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Islamist Trends: April-June 2016

In the second quarter of 2016, Islamist militants demonstrated their long reach with attacks across the region on both civilian and government targets.

Islamist Trends: April-June 2016

In the second quarter of 2016, Islamist militants demonstrated their long reach with attacks across the region on both civilian and government targets. Some of the year’s most deadly attacks occurred during the holy month of Ramadan. Outside of Tunisia and Turkey, Islamist political parties remained largely marginalized, especially in Egypt, where courts doled out prison sentences and death sentences to alleged members of the Muslim Brotherhood.

ISIS lost additional territory in Iraq, including its last stronghold in al Anbar Province, Fallujah. The U.S.-led coalition is “taking out about one [ISIS] leader now every three days,” Brett McGurk, the U.S. special envoy for countering ISIS, told NPR in June.

ISIS and its affiliates, however, perpetrated at least 11 attacks in six countries and were thought to be linked to several more. Two especially gruesome attacks were the assault on Istanbul’s Ataturk Airport and a quadruple suicide car bombing in the Yemeni port city of Mukalla, both of which killed more than 40 people.

In Tunisia, one of the few places in the region where Islamists are still key political players, the Islamist Ennahda party announced that it would move away from the label “political Islam.” Party leader Rached Ghannouchi said the shift reflected Tunisia’s successful democratic transition, but he also cited the need to distance the party from extremist groups. The decision was a turning point for the party, which had its roots in the ideas of the Muslim Brotherhood and has since evolved into a moderate and pragmatic party. The following is a rundown of key events related to Islamist groups from April through June 2016.

Iraq and Syria

April 8: Secretary of State John Kerry made an unannounced visit to Baghdad to pledge continued U.S. support for Iraq’s government and the fight against ISIS. He promised $155 million in additional humanitarian assistance to help rebuild cities and resettle refugees. It was his first visit to Iraq in two years.

April 17: Troops form the U.S.-led coalition reportedly landed a helicopter north of Mosul and captured at least one ISIS member from a vehicle. Reuters noted an increase in such raids since the United States announced last December that it was deploying special operations troops to Iraq to fight ISIS.

April 18: U.S. and Kurdish commandos killed a member of ISIS’ war council, Suleiman Abd Shabib al Jabouri, and two aides south of Mosul in a helicopter raid.

April 28: Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. made an unannounced visit to Baghdad. The trip, his first visit to Iraq in nearly five years, was meant to urge Iraqis to stop political infighting and to bolster the campaign against ISIS.

April 30– May 1: Hundreds of Muqtada al Sadr’s followers stormed Baghdad’s fortified Green Zone and entered parliament to protest government corruption and failure to provide services. The Shiite cleric, who headed a militia that fought against U.S. troops in the 2000s, called the move the start of a revolution. Protestors left the following evening on orders from Sadr.

Sadr followers dig in inside Baghdad's Green Zone, political crisis deepens

— Reuters Top News (@Reuters) April 30, 2016

May 3: ISIS fighters killed a member of the Navy SEALs after they penetrated Kurdish defenses in northern Iraq. Charlie Keating IV was the third American service member to die in combat since the U.S-led coalition moved against ISIS in 2014.

May 6: An airstrike by the U.S.-led coalition killed Abu Wahib, ISIS’ chief military official in Iraq’s Anbar Province. In a May 9 announcement, the Pentagon said three other ISIS members were also in the vehicle with Wahib when it was hit near the town of Rutba.

May 11: Three suicide bombings claimed by ISIS killed at least 80 people in Baghdad. During morning rush hour, a suicide car bomb targeted a market in the Shiite area of Sadr City. In the afternoon, one suicide bomber attacked a checkpoint near a Shiite holy site. And another bomb went off at a road checkpoint in a predominantly Sunni district. 

May 12: A twin suicide bombing that struck a police station in a western suburb of Baghdad killed at least five people. ISIS claimed credit for the attack. 

May 13: Three gunmen opened fire around midnight at a café in the predominantly Shiite Iraqi town of Balad, killing at least 12 and wounding 25. ISIS claimed that three suicide bombers detonated their explosives. Security forces, however, were only able to immediately identify one bomber.

May 19: Iraqi forces announced that the western town of Rutba was liberated from ISIS, which had held it for nearly two years.

May 19: Syrian government forces, with help from Hezbollah fighters, made one of their most significant advances in 2016 southeast of Damascus against rebels, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

May 20: Thousands of protestors gathered outside of the Green Zone’s walls in Baghdad for the second time in a month, including Sadrists. Hundreds of demonstrators tried to enter the area, but riot police fired tear gas and gunshots to disperse them. Hospital and police officials said that more than 100 were wounded.

