ISIS Redux: The Central Syria Insurgency in May 2024

June 11, 2024
Gregory Waters  —  Research Analyst

Following is the May 2024 installment of “ISIS Redux: The Central Syria Insurgency,” a monthly chronicle of attacks by the terrorist group ISIS in central Syria. All previous 2024 monthly installments can be found here, as well as a review of developments throughout 20232022, and 2021. 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 25 confirmed attacks in May in the Homs, Hama, Raqqa, and Deir Ez Zor governorates. These attacks killed at least 36 pro-Assad regime soldiers and one civilian and wounded at least 22 more soldiers and civilians. There were also six high quality* attacks carried out during the month. The level of violence in May continued to decline from the insurgency’s peak in March. May’s violence, while significantly lower than that of the past two months, is still in line with historic high-activity months seen in 2020 and early 2023. Much of the decline came from a sharp drop in activity in Deir Ez Zor and Raqqa, both of which saw almost no mine or improvised explosive device (IED) attacks in May. These types of attacks generally compose a significant portion of violent activity in the two governorates, targeting local civilians and security forces traveling into the desert. It is possible that locals exercised extra caution in May, given the severity of both mine and small arms attacks in these two regions during this year’s truffle season. This hypothesis is supported by the fact that there were only two documented attacks on civilians in May, both occurring in eastern Hama. 

ISIS did not have as much success capturing regime outposts in April as it did in March. As with April, ISIS managed to maintain consistent serious operations against the critical Taybeh-Kawm axis throughout May, including capturing several regime positions. While the frequency of these attacks continues to decline slightly from their peak in March, it still appears that the group is dedicating significant resources to fighting large scale battles here. Russia also continued its extremely active bombing campaign against both static ISIS targets and in providing close air support during larger ISIS attacks against fixed regime positions, with the bulk of airstrikes occurring in southern Raqqa and eastern Homs.

table of pro government deaths vs number of isis attacks

*Indicates attacks in Damascus City claimed by ISIS. Additional IED attacks occurred in Homs City in June 2023 and Damascus in March 2024 and May 2024 that went unclaimed but were suspected to be conducted by ISIS.

Confirmed ISIS attacks decreased in May in nearly every governorate compared to April. The biggest drops came in Deir Ez Zor (4 compared to 13) and Raqqa (4 compared to 12), with a smaller drop in Homs (12 compared to 13). Attacks in Hama increased slightly (5 compared to 4). No attacks were recorded in Aleppo.

number if isis attacks by province

Deir Ez Zor and Raqqa

ISIS expanded its low-level insurgency within the urban belt of Deir Ez Zor in January, when it conducted three assassinations of local security members. Sleeper cells continued this trend in February, carrying out two assassinations of local pro-regime fighters inside Mayadin city, and again in March, when unidentified gunmen conducted three attacks inside Mayadin and one attack on the edge of Shamitiyah. This pattern continued into April, with one attack inside Mayadin and two attacks within and adjacent to towns in west Deir Ez Zor. In May, regime security forces captured a small four-man ISIS cell inside Mayadin. According to local journalist Zain al-Abidin three of the detained men were serving in the NDF and their leader had entered Mayadin from northeast Syria during the regime’s 2022 reconciliation initiative – a security risk this author had highlighted at the time.

On May 3, a soldier was killed in a small arms attack north of Shoula. That same day unknown armed men attacked the brother of a local militia leader inside Mayadin, wounding him slightly. On May 20, ISIS fighters attacked an army position in the west Deir Ez Zor desert, killing one and wounding two. On May 26, eight days after the ISIS cell bust in Mayadin, a group of gunmen on a motorcycle attacked an NDF truck inside the city, wounding three.

In Raqqa, ISIS’s insurgency dropped back down its more typical levels following two months of extreme activity. On May 2 ISIS cells attacked a regime position in the Sabkha desert, leaving one dead and one wounded. The next day, a Republican Guard truck was hit by a mine or IED while driving west of Tabqa, leaving one dead and three wounded. On May 11, two 4th Division soldiers were killed and wounded in the Sabkha desert when recovering the dead body of another soldier which had been rigged with explosives. On May 14, ISIS fighters attacked a regime position near the Zamlah Sharqi hamlet in southeast Raqqa. 

map of locatable isis attacks in Deir Ez Zormap of locatable ISIS attacks Raqqa

Map of locatable ISIS attacks (highlighted) in Deir Ez Zor (top) and Raqqa (bottom) in May 2024 alongside all other attacks in 2024. 


ISIS activity in eastern Homs decreased in December, but remained focused around the Doubayat Oil Field, which the group had temporarily captured in November. January likewise saw most ISIS activity concentrated in this area, though the group also expanded operations west into the desert just south of Palmyra and Arak. In February, ISIS largely abandoned the southern Palmyra front, likely because of pro-regime ground and air operations, and shifted its focus to the Taybeh sector north of Sukhnah and the Jubb Jarah mountains north of Palmyra. This focus continued into March, with activity remaining concentrated in the Sukhnah-Taybeh-Kawm axis in both April and May. However, security forces continue to largely stand their ground.

