The following research is based on information gathered by Flashpoint analysts and data collections. For January’s report, click here.
Key takeaways: February 2022 ISIS attacks
Attacks claimed by ISIS worldwide in February were down at least 15-20 percent from the average monthly tally in the last six months. Although some considerations can be made for the shortened month and the impact of winter weather conditions on fighting seasons in various regions, there is still a substantial unexplained gap of missing activity.
As forecast in recent Flashpoint reports, Nigeria has now eclipsed Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syria to become the country with the most claimed ISIS terrorist attacks in a month-to-month period–in fact, as of February, more attacks than Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan combined. Four of the five top single locations for ISIS attacks in February 2022 are all located in Nigeria.
ISIS attacks in Iraq now appear to be in sharp, arguably stunning decline, with Iraq pushed out of the top position in terms of ISIS military activity and relegated to third place. It is not entirely clear the degree to which the death of the former leader of ISIS Abu Ibrahim al-Qurayshi may have contributed to that decline.
The attack on Ghweiran Prison in Hasakah, Syria and a subsequent wave of attacks targeting SDF fighters in nearby areas appears to have fully subsided, suggesting the renewed ISIS military campaign in Syria may end up being a temporary flash in the pan.
Despite a high-profile wave of operations across Afghanistan in the autumn and early winter, ISIS attacks in that country are also sharply down, with zero reported incidents in the Afghan capital Kabul. At least 8 of the 9 terrorist attacks in Afghanistan claimed by ISIS in February specifically targeted rival Taliban fighters.
ISIS targets by country
The list of countries targeted most frequently in February was led by Nigeria (42%), Syria (17%), Iraq (14%), Afghanistan and Pakistan (11%), Mozambique (4%), and the Democratic Republic of Congo (4%).
ISIS targets by city
The list of specific locations targeted most frequently in February was topped by the town of Mallamfatori in far northeastern Nigeria (6%), the Nigerian town of Gambaru (4%), the Nigerian town of Damboa (4%), the Nigerian town of Mararaba (4%), and the town of Diban in Syria’s eastern Deir al-Zour Province (4%). No other municipal area worldwide was attacked by ISIS militants more than three times during the month of February–and the town of Diban is the only area on this list that is not in Nigeria.
ISIS attacks by country
Iraq and Syria
Claimed attacks by ISIS in Iraq for February dropped by almost 50 percent versus the month previous–from a total of 38 in December to 30 in January, and only 16 in February. The precipitous decline can also be viewed at a province-by-province level. While the number of attacks in Iraq’s Diyala Province has remained relatively constant, in Kirkuk Province, the total dropped from 10 in January to 3 in February–and likewise in Saladin Province, from 7 in January to 0 in February.
Fears that ISIS activity might be on the comeback in Syria following the bloody raid on Ghweiran prison and the subsequent wave of attacks targeting SDF personnel in Syria’s Hasakah and Deir al-Zour Provinces appear to have been overblown. In February, claimed ISIS attacks in Syria sank back to the levels of past months–dropping by almost 50 percent as compared to January’s numbers–reflecting a still active but nonetheless noticeably diminished capacity for the group. 74 percent of claimed ISIS attacks in February took place in Syria’s Deir al-Zour Province, versus only 21 percent (4 attacks total) in northeastern Hasakah Province, the home to Ghweiran Prison.
Although it is tempting to directly link the decline of ISIS attacks in Iraq and Syria to the death of former ISIS leader Abu Ibrahim al-Qurayshi, a chart showing tallies of attacks in recent months demonstrates that the trend began long before that. Indeed, it appears that various surges of ISIS activity in Iraq and Syria over the past nine months were the result of defiant campaigns that undoubtedly cost lives and damaged property, but ultimately failed to halt the overall downward spiraling of ISIS.
Afghanistan and Pakistan
Overall claimed attacks by ISIS in Afghanistan decreased by more than 50 percent since January–from 18 attacks last month to 9 in February–accelerating a decline that began in the late fall. While this drop may likely be in part due to the end of Afghanistan’s “fighting season”—and the cyclical pause in armed combat that takes place between December and March–it has been felt even in the Afghan capital Kabul, where no ISIS attacks were claimed for the entire month of February. ISIS activity has also remained relatively light in Afghanistan’s eastern Nangarhar Province, a long-time major hub for ISIS. Rather, claimed ISIS attacks in February were spread relatively evenly across Afghanistan’s Helmand, Kunduz, Nangarhar, and Kunar Provinces. Eight of nine ISIS attacks in Afghanistan during February explicitly targeted rival Taliban militants.
West Africa (Nigeria, Niger, Cameroon)
Nigeria is the only country that is among the top targets for ISIS where the group’s operations increased during the past month (more than 40 percent, from 27 in January to 47 in February). In fact, ISIS claimed more attacks in Nigeria during February 2022 than Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan combined. Four of the five top municipal areas for claimed ISIS attacks worldwide in February 2022–Mallamfatori, Gambaru, Damboa, and Mararaba–are all located in Nigeria.
Of the various locations in Nigeria targeted by ISIS, the town of Mallamfatori is a particular standout. The town lies in the Lake Chad region of far northeastern Borno State, adjacent to neighboring Niger and Chad. For the period of February 2022, ISIS claimed at least 7 separate attacks in or around Mallamfatori–more attacks during the month than any other municipal location worldwide. In fact, since May 2021, ISIS has claimed at least 35 separate attacks in Mallamfatori, including IEDs, artillery and rocket barrages, armed clashes, and even suicide bombings.
91 percent of claimed ISIS attacks in Nigeria for the period February 2022 were in the country’s northeastern Borno State. 40 percent of claimed ISIS attacks in Nigeria during February 2022 consisted primarily of IED ambushes, making it the most common form of attack.
Central and Eastern Africa
Claimed ISIS attacks in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) have remained relatively low since the introduction of Ugandan peacekeeping troops into eastern Congo in late 2021. 4 attacks in the DRC officially claimed by ISIS for the period February 2022 were in North Kivu Province, with one additional attack claimed in Ituri Province. The tally of official ISIS attacks farther south in Mozambique continues to fluctuate, with a smaller number of total incidents reported during February that were heavily clustered in the Macomia District of Mozambique’s Cabo Delgado Province.
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