ISIS franchise: Nigeria to Yemen to Pakistan

Over the past two months, the ISIS international franchise has made foreboding gains from West Africa to the Indian subcontinent. In Nigeria, Boko Haram pledged allegiance to ISIS in March, according to the anti-terrorist monitoring group SITE. The pledge, attributed to Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau, was made in an audio posted on Twitter (and since removed). "We announce our allegiance to the Caliph... and will hear and obey in times of difficulty and prosperity," SITE quoted the statement. (Al Jazeera, March 8) 

In Yemen, an ISIS affiliate on March 23 claimed responsibility for the mass killing of 29 soldiers in al-Houta, the southern city that has been taken over by the country's local al-Qaeda branch, AQAP. ISIS also claimed responsibility for suicide bombings two days earlier in Yemen's capital, Sanaa, that killed 137 people. ISIS likewise claimed its branch in Yemen's Lahj province, an AQAP stronghold just north of the port city of Aden, had assassinated two military officers. The officers were killed in early March by gunmen on motorbikes. AQAP has not claimed responsibility for these attacks. (CBS, March 23) 

In Afghanistan, Mohammed Omer Safi, the governor of Kunduz province, says his forces are under attack from a mixed force of local Taliban fighters and international ISIS volunteers from Chechnya and elsewhere. Afghan officials say some villages under rebel control are flying both the white flag of the Taliban and the black flag of ISIS. (PRI, May 7)

In Pakistan, jihadist leader Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, accused mastermind of the 2008 Mumbai attacks, was killed April 16 when a roadside bomb he was planting went off in the Khyber tribal agency. He had recently declared his allegiance to ISIS. Two militants also killed in the incident are believed to have been former commanders of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan who had recently defected to ISIS. (Zee News, April 17)

And the already-known ISIS franchise in Libya, which in February made headlines with a mass execution of Coptic Christians from Egypt, repeated the atrocity in April—killing 30 Ethiopian Christian migrants in a similarly video-released spectacle. The Ethiopian government has launched an evacuation mission in collaboration with Egyptian forces, repatriating hundreds of its citizens from Libya. (Sudan Tribune, May 7)

Syria: internationalizing the war
In the ISIS heartland of Syria and Iraq, the group continues its campaigns of extermination. Targeted bombings against Nowruz celebrations in Syria's northeastern city of al-Hasakah left up to 100 of dead and wounded, including women and children. The spring festival Nowruz is rejected by jihadists because of its pre-Islamic roots, and the attacks are believed to have been the work of ISIS. Al-Hasakah, a mostly Kurdish town, lies just outside ISIS-controlled territory. (UN News Centre, March 21)

ISIS is also said to have seized part of the Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp in Damascus, where they are battling for control with the Palestinian faction Aknaf Beit al-Maqdis. The camp remains under siege by Syrian government forces, and most of the residents have fled. (YNet, April 1) Aknaf Beit al-Maqdis is evidently distinct from the Sinai-based Ansar Beit al-Maqdis, which has pledged loyalty to ISIS. Aknaf Beit al-Maqdis is said to be aligned with Hamas. (Newsweek, April 2) In another sign of ISIS-Hamas conflict, a group calling itself "Supporters of Islamic State of Iraq and Syria in Jerusalem" took credit for a mortar attack on a Hamas base in the Gaza Strip on May 8. Earlier in the week, Hamas reportedly demolished a makeshift mosque erected by ISIS supporters in Deir el-Balah, Gaza. (JP, May 8)

Turkish officials have confirmed that Ankara has signed a pact with Saudi Arabia to help rebels fighting against Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad. The new strategic alliance will provide "logistical and financial support" to anti-Assad forces. While this presumably does not include ISIS, it will certainly be a boost to Islamist rebel groups at the expense of the secular opposition. (AP, May 7)

