ISIS regroups in Syria amid international chaos

By Zana al-Ali

QAMISHLI, Syria (North Press) – Security experts believe that the Islamic State (ISIS) uses the ongoing turmoil and international conflicts, especially in the Middle East, in its advantage in order to regroup and reorganize in Syria once again.

In early 2024, ISIS issued a voice message appealing for financial support and the recruitment of new militants to the group.

The voice message sent by Abu Huzaifa al-Ansari started with the line “Kill them wherever you find them,” and it mainly revolved around the conflict in Gaza.

International peace and security

ISIS still possesses the capability to launch attacks resulting in significant civilian causalities and humanitarian suffering, according to a report issued by the Secretary-General of the United Nations.

During a briefing to the U.N. Security Council on Feb. 15, the Under-Secretary-General for Counter-Terrorism, Vladimir Voronkov, showcased the threat ISIS posed to international peace and security.     

“The tragedy, destruction and suffering caused by terrorism should serve as a catalyst to renew international commitment to not only remedy its horrific impact, but also and most importantly to step up efforts to prevent such attacks in the first place.” Voronkov said.

Despite facing leadership attrition and financial setbacks, ISIS and its affiliated cells have retained their ability to carry out terrorist attacks and plan threats beyond their areas of operation. The risk of an ISIS resurgence remains in Syria and Iraq, the report pointed out.

The financial reserves of ISIS vary between $10 to $25 million with the majority of the funds being raised by means of crypto currencies via social media platform, according to the U.N.

Resurgence of ISIS

Munir Adeeb, a researcher and expert in extremist groups, says, “ISIS is in an increasing state of growth in the territory where it initially declared its caliphate.”

Adeeb stresses to North Press, “The international community is supposed to confront ISIS along with local and international forces present in the territory where ISIS cells are present.”

The researcher is of the opinion that if the international community is preoccupied with the international conflicts and wars, especially the Iran-U.S. dispute in the Middle East, “It cannot confront ISIS and its cells and this is what is happening in Syria and other regions.”

Extremist groups take advantage of international conflicts and chaos, especially when there is no international influence, Adeeb commented.

In mid-2023, the U.N. estimated that ISIS still has between 5,000 and 7,000 militants in Syria and Iraq, operating in small cells against Syrian, Iraqi, and U.S. forces.

In 2014, the group controlled vast areas in Syria and Iraq, and launched violent attacks against civilians living there and in other parts of the world. By 2019, after conducting various military operations over the years by Iraqi, Syrian, and U.S. forces, ISIS was defeated and the group lost control of the region.

The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) fought fierce battles against the group, with the support of the U.S.-led Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS, in the town of Baghuz, its final stronghold in the countryside of Deir ez-Zor, eastern Syria. Later in March, the SDF declared the territorial defeat of ISIS.

In mid-2023, a U.N. committee consisting of security experts specialized in monitoring sanctions imposed on ISIS noted that during the first half of 2023, the threat posed by ISIS remained highly present, mostly in conflict areas.

The committee said in its report to the Security Council that the group remains active in Syria and Iraq and the risk of its resurgence persists.

The experts reported, citing an unnamed source as saying that ISIS is still pursuing the Cubs of the Caliphate program to recruit children in the overcrowded Hawl Camp in Hasakah Governorate, northeastern Syria.

Hawl Camp is home to approximately 55,000 individuals, comprising 2,423 families, including women and children, with connections to ISIS militants originating from around 60 countries.

Mutual benefit

Experts believe that the international conflicts in the Middle East, especially after Hamas’ attack against Israel on Oct.7, 2023, created a relationship of mutual benefit between ISIS and Iran despite their ideological differences.

Mustafa al-Naimi, an expert on Iran, explains that the mutually beneficial relationship between ISIS and Iran is evident, especially in handing over weapons during mock battles.

Al-Naimi believes, “the goal is to sustain the conflict in the region and perpetuate the existence of the Syrian government, and impose it on the international community as a partner in counterterrorism.”

He told North Press that ISIS is “no longer capable of achieving any gains, except for creating chaos in the areas where it operates. The persistence of the threat serves the Syrian government so it remains within the counterterrorism project. Hence, it perpetuates this conflict between the Syrian government on the one hand and ISIS on the other, and legitimizes the regime’s existence as a partner in counterterrorism efforts.”

Al-Naimi indicates that the declaration of the elimination of ISIS has been made several times, however, the group reappears in an instant in a region and disappears immediately, confirming that ISIS is used like a puppet to serve the parties in control of the areas it is operating in.   

He argues that the state of mutual benefit will remain the dominant factor until the international community is convinced that there is no solution except to end the Syrian regime, which has become a threat to local, regional, and international security and a hub for terrorism.