May 22-23: Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al Abadi announced the start of an offensive to retake Fallujah, a key city about 40 miles west of Baghdad held by ISIS since January 2014.

June 7: ISIS claimed credit for a car bombing that killed 10 people and wounded 25 in the Shiite holy city of Karbala, Iraq.

June 17: Iraqi forces liberated key neighborhoods in Fallujah from ISIS control and entered the city center.

June 21: Russian and Syrian warplanes reportedly bombed the ISIS capital Raqqa, killing at least 18 civilians, according to activists.

June 26: Iraqi forces took the last ISIS positions in Fallujah. Prime Minister Abadi visited the city and called on Iraqis to celebrate. Despite the military victory, the government faced a growing humanitarian crisis after tens of thousands of civilians fled their homes during the weeks of fighting.

June 28: Brett McGurk, the U.S. special envoy for countering ISIS, told lawmakers that the group had lost 47 percent of its territory in Iraq and 20 percent in Syria. He also reported that ISIS had some 18,000 to 20,000 fighters, down from up to 33,000 in 2014.

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June 28: A suicide bomber killed at least 12 and wounded some 32 in an attack on a mosque in Abu Ghraib, some 15 miles west of Baghdad.

June 29: McGurk told NPR that the U.S.-led coalition is “taking out about one [ISIS] leader now every three days.”

June 29: ISIS reportedly routed a group of U.S.-backed Syrian rebels, forcing them to withdraw to the rebel base near the Jordanian border. The New Syrian Army said that it lost “several men” before retreating while ISIS claimed it killed 40 fighters and captured 15. The figures could not be independently confirmed.

June 30: U.S.-led coalition and Iraqi airstrikes destroyed some 200 vehicles carrying ISIS fighters fleeing Fallujah. The Iraqi military provided different numbers, saying that 750 ISIS vehicles were destroyed.


April 15: More than a thousand people in downtown Cairo protested President Abdel Fatah el Sisi’s decision to transfer control of two islands in the Red Sea to Saudi Arabia. Some members of the Muslim Brotherhood reportedly marched at the large rally and other smaller ones. The Cairo demonstration was the largest in at least two years, according to The New York Times.

Critics of Sisi manage rare protest of Egyptian president in Cairo

— New York Times World (@nytimesworld) April 15, 2016

April 27: Wasat Party leader Abul-Ela Madi gave his first public speech since his 2015 release from prison. The Islamist leader said the “civic, moderate and centrist” party was making a comeback. He emphasized that the party is rejects violence and is “independent of the Muslim Brotherhood,” which was banned in 2013 following the military coup. 

May 7: A court sentenced six people, including journalists, to death for allegedly leaking state secrets to Qatar during the presidency of Mohamed Morsi, who was backed by the Brotherhood. 

May 8: Militants killed eight plainclothes police in a Cairo suburb. Egypt’s ISIS affiliate, Sinai Province, claimed credit. But another extremist group, the Popular Resistance Movement, also claimed responsibility. It said the attack was carried out to commemorate 1,000 days since Egyptian security forces killed hundreds of anti-government protestors in August 2013 at Rabaa Square in Cairo, many of whom were Islamists and supporters of ousted President Mohamed Morsi.

May 30: A court sentenced Brotherhood leader Mohamed Badie and 35 others to life in prison for involvement in clashes with security forces in 2013 following Morsi’s ouster. Nearly 50 others received jail sentences ranging from three to 15 years while 20 others were acquitted. Badie already received the death sentence and prison terms in other trials. The Brotherhood condemned the rulings.

May 31: A roadside bomb struck a military armored vehicle in the northern Sinai, killing six soldiers and wounding six more. No group claimed credit in the immediate aftermath, but the attack resembled others by Sinai Province.

June 5: A military court sentenced eight alleged Brotherhood members to death for belonging to an illegal group and plotting to assassinate army and police personnel. Twelve other defendants received life sentences and another received six to 15 years in prison. Two defendants were acquitted and two others were convicted in absentia.

June 30: ISIS militants shot and killed a Christian priest in the Sinai while he was fixing his car, according to the Interior Ministry and the Coptic Orthodox Church. In a separate attack militants killed two members of Egypt’s security forces.

June 29: President el Sisi called on Muslim clerics to implement religious reforms to counter extremism. “We are on a mission, during one of the most difficult periods not only for Egypt, but for Egypt and all Arab and Muslim states,” Sisi said in the televised speech.

June 30: Egypt’s government celebrated the army’s 2013 overthrow of Islamist president Mohamed Morsi with a new national holiday.


