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MIxTRAC: SDF Forces Advance Against IS in Ongoing “Jazeera Storm” Campaign, Competing Claims: Both IS & ADPF Claim Credit for Same Attack

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The information, data and findings from the below brief was collected by and sourced from TRAC: Terrorism Research & Analysis Consortium, in partnership with the Mackenzie Institute. Please click here to visit TRAC.

SDF Forces Advance Against IS in Ongoing “Jazeera Storm” Campaign, Competing Claims: Both IS & ADPF Claim Credit for Same Attack

SDF Forces Liberate al-Soussa from Islamic State & Advance Further in Southern Hajin in Ongoing ‘Jazeera Storm’ Military Campaign Near the Iraqi Border with Syria, (25 September 2018)

On September 24, 2018, SDF Forces Liberate al-Soussa from the Islamic State (IS) and continue to advance in Southern Hajin, near the Iraqi border with Syria. TRAC expects counterattacks on all SDF positions in the near future: On both sides of the Euphrates River (from al-Baghuz al-Fawqani to Abu Kamal), IS operates a network of tunnels that contain a strong supply of ardent foreign fighters delighted to prove their devotion, as well as an arsenal stocked with plenty of mortars and other weaponry. Even with the massive SDF operation, IS deployments have been quite active in the area. Improvised explosive devices and booby trapped buildings will make securing gained territory difficult.  Militants taking shelter in Hajin and other towns like Baghouz al-Fawqani are expected to fight to the death. IS militants are diffused across the Euphrates River Valley in eastern Syria and Iraq and remain capable of suicide attacks, small scale raids, ambushes, constant IEDs, and executions of local village authorities. Even the Caliph himself is rumoured to be somewhere in the region. There are also reports that IS fighters have deployed guided anti-tank missiles against the SDF in southern Hajin, south of the SDF lines in as-Susah.

Photo Report: “Aspects of the activities carried out by the units that operate the guided missiles”

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OPERATION JAZEERA STORM (CIZIRE STORM) MAP:
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Above: (Syria Civil War Map) depicting SDF advances north from al-Baghouz and from the east.

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Above: Distance of as-Susah to Baghouz, another town east of the Euphrates liberated by SDF contingents.

Competing Claims – Both Islamic State (IS) & Ahwazi Democratic Popular Front (ADPF) Claim Credit for Armed Assault on IRGC military parade in Ahvaz, Khuzestan province, Iran, (22 September 2018)

The incident: Gunmen opened fire during an IRGC military parade in the south-western Iranian city of Ahvaz, killing 24 people and injuring at least 20 more. The attackers fired their weapons from a park near the parade, while they wore military uniforms. The attack lasted for about 10 minutes. The military parade was being held in memory of the beginning of the 1980-88 war with Iraq. In response, Iran’s foreign minister accused “regional terror sponsors” for the attack, indirectly referring to Saudi Arabia and Israel. He also added that their “US masters” were accountable.

The Islamic State were the first to claim credit for the attack:

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Official claim to credit by the Islamic State – note claim refers to Islamic State Khurasan (ISK) — Pakistan, Afghanistan & Uzbekistan:

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News release by the Amaq Agency (Translated to English):

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The attack in Ahvaz has also been claimed by Ahwazi Democratic Popular Front (ADPF), which is the militant wing of Arab Struggle Movement for the Liberation of Ahwaz (ASMLA).

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However, shortly thereafter, leaders within the Arab Struggle for Liberation of Ahwaz released an official statement blaming a rogue group that had been “excommunicated” from their organization since 2015:

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“The Arab Struggle Movement for the Liberation of Al-Ahwaz declares that the organization and its military wing do not assume responsibility for the attack on the military parade of the Iranian occupation forces on Saturday, 22rd of September 2018.

The Arab Struggle Movement for the Liberation of Al-ahwaz notes to the honorable observers of Ahwazi affairs to refrain from false information that is being spread by a suspicious small group that claims to be a part of the ASMLA organization. ASMLA would like to bring to your attention that this group was expelled from the organization since 2015. The official statement regarding this matter has been issued on October 19th, 2015 following the reforms implemented by the late leader and the founder of ASMLA Ahmad Mola Nissi.
Please take note that the Arab Struggle Movement for the Liberation of Al-Ahwaz expresses its official statements through its official and credible website of the organization, www.ahwazona.net and to counter any misinformation disseminated about the organization.”

TRAC Top Line: It is rare, but not unheard of, for Islamic State to have a conflicting claim of credit with another group. It is also important to note, where conflicting claims occur, they are always outside the main areas of Syria and Iraq where news is slow to reach IS senior leadership to authorize the claim. That said, one must remember that thus far, the IS claim for the shooting on IRGC military parade in Ahvaz, Iran, has only come from Amaq; Nashir (IS official media house) has not as of the time of this writing issued a claim.

Conversely, Al-Ahwaz Arab Popular Democratic Front (APDF), has not had a substantial claim of credit for an attack since 2005. Again, it is unusual, though not unheard of, for a group to reactivate after being dormant for over a decade. APDF has completely different ideological motivations than the Islamic State, so it is unlikely that the confusion in competing claims of credit are an indication of group membership overlap. APDF was founded in Baghdad in 1980 and is currently led by Sheikh Shubair Khaqani. Once backed by Saddam Hussein, after his fall, the group relocated to Cairo, Egypt. It is worth noting that during Morsi’s presidency, APDF became more politically active in Egypt, allying itself with the Muslim Brotherhood, even holding a political conference in Cairo.

Even though this day’s shooting took the lives of many more people, the Islamic State’s solo previous attack in Iran was on a much larger scale and targeted much more sensitive, well guarded areas. In the prior attack, Amaq did claim credit first, followed by official Nashir claims. Islamic State released two subsequent videos purporting to be the attackers in the planning stages. IS was able to repeat video proof for this attack.

On 23 September 2018, IS released a video of three of the Inghimasi fighters who carried out the Ahwaz attack. Aside from the last perpetrator who was speaking Persian, the first two attackers seem to not be speaking Arabic. Pronouncing the عْ in يَعْنِي, the first speaker appears to be speaking Persian. The assailants then claim they were deployed by Islamic State Khurasan (ISK). If true, it would be the first known Islamic State’s external operations branch (Emni, aka Amn al-Kharji) directed attack from Af/Pak region and not ash Sham.

On 25 September 2018, the Iranian media outlet Javan Newspaper wrote that their sources “close to the guardians of the Revolution” reported that two of the assailants were brothers, who had a third brother killed while fighting in the ranks of the Islamic State. The third assailant was the cousin of the two brothers. Meanwhile, Iran’s intelligence ministry released a video of the apprehension of 22 people purportedly involved with the attack. The ministry claimed to have discovered the assailant’s safe house seizing explosives and communication equipment. The Iranian Intelligence Ministry also released the names of the five suspected attackers: Ahmad Mansouri, Fouad Mansouri, Ayad Mansouri, Javad Sari, and Hassan Darvishi.

More to come, as the story develops.

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The above has been compiled by Alexander Sawicki, an Undergraduate Teaching Assistant for the Department of History at Ryerson University, specializing in the interplay between technological innovation, warfare, and social change throughout history. He was formerly a Research Analyst for the NATO Association of Canada (NAOC), where he published articles that dealt with cyber-security, US-Russia relations, and Canadian Military Procurement. You can find Alexander on LinkedIn.

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