January 20, 2020

The Islamic State's new leader is Amir Mohammed Abdul Rahman al-Mawli al-Salbi, one of the terrorist organization's founding members, intelligence officials told The Guardian.

Last October, ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was killed in a raid in Syria, and officials said Salbi replaced him just hours after his death. Born to an Iraqi Turkmen family, Salbi has a background as an Islamic scholar, and came up with the ISIS religious rulings authorizing the enslavement of Iraq's Yazidi minority. Salbi met Baghdadi in 2004, when both were detained by U.S. forces at Camp Bucca in Iraq.

There aren't many founding members of ISIS left, and the group doesn't have nearly as many fighters as it did during its peak in the mid-2010s. ISIS no longer controls vast swaths of Iraq and Syria, but they are still behind assassinations and roadside bombings in northern Iraq, a senior Kurdish official told The Guardian. There are rural networks that "remain very much intact," the official said. "After all, ISIS members in Iraq still receive monthly salaries and training in remote mountainous areas. That network allows the organization to endure, even when militarily defeated."

Salbi's whereabouts are unknown, but intelligence officials believe it's likely he is near Mosul, Iraq. There is a $5 million bounty on his head. Catherine Garcia

October 9, 2019

Two Islamic State militants have been turned over to the United States military by Kurdish fighters who had been holding them in a prison in Syria, a U.S. official told Reuters on Wednesday.

A second U.S. official said the men were part of a cell nicknamed "The Beatles," because there were four of them and they are British. They tortured Western hostages and played a role in the murders of several Americans, including journalist James Foley in 2014. The militants, Alexanda Kotey and El Shafee Elsheikh, are now in Iraq, The Washington Post reports.

The men were moved out of Syria ahead of Turkey's assault on the Kurdish fighters in northern Syria. The Kurds helped defeat ISIS in Syria, and have been guarding about 12,000 prisoners. Since the U.S. announced it would pull back its troops and not stop Turkey from advancing into Syria, the Kurds have said they can no longer have as many fighters keeping an eye on the ISIS prisoners. Catherine Garcia

August 19, 2019

Despite its fractured leadership, the Islamic State is gaining strength in Iraq and Syria, conducting frequent guerrilla attacks and once again beheading people in public, U.S. and Iraqi military and intelligence officers told The New York Times.

ISIS was pushed out of its last bit of territory in Syria five months ago, but it still has an estimated 18,000 fighters, and more and more are being recruited at Al Hol, a tent camp in northern Syria housing 70,000 people — many of them relatives of ISIS fighters. American intelligence officials said they consider this camp, managed by Syrian Kurds, a breeding ground for future terrorists.

President Trump has ordered troops out of Syria, but a recent inspector general's report said this has made it harder to support Syrian allies fighting ISIS, and they are only able to focus on keeping militants out of urban areas. In July, Trump said the U.S. and allies did "a great job," but it's time for troops to leave. "We'll be out of there pretty soon," he added. "And let them handle their own problems."

ISIS sleeper cells in Syria and Iraq are carrying out assassinations, abductions, and sniper attacks, conducting 139 deadly attacks in northern and western Iraq during the first six months of the year. Earlier this month, a police officer in a rural village two hours north of Baghdad was publicly beheaded by armed men who said they were part of ISIS. The terrorist organization is supported by business endeavors like fish farming and cannabis growing, the Times reports, and it's believed they have hidden away as much as $400 million. Catherine Garcia

July 22, 2019

Islamic State militants who were able to survive intense fighting in Syria this spring have been slipping across the border into Iraq, settling in rural areas and joining new insurgent groups, security officials said.

Over the last eight months, about 1,000 fighters have made their way to Iraq, some by foot but most by car, officials told The Washington Post. Most are Iraqis who left to join ISIS in Syria, and they are now helping other militants with sniper attacks and roadside bombings outside of Iraq's major cities. Experts say they are mostly targeting security forces and community leaders.

