ISIS Redux: The Central Syria Insurgency in April 2023

May 3, 2023
Gregory Waters  —  Research Analyst

Following is the April 2023 installment of “ISIS Redux: The Central Syria Insurgency,” a monthly chronicle of attacks by the terrorist group ISIS in central Syria. A review of developments throughout 2022 and 2021 can be found here and here. The February 2023 edition can be found here, January’s here, and March’s here. A full background and analysis of ISIS’s resurgence in Syria, including the methodology used to collect this data, can also be explored herehere, and here.

ISIS carried out at least 38 confirmed attacks in April in Raqqa, Aleppo, Homs, Hama, and Deir Ez Zor governorates. These attacks killed at least 44 pro-Assad regime soldiers and at least 71 civilians and wounded at least 18 additional soldiers and civilians; another seven civilians were kidnapped. Additionally, there were 13 high quality* attacks during the month. April experienced the highest number of confirmed ISIS attacks and high quality attacks since March 2021, the last month of the 2020 ISIS surge before the group’s activity fell drastically for 18 months. As in March, April’s incidents fall into two periods: The first half of the month was dominated by small arms attacks by ISIS cells across all regions of the Badia, while activity dropped off during the last two weeks of the month, just as in February and March of this year.

There were at least 13 attacks involving small arms in the first 16 days of April—more than were documented in the first half of March—but none in the following two weeks. Mine and Improvised Explosive Devices (IED) attacks were ubiquitous throughout April, but particularly during the first two weeks when 16 such incidents left nearly 40 civilians and soldiers dead or wounded. Many of these incidents occurred in the same areas and at the same time as suspected ISIS cells were conducting operations or had conducted operations recently. It should again be noted that  that since ISIS activity began rapidly increasing at the end of January, there has been a consistent pattern of approximately two weeks of high frequency attacks, followed by about two weeks of significantly reduced activity (a similar, though less distinct pattern is apparent as far back as August 2022, when ISIS activity first began increasing, though back then the quiet periods often extended to three or four weeks). This may reflect a pattern of rotation and rest/refit time of ISIS cells in the Badia.

ISIS has still claimed no attacks in central Syria this year, despite a significant number of small arms and IED attacks against regime security forces and sustained fighting against regime and Russian Wagner mercenaries, as documented by this author. It remains unclear why exactly ISIS has stopped media production in central Syria. The group published no media from the region for seven months between November 2021 and June 2022, followed by a multi-page editorial in late July hinting at the need for media silence due to security concerns while emphasizing their continued operations during that period using previously unpublished pictures of previous attacks. It is possible ISIS has re-issued a media blackout to help with operational security.

As in March, ISIS activity in April was spread across all regions of central Syria, including renewed activity along the urban belt south of Deir Ez Zor City, numerous small arms and mine/IED attacks in southeast Hama, and a rare outpost raid outside an Alawite village only 30 miles east of Homs. Not fully captured in the March or April data was the month-long battle between ISIS and regime forces, led by Russian Wagner mercenaries, around the town of al-Kawm in eastern Homs. This battle is documented as four incidents in April, each reflecting distinct reports of combat deaths (i.e., martyrdom reports) from public sources or events noted in private interviews with a knowledgeable regime source.


ISIS attacks rose sharply again in Deir Ez Zor (18), reaching a record high not seen since the group recaptured several towns along the Euphrates River in late 2017 and early 2018. Attacks also rose slightly in Homs (11) while dropping in Hama (7), Aleppo (1), and Raqqa (1).


Deir Ez Zor and Raqqa

ISIS cells in April conducted consistent attacks against civilians in western Deir Ez Zor, and to a much lesser extent against regime forces elsewhere in the governorate. Most of these attacks occurred in the first half of the month.

Twenty-one civilians were killed in eight mine/IED incidents in western Deir Ez Zor, mostly around Jabal Bishri, between April 3 and April 26. Suspected ISIS militants also shot at civilians on the Raqqa side of Jabal Bishri on April 3 and locals reported an IED attack on a bus, allegedly belonging to members of the Iranian-backed Liwa Fatemiyoun, driving through western Deir Ez Zor on the same day. Furthermore, on April 27, a local commander of the regime’s National Defense Forces survived an IED attack on his vehicle outside the western Deir Ez Zor town of Musarib,

Elsewhere in Deir Ez Zor, ISIS militants kidnapped seven shepherds outside the town of Subaykhan, south of Mayadeen, on April 3. The next day, another man from the town was killed by a mine while searching for his kidnapped relatives. On April 9, a soldier was killed somewhere in the Deir Ez Zor countryside. On April 11, three local truffle hunters were killed by a mine outside Dweir, south of Subaykhan. On April 13, between two and five regime security personnel were killed by a mine or IED while patrolling outside the Tayyem Oil Field, just outside Deir Ez Zor City. (It is worth noting that in April, a member of the Deir Ez Zor Governorate Council died of wounds he sustained from a previously unreported mine/IED incident in March at the western entrance to the city.) Also on April 13, another regime soldier was killed by a mine somewhere in the governorate. On April 16, five shepherds and 250 sheep were killed outside the town of Bouleel, north of Mayadeen. On April 23 two local men, possibly militia members though it is unclear, were killed in unspecified circumstances just outside the town of Mahkan a suburb of Mayadeen.


Map of locatable ISIS attacks in Dier Ez Zor and Raqqa (highlighted) in April 2023 alongside all other attacks in 2023 (green). Not mapped are two incidents that occurred somewhere in the Deir Ez Zor countryside.


