 3 hours.
Members of the Hamas militant group crossed the border to Egypt and began fighting along side the Islamic State in Sinai during late 2015 and early 2016, according to Egyptian officials. The Hamas members arrived in small groups, via the last secretive tunnels connecting Gaza to the Sinai.
Islamic State jihadis killed eight of their own Dutch fighters in early February 2016, after they were accused of attempted desertion and mutiny. During the first months of 2016 tensions rose between Dutch Islamic State fighters and their peers, after a Dutch fighter was beaten to death during an interrogation. Islamic State leaders in Raqqa sent an emissary to quell the dispute, but the Dutch fighters murdered the messenger and were subsequently arrested and executed. The Dutch Secret Service maintains that approximately 200 individiauls from the Netherlands have travelled to join ISIS.
Two Israeli-Arabs were arrested for conspiring with an Islamic State contact to carry out attacks in Jenin, Afula, and Jerusalem, Israel. The two suspects, aged 19 and 21, were charged with establishing contact with enemies during a war, contacting a foreign agent, and providing support to a terrorist organization. ISIS related content was linked to the social media profiles of the suspects, who reportedly passed through the checkpoints they were plotting to attack on a daily basis.
An Israeli-Arab who grew up in Umm al-Fahm, Haifa, was killed in battle fighting for the Islamic State in March 2016. 28-year old Khalil Saleh was killed in Syria, where he had been living for three years, during a U.S. bombing run against ISIS targets. Saleh is one of seven Israeli-Arabs believed to have been killed fighting for the Islamic State.
U.S. citizen and resident of Rochester, New York, Mufid Elfgeeh, was sentenced to the longest jail term ever given to an individual accused of supporting the Islamic State on March 17, 2016. A U.S. District Court Judge in the Western District of New York sentenced 32-year old Elfgeeh to twenty-two and a half years in prison for attempting to recruit fighters to join ISIS in Iraq and Syria. Elfgeeh was caught after he conversed with FBI informants, telling them he wanted to kill U.S. soldiers as well as Shia Muslims. He attempted to convince the informants to go to the Middle East to fight for ISIS by purchasing them laptops, cameras, passports, and various other travel documents. More than 80 cases relating to ISIS activities have been brought to U.S. courts since 2013.
Salah Abdeslam, the mastermind of the November 13, 2015 attacks on Paris who evaded capture for months, was arrested in Brussels, Belgium on March 18, 2016. Four days later, three individuals carried out massive coordinated suicide attacks at the national airport and the Maelbeek train station, killing 31 and injuring more than 250. The attackers were identified at brothers Ibrahim (29) and Khalid (27) el-Bakraoui, and Najim Laachraoui, all of whom had previous criminal records but no known links to terrorism. The Bakraoui brothers had been detained by Turkey and deported to the Netherlands in mid-2015 however, under suspicion they were attempting to travel to Syria. One attacker captured on security camera footage is as of yet unidentified. Two explosions, nine seconds apart, rocked the Brussels National Airport at 7:58am on March 22, 2016, sending shrapnel flying and causing portions of the roof to collapse. Ten people died in these initial explosions. Approximately one hour later, a third explosion was detonated on a train leaving the Maelbeek subway station in central Brussels, killing 20. The airport attack was carried out by Ibrahim el-Bakraoui and Najim Laachraoui, and the subway attack was perpetrated by Ibrahim's younger brother, Khalid. Laachraoui was captured on security camera footage entering the airport with Ibrahim el-Bakraoui and leaving a large rolling suitcase unattended, which was later found to contain a large bomb which failed to detonate. Laachraoui fled the scene of the attack, and Belgian authorities launched a manhunt to capture the escaped terrorist. Following the attack, a taxi driver who had driven the terrorists to the airport brought police to the apartment where he had picked them up. Inside the apartment Belgian authorities discovered 33 pounds of explosive material, detonators, suitcases full of nails and screws, and large amounts of both acetone and hydrogen peroxide. The Islamic State took responsibility for this attack in the immediate aftermath. The Jewish community of Brussels cancelled their Purim celebrations in the wake of this tragedy, originally scheduled for March 24, citing security concerns.
Four Arab residents of East Jerusalem were indicted in late-March 2016, accused of attempting to join the Islamic State in Syria. The group met several times per week to study Islam and watch ISIS videos, and were allegedly planning to carry out terror attacks at embassies and consulates in Jerusalem. All members of the group were aged 20-25, and two of the four had attempted to cross into Syria previously.
A group of militants identifying with the Islamic State were arrested in Gaziantep, Turkey, during late March 2016. The six individuals divulged to police that an “imminent” attack was being planned against Istanbul's Synagogue in Beyoglu, which has a school and community center attached. Turkish police confirmed that this was more than a credible threat, it was an active plot. To address the threat Turkish police increased security at the Synagogue as well as other Jewish establishments.
