Main events of the week
The international campaign against ISIS
US and coalition airstrikes
- This week, the US and coalition forces continued their airstrikes against ISIS targets. Many dozens of airstrikes were carried out by fighter planes, attack aircraft, and UAVs. Following are the main airstrikes (according to the US Department of Defense):
- Syria– the airstrikes were concentrated in the following areas: near Manbij, Marea, Al-Raqqah, Abu Kamal and Deir al-Zor. The targets included operatives, battle positions and vehicles, among other things. This week, the coalition forces refrained from carrying out airstrikes in the Aleppo region, where intensive air activity is being carried out by the Russians, to support the Syrian Army’s offensive.
- Iraq– the airstrikes were concentrated in the following areas: Habbaniyah, Kisik, Mosul, Sinjar, Sultan Abdullah, Albu Hayat, Kirkuk, Ramadi, Baghdadi and Fallujah. The airstrikes targeted ISIS battle positions, artillery, vehicles, including car bombs, firing positions, staging zones and roadblocks, among other things.
Call for a cessation of hostilities to allow humanitarian aid
- On February 11 and 12, 2016, the International Syria Support Group (ISSG) met in Munich. The conference was attended by more than 30 heads of state and more than 60 foreign ministers from around the world. A joint press conference was held at the end of the meeting, attended by US Secretary of State John Kerry, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and UN Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura.An agreement on a cessation of hostilities was announced at the press conference, which was supposed to enter into effect within one week, in order to allow the transfer of humanitarian aid to the Syrian population in the various battle zones.
- Secretary of State Kerry and Foreign Minister Lavrov stressed that all member countries of the ISSG would help implement the cessation of hostilities. They added that they would contact the various groups in Syria in order to do so. However, Lavrov made it clear that Russian aircraft would continue to operate in Syria against the jihadi organizations, including ISIS and the Al-Nusra Front, which were not included in the cessation of hostilities(TASS News Agency; RT, February 12, 2016).
In the ITIC’s assessment, the Russian interpretation of the cessation of hostilities reduces the chances of implementation of the agreement, since the Al-Nusra Front plays an important role among the rebel organizations fighting north of Aleppo. It also allows for continued attacks against rebel organizations without differentiating between them, on the pretext of attacking “terrorist organizations.” All this is in order to establish facts on the ground, i.e.,for the Syrian Army to complete its takeover of most of the area north of Aleppo and ultimately encircle the city.
ISIS’s response to the ISSG’s announcement
- ISIS was quick to condemn the ISSG’s announcement. It posted a video entitled “The Dirty Deal,” accusing the Syrian opposition groups of “selling” Syria to the Syrian regime and the West. They were accused of collaboration with the Syrian regime and the West, in a so-called plot designed to eliminate ISIS. The video ends with a call for ISIS operatives everywhere to come to Syria to help the Islamic State established by ISIS (Akhbar Dawlat al-Khilafah, February 14, 2016).
Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States
- According to Saudi sources, Saudi Arabia and its allies are preparing to attack ISIS. The Turkish Foreign Minister said that Saudi Arabia would send planes to Turkey to expand its air campaign against ISIS. On February 14, 2016, Amid (Brigadier General) Ahmed al-Asiri, military advisor to the Saudi defense minister, said that Saudi Air Force planes and their crews have already been deployed at Incirlik Air Force Base in southern Turkey. Al-Asiri added thatthere were no Saudi ground troops at the base, noting that Saudi Arabia was committed to fighting against ISIS in Al-Raqqah and its surroundings. He also said that the activity would be carried out within the framework of the international coalition (Al-Arabiya, February 14, 2016).
Russian involvement in the civil war in Syria
- During the week, Russian aircraft attacked a large number of targets throughout Syria. Most of the Russian effort was concentrated in the area of Aleppo as support for the Syrian Army’s ground operation north of Aleppo. According to reports by Russian sources, the Russian Air Force and the Syrian Army attacked “terrorist targets” in the area of A’zaz, near the border with Turkey, which is held by the Al-Nusra Front and other rebel organizations (Sputnik, February 12, 2016).
