In October 2021, the US-led Global Coalition against Daesh/Islamic State (IS) carried out two drone attacks, killing two key IS-affiliated jihadists. The coalition carried out the first attack on 22 October in Suluk town, in Raqqa province. The attack killed the jihadist Abu Abdullah al-Raqqawi, whose real name was later identified as Abdulhamid al-Mattar. Al-Raqqawi is a member of the extremist group Hurras al-Din (The Guardians of Religion Organization), which is stationed in the suburbs of Idlib and Latakia and mostly operates in the areas of Jisr al-Shugur and the Turkmen Mountain.
The US-led coalition carried out the second attack on 25 October, targeting the strip in northeastern Syria, which stretches between the two cities of Ras al-Ayn/Serê Kaniyê and Tal Abyad. The British Royal Air Force released a statement that a remotely piloted Reaper pursued and carried out the strike “when the individual was alone in a field.” The strip is controlled by the Turkish army and the opposition’s Syrian National Army (SNA). The attack killed Abu Hamza al-Shuhail, a famous arms dealer in the region. In past years, al-Shuhail supplied and sold massive quantities of various types of firearms to several parties in the Syrian conflict, chiefly IS.
In this brief report, Syrians for Truth and Justice (STJ) provides a detailed account of the two drone attacks, both of which have been claimed by the US-led coalition. For the purposes of the report, STJ verified the identities of the targets who were killed in the attacks and obtained the names of three other persons who were shot and killed during and after the attack on al-Shuhail.
The report draws on accounts STJ obtained from 10 sources. Additionally, the report presents the findings of STJ’s digital forensic expert on exclusive videos and open sources images covering the attacks.
Notably, the two attacks have been analyzed as a marked change in the US-led coalition’s position on jihadists’ presence in Turkey-held areas and a sign that the Coalition is planning to adopt stricter measures against this presence. This analysis has been based on the fact that the coalition already claimed responsibility for the death of al-Raqqawi and has gained further solidity since the Coalition has recently confirmed that it is the party behind al-Shuhail’s drone assassination.
The two attacks garnered huge attention because they were carried out amidst a flux of information and reports that evidenced an extensive presence of former IS militants in Turkey-controlled areas and within the ranks of the SNA—an affiliate of the Syrian Interim Government (SIG) of the Syrian Opposition Coalition (SOC).
Additionally, the assassinations were linked to a series of Turkish drone attacks that shook northeastern Syria, targeting civilians, staffers within the Autonomous Administration, and fighters of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). On 20 October 2021, the SDF-affiliated Internal Security Forces (Asayish ) published a statement claiming that a Turkish drone targeted the car of Baker Jradeh, the Co-Chair of the Social Justice Council of the Autonomous Administration in Ayn al-Arab/ Kobanî city. The attack killed two administration staffers and wounded Jraded and two civilians who were nearby.
Three days later, on 23 October, a Turkish drone targeted a car and killed the three passengers inside. Covering the news, Hawar News Agency, which is mostly aligned with the Autonomous Administration, reported that the attack killed three civilians. However, the next day, on 24 October, the SDF published a statement saying that the victims were three of their fighters who were in Ayn al-Arab/ Kobanî city for medical treatment.
A third attack was reported on 9 November 2021. In a statement, the Asaysih said that the attack targeted a car in the al-Hilaliya neighborhood in Qamishli/Qamishlo city and killed three civilians from the same family. The statement listed the dead as Youssef Kalou, 82, and his grandsons Mazloum and Muhammad Kalou. The Asayish identified the car as belonging to Raizan Kalou, an SDF civil affairs advisor. The Asayish stressed that Kalou was not in the car at the time of the attack, which killed his civilian grandfather, and his SDF-affiliated brother and maternal cousin.