Islamic State leader al-Baghdadi abandons Mosul, say intelligence sources

Abu Bakr al-BaghdadiThe leader of the Islamic State has abandoned the city of Mosul and is hiding in the desert zone of western Iraq, according to intelligence sources. Meanwhile Mosul, once the most populous city under the Islamic State’s control, is now reportedly being defended by a diminishing cadre of fewer than 3,000 Sunni militants, who are facing a 110,000-strong invading army.

Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi became the center of worldwide attention in July of 2014, when Islamic State troops swept rapidly through western Iraq and captured the region’s largest city, Mosul, in a spectacular coordinated attack. Soon after Mosul was captured by the Islamic State, al-Baghdadi led Friday prayers at Mosul’s Great Mosque and proclaimed himself caliph —emperor of the world’s Muslims. In the following months, the Islamic State reached the height of its power, commanding large expanses of land that stretched from the northern regions of Syria to the outskirts of Iraq’s capital Baghdad. Soon after al-Baghdadi’s public appearance in Mosul, the United States government set up a joint task force aimed at killing or capturing him. The group, which is still operational today, includes representatives from the Armed Forces, the National Security Council, and the Intelligence Community. Al-Baghdadi is believed to have stayed in Mosul, but has proven difficult to trace. He almost never uses electronic communications and is constantly on the move, sleeping at different locations every night.

Last October, US-backed Iraqi government troops, Shiite militias and Kurdish forces launched a large-scale military operation to recapture Mosul and drive out the Islamic State from the region. The assailants, whose combined forces are said to exceed 110,000 troops, reclaimed much of eastern Mosul earlier this year, and are preparing to launch a large-scale military advance on the western half of the city. While the operation to complete the recapture of Mosul is underway, American and Iraqi intelligence sources report that al-Baghdadi has not been public heard from since early November of last year. This leads many analysts to believe that the Islamic State leader has left the city and is now hiding in the vast and inhospitable desert that stretches along the Iraqi-Syrian border. Moreover, intelligence analysts claim that the Islamic State’s online activity has fallen sharply, to about half of what it was during the group’s peak in late 2014. This leads to the conclusion that the Islamic State is now increasingly focusing on essential functions aimed simply at the survival of the regime. The group has reportedly lost at least 3,000 fighters in Mosul, but an estimated 2,400 armed men have vouched to defend the city to the very end.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 10 March 2017 | Permalink

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Spy agencies deploy extra staff to analyze ‘treasure trove’ of ISIS computer data

Iraqi forces in MosulWestern military and intelligence agencies are deploying extra analysts to comb through unprecedented amounts of digital data collected from Iraqi regions that have recently been recaptured from the Islamic State. The information is contained in thousands of laptops, hard drives, flash drives and cell phones left behind by retreating Islamic State forces in and around the northern Iraqi city of Mosul.

In an article published this week, the United Kingdom’s Secretary of State for Defense, Sir Michael Fallon, said he had authorized a significant increase in numbers of military intelligence analysts deployed to the Middle East, in response to “a trove of data” captured from the Islamic State. He added that the amount of digital data was expected to increase even further “when Mosul falls”. The British intelligence analysts will join hundreds of American specialists —including analysts, linguists and computer technicians— who are stationed in neighboring Jordan and have for over a year been analyzing digital and printed data captured from the Islamic State. Much of that information is eventually disseminated to allied intelligence agencies.

The largest collection of digital data and documents captured from the Islamic State dates from last summer, when Kurdish Peshmerga forces seized nearly 1,000 electronic devices belonging to the militant group. The material was found in and around the city of Manbij, near Aleppo in northwestern Syria. By late August, the Kurds had collected 20 terabytes of computer data and more than 120,000 documents stored on 1,200 devices that once belonged to ISIS officials or operatives. According to Western officials, the data led to intelligence operations against the Islamic State in 15 countries in North and South America, Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Southeast Asia. In November of this year, Iraqi forces operating south of Mosul captured the digital archives of the Islamic State’s Agricultural and Animal Resources Authority. In addition to an extensive notary archive, the collection included information on the Islamic State’s commercial transactions with entities in neighboring countries, and was described by Iraqi government sources as “a real treasure”.

According to the British government, digital data and printed documents currently being gathered from Islamic State strongholds in and around Mosul are expected to provide critical intelligence on the group’s structure and chain of command. They are also likely to give insights on the existence of Islamic State cells abroad, and will most likely help international prosecutors build legal cases against Islamic State commanders in the near future.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 15 December 2016 | Permalink

Islamic State shuts down phones in Mosul to stop informants

Mosul, IraqBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
The Islamic State has cut off all telephone service provision in the largest city under its control, reportedly in an effort to stop spies from passing information to Syrian, Iraqi and American intelligence services. Militants from the Islamic State, also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), conquered the northern Iraqi city of Mosul in June. They encountered almost no resistance upon entering the Sunni city of over a million inhabitants, as the crumbling Iraqi military kept hastily retreating south. Today Mosul is the most populous urban center under direct Islamic State rule. In July, the group’s seldom-seen leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, used Mosul as the backdrop of his propaganda video, in which he announced the official establishment of the Islamic State, a militant Sunni caliphate that is administered strictly through sharia law. Just weeks later, on August 8, the United States military began conducting airstrikes in Mosul, targeting senior Islamic State personnel there. The precise effects of these airstrikes are under debate in strategy circles in Washington, Baghdad and elsewhere. Last Thursday, however, residents of Mosul told the Associated Press news agency that Islamic State authorities had decreed the temporary termination of all telephone provision in the city. The measure was allegedly taken in order to prevent informants in and around Mosul from tipping off adversary intelligence agencies as to the physical whereabouts of senior Islamic State commanders. The measure was reportedly announced in the evening of Wednesday, November 26, through a radio station in Mosul that acts as the official news organ of the Islamic State in the Iraqi city. The Associated Press reported scenes of “chaos” and “paralysis” in the streets of Mosul on Thursday, as businesses came to a virtual standstill following the decision by the Islamic State to terminate telephone provision throughout the city. Some observers note that this move by the Islamic State constitutes a drastic change from the group’s standard tactic so far, which has centered in the efficient provision of basic services to the Sunni populations under its control, in an effort to win over their ideological support and political allegiance. Moreover, Mosul, whose population is almost uniformly Sunni, and is viscerally opposed to the Shiite-dominated government in Baghdad, is generally believed to be an Islamic State stronghold. If the militant group is finding it difficult to ensure the allegiance of Mosul’s population, then this could be a sign of fragmentation within the ranks of its supporters in all of northern Iraq. The Associated Press said some residents of Mosul are reportedly still able to access the Internet, which operates through a network that is separate from that of the telephone system.