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Salafi-Jihadi Movement Weekly Update, May 4, 2023

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Salafi-Jihadi Movement Weekly Update, May 4, 2023

May 4, 2023 – Press ISW

Iraq and Syria. The Turkish raid on an alleged ISIS safe house in northwestern Syria on April 28 likely killed an ISIS leader, but not the “caliph.” The US Defense Department said it “could not corroborate” Turkey’s claims that the raid killed the “caliph.” The continued targeting of ISIS leadership is helpful, but it fails to address the group’s ability to embed itself within local populations. ISIS could leverage opportunities in US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF)-controlled areas to cultivate relationships with local tribes opposed to SDF governance. The SDF approach to governance is counterproductive and causes resentment among local tribes.

Sudan. The al Qaeda and Islamic State networks in Africa will likely seek to use the Sudan conflict to improve their position on the continent. Numerous inmates escaped from a prison in Khartoum city beginning on April 22 amid clashes between Sudan’s two warring factions. Al Qaeda and the Islamic State have previously used conflicts elsewhere in Africa to improve their position on the continent.

Pakistan. Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) militants based in Afghanistan continue to direct TTP activities in Pakistani cities far outside of TTP’s recent attack zones. Police arrested two TTP militants for extortion in Karachi on April 26. Police said that TTP leadership in Afghanistan directed the militants to extort Pashtun traders. Pakistan will be unable to counter the TTP as TTP leadership continues to provide support from Afghanistan. Pakistan will also be unable to weaken the TTP in Pakistan as the TTP grows its attack capabilities and Islamabad cuts its military expenses.

Afghanistan. A former Taliban official close to Taliban Minister of Interior and Haqqani Network leader Sirajuddin Haqqani called on Taliban supporters in Europe and America to kill critics of the Taliban government. This official claimed the Taliban already had volunteers in Europe and America who could be organized to carry out assassinations of Taliban critics. A stated intent to establish networks to facilitate Taliban-ordered assassinations abroad presents a direct threat to critics of the Taliban—including US and European citizens.

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Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, May 3, 2023

May 3, 2023 – Press ISW

Russia accused Ukraine of conducting a drone strike against the Kremlin on May 3. Social media footage circulated on May 3 shows a drone detonating near a flagpole on top of the Kremlin Senate Palace building in Moscow as two unidentified people climbed up the dome of the building. The Kremlin accused Ukraine of orchestrating “a planned terrorist attack” with the intent of assassinating Russian President Vladimir Putin and clarified that Putin was not at the Kremlin at the time of the attack and was therefore unharmed. Ukrainian officials, including Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, stressed that Ukraine did not conduct the attack.

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Iran Update, May 3, 2023

May 3, 2023 – Press ISW

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi signed 15 cooperation agreements with Syrian President Bashar al Assad in Damascus, Syria on May 3, which could improve the Iranian economy and increase regime stability. Raisi signed these agreements on the first of his two-day trip to Syria, the first trip an Iranian president has made to Syria since the start of the Syrian civil war in 2011 and Arab Spring. Raisi and Assad signed several memorandums of understanding covering oil, energy, transportation, reconstruction, and communications technology. Raisi also asserted that Iranian companies are prepared to be the primary providers of reconstruction projects in Syria during an interview with Lebanese Hezbollah-run Al Mayadeen on May 2. The head of the Iran-Syria Joint Economic Commission and Iran’s Roads and Urban Development Minister Mehrdad Bazrpash separately announced on May 3 that the commission established a joint Iranian-Syrian bank to facilitate business transactions between the two countries. The commissioner’s announcement of the joint bank while Iran and Syria signed economic cooperation agreements suggests the bank will have a role in funding Iranian reconstruction projects in Syria and transferring payments to Iran. These payments would increase capital inflow to Iran, which would help reinvigorate Iran’s deteriorating economy. The role of Iranian para-statal organizations in generating revenue through Syria’s reconstruction would not alleviate Iran’s high inflation and unstable currency, although the regime may attempt to frame it as such to the Iranian people. Such para-statal organizations include the Khatam al Anbia Construction Headquarters, which is the IRGC’s engineering and development firm that oversees large-scale civil-military construction projects and helps the regime circumvent sanctions.

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Iran Update, May 2, 2023

May 2, 2023 – Press ISW

Iranian officials and members of the clerical establishment have expressed increased concern over the safety of religious figures in recent days. Former Intelligence and Security Minister and Shia cleric Hojjat ol Eslam Ali Fallahian called on Friday prayer leaders to learn self-defense during an interview with reformist news outlet Entekhab on May 2. The Islamic Propaganda Coordination Council—a regime body responsible for organizing official ceremonies and public events—separately issued a statement on May 2 urging law enforcement and security services to decisively confront “thugs.” The council issued this statement in response to the killing of Assembly of Experts member Ayatollah Abbas Ali Soleimani on April 26. The council chairman—Mohammad Hossein Musa Pour—is a cleric and former governor of Qom City, Qom Province. Law Enforcement Commander Brigadier General Ahmad Reza Radan additionally discussed Soleimani’s murder with Qom Friday Prayer Leader Ayatollah Mohammad Saedi on April 29, possibly to discuss measures to protect clerics.

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Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, May 2, 2023

May 2, 2023 – Press ISW

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu claimed that the Russian defense industrial base (DIB) is increasing its production of precision missiles for use against Ukraine. Shoigu highlighted the state-owned Tactical Missiles Corporation as a model defense enterprise, stating that is successfully beginning mass production of missiles and will develop plans to double its current production output in the near term. Shoigu’s focus on precision missile production aligns with a shift in Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD)’s rhetoric focusing on Russia‘s use of precision missiles to strike military infrastructure targets in Ukrainian rear areas, likely aiming to similarly appear proactive and demonstrative positive Russian actions amid growing concerns in the Russian information space about a potential Ukrainian counteroffensive.

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Iran Update, May 1, 2023

May 1, 2023 – Press ISW

Iranian leadership dismissed several economic officials and emphasized fighting corruption between April 27 and May 1 to improve Iran’s economy, which is very unlikely to precipitate the meaningful economic change necessary to curb inflation and stabilize the Iranian rial. Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei called on parliament and the Raisi administration to fight economic corruption during a meeting with workers, labor organization members, and Raisi administration officials on April 29. President Ebrahim Raisi has engaged in numerous symbolic economic engagements in recent days. Raisi dismissed 15 unspecified managers in Khuzestan Province to demonstrate his administration’s “intolerance” of corruption during a two-day trip to this province on April 27-28. Raisi additionally ordered the formation of a working group on April 30 to “follow up on the issues” raised by Khamenei in his April 29 meeting with workers without providing further details. Raisi called on his administration to address the needs of contract workers and retirees—who have organized widespread strikes and protests in recent weeks—during a MAPNA Company event for International Workers’ Day on May 1.

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