CENTCOM announced today that “three senior foreign fighters” in the Islamic State were killed in recent weeks. Two of them were reportedly involved in the group’s “external operations” and one of them was a trainer in the “Cubs of the Caliphate” program, which indoctrinates youth. The third jihadist helped oversee the Islamic State’s use of small drones.
The State Department announced yesterday that two Canadian citizens have been added to the US government’s list designated terrorists. Tarek Sakr has been “linked” to al Qaeda’s “affiliate” in Syria and Farah Mohamed Shirdon is a member of the Islamic State. According to press reports, jihadists associated with Sakr are suspected of playing a role in the kidnappings of two Americans in Syria.
The Pentagon announced that 11 al Qaeda operatives were killed in a pair of airstrikes near Idlib, Syria earlier this month. One of them, Abu Hani al Masri, is described as “a legacy al Qaeda terrorist with ties to the group’s senior leaders, including Ayman al Zawahiri and Osama bin Laden.”
The Islamic State has been battling Turkey and allied groups north of Al Bab, Syria since Nov. 2016. The US was reluctant, at first, to support Turkey’s ground operations near the town. But that changed after Turkey turned to Russia for aerial support. The Syrian regime and its allies also launched an offensive south of Al Bab earlier this month.
In a statement released last week, Abu Muhammad al Maqdisi, an influential jihadi ideologue aligned with al Qaeda, criticized Turkey’s cooperation with Russia against the Islamic State. Maqdisi warned jihadists and Islamists in Syria to rethink their decision to work with Turkey’s Operation Euphrates Shield, which has captured significant territory from the so-called caliphate in northern Syria.
The Islamic State has issued a statement claiming responsibility for the attack at the Reina nightclub in Istanbul in the early hours of New Year’s Day. Although the group had long been reticent to claim operations inside Turkey, both Abu Bakr al Baghdadi and his new spokesman called for such attacks in November and December.
The Islamic State has released a message from its new spokesman, Abu al Hassan al Muhajir. Abu Muhammad al Adnani had served in that role for years until his demise in August. Muhajir tries to rally Sunnis to the Islamic State’s cause in Iraq and elsewhere.
As each side converges on the Islamic State-held city of al-Bab, a military confrontation between Turkish-led rebels and pro-regime forces appear inescapable. In the meantime, tensions between Ankara and Moscow are rising yet again, risking pulling the United States and NATO further into the Syrian theater.