Islamic State sleeper cells target Raqqa

Tuesday night, two small Islamic State sleeper cells inside Syria’s Raqqa governorate, which is held by the largely Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), targeted two separate SDF positions in region.

Inside Raqqa city, which was once infamously held by the Islamic State, a jihadist gunman engaged in a firefight with SDF personnel near the group’s headquarters.

Around the same time, the Islamic State also claimed an ambush on SDF units near Tabqa, also in the Raqqa governorate, though this event has not been independently confirmed.

The Islamic State claimed killing or wounding 25 SDF soldiers in the combined attacks, though this is likely an inflation of events as local reporting has not confirmed any casualties.

Initial reporting by SDF-linked outlets reported over 50 Islamic State gunmen were involved in the attack inside Raqqa city, with as many as three suicide bombings taking place. Many other outlets and observers claimed this was an attempt by the jihadist group to retake parts of the city.

However, this reporting has turned out to be false. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights has reported that only two “infiltrators” took part in the fighting. Meanwhile, Raqqa Is Being Slaughtered Silently, an activist collective based in the city, reported only one explosion.

This tracks with the Islamic State’s own reporting of the incident. In a statement released via its Amaq News, it said that one gunman, identified as “Abu Adnan al Shami,” attacked the SDF headquarters in the city before blowing himself up.

The SDF’s Twitter account has released photos of what it claims are the remains of two suicide bombers, but it is unclear if the images do indeed show the remains of two individuals.

While the two attacks came just before the Turkish invasion of SDF-held territory, the Islamic State claims the attacks were in retaliation of the reported poor treatment of women by the SDF in refugee camps like Al Hawl.

Just last week, several Islamic State-loyal women engaged in a protracted firefight with SDF personnel inside the camp. Al Hawl is seen as a new incubator for extremism and Abu Bakr al Baghdadi has tried to encourage his loyalists to rise up in the camp and in various prisons.

As the SDF turns its attention to combating Turkey and its allied rebel factions, it is likely that the Islamic State will be able to exploit the diverted attention and conduct more attacks inside northern Syria.

Caleb Weiss is an editor of FDD's Long War Journal and a senior analyst at the Bridgeway Foundation, where he focuses on the spread of the Islamic State in Central Africa.

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