- According to US media reports, a hospital supported by Doctors Without Borders and a school were hit in a Russian airstrike in A’zaz on February 15, 2016. Fourteen people were reportedly killed (Sky News, February 15, 2016). According to the Turkish Prime Minister, Russia launched ballistic missiles at a school and a hospital in the city of A’zaz (Akhbar al-Aan, February 15, 2016). The UN Secretary General and the US State Department spokesman condemned the Russian bombings in the area of Aleppo. Russian spokesmen, on their part, denied the accusations, calling them “baseless allegations.”
- In a talk between US President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin, the latter stressed the importance of creating a united front against terrorism. Both described the talks held in Munich as positive (Sky News, February 14, 2016). According to the Russian presidential statement, during the phone call, the Russian President mentioned the need to maintain close working relations between the Russian Foreign Ministry and the US Department of Defense, so that the war against ISIS and other terrorist organizations would be effective and better planned (RT, February 14, 2016). In addition, the US president reportedlyurged Putin to call off the airstrikes against the Syrian opposition (AFP, February 14, 2016).
- The Western coalition countries continued to criticize Russia for concentrating its airstrikes against the rebel organizations (which include pro-Western organizations) and not against ISIS. According to Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, schools and hospitals in Syria have been hit in Russian airstrikes. According to him, a ceasefire would not be possible as long as Russia continues its airstrikes. British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said that the ceasefire could succeed only if Russia stopped its airstrikes, which support the Assad regime. US Secretary of State John Kerry said that in order to respect the ceasefire agreement that was reached, Russia should change the targets of its attacks (Reuter’s website, February 12, 2016).
Main developments in Syria
The campaign over the Aleppo area
This week, the Syrian Army continued its attack in the area north of Aleppo, with intensive Russian air support.The Syrian Army expanded the corridor that it had taken over between the city of Aleppo and the Shiite towns of Nubl and Zahraa to its north. At the same time, the Kurdish forces continued to attack in the northern part of the route near the border with Turkey. Consequently, the Al-Nusra Front and other rebel organizations that control the region north of Aleppo are now under pressure from both the Syrian Army and the Kurdish forces. The Turkish government, concerned about a Kurdish takeover of the area near the border, responded with artillery fire by the Turkish Army at the Kurdish forces, with no significant results. In the city of Aleppo itself, the dire humanitarian situation continues (an outpouring of refugees, damage to the water and electricity infrastructure).
The Syrian Army
- This week, the Syrian Army cleansed the rebel organizations’ pockets of resistance in the southern part of the Aleppo-A’zaz-Kilis route. As part of this activity, the Syrian Army took control of several areas to the west and east of the route:
- On February 13, 2016, the Syrian Army took control of the area of the village of Al-Tamoura, east of the Aleppo-Nubl route. This was after clashes between the Syrian Army and operatives of the Al-Nusra Front, who had taken control of the village (Syria Mubasher, February 12, 2016). Battles between the Syrian Army and the rebel organizations are still ongoing in the village of Anadan, southeast of Al-Tamoura.
- East of the Aleppo-Nubl route, the Syrian Army took control of the towns of Ahras and Masqan and advanced toward the city of Tall Rifat from the south. Operatives of the rebel organizations that had held those towns withdrew to A’zaz and Marea (Al-Alam TV, February 17, 2016). The Syrian Army also took control of the village of Kafin, southwest of the city of Tall Rifat. Thus the Syrian Army reached thesouthern outskirts of the city of Tall Rifat, which had been taken over by the Kurdish forces, and, in effect, its forces are now bordering on the Kurdish control zone (see map).
The Kurdish forces
- While the Syrian Army is cleansing the southern part of the route leading from Aleppo to Turkey, the Kurdish forces (SDF, YPG) managed to take over sections of the northern part of the route. During their attacks, the Kurdish forces took over the city of Tall Rifat and the airbase and the town of Menagh, south of A’zaz. On February 16, 2016, the Kurdish forces took over the towns of Kafr Naseh, Kafr Naya and Sheikh Issa, south and east of Tall Rifat (see map). The main obstacle preventing the Kurdish forces from controlling the whole northern part of the route, up to the Turkish border, is the city of A’zaz, which lies about 4 km south of the Bab al-Salama border crossing. A’zaz is now under attack by the Kurdish forces from the south and west.
