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Islamist Trends: July-September 2016

The third quarter of 2016 was a time of transition for Islamist groups. In Turkey, a faction of the military attempted to overthrow the government but failed. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan initiated a crackdown that targeted his and his party’s opponents and critics in the security services, media, academia, civil service and more. Parliament declared a state of emergency, giving Erdogan additional executive powers.

In Iraq, ISIS lost additional territory, yet managed to mount attacks in Baghdad and elsewhere. Iraqi forces continued to push the militants back towards Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city and ISIS’ main stronghold there.

In Syria, the local al Qaeda affiliate, Jabhat al Nusra, announced that it no longer owed allegiance to al Qaeda and changed its name to Jabhat Fateh al Sham, or Front for the Conquest of Syria/the Levant.

In Jordan, the Muslim Brotherhood’s political arm, the Islamic Action Front, ended its election boycott. It had sat out the 2010 and 2013 parliamentary elections. In September 2016, however, it rebranded itself and adopted a less overtly Islamist tone. For example, Christians and women played roles in a major rally and Brotherhood supporters waved flags with the word “reform” written on them. The party won eight out of 130 seats in the lower house. The following is a rundown of key events related to Islamist groups from July through September 2016.


July 15: A faction of the Turkish military attempted to overthrow the government. Tanks entered streets in Ankara and Istanbul while attack helicopters and fighter jets strafed parliament and the intelligence headquarters. Uniformed soldiers attempted to take control of key sites, such as the Bosphorus Bridge. Social media platforms, including Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, were blocked.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan addressed the nation using FaceTime and his mobile phone, which was picked up by CNN Turk. He called on the Turkish people to take to the streets in support of the government. Amid the chaos, more than 200 people were killed and more than 1,400 people were injured. The coup faltered in the face after public demonstrations opposed to the takeover. 

Erdogan accused U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen and his followers of orchestrating the plot. Gulen inspired a popular movement called Hizmet, which now has supporters in Turkey and some 140 countries on six continents. He has been in self-imposed exile, in Pennsylvania, since 1999. In the following weeks, more than 60,000 people in the military, judiciary, civil service and schools were either detained removed or suspended for suspected links to Gulen. Erdogan called on the United States to extrude Gulen and multiple arrest warrants were issued for the cleric. Courts issued multiple arrest warrants for Gulen. On July 21, lawmakers declared a three-month state of emergency that gave Erdogan increased executive powers.

Turkey coup: Crackdown toll passes 45,000

— BBC News (World) (@BBCWorld) July 20, 2016

August 7: More than a million people gathered for the “Democracy and Martyrs’ Rally” at a parade ground in Istanbul to hear Erdogan speak. He defied Western criticism of the mass purges and pledged to rid Turkey of the Gulen network. He also reiterated his support for restoring the death penalty.

August 20: A suicide bombing in Gaziantep, Turkey, killed at least 54 people and injured at least 66 more at a Kurdish wedding. The following day, Erdogan, said the bomber was between 12 and 14 years old. But the Turkish government later walked back on that statement. Officials said the attack near the Syrian border appeared to have been the work of ISIS. It was the deadliest attack so far in 2016.

August 24: Turkey launched its largest offensive to date against ISIS in Syria. It sent tanks and special operations over its border as part of an operation code-named Euphrates Shield. Their first target was Jarablus, the last major ISIS-controlled town on the Syrian-Turkish border. The United States provided air support. Syrian rebels were able to take the town within hours of the offensive’s start. Analysts saw the move as Turkish attempt to stop the Kurdish-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces from moving further north.

August 28: Turkish forces pushed deeper into Syria, including areas controlled by Kurdish-aligned forces. The United States called clashes between Turkish forces and the Kurdish YPG militia “unacceptable and a source of deep concern.”

September 7: President Erdogan said Turkey is ready to work with the United States to push ISIS out of its self-declared capital of Raqqa in Syria. His statement suggested that he discussed the idea with President Obama on the sidelines of the G20.

September 26: Erdogan told reporters that Turkey would not join a coalition that includes the People’s Protection Units (YPG) and its political arm, the Democratic Union Party (PYD), to push ISIS out of its stronghold of Raqqa in Syria. He referred to the Kurdish groups as terrorist organizations.

Erdogan refuses to join coalition with ‘terrorists’ in defeating Daesh |

— Middle East Monitor (@MiddleEastMnt) September 27, 2016

September 29: Gulen told a German newspaper, Die Zeit, that he was sure that Erdogan was responsible for the attempted coup. “Until now I only thought that was a possibility. Now I think it's certain.”