French authorities announced the arrest of 34-year old suspect Reda Kriket on March 30, 2016, who they believed to have been planning an “imminent attack.” Upon raiding Kriket's fourth-floor apartment, which had been rented under a false name, French police found a trove of Kalashnikov assault rifles, submachine guns, pistols, ammunition, explosives similar to the ones used in the attacks on Paris and Brussels, stolen passports, tear gas canisters, instructions on how to make explosives, and brand new “burner” cell phones. Kriket was charged in a French court with terrorist conspiracy, possession of weapons and explosives, and falsification of documents, as well as multiple other offenses. He is believed to have visited Syria with a friend sometime in late 2014 or early 2015, and has an extensive criminal record including charges in Belgium for financing jihadist recruitment networks.
Over the course of 2015, the number of ISIS affiliated militants in Libya took a dramatic rise. Pentagon security officials estimated in April 2016 that there were currently 4,000 fighters linked with ISIS in Libya, almost twice the estimate released at the begining of 2015.
According to German news outlets, 29 former soldiers from the German army had travelled to Syria and Iraq to join ISIS as of April 2016. Since 2007 German intelligence services have investigated 320 active duty and former soldiers for ties to jihadist organizations.
Italian police arrested four individuals suspected of planning attacks on the Israeli Embassy in Rome, and the Vatican, on April 27, 2016. The suspects attempted to acquire weapons and explosives via the black market, and were planning to carry out attacks within the first half of the year, according to investigators. The four arrested included a couple living near lake Como, a 23-year old Moroccan man whose brother had been expelled from Italy in 2015 on suspiscion of having travelled to Syria to fought with ISIS, and another female.
An American husband and wife who travelled to Syria to join and recruit for ISIS were killed in an air strike in early May 2016. The bodies of Abu Isa al-Amriki and Umm Isa al-Amriki were discovered inside their bombed-out home in Aleppo, and their deaths were confirmed on ISIS social media accounts.
British-born ISIS recruiter Abu Qaqa al-Britani (real name Raphael Hostey), was killed in a drone strike in Syria during late April 2016. Hostey had travelled to Syria to join ISIS in 2013, and quickly became one of the organization's most prolific recruiters. Born in Manchester, United Kingdom, Hostey studied graphic design at John Moores University in Liverpool, leading experts to believe that he may have played a part in producing some of the Islamic State's highly effective propaganda.
Approximately 100 men from the Caribbean islands of Trinidad & Tobago have travelled to Syria and Iraq to fight with ISIS. These individuals often have an easier time slipping through the cracks of the system because their home countries do not have well-coordinated security and law enforcement. An unknown number of individuals have also travelled from the Maldives and Mauritius to join ISIS.
Kuwaiti-born UK Naval Officer Ali Alosaimi travelled to Syria to join the Islamic state in 2013, after being radicalized by online ISIS propaganda and other videos from the Syrian civil war. Defense officials in the UK warned that Alosaimi posessed high-level skills and intensive knowledge of the nation's shipping fleet, posing a significant security threat. Alosaimi studied at the South Tyneside College's Marine School, and completed a 3-year Merchant Navy officer course.
A Reuters investigation published in May 2016 provided a look into how some Russian fighters wound up in Syria fighting for ISIS. Prior to the 2014 winter Olympics, to be held in Sochi, Russia, Russian security services contacted wanted terrorists, criminals and known jihadi sympathizers, and offered to ship them to other countries. Reuters reported that at least five Russian radicals were contacted by the Russian government, given new names and new passports, and flown on one-way tickets to places such as Turkey. From there, the radicals easily crossed borders and travelled to the lawless areas of Syria and Iraq to join groups who would eventually pledge their loyalty to the ISIS jihadi organization. These five individuals however represent only a small number of the estimated 2,900 Russians who have left to fight in Iraq and Syria. These individuals were sent away because Russia wished to mitigate the risk of terror attacks during the upcoming Sochi Winter Olympics. Russian officials confirmed that this project began in 2012 and was active leading up to the Olympics in 2014. According to Alexander Bortinikov, Director of the Russian Security Service, “Before the Olympics, Russian authorities didn't prevent departures and a big number of fighters left Russia. There was a very specific short-term task to ensure security of the Olympics... They turned a blind eye on the flow of radical youth.” (Reuters, May 13, 2016)
Two U.S. think-tanks in July 2016 provided evidence following analysis of leaked ISIS registration forms that approximately 100 Chinese nationals had travelled to Syria and Iraq to fight for the Islamic State. Most of these fighters came from the Northwestern Chinese region of Xinjiang, where there is a significant Muslim Uighur population. Eight of these recruits listed their age as younger than 16, and one recruit was an 80-year old Uighur man.
An Iranian refugee who was resettled in Freeport, Maine, in 2009, was killed while fighting for the Islamic State in Lebanon during 2015. Adnan Fazeli was brought to the United States through Portland, Maine, at age 32 by Catholic Charities Refugee and Immigration Services. On August 13, 2013, he boarded a plane to Turkey and never returned to his wife and children.
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