October Sleeper Cell Report – Increased ISIS Attacks Amid Turkish Escalation

Capture of ISIS intelligence officer Muhannad al-Dandah on October 26th. 

Key Points

  • 17 ISIS sleeper cell attacks across NES in October, almost a threefold rise from September
  • 13 SDF and Asayish killed, 8 injured, 3 civilians killed, 1 injured in these attacks
  • 8 SDF raids against ISIS sleeper cells, resulting in 28 arrests
  • Russia repatriates 34 children, Kyrgyzstan repatriates 62 children and 21 women, marking total of 117 repatriations in October

October saw an uptick in ISIS sleeper cell attacks coinciding with an intense Turkish airstrike campaign that lasted one week and targeted NES’ essential infrastructure. ISIS sleeper cells carried out 17 attacks this month, killing 13 SDF and Asayish personnel and injuring 8, as well as killing 3 civilians and injuring 1. While Turkey was launching its wave of airstrikes in the north, and Iranian-backed militias were still confronting the SDF in Deir ez-Zor, ISIS sleeper cells applied extra pressure to the region. Of the 17 documented attacks carried out by ISIS sleeper cells, 12 occurred in Deir ez-Zor. At the same time, following the commencement of Israel’s siege and bombardment of Gaza, missile attacks from Iranian-backed militias against Coalition and US bases in NES sharply rose in frequency.

The SDF conducted 8 raids targeting ISIS sleeper cells, resulting in 28 arrests. On October 26th, the Anti-Terror Units of the SDF raided the residence of ISIS member Muhannad al-Dandah in Raqqa, capturing al-Dandah. Al-Dandah was responsible for sending intelligence to ISIS sleeper cells in order for attacks to be carried out.

Ferhad Derik, SDF commander and Global Coalition coordinator.

On October 27th, a Turkish drone strike killed Ferhad Derik, a high-level SDF commander who had participated in the battles against ISIS that led to the defeat of the so-called Caliphate and was working closely with the Coalition in coordinating ongoing anti-ISIS operations. The AANES released a statement encouraging the Coalition to take action as the attack affected the joint efforts in dealing with ISIS sleeper cells: “We affirm that this aggression will not deter us from continuing our struggle against all plans that target the gains of our people, we appeal the active forces in Syria, especially the international coalition to bear their responsibilities regarding this aggression that targets the stability of our regions and efforts to combat ISIS.”

On October 6th, Canadian police announced that Ammara Amjad, a 29-year-old woman repatriated from Roj camp in April, was arrested and charged with participating in a terrorist organization. According to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police: “On April 4, 2023, Ammara Amjad returned to Canada from Syria, and was arrested by way of a Terrorism Peace Bond. She was later released on bail conditions pending a future court appearance. On October 5, the GTA/Southwest INSET arrested Ms. Amjad in Milton, ON, for her alleged participation in the activities in support of a listed terror group. She was charged with: Participating in activity of Terrorist Group contrary to Section 83.18 of the Criminal Code.” Canada has repatriated 26 individuals from NES, although a number of suspected ISIS-linked Canadian citizens still remain in detention camps and facilities.

Repatriations remained limited October. Russia repatriated 34 children of ISIS families from NES. Russia has repatriated 481 of its citizens from NES since 2018, according to RIC data.

Number of individuals repatriated by country, 2023 to date.

Kyrgyzstan repatriated 62 children and 21 women from NES. The US Department of State endorsed the repatriation, stating: “The Kyrgyz Republic’s repatriation of 83 women and children from the al-Hol displaced persons camp in northeast Syria is another important step to resolve the humanitarian and security challenges that have followed the territorial defeat of ISIS…Repatriation is the only durable solution.” In the year 2023, Kyrgyzstan has repatriated the most individuals from NES.

This month, the German news outlet DW drew attention to the enduring risk stemming from NES’ camps and prisons holding ISIS fighters and their families, many of whom are foreign, noting that “in these immense camps and prisons, it is feared, the next generation of jihadists is now growing up”, and that “though it was defeated militarily, IS could regain strength from here. This would have international repercussions.”

Kazakhstan remains as the country that has repatriated the largest number of ISIS-linked individuals from NES, standing at 710. Kazakhstan is followed by Russia at 481, Uzbekistan at 339, Tajikistan at 254, Kyrgyzstan at 236, France at 226, Kosovo at 123, Germany at 108, and the Netherlands at 62. Belgium rounds off the top 10 with 45.