Iraq and Syria

July 3: A suicide bombing that targeted a shopping complex in a Shiite district in Baghdad killed more than 280 people. ISIS claimed responsibility it, the deadliest bombing since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion.

July 7: Three suicide bombers attacked a Shiite shrine 50 miles north of Baghdad, killing 35 and wounding 52. The first bomber targeted police at the entrance. The second entered the shrine with nine gunmen who targeted families gathered for the Eid al Fitr holiday as well as security forces. A third bomber was killed.

July 9: Iraqi forces, with the help of U.S.-led airstrikes, retook an air base from ISIS near Mosul.

July 17: Iraqi Shiite cleric Moqtada al Sadr told his followers to target U.S. troops deploying to Iraq to help in the campaign against ISIS.

July 19: U.S.-backed Syrian Kurdish and Arab militias seized more than 10,000 documents and 4.5 terabytes of digital data on ISIS over the course of a few weeks. Brett McGurk, the presidential envoy for the global coalition to counter ISIS, discussed the trove during a meeting of foreign and defense ministers in Washington. “We want to make sure that all that information is disseminated in a coherent way among our coalition partners, through Interpol, so that we can track the networks from the core and all the way to wherever the dots might connect, whether that is in Europe or in North Africa or Southeast Asia.”

July 21: U.S.-backed Syrian rebels from the Syrian Democratic Forces alliance gave ISIL fighters 48 hours to leave their stronghold of Manbij in Syria. Under the cover of U.S.-led coalition airstrikes, the rebels had besieged the town and gradually advanced toward the city center. The announcement came two days after coalition airstrikes reportedly killed at least 50 civilians in the Tokhar areas in Manbij.

US-backed fighters take town of Manbij from Isis

— The Guardian (@guardian) August 6, 2016

July 27: ISIS claimed credit for a bombing that killed some 44 people in the Kurdish-controlled city of Qamishli in northeast Syria.

July 27: Militants killed at least 18 people in a string of attacks in and around Baghdad. Most of the attacks were similar to ones previously carried out by ISIS. A suicide bomber killed three policemen and three civilians at a checkpoint near a Shiite neighborhood. In a town south of the capitol, a bomb killed three shoppers in a commercial area. A second bombing in southwestern Baghdad killed two civilians. Drive-by shooters killed three intelligence officers elsewhere. A mortar attack on a camp for displaced civilians killed four.

July 28: The Syrian al Qaeda affiliate, Jabhat al Nusra, announced that it no longer owed allegiance to al Qaeda and changed its name to Jabhat Fateh al Sham, or Front for the Conquest of Syria/the Levant. The group’s leader Abu Muhammad al Julani said the decision was intended to remove the pretext used by Russia and the United States to conduct air strikes on a wider range of Syrian rebels while claiming to be targeting the Nusra Front.

July 31: A coalition of Syrian rebel groups, including Jabhat Fatah al Sham (the rebranded Nusra Front), launched a major assault on parts of Aleppo held by Syrian government forces.

August 4: ISIS may have captured up to 3,000 fleeing villagers from the Kirkuk Governorate in Iraq and subsequently executed 12 of them, according to a the U.N. refugee agency.

August 6: A U.S.-backed alliance of Kurds and Arabs seized nearly all of the strategic city of Manbij that had been under ISIS control for more than two years. The Syrian city was gradually retaken after the city was cut off in June. Manbij is connected to roads leading to Aleppo, the Turkish border and the ISIS stronghold of Raqqa.

August 7: An Islamist-led coalition of Syrian rebels broke the Assad government’s siege of Aleppo, Syria’s largest city. Jabhat Fateh al Sham, formerly the Jabhat al Nusra, led the offensive. The group claimed that its suicide bombers played an important role in taking territory.

August 7: U.S.-led coalition aircraft destroyed some $11 million worth of oil and trucks in the largest single airstrike on ISIS’ oil trade since the start of 2016.

August 10: Lieutenant General Sean MacFarland, who heads the U.S.-led coalition against ISIS, said some 45,000 fighters had been killed in the previous two years, including 25,000 within the past 11 months. He said that the group was having trouble replenishing its ranks in Iraq and Syria but still had 15,000 to 30,000 fighters.

August 11: Iraqi Kurdish and U.S. special forces killed the ISIS militant in charge of oil operations in Iraq and Syria, Sami Jassim al Jabouri, also known as Haji Hamad. 

August 12: ISIS fighters reportedly captured some 2,000 civilians as they fled their former stronghold of Manbij, according to the Arab-Kurdish alliance known as the Syrian Democratic Forces. But the civilians, who were used as human shields, were eventually freed.