April 13: Jordanian police reportedly shut down the Muslim Brotherhood headquarters in Amman, according to senior leader in the movement.

June 6: A gunman killed five people, including three Jordanian intelligence officers, in Baqaa, a refugee camp that houses some 120,000 Palestinians about 12 miles from Amman. Authorities described the attack as a “terrorist attack” by someone who deviated from Islam given the timing, the first day of the holy month of Ramadan.

June 12: The political arm of the Brotherhood, the Islamic Action Front, said that it will participate in the September 2016 parliamentary elections. It previously boycotted the 2010 and 2013 elections, arguing that the electoral system unfairly favors tribal and pro-government candidates.

June 21: Outside of a camp for Syrian refugees, a suicide car bomb killed seven soldiers and wounded 13 others. ISIS later claimed responsibility for the attack on June 26.


May 8: Lebanon held its first municipal elections six years starting on May 8, followed by two other rounds later in the month. In Tripoli, a list led by hawkish Sunni politician, Ashraf Rifi, won a majority of seats. Rifi resigned as justice minister earlier in 2016 to protest Hezbollah’s dominance in the country. The countries main Shiite parties, Hezbollah and the Amal Movement, won the areas where Shiites are concentrated in South Lebanon and Nabatiyeh governorates.

May 13: Mustafa Badreddine, a top military commander in Hezbollah, a Lebanese Shiite militia and political party, was killed in an explosion in Damascus. Hezbollah, a key ally of Iran’s which has fought to defend the Assad regime, said Sunni Islamist rebels were responsible for the artillery fire that killed the veteran operative, an active member since the early 1980s. He was accused of helping to plan the 1983 truck bombing that killed 241 U.S. Marines in Beirut.

Hizbollah blames jihadists, not Israel, for killing of military chief Mustafa Badreddine

— Telegraph World News (@TelegraphWorld) May 14, 2016

June 20: Hezbollah called on the people of Bahrain, the majority of whom are Shiite, to express their “anger and rage decisively” at their government’s decision to strip leading Shiite cleric Ayatollah Isa Qassim of his citizenship.

June 24: Hezbollah’s leader, Hassan Nasrallah, pledged to increase the group’s presence in Syria’s Aleppo province, where pro-government forces were fighting Syrian rebels.

June 27: Eight suicide bombers blew themselves up in two waves of attacks on the predominantly Christian village of Qaa, close to the border with Syria. Five people were killed. No group rushed to claim credit for the attack. Hezbollah’s television station, Al-Manar TV, blamed ISIS. Lebanese security officials also believed ISIS was behind the attack. In reaction to the attack, Lebanese troops detained more than 100 Syrians for illegal entry into Lebanon on the following day. 


April 4: One of Libya’s rival governments announced it was stepping down to avoid further violence. The self-declared, Islamist-leaning National Salvation Government, based in Tripoli said it was stopping its work to remove the capital “from the specter of armed conflict.”

May 16: World powers expressed their willingness to arm Libya’s unity government to fight ISIS. Secretary of State John Kerry made the announcement following a meeting in Vienna attended by diplomats from more than 20 countries, including five permanent U.N. Security Council members.

May 18: Human Rights Watch reported that the ISIS branch in Sirte had killed at least 49 people since February 2015. “ISIS is inflicting severe hardship on the local population by diverting food, medicine, fuel, and cash, along with homes it seized from residents who fled, to fighters and functionaries it has amassed in the Mediterranean port city,” said the group.

May 20: The United States added the Libyan branch of ISIS to its list of designated foreign terrorist organizations and another list that allows the Obama administration to sanction the group’s supporters.

June 21: Forces backed by Libya’s unity government reported that they made significant gains in Sire against ISIS in Sirte. At least 34 pro-government fighters, however were killed, and some 100 were wounded. The battle continued into July.

Three killed as #Libya forces close on central #Sirte against #ISIS

— Al Arabiya English (@AlArabiya_Eng) July 2, 2016

Saudi Arabia

April 5: ISIS claimed responsibility for the shooting of a police colonel outside of Riyadh.

April 20: President Barack Obama and King Salman met in Riyadh to discuss Gulf security issues, the fight against terror and regional stability. Obama reiterated that the Saudi Arabia and the other sheikhdoms needed to rely less on the United States for their security. He also pressed the king to be more open to engagement with Iran and its other regional rivals.


May 23: Yemen’s local ISIS affiliate claimed credit for a double bomb attack that killed more than 40 prospective recruits in the southern city of Aden. 

