GLOBAL TERRORISM UPDATE

14 – 27 JUNE 2018

TINYg supporter Falanx Assynt predictions

JORDAN: Islamic State could seek to exploit new Syrian refugee flows to infiltrate Jordan, but risk of attack will remain low; any attacks will be sporadic and limited to border areas; escalation in fighting in southern Syria will likely lead Amman to boost arms supplies to rebels; refugee influx will build further pressure on economy

SYRIA: Islamic State (IS) attack in Raqqa Province points to increased threat of isolated anti-Kurdish strikes in North-East over coming months; IS will look to conduct attacks in Raqqa to exploit Arab-Kurdish tensions and build support; group’s weakness suggests major rise in operations unlikely over next six months

JORDAN: Islamic State could seek to exploit new Syrian refugee flows to infiltrate Jordan, but risk of attack will remain low

Thousands of Syrians have fled towards Jordan in the past week, prompting Amman to announce on 26 June that it is unable to host any more refugees and has closed its border with Syria. The displacement was triggered by a campaign against rebels in southern Syria. This began on 18 June, with Daraa and Basr Harir cities – 5 km and 50 km north of Jordan respectively – coming under especially heavy bombardment.

Russia, the US and Jordan – which negotiated a de-escalation agreement between President Assad and the rebels in southern Syria last July – have been holding talks over the past month regarding the Syrian Government’s military build-up in the South. However, these failed to result in an agreement by Assad’s stated deadline of 14 June, prompting him to launch the latest offensive in a bid to force the rebels to surrender or relocate elsewhere in Syria.

Amman fears that instability in southern Syria will drive a greater number of refugees into Jordan, which already hosts 1.3 million Syrians. This would add further fiscal pressure on the Government, which is struggling to reduce its public debt, now at 95% of GDP, and make it difficult for the new Prime Minister, Omar al-Razzaz, to adhere to his pledge on 19 June to cut spending by USD 211 million this year. Amman is also concerned that Islamic State (IS) could exploit refugee flows to infiltrate Jordan and carry out attacks in the country. In an effort to bolster stability along its northern border, the Government has sought to build a working relationship with Damascus over the last year, for instance ending military support for the rebel Southern Front and holding talks on resuming cross-border trade.

For now, Jordan will continue to pursue a primarily diplomatic approach to the conflict in southern Syria. It will aim to engage Damascus in talks and secure an agreement that gives rebels representation in local government bodies and a role in manning checkpoints. Amman hopes this will limit the risk of a major deterioration in security and ensure the continued presence of Jordanian-backed rebels in the South to protect its influence in Syria. However, Assad will not be willing to compromise and the rebels will not offer major concessions at this stage, meaning a deal is unlikely for now. Syrian military activities in the South will therefore increase in the coming weeks, and any major escalation in fighting could prompt Jordan to resume providing limited arms supplies to the Southern Front to help it withstand Assad’s offensive and add pressure on him to offer some concessions to the rebels.

The fighting will drive Syrians to Jordan over the next few months, which will build foreign pressure on Amman to reopen its border and aid refugees. Jordan will seek financial support from its international allies to meet the cost of hosting additional Syrians, but the economic burden could nonetheless lead Amman to implement austerity measures in the next six months – potentially triggering limited economic protests. Small numbers of IS fighters may also attempt to exploit the refugee flows to cross into Jordan. However, effective security measures will ensure that the risk of a major attack in the main cities or against tourist sites will remain low in the next year. Instead, the main jihadist threat will continue to be sporadic attacks against security personnel and refugee camps along the border with Syria.

SYRIA: Islamic State attack in Raqqa Province points to increased threat of anti-Kurdish strikes in North-East over coming months

The Kurdish-majority Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) announced a three-day curfew in Raqqa city in the North-East on 24 June. The SDF said that this was a response to information it had received that jihadists linked toIS had entered the city and were planning attacks there. IS had earlier claimed responsibility on 22 June for detonating a roadside bomb to the north-east of the city – its first attack in Raqqa Province since it was forced out of the area in October 2017, though there were no reports of casualties. An SDF fighter was also killed at a checkpoint north of Raqqa on 15 June, which the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported as an IS strike, though the group did not claim this attack.

Raqqa was IS’s capital in Syria, and the loss of the city last year was a major blow to the group’s prestige and claim to a territorial “caliphate”. Since then, IS has seen its presence in Syria decline further, coming under heavy military pressure from Assad and allied forces in eastern desert areas to the west of the Euphrates, and from the SDF and its US ally to the east of the river. The group’s recent activity in Raqqa, reports of which are credible given that it will have retained some cells in the area despite its defeat, reflects how these military operations have forced IS to shift its tactics towards insurgent attacks. The group will seek to retain credibility among jihadists through such strikes, in the hopes of regrouping to try to re-emerge as a significant force in the future.

Raqqa is a historically Arab-majority city, but the Kurdish leadership of the SDF, which has governed there since IS lost control of the area in October, has not offered any political concessions to local tribes and has angered citizens by imposing military conscription. Tensions over these issues prompted violent protests in late May calling on the SDF to leave the city. IS’s desire to conduct an attack in Raqqa now may therefore also reflect a desire to exploit such tensions to highlight its credibility as an anti-Kurdish force, in the hopes that this will help the group forge links with local Arab militias which share an anti-SDF stance, even if they do not support IS’s global jihadist agenda. This would enhance the group’s ability to maintain its presence in the area and rebuild its capabilities over the longer term.

The risk of further IS attacks in Raqqa Province targeting Kurds will therefore be elevated in the coming months, particularly following any further rise in inter-ethnic tensions and after anti-Kurdish protests. That said, ongoing military pressure on the group, as well as its limited presence in the area, mean that any such violence will be sporadic and low level, and there is little prospect of any major increase in the group’s operations at present.

However, pressure on IS will ease in the longer term once the US declares an end to its campaign against the group and withdraws support to the SDF, though this is unlikely in the next six months. In addition, a major government assault against Idlib, one of the last remaining opposition enclaves, could occur later this year or in early 2019, distracting Assad and his Russian backers from fighting IS. This will provide greater opportunities for the group to step up attacks, which in turn will increase its ability to boost recruitment and rebuild capabilities in Syria with the aim of re-establishing a territorial presence in the coming years.

 

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