August 14: Iraqi and Kurdish forces recaptured four villages from ISIS near Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city which ISIS has controlled since 2014. The effort was part of a new offensive with the goal of retaking Mosul.

August 29: Five ISIS militants armed with suicide vets, rifles and grenades killed 18 people at a wedding party near in Ain al Tamr in southern Iraq.

August 30: ISIS announced that its spokesman and second-in-command Abu Muhammad al Adnani had been killed. Adnani was a top veteran leader who was responsible for coordinating attacks on Western targets as well as disseminating propaganda. The Pentagon said that coalition forces carried out a precision strike targeting Adnani, but did not confirm his death.

September 5: A string of explosions killed some 40 people and injured another 60 in Syria, mostly at government checkpoints. The deadliest attack was a twin bombing in Tartus, a province considered loyal to the Assad regime. ISIS claimed responsibility for the bombings. 

September 5: A suicide bomber affiliated with ISIS killed at least nine near a hospital in central Baghdad.

September 6: ISIS claimed responsibility for a rocket attack that killed three Turkish soldiers and wounded five in Syria. It was the first deadly attack on Turkish forces since they crossed the border two weeks prior.

September 9: Jabhat Fateh al Sham reported that one of its senior commanders, Abu Omar Sarakeb, was killed in an airstrike in Aleppo province, Syria. The group did not specify which country’s forces were responsible.

September 12: A U.S.-Russia brokered cessation of hostilities in Syria went into effect. The agreement excluded Jabhat Fateh al Sham and ISIS. The Pentagon said that the ceasefire would need to hold for seven days before broader military cooperation between Washington and Moscow would go into effect. 

September 20: ISIS was suspected of firing a shell with mustard agent at the Qayyara air base in Iraq, where U.S. and Iraqi troops were operating, according to U.S. officials via CNN.  

September 22: Iraqi forces, with the support of coalition air strikes, took complete control of the northern district of Shirqat, leaving just one other ISIS stronghold south of Mosul.

September 24: A triple suicide bombing killed at least 11 members of the Iraqi security forces and injured some 34 others. The governor of Salahuddin province accused ISIS of being behind the attacks.

ISIS militants fired shots at a checkpoint north of Tikrit and then set off two bombs at the entrance of the city, killing 18 people.

September 27: A wave of bombings killed at least 15 and wounded 55 others in Baghdad. ISIS claimed responsibility for one attack, in which a lone bomber detonated himself on a commercial street.

September 28: President Obama authorized sending an additional 600 American troops to Iraq to assist and train Iraqi forces in the run up to the campaign to retake Mosul from ISIS. The additional deployment will bring the total number of American troops in Iraq to be some 5,000.


September 20: The Muslim Brotherhood’s political arm, the Islamic Action Front, ended its election boycott and won eight seats in parliamentary elections. Seven allies also won seats, for a total of 15 out of 130 lawmakers in the lower house. The group is unlikely to have much influence over policy.

The Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan may be down after a decade outside politics, but it is not out

— Brookings (@BrookingsInst) September 30, 2016


July 21: Forces aligned with Libya’s U.N.-backed government launched a new assault on ISIS militants in Sirte. Nearly 50 ISIS fighters were killed. At least 22 pro-government troops were killed and 175 were wounded, according to Misrata’s central hospital.

August 1-2: In support of Libyan pro-government forces, U.S. warplanes carried out seven strikes on ISIS positions in Sirte, which took control over the city in June 2015.

August 9: U.S. officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that U.S. Special Operation troops were supporting forces loyal to the unity government in their fight against ISIS in Sirte. Libyan officials, however, warned that an unknown number of ISIS fighters remained embedded in three neighborhoods. Western and local officials later reported that fighters fled southward, either towards neighboring countries or to regroup near the city of Bani Walid.

August 10: Pro-government militias claimed that they had seized ISIS’ last stronghold in Sirte.

August 22: Lawmakers in Libya’s Tobruk-based parliament rejected the U.N.-backed unity government in a no-confidence vote. Out of the 101 lawmakers who attended the session, 61 voted against the government, 39 abstained and only one voted in favor of the Government of National Accord (GNA). But pro-GNA lawmakers, many of whom did note vote or were not present, said the vote was unannounced and unconstitutional.

Pro-GNA forces seized Sirte’s main mosque and a jail run by ISIS morality police.

August 24: The GNA said it would continue seeking approval from the Tobruk-based parliament, even though the assembly rejected the GNA in a no-confidence vote. 

