Sleeper cell attacks continue in northeast Syria

The Islamic State’s threat “exists all over northern and eastern Syria,” not only in recently liberated areas the extremist group held.

ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – Sleeper cell attacks in areas the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) control continue to hurt the stability of the region, analysts say.

On Tuesday, a booby-trapped motorcycle bomb injured four civilians and one military officer in al-Shaddadi, the internal security forces said in a statement.

Two of the civilians were heavily injured, and in critical condition, it added. They were transported to a hospital in Hasakah.

On Monday, another car bomb attack in Tabqa’s city center injured 10 civilians, including two of them critically. One child died from the explosion.

Security forces cordoned off the area and said they also dismantled explosives linked to a remote device at the site of the explosion.

Despite the SDF and the US-led coalition announcing the defeat of the so-called Islamic State caliphate on March 23, the terror group’s sleeper cell attacks persist in Arab-majority areas that were liberated.

According to the United States Central Command (CENTCOM), the Islamic State has activated insurgency cells in areas the SDF controlled and “used these cells to conduct attacks in northeastern Syria and other areas of the MERV [Middle Euphrates River Valley],” a recent Pentagon Watchdog report said.

It also said the Islamic State carried out attacks mainly in Raqqa, Hasakah, and Deir al-Zor provinces.

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Internal security forces and counter-terrorism forces have arrested several sleeper cells that carried out attacks.

On Aug. 22, Raqqa’s internal security forces announced they had dismantled a large Islamic State sleeper cell ring in the city.

Nicholas A. Heras, a Middle East security analyst at the Washington-based Center for a New American Security, said the Islamic State’s threat “exists all over northern and eastern Syria,” not only in recently liberated areas the extremist group held, such as Deir al-Zor.

“ISIS had a deliberate policy of seeding its operatives in places like Shadadi that are considered well within the SDF Zone,” Heras told Kurdistan 24.

Although the Islamic State is often blamed for attacks on territories the SDF holds, on Aug. 24, the internal security forces published confessions of seven alleged sleeper cell members that were reportedly affiliated to the Syrian regime, or Turkey.

The suspects were purportedly responsible for several attacks in the Hasakah province.

One of the suspects claimed his uncle, who works for the state criminal security apparatus, forced him to carry out attacks so the Syrian regime could return to the areas.

According to Heras, the SDF and the US-led coalition are surrounded by enemies that want to see its project fail.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad “and his allies Russia and Iran want to evict the Americans from Syria, and the best way to do that is to disrupt and destroy America’s best friend in Syria, the SDF,” he stated.

“Turkey is jealous of the close partnership between the US military and the SDF, and will stop at nothing to wreck this relationship.”

Thomas McClure, a Syria-based researcher at the Rojava Information Center (RIC), suggested the aim of the attacks was to scare Arab communities from engaging with the SDF and the locally established administration.

“Both the Turkish government and the Syrian regime also have a hand in current efforts to destabilize the fragile peace,” he told Kurdistan 24.

In a curious twist of fate, pro-regime tribal leader Suleiman al-Shwakh from the Wilde tribe was killed in Damascus on Aug. 23 by a sleeper cell attack.

According to a tweet from Syria researcher Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi, Shwakh was the founder of the popular resistance, a group that targets the US and SDF in Raqqa province with sleeper cell attacks.

Editing by Karzan Sulaivany