2018: Where is ISIS Active?

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(Photo: video screenshot)

ISIS has an internationally presence, making them difficult to map exactly. The following is an assessment of ISIS’ major activity locals at the end of 2017 and into 2018:


Middle East


Even though their “caliphate” has been largely destroyed in Syria and Iraq, ISIS’ presence is still being felt in the region. In Iraq, ISIS carried out several suicide attacks in mid-January, particularly in the Baghdad area which left dozens dead. Many of its fighters – an estimated 3-4,000 — are located on the border between Syria and Iraq.



ISIS appears to be far more active in Syria than Iraq. Hundreds of ISIS fighters are said to be in the vicinity of Damascus, with others located in the country’s southwest and northwest areas. It also retains a presence in the Deir a-Zour region (northeast Syria). ISIS is fighting armed groups south of Damascus. ISIS looks like it is set to remain in these areas because there are rumors it reached agreement with Assad and the Free Syrian Army. The coalition said it is not going to fight ISIS in the areas where ISIS remains strong.



The latest assessments suggest ISIS has several hundred fighters in Yemen, who have carried out several attacks in the Aden area. ISIS is active in central and southern Yemen. While the civil war makes it easier for ISIS to grow in Yemen, the strong al-Qaeda presence in Yemen makes strong ISIS growth challenging. The U.S. has carried out numerous attacks on ISIS targets in Yemen because of the threat posed by the terror group there.



At the end of 2017, Turkey arrested 75 ISIS fighters in a “preventative operation.” It appears as though ISIS does have a presence in Turkey, but it is not highly organized.



In the first week of 2018, Jordan arrested 17 ISIS members who were planning numerous attacks on sensitive locations in the Hashemite kingdom. There’s been very little information on ISIS in Jordan over the last year, so this news came as a surprise.



When ISIS fighters began fleeing Syria and Iraq, Africa was an easy destination, with Islamic State upping its operations in the Sinai and West Africa.


Egypt, and particularly the northern Sinai region, is ISIS’ stronghold in Africa. Until recently, ISIS (fighting under the flag of Bayt al-Maqdis) put most of its efforts in Sinai region, but it has now expanded its activities to the Cairo area. Using its base in the Sinai, ISIS has also indicated it wants to increase its operations against Hamas in the Gaza Strip.



Even though ISIS lost the battle in Libya, particularly for the city of Sirte which it controlled at one time, it still has secret cells located outside the country’s main cities. Estimates suggest its fighting force In Libya has dropped from thousands to just 500 men. Yet, Libya is important to the group as they hope to attack Europe from their position in the country.


Tunisia & Algeria

ISIS cells have been detected in both countries of late. Tunisia has prevented several terror attacks over the last month.



Boko Haram represents ISIS in Nigeria. The group continually conducts attacks against government forces, as they have in the last month.

Chad, Mali & Niger

These countries have faced a strong ISIS presence because of their own instability. It is rumored that five countries in West Africa (Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, Chad and Mauritania) are joining forces to fight ISIS. This information comes from sources within ISIS.



Afghanistan & Pakistan

The political, economic and security conditions in Afghanistan and Pakistan make it easy for ISIS to increase its activities in both of these countries. Furthermore, the 2,000-plus km (1,240 mile) border between them remains porous. Today, Afghanistan is ISIS’ key stronghold. Its fighters there don’t face the same restrictions as those in Syria and Iraq. ISIS has 10,000 fighters in Afghanistan, according to the Russian representative in the country.

They’re fighting against both Taliban and governmental forces. ISIS’ main presence is in eastern Afghanistan in the Nangarhar and Kunar provinces, which are located close to the Pakistan border. ISIS also conducted major terror attacks on the capital city Kabul in the last few weeks (located close to the Nangarhar province).

It’s reported ISIS is carrying out attacks in Pakistan as well. As with the Taliban around the time of 9/11, it’s hard to say whether ISIS fighters are located in Pakistan or Afghanistan because of the porousness of border. It’s possible that ISIS will spread beyond these two countries and conduct attacks in Uzbekistan and Tajikistan in central Asia as well.



ISIS had a strong presence in Mindanao in the south in 2017, even managing to control the city of Marawi for a period of time. Recent reports indicate ISIS’s power has diminished after local organizations cooperated with government forces to fight against ISIS and rout them out.

It’s estimated ISIS still has hundreds of fighters in the country, particularly in the Muslim south.



There’ve been reports of ISIS cells in Russia in the past. ISIS claimed responsibility for a terror attack in St. Petersburg in the last week of 2017. ISIS attempted several attacks across Russia in the last few months but were not successful.



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Ran Meir

Ran Meir is Clarion Project's Arab affairs analyst and a Shillman Fellow. He can be reached at [email protected]

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