The following research is based on information gathered by Flashpoint analysts and data collections. For February’s report, click here.
Key take aways
March 2022 ISIS attacks
- Nigeria has now fully cemented itself as, far and away, the country with the most claimed ISIS attacks in a month-to-month period.
- ISIS claimed responsibility for two high-profile attacks by Palestinian militants inside Israel, the first in Be’er Sheva and the second just days later in Hadera.
- ISIS attacks in Iraq remain low. Excluding February, March attacks are the lowest number in over a year.
- Syria experienced the fourth-most claimed ISIS attacks worldwide. However, the attempted comeback by ISIS fighters in eastern Syria, following the attack on Ghweiran Prison in Hasakah, appears to have fully petered out.
- All eight of the attacks in Afghanistan claimed by ISIS in March specifically targeted rival Taliban fighters, although at a lower rate than in previous months.
ISIS targets by country
The list of countries targeted most frequently in March was led by Nigeria (41%), Iraq (21%), Afghanistan and Pakistan (10%), Syria (7%), Democratic Republic of Congo (7%), Egypt (3%), Mali (3%), and Mozambique (2%).
ISIS targets by city
The list of specific locations most frequently targeted in February was topped, for the second month in a row, by the town of Mallamfatori in far northeastern Nigeria (9%), the Nigerian town of Damboa (4%), the Nigerian town of Sabon Gari (4%), and the Iraqi town of Daquq (4%).
No other municipal area worldwide was attacked by ISIS militants more than three times during the month of March.
ISIS attacks by country
Iraq and Syria
While the number of claimed attacks by ISIS in Iraq recovered somewhat from the precipitous drop last month, the total for March (28) was still lower than every other month over the last year, aside from February.
Iraq’s Kirkuk Province remains the current focus for ISIS activity in Iraq, accounting for 29 percent of all claimed attacks in March. Anbar and Saladin Provinces occupy the rank for second most active, at 21 percent each. Meanwhile, Iraq’s Diyala Province—which was not long ago the singular hotbed for ISIS activity in Iraq—saw only four attacks claimed by ISIS during the entire month.
Attempts by ISIS to mount a major comeback in Syria following the attack on Ghweiran Prison in Syria’s Hasakah Province now appear to be fading fast. Only 10 ISIS attacks were recorded in Syria during the entire month of March, which accounts for half of what ISIS claimed last month—and the lowest number of monthly attacks in Syria since October 2021. At least in Syria and Iraq, thus far, the ISIS leadership has appeared unable to halt the overall downward spiraling of their organization.
Afghanistan and Pakistan
Overall claimed attacks by ISIS in Afghanistan are decreasing. March attacks were lower in March than in February and have decreased by more than 50% since January, accelerating a decline that began in the late fall. While this drop is likely 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 at all in February and March.
ISIS activity has also remained oddly quiet in Afghanistan’s eastern Nangarhar Province, a long-time major hub for ISIS. Rather, ISIS attacks in March were headlined by Afghanistan’s Kunar Province, the location of 38 percent of claimed incidents. Sixteen of the 17 total claimed ISIS attacks in Afghanistan during February and March 2022 explicitly targeted rival Taliban militants.
In the past several weeks, there has been a notable surge in violent incidents by Palestinian militants in Israel. At least two of these episodes—a March 22 attack by a knife-wielding assailant in Be’er Sheva and a March 27 shooting attack by two gunmen firing automatic rifles at a bus stop in Hadera—have since been formally claimed by ISIS.
Israeli media have reported that the 34-year responsible for the Be’er Sheva attack had already served a four-year prison sentence “after admitting he intended to join the Islamic State group in Syria in 2015.” Meanwhile, one of the two assailants in Hadera had likewise been captured by Turkish authorities in 2016 on his way to Syria to join ISIS and subsequently served 18 months in an Israeli prison.
This is a highly unusual development, and neither ISIS nor the Israeli government has yet published definitive evidence proving the involvement of ISIS. While some pro-ISIS sources shared a video allegedly featuring the Hadera attackers pledging allegiance to ISIS’s leader, that video has not been published in full by ISIS itself, and therefore cannot be authenticated as an ISIS production. Further complicating this determination, some of the most bitter sworn enemies of ISIS—including Lebanese Hezbollah and Iraq’s Kataib Hezbollah—have specifically applauded these attacks (although they have made no mention of the supposed role played by ISIS).
It is worth noting that the claims of responsibility for the two March attacks in Israel came amid a flurry of other communiques issued by the ISIS branch in Egypt’s neighboring Sinai Peninsula. Given the close connections between Palestinian militants in Gaza and the Sinai, it is possible that there may be more than mere circumstantial links to the ISIS branch in Sinai.
West Africa (Nigeria, Niger, Cameroon, Mali)
Although the degree to which ISIS controls its local affiliates remains a subject of some debate, Nigeria (and West Africa more broadly) is now arguably the most active hub for ISIS military operations worldwide, accounting for 41 percent of claimed attacks around the globe. The total number of claimed ISIS attacks in Nigeria has again sharply increased, from 47 in February to 56 in March.
Despite increasing attention to the plight of the town of Mallamfatori in far northeastern Nigeria (in the Lake Chad region adjacent to neighboring Niger and Chad), the area continues to be reportedly battered by ISIS-affiliated fighters. For the period of March 2022, ISIS claimed at least 12 separate attacks in or around Mallamfatori—five more than last month—and more than any other municipal location worldwide in March. In fact, since May 2021, ISIS has claimed at least 50 separate attacks in Mallamfatori, including IEDs, artillery and rocket barrages, armed clashes, and even suicide bombings.
Ninety-six percent of claimed ISIS attacks in Nigeria for the period March 2022 were in the country’s northeastern Borno State. Forty-three percent of claimed ISIS attacks in Nigeria during March 2022 consisted primarily of IED ambushes, making it the most common form of attack.
In March, there was also a spate of bloody attacks claimed by ISIS in the Sahel region straddling the borders of southeastern Mali and northern Niger. According to ISIS, most of the incidents consisted of clashes with Tuareg fighters from the Movement for the Salvation of Azawad (MSA), although it appears many of the victims were actually civilians. ISIS itself claims that hundreds of people have been killed and has posted graphic photos that allegedly depict the bodies of various victims.
Central and Eastern Africa
The number of claimed ISIS attacks in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) doubled in March over the total from February, hinting at new signs of life from ISIS-affiliated militants who have been somewhat subdued since the introduction of Ugandan peacekeeping troops into eastern Congo in late 2021. Six attacks in the DRC officially claimed by ISIS for the period February 2022 were in North Kivu Province, with four additional attacks claimed in Ituri Province. At least half of the attacks claimed by ISIS in DRC for March appear to have deliberately targeted “Christian” civilians, as opposed to Congolese and Ugandan soldiers. There were only three attacks for the entire month of March claimed by ISIS farther south in Mozambique, although one of the attacks interestingly was a repeat assault on the island of Matemo, off the coast of Mozambique’s Cabo Delgado Province.
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