Tribal spies in Syria assist U.S. win drone struggle in opposition to Islamic State By Reuters

© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: A suveillance picture reveals a compound housing the chief of the Islamic State jihadist group Abu Ibrahim al-Hashemi al-Quraishi, who had led Islamic State for the reason that loss of life in 2019 of its founder Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, in northwest Syria previous to

By Suleiman Al-Khalidi

AMMAN (Reuters) – When the U.S. navy focused Islamic State commander Maher al-Agal with a drone strike in northern Syria in July, there was little likelihood it will miss. The rationale? Revenge.

With Islamic State’s final battle-hardened forces holed up in distant areas, the US is popping to assistance from tribesmen burning to actual revenge for the atrocities unleashed by the group when it dominated over swathes of Syria and Iraq.

Nonetheless thirsty for vengeance eight years after the group, which is often known as Daesh, massacred tons of of their clan, Sheitaat tribesmen in Syria had planted a monitoring machine on the motorcycle Agal was driving when he was killed, one of many individuals who tracked him down mentioned.

The tribesman, whose account was confirmed by a Western intelligence officer within the area, mentioned tribal kin involved with the Islamic State commander’s speedy household had secretly been maintaining tabs on him for months in northern Syria.

“I exacted revenge in blood for these of my tribe whom Daesh crucified, executed and beheaded with out mercy,” the particular person, who declined to recognized for safety causes, advised Reuters by telephone from Syria. “It has healed the burning in our hearts.”

In certainly one of its bloodiest atrocities, Islamic State massacred greater than 900 members of the Sheitaat tribe in three cities in Syria’s japanese Deir al-Zor area in 2014 once they rebelled in opposition to jihadist rule.

Whereas Islamic State is a shadow of the group that dominated over a 3rd of Syria and Iraq in a Caliphate declared in 2014, tons of of fighters are nonetheless camped in desolate areas the place neither the U.S.-led coalition nor the Syrian military, with assist from Russia and Iranian-backed militias, exert full management.

The Arab tribesmen in Syria looking for vengeance at the moment are a part of a rising community of tribal spies taking part in a major position within the U.S. navy’s marketing campaign to additional degrade the group, three Western intelligence sources and 6 tribal sources mentioned.

“These networks of informants are working with the People who’re planting them in every single place,” mentioned Yasser al Kassab, a tribal chief from the city of Gharanij within the Deir al-Zor space.

“Informants from the identical tribe are tipping off about their very own cousins in Islamic State,” he mentioned.

Requested concerning the position of tribal informants in Syria, a U.S. navy official mentioned that within the operation in opposition to Agal, the concentrating on was virtually totally primarily based on human intelligence.

“That is one thing that required a deep community within the area,” mentioned the official, who declined to be named as he was not authorised to talk publicly concerning the matter.


The Western intelligence officer who confirmed the account of Agal’s assassination, and the prolonged interval of monitoring by tribesmen earlier than the strike, has been briefed on tribal assist for counter-insurgency actions by the U.S.-led coalition.

The U.S. navy, which has about 900 troops in northeastern Syria, mentioned Agal was one of many group’s prime 5 leaders and had been answerable for creating Islamic State networks exterior Iraq and Syria.

U.S. Central Command mentioned on the time that the strike in opposition to Agal adopted intensive planning.

With a lot of Islamic State’s overseas commanders killed or detained, Syrians have grow to be more and more vital in its management, making the militants extra susceptible to penetration by fellow Syrians eager to settle scores, Western and regional intelligence sources and three senior tribal figures mentioned.

Whereas 4 sources aware of the intelligence gathering operation say cash is typically paid for info, many informants are pushed by revenge for the atrocities dedicated by the group on the peak of its energy.

Some informants have been being recruited by tribal intermediaries who have been already a part of the community. Others have been contributing instantly by way of a telephone line arrange by the coalition to obtain suggestions, Sheitaat tribal chief Kassab mentioned.

The U.S. navy officer confirmed that informants have been paid however didn’t elaborate.

The U.S.-financed tribal networks have penetrated Islamic State sleeper cells and compiled knowledge on new recruits, who embrace fellow tribesmen in some instances, 5 tribal sources mentioned. The three Western intelligence officers and a regional safety official corroborated their accounts.

Lots of the spies come from the Sheitaat tribe, an offshoot of Syria’s greatest tribe, the Akaidat, who fought with U.S.-backed forces to drive Islamic State from swathes of northeast Syria, taking town of Raqqa after a protracted battle in 2017.

“They need revenge so that they resort to cooperating with their kin to leak info and provides areas of leaders of IS. They use the tribal hyperlinks,” mentioned Samer al Ahmad, an knowledgeable on jihadist teams who comes from the area.


One of many Western intelligence officers mentioned human intelligence – versus info gathered from gadgets akin to cellphones – was now essential as a result of the militants more and more keep away from technique of communication liable to surveillance.

“Many of the new operatives don’t use cellular or devices that have been behind the most important previous hits of overseas jihadists,” mentioned the officer, who’s aware of a number of the covert effort.

Such human intelligence has been “vital” within the drive to kill and detain prime militants in Syria for the reason that begin of the 12 months and performed a key position in Agal’s case, the U.S. navy official mentioned.

“A whole lot of instances, human intelligence goes to enrich your different types of intelligence, info you choose up from there or from voice indicators and you may complement it. In that case it actually led the gathering,” the official mentioned.

Agal had been hiding in plain sight in northern Syria, spending most of his time in territory held by Sunni Arab insurgents backed by Turkey and largely steering away from areas nearer to his residence city the place he is perhaps recognised, two of his kin mentioned.

His loss of life marked certainly one of a number of blows in opposition to Islamic State in Syria this 12 months.

In February, the group’s chief Abu Ibrahim al-Hashemi al-Quraishi died throughout a U.S. particular forces raid in northern Syria, whereas in June U.S. forces seized one other senior chief, Ahmad al Kurdi.

Agal, Kurdi and the opposite militants who have been focused had slipped again into regular life, mingling amongst inhabitants of a closely populated space alongside the Turkish border away from areas managed by the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).


The profitable U.S. strikes have heartened Ahmad Assad al Hassouni, a senior determine within the Sheitaat tribe who remains to be looking for the stays of two of his 4 sons beheaded by Islamic State in 2014.

“They slaughtered my sons and burnt our hearts,” he mentioned. “I swear by God I will not sleep till the final prison is useless,”

Though Islamic State more and more lacks the capability to stage giant spectacular assaults, its presence is rising in distant areas of Deir al-Zor the place management by the Kurdish-led SDF is shaky, residents mentioned.

At night time, masked males arrange checkpoints sowing worry in villages close to Busayrah alongside the Euphrates river, 5 tribal sources mentioned.

Hit-and-run assaults on SDF checkpoints, in the meantime, have additionally elevated in latest months, tribal chief Sheikh Basheer Dandal mentioned, and the militants have additionally inflicted heavy casualties on pro-Iranian militias round Palmyra.

It was worry of a resurgence of Islamic State that spurred 32-year-old Abdullah al Omar to tell on his personal kin.

“I tipped the coalition about 5 individuals, together with two cousins amongst my tribe whom we discovered had been with Daesh, operating checkpoints, burning properties,” mentioned Omar, who comes from Abu Hamam by the Euphrates south of Busayrah.

“We can not sleep peacefully at night time as a result of we all know they’re nonetheless there simply ready for the precise time to take revenge and slaughter those that survived their massacres.”

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