This month, security forces started working to root out militants along Iraq's 370-mile border with Syria, and have found multiple bomb making factories, the Post reports. The insurgency is primarily in the central and northern part of Iraq, security officials said, and the Iraqi government does not believe the ISIS fighters will be able to take over huge areas of land. Catherine Garcia

March 2, 2019

The U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) said on Saturday they are close to expelling the Islamic State from its last bastion of territory in Baghouz, Syria.

The battle is expected to be over "soon," said Mustafa Bali, the head of the Kurdish-led SDF's media office. This round of fighting began on Friday after the last remaining civilians evacuated Baghouz, leaving only ISIS fighters in the territory. Most of the evacuees were women and children — they were separated from the men, who were taken in for interrogation. An estimated 10,000 civilians have evacuated the territory since Feb. 20, many of them hailing from other countries, Al Jazeera reports.

An SDF victory would be significant, per Reuters, as ISIS once held a large swath of territory in the region. But the insurgents are expected to remain a guerrilla threat despite losing their last stronghold. Tim O'Donnell

February 8, 2019

Intelligence officials believe that a coup attempt was made last month against Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, but he survived, and now there's a bounty on the head of the senior foreign fighter thought to have been behind the plot, The Guardian reports.

ISIS only has control over a tiny portion of land near the city of Hajin in eastern Syria, and there are an estimated 500 ISIS militants left in the area. Intelligence officers believe that on Jan. 10, a group of foreign fighters tried to make a move against al-Baghdadi, which led to a shootout with his bodyguards, The Guardian reports. They were able to flee with al-Baghdadi, and ISIS is now offering a reward to anyone who kills Abu Muath al-Jazairi, a veteran foreign fighter.

An intelligence officer told The Guardian that al-Baghdadi "got wind of it just in time. There was a clash and two people were killed. This was the foreign fighter element, some of his most trusted people." It's unclear where al-Baghdadi is now; he's not in good health, and is still dealing with injuries sustained during an airstrike nearly five years ago. The small area of land where ISIS militants are holed up is surrounded by Kurdish forces and Shia militias, and in recent weeks, many fighters and their families have surrendered. Catherine Garcia

November 17, 2017

Iraqi forces reclaimed the last Islamic State-held town in Iraq on Friday, more than three years after the militant group seized almost a third of the nation's territory, The Associated Press reports. The U.S.-backed Iraqi forces took control of the town of Rawa, where an estimated 10,000 civilians were being held hostage, Al Jazeera reports.

"Iraq has lost $100 billion in the [war against ISIS], but we have achieved success in three battles; namely liberating the land, maintaining Iraq's unity, and standing up to the threats," Iraq's prime minister, Haider al-Abadi, said Saturday.

The special U.S. presidential envoy to the global coalition to defeat ISIS, Brett McGurk, tweeted news of the liberation of Rawa, adding: "Days of [ISIS's] phony 'caliphate' are coming to an end." Jeva Lange

November 9, 2017

On Thursday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a well-sourced monitoring group based in Britain, said that the Islamic State had abandoned its last urban stronghold, Boukamal (or Abu Kamal), following a siege by forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Pro-Assad forces, including Iranian-backed militias, had entered Boukamal on Wednesday and met some resistance from ISIS remnants. With its ouster from Boukamal, a strategic town on the Iraqi border, ISIS has been relegated to small towns and villages along the Iraq border and in the Syrian desert.

While Syrian government forces and their allies have been attacking ISIS in eastern and central parts of Syria, the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), an alliance of Kurds and Arabs, has been routing ISIS in the north and east. The Assad government said it plans to seize the territory won by the SDF, including former ISIS capital Raqqa and oil-rich territory near the Euphrates River. The SDF-held areas are setting up an autonomous government. Meanwhile, ISIS has been conducting guerrilla strikes from its rural outposts, and still has territory in Libya and elsewhere. Peter Weber

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