- The Kurdish attack on the rebel organizations in the northern part of the route leading to Turkeygave rise to Turkish concerns about the expansion of the Kurdish enclave in Afrineastward, with the aim of connecting with the area controlled by the Kurds along the Turkish border.Consequently, the Turkish Army fired artillery at outposts of the Kurdish forces in the areas of Afrin and A’zaz. In addition, Turkish officials threatened to intervene.Turkey has also reiterated its offer to establish a buffer zone on Syrian territory near the Turkish border in order to help the refugees fleeing from the Aleppo area and, at the same time, halt the Kurdish forces advancing toward the Turkish border and eastward.
- Against the background of the rising tension between Turkey and the Kurds, the US (and France) attempted to calm the situation:
- US Department of State Spokesperson John Kirby said at a daily briefing that the Kurds were significant partners in the combat against ISIS, noting that the US has provided them mainly with air support. He stressed that the relations between the US and the Kurds are only military and not political (US Department of State website, February 8, 2016). In response, the Turkish Foreign Ministry summoned the US ambassador to clarify to the United States the “inconvenience” caused to Turkey by the US attitude toward the Kurds (@Conflicts, February 8, 2016).
- US Vice President Joe Biden urged Turkey to show restraint by stopping the artillery fire. He noted that the United States was making efforts to prevent Syrian Kurdish forces from taking advantage of the current circumstances in order to take control of additional territory near the Syrian-Turkish border (Sputnik, February 14, 2016). France also called on Turkey to stop the attacks against the Kurdish forces in Syria immediately (AFP, February 14, 2016).
The Al-Nusra Front and other rebel organizations
- The Al-Nusra Front and other rebel organizations in the area north of Aleppo are now under dual pressure: from the south, they are under pressure by the Syrian Army (with Russian air support), and from the west, they are under attack by the Kurdish forces. This week they lost the city of Tall Rifat and still continue to hold the city of A’zaz, near the Turkish border.
- ISIS, whose areas west of the Euphrates River border on the areas controlled by the Al-Nusra Front and other rebel organizations, has not yet taken any significant steps to support the rebel organizations in repelling the Syrian attack. The areas under ISIS’s control west of the Euphrates (the areas of Jarabulus, Manbij and Al-Bab) have not yet been hit in the attack by the Syrian Army. However, in the area of the Tishreen Dam, ISIS is under military pressure by the Kurdish forces (see below).
ISIS’s guerrilla warfare in the area of Kuweyres
- According to ISIS, its operatives detonated two car bombs near Syrian Army outpostsadjacent to the villages of Tall Maksur and Jubb al-Kalb, northwest of the Kuweyres military airbase (Khatwa, February 12, 2016). On February 13, 2016, ISIS published photos documenting fighting with the Syrian Army in the village of Tall Maksur. During the fighting, ISIS operatives activated two cars bombs, killing suicide bombers codenamed Abu Mus’ab al-Libi(i.e., the Libyan) and Abu Bakr al-Muwahhid (Akhbar al-Muslimeen, February 13, 2016).
A Kurdish attack in the Tishreen Dam area
- At the same time as the attack in the area of A’zaz and Tall Rifat, the Kurdish forces (SDF) began an attack aimed to threaten Manbij, an important ISIS outpost west of the Euphrates River. The attack is being carried out from the area under the control of the Kurds, west of the Tishreen Dam.
- According to a report from February 12, 2016, ISIS withdrew from several villages in the area northwest of the Tishreen Dam. The Kurdish forces reportedly advanced to the northwest,toward the city of Manbij, and are on the outskirts of the village of Abu Qelqel (about 14 km southeast of Manbij). ISIS, which controls the city of Manbij, used loudspeakers to tell the city’s residents to stay in their homes and not to leave the city (qasioun.net Syrian News Agency, February 12, 2016).
Clashes in and around the city of Deir al-Zor
- ISIS continues to attack the Syrian forces in the city of Deir al-Zor and its outskirts. According to various reports, the Syrian Army apparently had a number of successes this week:
- According to a report from February 11, 2016, the Syrian Army killed more than 50 ISIS operatives in the area of Jabal al-Thurdah, about 5 km southwest of the Deir al-Zor airbase (SANA News Agency, February 13, 2016).
