The Islamic State used two French suicide bombers in today’s coordinated assault on the western Iraqi town of Haditha. One of the bombers has been featured in the past in an Islamic State propaganda film calling for more French recruits.
Photographs of the two French jihadists were released by the Islamic State’s “Wilayat al Furat”, or Euphrates Province. This administrative division encompasses western Anbar province, from the towns of Al Qaim to Haditha.
The attack, which began earlier today, started with the deployment of the two suicide bombers, who purportedly used armored vehicles for their attacks. After the bombings, clashes continued with the Iraqi Security Forces, the Sunni militia Kata’ib al Hamza, and Sunni tribesmen from the Al Jughayfa tribe. Additionally, it has been reported that the Islamic State was able to take control of the asphalt factory in Haditha. According to the same source, the jihadist group attacked the city from three sides and fierce fighting is still ongoing in the town and at the factory.
The US military announced that it launched one airstrike, against an Islamic State “staging area,” near Haditha over the past 24 hours. It is unclear if the airstrike was launched to repel the Islamic State attack.
In the official martyrdom statement released by the Islamic State, the jihadist group said that Abu Maryam al Firansi “targeted a headquarters where the apostates gathered in the area of al Khasfa,” according to a translation of the statement by SITE Intelligence Group.
“He invoked Allah and wounded his steed amidst their gathering, leaving dozens killed and wounded, and turning their structures into rubble…” the statement continued.
The Islamic State said that the other French suicide bomber, Abu Abdul Aziz al Firansi, “followed him with a second truck, to target barracks of the apostates.” These claims, however, cannot be independently verified.
Abu Maryam al Firansi was previously featured in an Islamic State propaganda film that was released late last year. The film promoted three French fighters of the Islamic State who burned their passports and called for French Muslims to wage jihad. In another part of the video, Abu Maryam threatened France by saying Islamic State “fighters will not hesitate to chop off the heads of the enemies of Islam if the French government continues bombing Iraq and Syria.”
Today’s assault in Haditha follows the Islamic State’s takeover of Ramadi, the capital of Anbar. At least 30 suicide bombers, including six foreigners, are reported to have been used in the assault to take Ramadi. The group is pushing eastward and is on the outskirts of Habbaniyah, the last major city under government control in Anbar.
Haditha is one of the few towns in Anbar that have resisted the Islamic State’s onslaught in the province, which began in January 2014. The nearby Haditha Dam is a key infrastructure asset in the province, and provides electricity for the region. Thousands of Iraqi troops are said to be based at Haditha and the nearby dam.
Haditha was a key bastion of al Qaeda in Iraq, the Islamic State’s predecessor, from 2004 up until US Marines cleared the town in late 2005. Abu Musab al Zarqawi, the brutal founder of al Qaeda in Iraq, declared Haditha as part of his Islamic emirate, and imposed sharia, or Islamic Law.
The Islamic State launched one of its first large scale raids against Iraqi forces in Haditha in 2012 (the group was known as the Islamic State of Iraq and still part of al Qaeda in 2012). In March 2012, nearly 100 fighters, some dressed in military uniforms and driving police and military vehicles, stormed into Haditha and neighboring Barawana, took over police stations, and executed 27 police officers. The attack was a glimpse of what was to come for Iraq.