Members of the ISIS suicide assault team in Samarra, identified as Abu Ya’ala al Harbi, Abu Anas al Tunisi, and Abu al Bara’a al Ghamdi. Image from the SITE Intelligence Group.
An Islamic State of Iraq and the Sham suicide assault team dressed in Iraqi military uniforms stormed a government complex in the city of Samarra earlier today. A Tunisian was among the ISIS fighters in the assault team.
The ISIS claimed credit for the complex attack in a statement that was released today and obtained and translated by the SITE Intelligence Group. The ISIS said it killed “tens among soldiers of the federal and local police, and the Awakenings,” the anti-al Qaeda tribal units that support the government.
The National Iraqi News Agency seemed to corroborate the ISIS’ claim of high casualties. NINA reported that “dozens of the council staff and other civilians as well as of army and police members” were killed. Other news outlets put the number of Iraqis killed in the single digits, however. Reuters reported that four policemen and three civilians were killed during the fighting and another 47 Iraqis were wounded.
The fighting in Samarra lasted for nearly four hours before Iraqi security forces cleared the building. The ISIS fighters are reported to have detonated their suicide vests before they could be captured.
Numerous suicide assaults such as today’s ISIS attack in Samarra have been carried out by al Qaeda, its affiliates, and its allies, in countries such as Pakistan, Afghanistan, India, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Egypt, Algeria, Mali, Nigeria, and Niger, as well as in Iraq.
The ISIS has been in control of the cities of Fallujah and Karma in Anbar province, as well as several other towns along the Euphrates River, since the beginning of January. The ISIS also controls some areas of Ramadi, the provincial capital. The group, which has ramped up attacks in the country since the US withdrew its forces at the end of 2011, has conducted numerous attacks and suicide bombings in Baghdad and throughout the country over the past year.
Tunisian jihadists in Iraq and Syria
The ISIS identified the members of the suicide assault team as “Abu Ya’ala al Harbi, Abu Anas al Tunisi, and Abu al Bara’a al-Ghamdi.”
Tunisians are known to serve as senior leaders in the ISIS as well as fight in its ranks in both Iraq and Syria. Tunisians have served in Iraq with al Qaeda in Iraq, the ISIS’ predecessor, after the US invasion and occupation of the country. In September 2007, US special operations forces killed Abu Usama al Tunisi, an al Qaeda in Iraq leader, in an airstrike in Musayyib, Iraq along with two other jihadists. Abu Usama was “in the inner leadership circle of Abu Ayyub al-Masri, the leader of al Qaeda in Iraq and was a likely successor to him,” the US military said at the time.
Tunisians also are known to have played an integral role in the network of Abu Khalaf, an al Qaeda in Iraq commander who operated in both Syria and Iraq and was killed by US forces in January 2010.
The Tunisian government has estimated that more than 5,000 Tunisians have traveled to Syria to fight against President Bashir al Assad’s government. Most are believed to have joined the ISIS or the Al Nusrah Front for the People of the Levant, al Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria.
The deputy emir of Ansar al Sharia Tunisia, a terrorist group that has direct links to al Qaeda, is believed to have traveled to Syria over the past month and joined the ISIS. [See LWJ report, Ansar al Sharia Tunisia deputy leader reportedly in Syria.]
Tunisians who have fought in Syria have appeared prominently in jihadist proganda. Ansar al Sharia Tunisia has lauded Tunisian “martyrs” who died while waging jihad in Syria. The ISIS lauded a Tunisian suicide bomber in July 2013. That same month, the Muhajireen Army, an al Qaeda group that has ties to both the ISIS and the Al Nusrah Front and is led by Chechen commanders, released a video of a Tunisian who urged others to travel to Syria for jihad.