- According to a report from February 12, 2016, the Syrian Army repelled an attempt by ISIS operatives to attack the Deir al-Zor military airbase. Dozens of operatives were reportedly killed (Syrian News Agency, February 12, 2016).
- On February 13, 2016, the Syrian Army reported that it had killed many ISIS operatives in the northern and southern neighborhoods of Deir al-Zor (SANA News Agency, February 13, 2016).
The city of Damascus
- On February 9, 2016, a car bomb exploded in the area of the Masakin Barzeh neighborhood north of Damascus. According to a report by the Syrian News Agency, the blast killed and injured a number of civilians (SANA News Agency, February 9, 2016). ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack. According to ISIS, a suicide bomber detonated a car bomb in apolice officers’ club in the Masakin Barzeh neighborhood. According to ISIS’s announcement, around 20 people were killed in the attack and others were injured (Aamaq, February 9, 2016).
|Masakin Barzeh, where the car bomb exploded, is a very sensitive area from the perspective of the Syrian regime. It is populated mainly by Shiites and Alawites, and is the site of the senior officers’ quarters in Damascus. The Tishreen Military Hospital, the Higher Institute for Applied Sciences & Technology (HIAST) and the Police Academy are all located in the area.|
Main developments in Iraq
- The Iraqi Army continues its efforts to purge the city of Ramadi from the presence of ISIS operatives.This week, the fighting between the Iraqi Army and ISIS was concentrated in the area of Albu Diab in the north of the city. According to the Iraqi Army, two ISIS operatives were killed in an attack on the ISIS headquarters in the area of Albu Diab, and the remaining operatives fled (Al-Sumaria, February 14, 2016). It was also reported that over 20 ISIS operatives were killed in Albu Diab in two coalition airstrikes (February 13-14, 2016). ISIS’s infrastructure was also damaged (ARA News, February 13, 2016; Al-Sumaria, February 14, 2016).
- The Iraqi Army is making an effort to locate tunnels used by ISIS to transfer operatives and weapons into the city of Ramadi.According to a senior Iraqi officer, many tunnels used by ISIS operatives have been discovered so far. He said that the attempt to locate tunnels would continue (Al-Arabiya, February 15, 2016).
- As a result of the improved security in the eastern part of Ramadi, the Iraqi government plans to return the displaced persons to their homes (Al-Sumaria, February 14, 2016).Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi announced the formation of a high committee for the rehabilitation of the city, due to the massive destruction that occurred there in the wake of the fighting against ISIS (Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, February 14, 2016).
The area of Fallujah
- The siege imposed by the Iraqi Army on the city of Fallujah continues. On the other hand, ISIS is carrying out guerrilla warfare against the Iraqi Army around the city. ISIS announced that it had killed 16 Iraqi Army soldiers in sniper fire in the area of Zoba, southeast of Fallujah (Aamaq, February 11, 2016). The Iraqi Army, on its part, announced the killing of more than 30 ISIS operatives south of Fallujah (Al-Hurra, February 14, 2016).
- ISIS announced that it had repelled the Iraqi Army’s attempt to attack it in Karma, an ISIS stronghold northeast of the city of Fallujah. ISIS published photos of the fighting and the bodies of Iraqi soldiers that were left there (Akhbar al-Muslimeen, February 14, 2016).
Egypt and the Sinai Peninsula
- During the week, the Egyptian security forces continued their activity against ISIS targets, mainly in the area of Sheikh Zuweid, Rafah and Al-Arish. Several dozen operatives were reportedly killed and many others were detained. In addition, cars and motorcycles without license plates were reportedly burned (Al-Masry al-Youm, February 12, 2016).
- On February 11, 2016, the Egyptian security forces destroyed a tunnel in the area of Al-Dahliya, in Rafah. Water pumps and power and data cables were found in the tunnel, among other things. They also seized two weapons stores containing materials used to manufacture IEDs (Facebook page of the spokesperson of the Egyptian Armed Forces, February 11, 2016).
- This week’s noteworthy incidents:
- February 14, 2016 – Egyptian Air Force helicopters fired rockets at terrorist targets in the area of Abu Tubul, south of Al-Arish. In addition, 42 suspects were detained and four IEDs were neutralized in Al-Arish, Sheikh Zuweid and Rafah (Al-Masry al-Youm, February 10, 2016).
