ISIS Regional Campaign: Ramadan 2016

ISIS pursued its regional and global objectives through multiple large-scale attacks during its Ramadan campaign from June 5 to July 5 despite continued losses in its core terrain in Iraq and Syria. ISIS surged activity during the last week of Ramadan, including attacks in Istanbul, Baghdad, Dhaka, and across Saudi Arabia. ISIS has expanded its global reach since its Ramadan campaign last year, which was the last time it executed a global wave of attacks of similar magnitude. ISIS-linked arrests in Tunisia, Kuwait, Iran, and India over Ramadan highlight the group’s growing support network and capabilities outside of its wilayats. ISIS also continued efforts to expand the borders of its caliphate to the edges of the non-Muslim world through increased activity in South and Southeast Asia. It received pledges of allegiance from groups in the Philippines on June 21 and carried out its first complex attack in Bangladesh on July 1. ISIS will likely declare wilayats in both countries in the short term. ISIS executed its strategy of destabilizing regional power centers that threaten its core terrain through coordinated attacks in Turkey on June 28 and Saudi Arabia on July 4. It also inspired attacks in the western world, including an unprecedented mass casualty attack in Orlando, Florida on June 12 and a stabbing outside Paris, France on June 13. ISIS will continue pursuing attacks against the western world in order to destabilize the West and incite a global apocalyptic war. These lines of effort are separate from its objective to retain territorial control in Iraq and Syria, and ISIS will continue expanding globally unless also contained outside of its core terrain.

In order to see all of ISW's Ramadan predictions, see the ISIS Forecast: Ramadan 2016.

This map depicts countries in which ISIS-linked militants have been active over the reporting period, but does not represent all ISIS-related activity.

  1. A pro-ISIS militant killed two French police officers in a knife attack in Magnanville outside Paris, France on June 13. The assailant posted a video during the attack on social media stating it was a response to ISIS spokesman Abu Mohammed al-Adnani’s call for attacks against the west during Ramadan.
  2. Tunisian security forces dismantled a likely ISIS cell on July 4 in Kairouan that was allegedly coordinating with militants in Sousse where it was planning attacks. ISIS operations in Tunisia aim to destabilize the state and set ground conditions to declare a wilayat in the long-term.
  3. ISIS Wilayat Sinai assassinated a Coptic priest in al-Arish on June 30 in order to incite sectarian tensions and highlight security gaps, despite recent counter-terrorism operations in Sinai. ISIS also claimed two attacks on mainland Egypt in Damietta and Dakahlia on June 7.
  4. ISIS militants executed a complex attack against the Ataturk airport in Istanbul, Turkey on June 28 as part of their campaign to destabilize regional power centers. The targeting of the Ataturk airport aimed to harm Turkey’s tourism industry and isolate it from the West.
  5. Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) cleared the city of Fallujah with support from coalition airstrikes on June 26. Despite this loss, ISIS militants detonated a suicide vehicle improvised explosive device (SVBIED) against a majority Shi’a neighborhood in central Baghdad that killed almost 300 on July 3. The attack, the deadliest in Iraq since 2003, likely sought to incite sectarian tensions and undermine fragile state institutions.
  6. ISIS was able to launch two separate quadruple SVEST (suicide vest) attacks targeting a predominately Christian district in northeastern Lebanon on June 27 and a SVBIED against a Jordanian Army border post on June 21 despite mounting pressure on its strongholds in Syria. ISW’s ISIS Forecast: Ramadan 2016 assessed that ISIS would launch attacks in these neighboring countries during Ramadan as it lost momentum in Syria.
  7. ISIS militants detonated simultaneous explosive attacks against three cities in Saudi Arabia on July 4, including an attack against security forces near the Prophet’s Mosque in Medina. ISIS typically does not claim attacks against powerful countries neighboring its territory in order to avoid retaliation against its core terrain, which is likely why it did not claim the attacks in Saudi Arabia or Turkey. Kuwaiti security forces also allegedly foiled three planned ISIS attacks during Eid celebrations on July 3.
  8. ISIS militants detonated four simultaneous SVBIEDs against Yemeni security forces in al Mukalla, Hadramawt governorate on June 27 to challenge the Yemeni central government and compete with al Qaeda globally.
  9. Iranian authorities claimed security forces arrested several ISIS-linked militants on June 20 who were reportedly planning several bombings in Tehran and other Iranian cities. These arrests and thwarted attacks indicate ISIS cells in Iran are developing explosive capabilities. ISIS may be targeting Iran directly as retaliation for Iranian forces attacking the group in Syria.
  10. Arrests and clashes indicate an increase in ISIS-linked activity in Central Asia. Security forces arrested up to six ISIS-linked suspects in Kyrgyzstan on June 10. ISIS-linked gunmen clashed with authorities in Aqtobe, Kazakhstan on June 5. Three of the Ataturk airport attackers were identified as Russian, Kyrgyz, and Uzbek, the first known use of Central Asian militants for foreign attacks. ISIS media also recently augmented efforts to recruit Central Asian militants, as shown by its increase in Uzbek and Russian-speakers in its videos.
  11. ISIS is resurging in Afghanistan despite being dislodged from Nangarhar Province in March 2016. Militants launched coordinated attacks against security forces in Kot and Deh Bala Districts in Nangarhar during Ramadan. New reports also indicate that Taliban militants are switching flags to join ISIS in northern Afghanistan, demonstrating the group’s ability to expand in Afghanistan despite losing most of its territorial control. ISIS also claimed multiple explosive attacks in Kabul City over Ramadan.
  12. ISIS cells are regenerating in Pakistan. Pakistani counter-terrorism police arrested three ISIS-linked suspects in Lahore on June 26 who were planning attacks against government buildings. This raid follows large-scale arrests across Punjab, Pakistan in early 2016 and indicate militants are regrouping in order to support attacks against Pakistan and neighboring countries.
  13. Indian security forces disrupted an ISIS cell and seized explosive materials in Hyderabad on June 29. The suspects coordinated with an ISIS member based in Syria and reportedly pledged to ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. ISIS’s ability to securely communicate and coordinate with cells in India means it is establishing a support base in India that will likely attempt to launch explosive attacks in the near to medium term.
  14. ISIS carried out its first complex attack in Bangladesh against a bakery in Dhaka on July 1 where militants held and killed 20 hostages. ISIS militants took pictures during the attack that were published by ISIS-linked Amaq news agency close to real-time, suggesting the suspects had connections to ISIS’s media operations and potentially planned the attack with ISIS leaders. The sophistication and premeditated nature of the attack represent an escalation of the group’s capabilities in Bangladesh.
  15. Four ISIS-linked Salafi-jihadi groups in the Philippines released a video on June 21 pledging allegiance to ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Fighters in the video announced the groups have consolidated and are operating under an emir, Abu Abdullah al-Filipini aka Isnilon Hapilon, the leader of the Abu Sayyaf Group. ISIS-linked militants conducted attacks in Indonesia, the Philippines, and its first in Malaysia during Ramadan. ISIS will likely declare a wilayat in the Philippines in the near term, as groups there have met most requirements of becoming a wilayat as outlined by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.