On May 3, ISIS cells launched a coordinated attack on the Kawm axis, targeting three regime positions simultaneously and killing at least 13 pro-regime fighters from the Russian-backed al-Assad Shield Forces. On May 7, ISIS launched another attack on al-Kawm, targeting a Liwa al-Quds position east of the town. On May 11, ISIS cells shifted their focus south, seizing a regime position east of Taybeh. Three days later, ISIS fighters overran a Liwa al-Quds position near Qasr Hayr Sharqi, south of Taybeh. According to Zain al-Abidin’s sources, two Liwa al-Quds fighters and six Iranian-led Afghan foreign fighters were killed and at least seven others wounded. Militants also managed to destroy two trucks during the battle. On May 17 a soldier from the regime’s 25th Division was killed somewhere in east Homs. The 25th Division’s 26th Brigade, commanded and directly supported by the Russians, was recently sent to eastern Homs to help reinforce security forces. 

The next day, ISIS fighters attacked a regime position inside the Mahr Gas Field, killing one and wounding two others. As Zain al-Abidin reports, this is the first such attack on this field, long considered to be one of the more secure areas in the Badia. That same day another soldier was killed in an attack west of Sukhnah. On May 20, three more members of the 25th Division’s 26th Brigade were killed in an attack in the Talilah Reserve area south of Palmyra. Among them was a lieutenant colonel, the first high ranking officer killed in the Badia this year. On May 23 a soldier was killed in clashes near Arak, just days after security forces swept the area. Lastly, another soldier was killed on May 28 when his position west of Arak came under attack. 

map of locatable isis attacks in Homs

Map of locatable ISIS attacks in Homs (highlighted) in May 2024 alongside all other attacks in 2024. Not shown is one attack which occurred in an unknown part of eastern Homs.


Significant ISIS activity returned to east Hama in January, when the group conducted five attacks in the province, three of which were deemed high quality. Likewise, ISIS conducted three high quality attacks in eastern Hama in February. This was the first time eastern Hama had back-to-back months of three or more high quality attacks since spring of 2021, amid the regime’s semi-successful campaign to suppress ISIS activity in the province. March continued this trend with five high quality and 12 total attacks, almost all against security forces. However, activity reduced significantly in April, with only four confirmed attacks all month, and likewise with only five attacks in May. 

On May 3 a local militia fighter was killed in eastern Salamiyah. On May 8 a shepherd was killed by a mine while driving on the Tel Tout road. On May 15 a man driving a water tanker in the countryside was wounded by a mine. Lastly, according to Zain al-Abidin, multiple skirmishes broke out between security forces and ISIS cells in the Duwayzin region of southeast Hama between May 23 and May 24.

Looking Ahead

ISIS activity has returned to the more typical moderately high level seen in 2020 and early 2023. While the data from May does not look anywhere as bad as that of March and April, the trends of the past months have largely continued. ISIS cells continue to conduct a steady pressure campaign north of Sukhnah, seemingly unperturbed by heavy Russian airpower as they repeatedly target, and often capture, regime positions outside Taybeh and Kawm. The group also continues to demonstrate a clear ability to rapidly redeploy forces in order to shift the geographic focus of its operations. For example, May saw a return of ISIS activity to the Palmyra-Arak axis for the first time since mid-February. 

While ISIS activity in eastern Homs has largely continued unabated, it was southern Raqqa and Deir Ez Zor that saw the most dramatic shifts in activity this month. These two regions were the primary drivers of March and April’s unprecedented activity, and in May ISIS appeared to have largely gone quiet, conducting single digit attacks in both areas. However, ISIS activity continues to escalate across the river in the SDF-held parts of Raqqa and Deir Ez Zor. On May 10, ISIS conducted its first SVBIED attack against against the SDF since its January 2022 assault on Sinai Prison in Hasakah. This time, an ISIS member targeted an SDF checkpoint outside Shuhayl. Then on June 3 the SDF reported that another ISIS fighter targeted an SDF base outside Izbeh, Deir Ez Zor (though earlier tweeting that the attack was thwarted). Later that day the SDF and U.S. Coalition forces conducted an operation in the nearby town of Dahleh where they claimed to kill a five-man ISIS cell including two “leaders” responsible for both SVBIEDs. Two days later, ISIS released an official claim for an SVBIED attack in the town of al-Atala it says was carried out also on June 3. It is unclear if this is the same attack as the June 3 Izbeh bombing.

suicide attacks in deir ez zor

Regardless of whether or not these were the same attacks, ISIS has now conducted at least two suicide car bombings in less than one month in Deir Ez Zor. This marks a significant increase in the level of violence in the governorate, and mirrors a similarly escalating level of ISIS extortion and financial operations in the northeast. It is possible that the decrease in ISIS activity in regime-held Deir Ez Zor and Raqqa comes from some fighters and resources being sent to the northeast. If so, it remains to be seen how long they stay in the northeast before returning to regime areas and escalating their violence once more.

map of locatable attacks in may 2024

Map of locatable ISIS attacks (highlighted) in May 2024 alongside all other attacks in 2024. Not shown are two attack in eastern Hama and one attack in eastern Homs. To view an interactive version of this map, please click here.


*High quality attacks are defined as attacks behind frontlines: attacks that result in seized positions, target regime officers, involve coordinated attacks on multiple positions, “flying checkpoints” (temporary roadblocks ISIS fighters establish in order to stop and extort or ambush a few cars), ambushes on military convoys, or attacks on checkpoints that kill at least three soldiers or lead to POWs.

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On May 8, 2019, Taliban insurgents detonated an explosive-laden vehicle and then broke into American NGO Counterpart International’s offices in Kabul. At least seven people were killed and 24 were injured.

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