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

  • Reminiscence of Islamic State’s massacres drives informants
  • Human intelligence essential as militants shun telephones
  • Lots of of Islamic State fighters nonetheless in jap Syria

AMMAN, Sept 13 (Reuters) – When the U.S. army focused Islamic State commander Maher al-Agal with a drone strike in northern Syria in July, there was little likelihood it could miss. The rationale? Revenge.

With Islamic State’s final battle-hardened forces holed up in distant areas, america 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 also referred to as Daesh, massacred a whole bunch of their clan, Sheitaat tribesmen in Syria had planted a monitoring machine on the motorcycle Agal was using when he was killed, one of many individuals who tracked him down stated.

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The tribesman, whose account was confirmed by a Western intelligence officer within the area, stated tribal relations involved with the Islamic State commander’s instant household had secretly been retaining 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 individual, who declined to recognized for safety causes, instructed Reuters by cellphone from Syria. “It has healed the burning in our hearts.”

In considered one of its bloodiest atrocities, Islamic State massacred greater than 900 members of the Sheitaat tribe in three cities in Syria’s jap 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, a whole bunch 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. army’s marketing campaign to additional degrade the group, three Western intelligence sources and 6 tribal sources stated.

“These networks of informants are working with the People who’re planting them in every single place,” stated 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 stated.

Requested in regards to the position of tribal informants in Syria, a U.S. army official stated that within the operation in opposition to Agal, the focusing on was virtually totally based mostly on human intelligence.

“That is one thing that required a deep community within the area,” stated the official, who declined to be named as he was not authorised to talk publicly in regards to 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. army, which has about 900 troops in northeastern Syria, stated Agal was one of many group’s prime 5 leaders and had been chargeable for growing Islamic State networks outdoors Iraq and Syria.

U.S. Central Command stated on the time that the strike in opposition to Agal adopted in depth planning. learn extra

With lots of Islamic State’s international commanders killed or detained, Syrians have grow to be more and more important in its management, making the militants extra weak to penetration by fellow Syrians eager to settle scores, Western and regional intelligence sources and three senior tribal figures stated.

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

Some informants had been being recruited by tribal intermediaries who had been already a part of the community. Others had been contributing immediately by way of a cellphone line arrange by the coalition to obtain suggestions, Sheitaat tribal chief Kassab stated.

The U.S. army officer confirmed that informants had been paid however didn’t elaborate.

The U.S.-financed tribal networks have penetrated Islamic State sleeper cells and compiled information on new recruits, who embody fellow tribesmen in some instances, 5 tribal sources stated. 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 largest tribe, the Akaidat, who fought with U.S.-backed forces to drive Islamic State from swathes of northeast Syria, taking town of Raqqa after an extended battle in 2017.

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


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

“A lot of the new operatives don’t use cellular or devices that had been behind the key previous hits of international jihadists,” stated the officer, who’s conversant in a number of the covert effort.

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

“A whole lot of occasions, human intelligence goes to enhance your different types of intelligence, info you choose up from there or from voice indicators and you’ll complement it. In that case it actually led the gathering,” the official stated.

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 principally steering away from areas nearer to his residence city the place he is perhaps recognised, two of his relations stated.

His demise marked considered one of a number of blows in opposition to Islamic State in Syria this yr.

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. learn extra

Agal, Kurdi and the opposite militants who had 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 continues to be trying to find the stays of two of his 4 sons beheaded by Islamic State in 2014.

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

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

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

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

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

“I tipped the coalition about 5 folks, together with two cousins amongst my tribe whom we came upon had been with Daesh, working checkpoints, burning properties,” stated 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 proper time to take revenge and slaughter those that survived their massacres.”

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Modifying by Tom Perry, Dominic Evans and David Clarke

Our Requirements: The Thomson Reuters Belief Ideas.