With world attention focused on ISIS, Assad's campaigns of mass murder also continue. One of the main hospitals in Aleppo has been forced to close indefinitely after being targeted by rockets and "barrel bombs" dropped by government aircraft, according to Doctors Without Borders. The May 5 report said the private al-Sakhour hospital, one of the only hospitals in east Aleppo, halted all activities after being bombed twice on consecutive days that week. (Al Jazeera, May 5) Amnesty International that same day issued a report citing evidence that the air campaign in Aleppo has "deliberately targeted civilians and civilian objects," constituting war crimes. "Such a systematic attack on the civilian population, when carried out as part of government policy as appears to have been the case in Aleppo, would also constitute a crime against humanity," the report added. (BBC News, May 5)

Iraq: sectarian, cultural cleansing
ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was allegedly "incapacitated" by spinal injuries sustained in a US air-strike in northern Iraq in late April. Reports indicate this was admitted by ISIS leaders, who pledged international reprisals for the attack. The new ISIS commander is reportedly Abu Alaa Afri, although he has not been named "caliph." (The Independent, Daily Mail, May 1)

ISIS continues its campaign of ethnic cleansing against the Yazidi people, with 600 captives executed in Tal Afar district of Nineveh governorate on May 1. Local Peshmerga forces and Nineveh's governor said the 600 had been convicted of apostasy by an ISIS sharia court. Reports are unclear on whether the captives were civilians or fighters, but they appear to have been all or mostly men. ISIS militants apparently lined up hundreds of Yazidis in front of a ditch near a highway and mowed them down with gunfire. Some reports indicated women and children were among the slain. (Al Bawaba, May 3; ARA News, May 2)

ISIS also continued its campaign against Iraq's archaeological treasures. In late March, militants used bulldozers, sledge-hammers and assault rifles to destroy structures and artifacts at the ancient fortress city of Hatra, a UNESCO world heritage site in Nineveh governorate. A video showing some of the destruction was released by the group. (The Guardian, April 5)

In mid April, Iraqi government-aligned forces took the city of Tikrit from ISIS after a campaign of over a month. There was much controversy over the fact that the anti-ISIS offensive was led by Shi'ite militias, including the Badr Organization, Moqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army, and the Iraqi Hezbollah Brigades. Iranian Revolutionary Guards were also involved in the operation, with elite Qods Force commander Qassem Soleimani said to be personally directing the fighting. Because of this involvement, the US initially did not aid the Tikrit operation, although it finally did launch air-strikes in support of the anti-ISIS forces on March 25. Although some Sunni militia were also in the anti-ISIS force, Tikrit has seen reprisal attacks against Sunni residents since ISIS was driven out, threatening the fragile coalition. (NYT, May 9; McClatchy, March 25; Long War Journal, March 4)

Instant karma for Assad's 'barrel bomber'

Maj. Gen. Pilot Nadim Ghanem Jawad, commander of the Balli Military Airbase, was among several killed in the accidental explosion of a barrel bomb during preparations ay the base. Ghanem is considered as one of the pillars of the Syrian regime forces, and was the key figure responsible for the barrel bombs campaigns. (ARA News, May 9)

ISIS claims its first attack in Saudi Arabia

ISIS has claimed a suicide bombing on a Shi'ite mosque that killed at least 20 in the village of al-Qadeeh, Qatif governorate, in Saudi Arabia's Eastern Province. The blast, which came amid Friday prayers, is the first to be claimed by the Saudi branch of ISIS, which was formally announced last November. The claim was posted on Twitter with an image of the bomber by an account that is a "reliable source" on the group. (BBC News)

ISIS claims second attack in Saudi Arabia

Four people were killed in Dammam, in Saudi Arabia's Eastern Province, when a suicide bomber's explosives blew up in the parking lot of a Shi'ite mosque. The attack was again timed for Friday prayers. Authorities said guards approached the car as it was parking and that the driver—disguised in women's clothing—detonated his charges. ISIS later claimed responsibility for the attack. (Al Jazeera, Middle East Eye)

ISIS claims third attack in Saudi Arabia

A suicide bomb attack on a mosque in Saudi Arabia left 15 people dead at Abha, close to the Yemeni border. The mosque was being used by members of the security forces. ISIS said it carried out the attack. (BBC News)