- February 13, 2016 – Two IEDs exploded near an armored vehicle belonging to the Egyptian security forces west of Al-Arish. There were no casualties (Al-Watan, February 13, 2016).
- February 13, 2016 – An officer was killed and a soldier was wounded while neutralizing an IED in Karam al-Kawadis (Facebook page of the spokesperson of the Egyptian Armed Forces, February 13, 2016).
- February 13, 2016 – Six soldiers, including an officer, were injured when a tank was hit on the highway between Al-Kharoubah and Karam al-Kawadis in the northern Sinai Peninsula (Rassd, February 13, 2016).
- February 13, 2016 – ISIS published photos showing its operatives activating an IED against an Egyptian Army foot patrol near the area of Al-‘Ujrah, southwest of Sheikh Zuweid. ISIS announced that five Egyptian Army soldiers had been killed in the incident (Akhbar al-Muslimeen, February 13, 2016).
- February 12, 2016 – ISIS published photos documenting Grad rockets being fired at the Al-Arish international airport while Egyptian government officials were there (Akhbar al-Muslimeen, February 12, 2016).
- February 11, 2016 – Egyptian Air Force aircraft attacked an ISIS motorcade in Sheikh Zuweid (Sky News, February 11, 2016).The airstrike reportedly killed 40 ISIS terrorist operatives and injured more than 60 others (Al-Bawaba News, February 11, 2016).
- February 10, 2016 – The Egyptian security forces uncovered an explosives store in central Sinai containing five sacks of TNT, RPGs and ammunition (Al-Youm al-Sabea, February 10, 2016).
The global jihad in other countries
- According to a report on a Hezbollah-affiliated television channel, Abu Omar the Chechenhas been appointed as ISIS’s leader in Libya (Al-Mayadeen, February 12, 2016). This information has not yet been verified.
Abu Omar the Chechen is the codename of Tarkhan Tayumurazovich Batirashvili, a Chechen operative of Georgian origin, who once served as a sergeant in Georgia’s armed forces. In 2012, he came to Syria, joined the Al-Nusra Front and commanded a force by the name of the Army of Emigrants (in which foreign fighters from Chechnya and other countries served). At the end of 2013, he left the Al-Nusra Front along with some of his men and joined the ranks of ISIS. He pledged allegiance to Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, who appointed him as the commander of northern Syria. He has been reported killed several times.
- In the Al-Fataeh region, which dominates Derna, clashes continue between ISIS and operatives of the Shura Council of the Jihad Fighters of Derna (a jihadi organization affiliated with Al-Qaeda). ISIS claimed responsibility for planting an IED in a camp of Abu Salim (Martyrs’ Brigade) at the western entrance to Derna. According to ISIS, this caused the deaths of three operatives. On the other hand, the Shura Council of the Jihad Fighters of Derna claimed that its men had killed an ISIS operative who attempted to plant an IED at the camp (Al-Wasat Portal, February 12, 2016; Akhbar Dawlat al-Islam, February 11, 2016).
- On February 7, 2016, ISIS’s media foundation in the Barqa Province published a series of photos showing ISIS operatives carrying out military activity in the Al-Fataeh region (Akhbar Dawlat al-Islam, February 7, 2016).
- According to sources in Sirte, ISIS has declared a general mobilization in the city of Sirte.ISIS operatives are reportedly driving through the city streets and using loudspeakers to call on residents to join the jihad. In the Friday sermon delivered on February 12, 2016, preachers at ISIS’s mosques stressed that ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi had issued an order to carry out a jihad against all those who attack the borders of the “Sirte Emirate”. They called on all the residents of Sirte to help ISIS kill the “infidels” (Al-Wasat Portal, February 13, 2016).
- At the same time, ISIS ordered the owners of houses located along the seaside to evacuate them as soon as possible. It also transferred many operatives from the town of Bin Jawad to Sirte, stationing them near the power plant in the west of the city (Al-Wasat Portal, February 9 and 11, 2016). In addition, ISIS operatives reportedly dug a trench some three kilometers long in a rural area west of the city of Sirte. They also evacuated most of their headquarters and camps in western Sirte, and moved to the city’s residential areas, suburbs and agricultural areas (Al-Wasat Portal, February 13, 2016).