10 fighters killed as Libyan forces step up fight in last IS hideouts in Sirte

— Libyan Express (@libyanexpress) September 24, 2016

Saudi Arabia

July 4: A suicide bomber blew himself up near the U.S. consulate in Jeddah. Authorities identified him as a Pakistani resident of the kingdom who came 12 years ago to work as a driver.

Later in the day, a suicide bomber killed four security officers and injured five others near the Prophet’s Mosque in Medina, Islam’s second holiest city. The mosque is the burial place of the Prophet Muhammad.

In the eastern city of Qatif, two bomb blasts hit near a Shiite mosque. A resident told AFP that a suicide bomber blew himself up outside of the mosque without harming anyone else.

July 5: King Salman vowed to strike with an “iron hand” against religious extremists who target youth.

July 8: Saudi officials said they arrested 19 people, 12 of whom were Pakistani, for connections to the three bombings.

August 12: Saudi Arabia announced that it prevented three Saudi women and seven children from attempting to join Syrian rebels fighting the Assad government. Lebanese authorities in Beirut detained the three sisters and their children and flew them back to Saudi Arabia on August 11.


July 6: Al Qaeda militants briefly took control of an army base next to the international airport in the southern city of Aden. They killed 14 soldiers and lost six of their own fighters before withdrawing. Apache helicopters forced their retreat after exchanging fire for some six hours.

August 4: A drone struck killed two suspected al Qaeda members in southern Yemen.

August 29: ISIS claimed responsibility for a suicide car bombing that killed dozens of recruits at a military training camp in Aden. At least 45 were killed, and 60 others were wounded. 

August 24 – September 4: Yemeni witnesses said that five suspected al Qaeda militants were killed in an alleged U.S. drone strike in Shabwa province, southern Yemen, on August 24. Between August 24 and September 4, the U.S. military killed 13 al Qaeda members in three strikes.

September 11: A suicide bomber killed seven policemen and wounded 15 others in the south-eastern Abyan province. No group claimed responsibility, but the town lies in an area that was occupied by al Qaeda militants as recently as a month ago.


August 29: Islamist militants killed three Tunisian soldiers and wounded seven others in an ambush near the Algerian border.

August 29: A new Tunisian unity government took office under Prime Minister Youssef Chahed. The 26 ministers and 14 ministers of state included three members of the Islamist Ennahda party. 

September 26: Grand Mufti Sheikh Othman Battikh called on Tunisians to “abandon untimely protests and sit-ins that hinder work and production, and refrain from blocking the roads and damaging public property.” Civil society groups and trade unions condemned the statement from the religious authority.


September 29: Algerian troops killed five Islamist militants about 268 miles from Algiers in Batna province. They also seized weapons, munitions and food supplies.


July 1: In the West Bank, south of Hebron, a drive-by shooter killed Rabbi Michael Mark and wounded his wife and two children.

July 27: Israeli troops shot and killed a Hamas fighter who the military said was responsible for a July 1 drive-by shooting in the West Bank. They also arrested three other militants.

August 4: Iran’s domestic security agency, the Shin Bet, revealed that the Gaza head of the U.S.-based humanitarian aid organization World Vision funneled up to $7 million a year for the past decade to Hamas’ military wing.

September 8: The high court suspended municipal elections that were scheduled for October due to a dispute between rival political parties. The elections would be the first contest between Islamist movement Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, and more secular rival Fatah, which runs the West Bank. A Hamas spokesman in Gaza said the decision to suspend the elections “was a political one that aims to rescue the Fatah party from defeat after some of its candidates were disqualified by the Central Election Commission and Palestinian courts.”

September 16: The U.S. State Department designated Fathi Ahmad Mohammad Hammad as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist. The senior Hamas official served as Interior Minister and coordinated terrorist cells in Gaza. As a result of the designation, all property subject to U.S. jurisdiction in which Hammad has any interest was blocked, and U.S. persons were generally prohibited from engaging in any transactions with Hammad.


July 27: Authorities arrested 52 suspected militants inspired by ISIS who were planning several attacks. They intended to assassinate security and military officers and tourists, as well as target prison and festivals. It was the largest group arrested in recent years. The interior ministry said a total of 143 people were investigated.


August 4: Egypt’s army announced that it killed the head of the Ansar Beit al Maqdis, an ISIS affiliate active in the Sinai. Abu Duaa al Ansari and some of his aides were killed in airstrikes.


August 4: Chairman of the Iranian Parliament's National Security and Foreign Policy Commission Alaeddin Boroujerdi announced that several ISIS militants dispatched from Mosul in Iraq and Raqqa in Syria were arrested by Iranian security forces.

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