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ISIS vows to break supporters out of Iraq’s jails

Islamic State (ISIS) militants will launch a campaign to break their supporters out of jails across Iraq, the jihadist group said in a new propaganda film on Friday.

In the 49-minute video titled ‘Strike the Necks’ – published on messaging app Telegram – a masked militant holding an assault rifle says ISIS will scale up its attacks on Iraqi police and security forces.

The militant also says the group will stage mass prison breaks to release ISIS supporters held in Iraq’s jails. A mass prison break could quickly swell the group’s ranks and undo years of counter-terror work.

“We came to behead you and burn your houses, and I want to let our brothers and sisters in the prisons of infidels know that we have not forgotten you and we ask you to be patient, as we will come for you, because it is an obligation to set you free from the infidels,” the ISIS militant says.

In August 2019, ISIS militants were among 15 prisoners who broke out of Rusafa prison in Baghdad.

In December 2018, 21 prisoners, including ISIS members, reportedly escaped from a detention facility in Sulaimani.

In May 2018, seven inmates died and several more were wounded in a fire following an attempted prison break in Duhok.

The Iraqi government has repeatedly refused to reveal the exact number of ISIS members and terror offenders held in its prisons, what proportion are women and minors, or the nature of the charges against them.

In a March 22 analysis, the Associated Press estimated at least 19,000 ISIS members, affiliates, a terror offenders are currently incarcerated in Iraq. An earlier Human Rights Watch (HRW) investigation published in December 2017 put the figure at 20,000.

Although the Iraqi government announced the territorial defeat of ISIS in Iraq in December 2017, remnants of the group have since returned to their earlier insurgency tactics, ambushing security forces, kidnapping and executing suspected informants, and extorting money from vulnerable rural populations.

Having lost all of its urban strongholds, the group is now most active in Iraq’s remote deserts and mountains and in the disputed territories contested by the federal government and the autonomous Kurdish region, where a wide security vacuum has opened up.

ISIS has been held responsible for a spate of attacks on the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) and units of Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), also known as Hashd al-Shaabi.

Late on Friday, the PMF said four of its fighters were killed and six injured in an ISIS attack in northern Diyala.

In a statement on Thursday evening, the PMF said its units had come under attack in Khanaqin, Jurf al-Nasr (formally known as Jurf al-Sakhir) and on the Syrian-Iraqi border in the Akashat area of western Anbar.

On Friday the Iraqi defense ministry said two soldiers were killed and four wounded when their convoy hit an IED in northern Baghdad province. ISIS later claimed responsibility for the blast.

These follow a spate of attacks in early May, the deadliest of which saw ten PMF fighters killed in a five-pronged assault in Saladin on May 2.

On the same day, militants killed three federal police officers and wounded two others in an attack on Zaghniya police station in Diyala province.

The video published by ISIS on Friday purportedly shows a number of attacks on security forces and on the homes of civilians accused of working with Iraqi authorities.

During the film, Abu Hamza al-Quraishi, the ISIS spokesman, says more attacks should be expected in the coming weeks.

“The government of infidels should realize that the will of our jihadists is very high, and what is coming is more severe than what has gone before,” Quraishi said.

“We are at the doors of the big cities, we are at the doors of your houses, so do not sleep and keep your necks covered,” he added – a threat alluding to beheadings.

In a post on Thursday, ISIS claimed its militants had carried out 42 attacks in Iraq between May 7 and 13 alone – almost half of them in Diyala.

The latest Pentagon Inspector General report, covering January 1 to  March 31, said ISIS remnants are “regrouping and reforming” and continue to pose a threat in both Iraq and Syria.

“US CENTCOM in February described ISIS as ‘regrouping and reforming’ in the Makhmour Mountains in northern Iraq, while the 2021 DoD budget justification for overseas contingency operations said that ISIS is expected to seek to re-establish governance in northern and western areas of Iraq,” the Lead Inspector General’s report said.

According to the Pentagon report, Diyala has seen the highest frequency of attacks over the first quarter of the year – 80 of the 250 total. The Diyala towns of Baqubah and Khanaqin suffered the deadliest attacks.

Other attacks were reported in the provinces of Anbar, Kirkuk, Nineveh, and Saladin.

Iraq’s former defense minister Najah al-Shammari said in April the government would “ramp up” anti-ISIS efforts to prevent the group capitalizing on the coronavirus crisis. Mustafa al-Kadhimi, the new prime minister, has made combatting ISIS a cornerstone of his government’s agenda.

In recent days, ISIS militants have resumed an earlier tactic of torching crop fields. The group claimed responsibility for arson attacks in Diyala last week and is thought to be behind a rash of fires in Makhmour on Tuesday. Source