As in March, the bulk of attacks against regime security forces in April occurred in eastern Homs. ISIS battled regime and Russian Wagner forces continuously around al-Kawm until April 11, when the regime ended its offensive, leaving ISIS still in control of the western and eastern mountains. The most notable event during this battle occurred on April 6, when ISIS forces managed to briefly capture the village of Khirbet al-Muqman north of al-Kawm along the Raqqa-Homs administrative border. In total, at least 11 Syrian soldiers were killed during the April fighting around al-Kawm, while six Syrian soldiers and one Wagner fighter were wounded.

ISIS cells attacked regime forces and civilians in other parts of Homs as well during the month. A soldier from Hama was reported killed in the Palmyra countryside on April 1, the same day that two civilians from the Amor tribe were killed by a mine while truffle picking near Huwaysis, in the same area where a civilian was shot in March. On April 3, five Liwa al-Quds members from the Damascus countryside were killed south of the Amor Mountains, north of Palmyra. Some reports claim they were killed in battles with ISIS while others say it was a mine/IED. The next day, two more Liwa al-Quds fighters were killed a few miles to the northwest. Liwa al-Quds Facebook pages reported these second deaths with the description, “fierce clashes continue to rage after Liwa al-Quds managed to storm the new headquarters of the gang [ISIS] in the area.”

On April 5, another soldier was reported killed somewhere in the Palmyra countryside. Two days later, on April 7, 16 civilians were gunned down in the Amor Mountains while truffle picking. On April 9, local Facebook pages reported the deaths of four soldiers when their outpost on the outskirts of Jubb al-Jarah was attacked. Jubb al-Jarah is a prominent Alawite village on the border between central and eastern Homs, just 30 miles from Homs City, making this one of the western-most ISIS attacks in more than a year. On April 11, three soldiers disappeared while patrolling the edge of ISIS-controlled Wadi Doubayat. Later in the month, regime forces captured five ISIS militants in this same area, though it is not clear whether this occurred during an ISIS attack or a regime operation.


Map of locatable ISIS attacks in Homs (highlighted) in March 2023 alongside all other attacks in 2023 (green).

Hama and Aleppo

ISIS activity in eastern Hama was elevated during the first half of April and, as in February and March, involved many small arms attacks. However, there were no confirmed ISIS attacks there in the last half of April (nor were there any significant regime operations).

As in March, many of April’s attacks centered around Duwayzin, which sits on the Hama-Homs border along the road connecting Uqayribat with Palmyra. On April 2, two civilians were killed by a mine near the nearby dam. The following day, another civilian was killed and one was injured by a mine near the village. On April 4, an armored vehicle belonging to the regime’s 25th Division was damaged by a mine/IED near Rahjan, wounding at least one soldier. On April 9, two more civilians hit a mine near Duwayzin, again killing one and wounding the second. On April 15, ISIS militants fired on a group of civilians who were truffle picking near the Duwayzin dam, wounding at least one, while two local militiamen were killed by a mine or IED in the same area. The next day, ISIS militants ambushed a large group of truffle pickers and their local security contingent near Duwayzin, killing eight pro-regime fighters and at least 18 civilians. The only confirmed attack in southern Aleppo occurred on April 10 when a 25th Division soldier was killed near Andarin, just north of Rahjan in the same location where another 25th Division soldier was killed in March.


Map of locatable ISIS attacks in Hama and Aleppo in April 2023 (highlighted) alongside all other attacks in 2023 (green).

Looking Ahead

April, particularly the first half, continued the pattern set in March of widespread, persistent, and regular ISIS small arms attacks against regime forces across the Badia. As in past months, suspected ISIS cells continued to heavily target civilians with both mines and small arms. In March’s report, this author cautioned against over-analyzing the increased ISIS activity and questioned whether the group could continue to target security forces—not just civilians—at the same elevated rate in April. ISIS has done so, while again, limiting its activity in the second half of the month. It once again remains to be seen if ISIS can maintain this pattern of elevated and reduced activity.

The end of the regime’s al-Kawm offensive may herald a new spate of ISIS attacks as, presumably, many cells are now free to move elsewhere and target regime forces. It is also possible that ISIS will keep its forces around the village and attempt to seize it again (though this seems unlikely given the group’s propensity for caution in central Syria). Of course, ISIS cells there may have sustained heavy losses and simply cannot relocate elsewhere.

Complicating matters is the apparent killing of ISIS’s latest caliph on April 29, as announced by the Turkish government. Many aspects of the central and northeast insurgencies seem independent of central guidance given their modest short-term objectives. Nevertheless, the second killing of an ISIS caliph in just six months would presumably cause at least a blow to morale, and it is noteworthy that ISIS activity in the Badia did drop in the weeks following the killing of the last caliph in mid-October 2022. Therefore, it is possible that May witnesses a more subdued ISIS in central Syria as cells turn towards local leadership and the group refits after its recent battles.


Map of locatable ISIS attacks (highlighted) in April 2023 alongside all other attacks in 2023 (green) and attacks in 2022. Note that not included are two attacks conducted somewhere in the Deir Ez Zor countryside. To view an interactive version of this map, please click here.


*High quality attacks are defined as attacks behind frontlines, those that result in seized positions, target regime officers, involve coordinated attacks on multiple positions, fake checkpoints, ambushes on military convoys, or attacks on checkpoints that kill at least three soldiers or lead to POWs.

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