ISIS Attacks, Sept 2021: Key Trends and Geographic Analysis
- The following analysis is compiled by Flashpoint’s Physical Security & Counterterrorism Team. This monthly report provides the community with a detailed view of ISIS and ISIS-related activity; it’s intended to spread a broad awareness of the types of actionable intelligence that can help organizations track and mitigate risk.
Key Takeaways: ISIS-Claimed Attacks, September 2021
- ISIS activity has sharply increased in Afghanistan since the Taliban’s conquest of the country in August. ISIS-claimed attacks in Afghanistan increased 45% from August (16) to September (23). These attacks appear to be mainly targeted at rival Taliban fighters.
- Afghanistan has taken on new significance for the Islamic State as a whole, both as a potential base for future ISIS operations as well as providing ideological inspiration to recruits around the world.
- ISIS activity in Syria appears to have cratered in recent months; it is unclear what exactly this dramatic decline can be attributed to. While the group continues to mount operations in the country, it is a feeble shadow of what the territorial caliphate once was.
Iraq remains the overwhelming focus for ISIS. Recently, the lion’s share of ISIS operations in Iraq appear to have palpably shifted eastward from the Anbar and Saladin Provinces and towards Kirkuk and Diyala.
- ISIS activity remains persistent in northeastern Nigeria, accounting for 16% of ISIS claims of responsibility. In particular, activity occurred near the internal borders of Nigeria’s Borno and Yobe States; and adjacent to Nigeria’s external borders with Cameroon and Niger.
- Attacks by ISIS-affiliated militants have continued to escalate in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). They appear to have also shifted northwards towards the DRC’s Ituri Province, away from their previous territorial focus in North Kivu Province.
- In Q3 2021 (June, July, August), ISIS claimed 403 attacks across the following countries, with nearly 45% occurring in June (180): Iraq, Nigeria, Afghanistan, DRC, Egypt, Cameroon, Syria, Somalia, Philippines, Pakistan, Mozambique, and Niger.
Attacks Claimed by ISIS in Afghanistan and Pakistan: Sept. 2021
Afghanistan was the second-most frequently targeted country by ISIS—accounting for 19% of global ISIS attacks (23) in September 2021—based on tallies of ISIS’s official statements of responsibility.
- The Afghan city of Jalalabad alone accounted for 12% of claimed ISIS attacks worldwide, the most targeted single location around the globe for September.
- ISIS attacks took place more frequently in Afghanistan during September 2021 than in Pakistan, Somalia, the Philippines, Syria, and Egypt combined. Afghanistan’s Nangarhar Province ranked second to only Diyala Province in Iraq as a focused hotbed for ISIS activity.
- All of the 23 attacks claimed by ISIS in Afghanistan during September 2021 allegedly targeted rival Taliban militants.
- Likely in an attempt to capitalize on the focus on Islamic State Khorasan Province (IKSP) and Afghanistan overall, ISIS now attributes attacks carried out in Pakistan—or at least certain parts of the country, including major cities like Peshawar—to ISKP. ISIS previously attributed attacks in Pakistan to its Islamic State Pakistan Province (ISPP).
- The rise in the significance of the battlefield in Afghanistan can be measured in recent ISIS propaganda releases, which have put heavy focus on activities in the “Khorasan” region despite the complete departure of U.S. military forces. ISIS dedicated a full page in its weekly newsletter to highlight its attacks in Afghanistan over a 5-day period in September.
- In mid-September, Morocco’s Bureau Central d’Investigation Judiciaire (BCIJ) announced the arrest of 3 ISIS suspects in the city of Errachidia who were allegedly “in the process of preparing to carry out terrorist operations.” According to the BCIJ, the suspects became enamored with the ISIS branch in Afghanistan and sought to travel there under the belief that Afghanistan has become a “new haven” for terrorist organizations.
- This idea was evidently spurred by the August 26 suicide bombing at Kabul Airport that killed 13 U.S. soldiers, which the 3 men in Errachidia allegedly expressed their “support and blessings” for.
ISIS-Claimed Attacks in Iraq and Syria: Sept. 2021
- Based on tallies of official statements of responsibility, Iraq was the most frequently targeted country by ISIS—accounting for 40% of global ISIS attacks in September 2021 (49 incidents).
- 2 of the top 5 provinces worldwide featured in ISIS claims of responsibility during August 2021 were in Iraq. The most frequently targeted province across the globe by ISIS is Iraq’s Diyala Province (15%), followed in fourth place by Kirkuk Province (10%). However, there was a sharp, noticeable drop in the number of claimed ISIS attacks in Iraq’s Saladin Province, which only last month was the most frequent targeted province-sized area around the world (dropping from 16% of the total global aggregate to only 5%).
ISIS claimed 52 attacks in Iraq (49) and Syria (5) in September 2021, illustrated below:
Geomaps of ISIS attacks in Iraq over the past 4 months appear to show a shift in ISIS operations to the northeast away from Anbar and Saladin and towards Kirkuk.
- However, Syria only accounted for 3% of ISIS operations in September (4 attacks total). The drop is sudden and dramatic, particularly as Syria was viewed not long ago as the crux of the ISIS territorial caliphate. This is the second month in a row that ISIS has carried out less than 5 attacks in Syria, signaling that this is likely a longer-term trend.
- Examining the overall timeline of ISIS claims of responsibility for attacks in Syria over the past 5 months (totaling 95), there is a clear decreasing trend visible over time. It is not fully clear if the lagging efforts by ISIS in Syria can be attributed to actions by the Syrian government and its allies, the U.S. government and its Syrian rebel allies, the Iraqi government and its militias, and/or other factors altogether.
ISIS-Claimed Attacks in Nigeria: Sept. 2021
- Nigeria was the third most targeted country by ISIS in September—behind only Iraq and Afghanistan—accounting for 16% of ISIS claims of responsibility. Nigeria’s Borno State was the third most targeted province by ISIS worldwide, accounting for 11% of ISIS attacks.
- The most frequently targeted location worldwide by ISIS in August was the town of Mallam Fatori, near the border with Niger, which was attacked 6 times in a row. ISIS launched at least 3 more attacks on Mallam Fatori in September. ISIS operations appear to be concentrated in three areas:
- — on the Niger/Nigeria border;
- — on the Cameroon/Nigeria border; and
- — along the provincial border between Borno and Yobe States.
ISIS-Claimed Attacks in DRC: Sept. 2021
- The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) accounted for at least 8% of attacks claimed by ISIS worldwide for September 2021. Notably, the town of Komanda in the Ituri Province of the DRC was attacked at least 3 times by ISIS-affiliated militants during September.
- In recent months, attacks by ISIS-affiliated militants have been heavily concentrated in regions near the internal border between DRC’s North Kivu and Ituri Provinces, including the Oicha area north of Beni. Ituri Province has taken the lead over North Kivu and was the location of two thirds of claimed ISIS attacks in the DRC during September.
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