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ISIS Sleeper Cells Expand in Syrian Desert

ISIS Sleeper Cells Expand in Syrian Desert

Saturday, 30 May, 2020 - 06:45
Women walk through al-Hol displacement camp in Hasakah province, Syria, April 1, 2019. Reuters
London - Asharq Al-Awsat

ISIS is still able to launch attacks through sleeper cells operating in the Syrian desert and east of the Euphrates river, a Syrian rights report said.

The report said the presence of terrorist cells in eastern Syria has prompted airdrops by the US-led coalition from one side, and Russian-backed Syrian forces from another.

The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said: “Although the international coalition announced the defeat of ISIS in March 2019, the reality on the ground shows that the terrorist group is far from being decisively defeated in the presence of attacks launched by sleeper cells that are confronted by coalition forces backed by Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in their controlled areas.”

It called on “dismantling the ticking time bomb” in al-Hol refugee camp where thousands of ISIS family members are being held, describing it as a “mini-state” of the group’s members and families.

According to SOHR data, the camp is home to at least 68,607 people: 8,450 Iraqi families consisting of 30,765 Iraqi citizens; 7,809 Syrian families consisting of 28,069 Syrian nationals; and 9,773 people of European, Asian, African and other nationalities, among 2,824 families.

Also, the report revealed that a battalion of “mercenaries,” led by a former ISIS security officer, is heading to Libya.

The Observatory quoted reliable sources as saying that a battalion of fighters comprising some 50 members headed by a former ISIS security official from the eastern countryside of Homs province, joined the fight in Libya with the “mercenaries”.

It said the former security official held a position in Homs, then he joined al-Nusra front after the collapse of ISIS in the desert, and went to the areas of Turkish occupation in Afrin.

He went to fight in Libya with 49 former fighters from the group early this year.

According to the report, ISIS takes every chance to incite chaos and to conduct terrorist operations in Syria. “ISIS cells exploit opportunities to create security vacuum and carry out assassinations,” the Observatory said, suggesting that the group remains active.

The report said ISIS still controls some 3,283 square kilometers, equivalent to 1.8 percent of the total area of Syria.

The group’s activities in the Syrian desert, west of the Euphrates River, in areas controlled by regime forces and allied militias of Syrian and non-Syrian citizens, are ongoing, through attacks and ambushes in al-Suwaida desert, Raqqa, Deir Ezzor and Homs.

Since March 24, 2019, the Observatory has documented the killing of 533 regime forces and their allied armed factions, including at least two Russians and 127 pro-Iranian militia members.

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