Daesh twin suicide bombing kills 45 army recruits in Yemeni port of Aden

— IBTimes UK (@IBTimesUK) May 23, 2016

May 28: Yemeni authorities arrested seven people in Mansura for suspected links to ISIS, including one “Westerner,” a police officer told AFP.

June 17: U.S. officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, told The Washington Post that Washington plans to keep a small force of Special Operations advisers in Yemen for the foreseeable future. The some dozen men would assist UAE and other Arab forces tracking down al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).

June 18: Local tribes in Taiz mediated a prisoner swap between pro-government fighters and the Houthis, a Zaydi Shiite movement opposed to Yemen’s Sunni-majority government. The pro-government group released 118 prisoners in exchange for 76 freed by the Houthis.

June 28: Four suicide car bombings killed at least 42 people, mostly soldiers and one child, in the southeastern port city of Mukalla. The targets included military checkpoints and a military compound near a government intelligence building. ISIS claimed credit for the attack.


April 25: Parliamentary speaker Ismail Kahraman, a top member of the ruling Islamist Justice and Development Party (AKP), called for a religious constitution. Kahraman was overseeing the drafting of a new constitution. But the head of the constitutional commission said the AKP had not discussed removing secular values, which were promoted by modern Turkey’s founder, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. Other senior AKP leaders, including Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu assured that the principle of secularism would be retained in the new document.

May 1: A suicide car bomber with suspected links to ISIS killed two policeman and injured more than 20 other people, including some civilians, in the city of Gaziantep, near the Syria border.

June 20: Turkish artillery fire and U.S.-led coalition airstrikes reportedly killed 23 ISIS members in northern Syria. The operation also destroyed six weapon sites and an armored vehicle.

June 28: Three attackers took a taxi to Istanbul’s Ataturk airport and opened fire at the terminal entrance. They blew themselves up after police returned fire, killing more than 40, including 13 foreign nationals. Some 239 were injured according to Istanbul’s governor. No group immediately claimed credit for the attack, but Turkish officials said they had strong evidence that ISIS leadership was involved in planning the attack. The attackers were reportedly from Russia, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan.

Istanbul airport attack: Signs point to ISIS

— CBS This Morning (@CBSThisMorning) June 29, 2016

June 28: Turkey and Israel signed an agreement to normalize diplomatic relations six years after the Mavi Marmara incident at sea. In May 2010, Israeli marines stormed a ship of activists trying to make it past the blockade on the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip. In the scuffle, 10 Turks were killed. Under the deal, the Israel agreed to allow humanitarian aid through to Gaza via Israeli ports.


May 19: Rached Ghannouchi, leader of the Islamist Ennahda party, announced that the group would move away from the label “political Islam.” In an interview with Le Monde, he said that “We are Muslim democrats who no longer claim political Islam." Ghannouchi said that the shift reflects Tunisia’s successful democratic transition, but he also cited the need to distance the party from extremist groups.

May 23: Ghannouchi was re-elected as Ennahda’s leader for another five-year term.


April 30: Algerian troops killed three Islamist militants and captured arms in the Skidda region west of the capital Algiers.

May 11: Algerian troops killed seven Islamist militants and captured weapons in Bouira province east of Algiers.

May 21: During a separate large-scale operation east of Algiers in Bouria province that began on May 1, Algerian troops killed eight Islamist militants.

June 1: About 220 miles east of Algiers, Algerian troops killed eight Islamist militants and seized weapons.

June 29: Authorities reportedly foiled an ISIS-linked group’s plan to attack a shopping mall in the city of Setif.

#AQIM and #ISIS in #Algeria: Competing Campaigns via



April 19: The Israeli army detonated a tunnel dug by Hamas leading from the Gaza Strip into Israel. The nearly 100-foot shaft was thought to be the first underground attack tunnel dug by the group since the 2014 war between Hamas and Israel.

April 21: At Egypt’s request, Hamas deployed additional forces to the Gaza-Egypt border to enhance security and deter cross-border terrorist activities. Islamist militants in the Sinai have previously attacked Egyptian security forces.


June 23: The interior ministry said it had dismantled a suspected militant cell inspired by ISIS. The 10 men, including one Algerian, were allegedly planning attacks in the kingdom.

Garrett Nada is a program specialist at the U.S. Institute of Peace.

About the Author

Garrett Nada

Program Officer, Iran & Middle East Programs, U.S. Institute of Peace
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The Islamists

"The Islamists" is a book and website on the origins, evolution, and positions of Islamist movements in the Middle East. The movements are redefining the order and borders in the world’s most volatile region. Yet they have diverse goals and different constituencies. Sometimes they are even rivals.  Read more