In the ITIC’s assessment, these are defensive preventive measures. The reason behind them may be ISIS’s fear of being attacked by the Libyan Army and Western countries from the land or even from the sea. This follows statements made in recent weeks in the US and other Western countries.
- This week, fighting continued in the city of Benghazi between the forces of Khalifa Haftar, operating on behalf of the Tobruk government, and ISIS operatives and the operatives of the Shura Council of the Revolutionaries in Benghazi.According to a Libyan Army source, the Army destroyed a vessel carrying military supplies to Libya, before it managed to get close to the Benghazi coast (alarabiya.net, February 12, 2016).
Palestinian operative from Rafah killed in the ranks of ISIS in Libya
- The Palestinian media reported the death of a Palestinian operative from Rafah named Mufleh As’ad Abd al-Wahed Abu Aadra, aka Abu Abdullah. The operative was killed fighting in the ranks of ISIS in Tripoli, Libya. He was married with two children and left the Gaza Strip a year ago. His family noted that they had received the notice of his death on February 15, 2016, without any details about the circumstances of his death (Ma’an News Agency; zamnpress, February 16, 2016).
Many foreign fighters from Arab countries serve in the ranks of ISIS in Libya, as well as Palestinian operatives from the Gaza Strip. The Arab foreign fighters are an important element in ISIS’s branch in Libya and hold key leadership positions there.
- According to Arab media reports, the construction of a security fence and canals along the Tunisian-Libyan border has been completed. This was done in light ofTunisia’s concern about the increase in ISIS’s terrorist activities originating in Libya. The length of the fence is about 200 km and it extends from Ras Ajdir along the Mediterranean coast and then towards the southwestern part of the border between the two countries. The next stage is the installation of electronic devices on the fence, with the aid of Germany and the US (Al-Jazeera, February 7 2016).
- ISIS has officially recognized the pledge of allegiance of some jihadi groups operating in the Philippines.However, ISIS has not yet officially turned the jihadi groups in the Philippines into a province of the Islamic State. At least one of the groups that pledged allegiance is headed by Isnilon Hapilon, who heads the Abu Sayyaf group and has been put on the wanted list by the United States. The pledge was recently featured on a video released by Al-Furat, ISIS’s Russian-language media foundation. It is evident from the video that ISIS has accepted a formal pledge by the jihadi groups in the Philippines (The Long War Journal, February 14, 2016).
- ISIS is operating openly in the Kurram region in Pakistan, located approximately 95 km southeast of the capital, Kabul. It is a tribal area where most of the Shiite population lives.ISIS’s Emir in Pakistan, codenamed Zubayr al-Kuwaiti, left the ranks of the Taliban and established the Jund Allah organization, which pledged allegiance to ISIS (Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, February 8, 2016).
The conduct of the Islamic State
- According to Arab media reports, ISIS recently launched a number of online shopping sitesfor purchasing discounted luxury items such as phones, computers and TV sets, as well as cars and motorcycles. One of the sites also offers gifts and prizes intended for ISIS operatives in Iraq and Syria. Another site offers vacations in the Islamic Caliphate in Iraq. The shopping sites are apparently intended to diversify ISIS’s sources of income (Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, February 14, 2016).
Counterterrorism and preventive activity
The United States
- The US Department of the Treasury has imposed sanctions on three senior ISIS operatives. Here are details of two of them (US Department of the Treasury website, February 11, 2016):
- Faysal Ahmad ‘Ali al-Zahrani, a senior ISIS oil and gas vision official, a Saudi by birth. He is in charge of at least five oil fields in northeastern Syria and oversees the activities of its operatives in the field of oil and gas. The assets that he oversees have yielded many profits for ISIS. He joined ISIS’s natural resources ministry, which is in charge of its oil and gas fields, in July 2014, and was appointed as supervisor in the Al-Hasakah Province.
- Husayn Juaythini, who coordinates the activity of foreign fighters. A Palestinian from the Gaza Strip, whose activity included aiding in communications, deploying foreign fighters and carrying out financial transactions for ISIS. He came to Syria in September 2014 to pledge allegiance to ISIS, and was subsequently asked to return to the Gaza Strip and establish a foothold for ISIS there.