(New York, N.Y.) — The Counter Extremism Project (CEP) today published its latest report in its multi-year study of ISIS’s ongoing insurgency in central Syria, “Unsolved Murders In Syria’s Badia: Truffle Hunters In The Crosshairs And ISIS At Large,” which addresses nearly 50 attacks since February 2023 against civilians, many of whom were seeking to supplement their income through the collection and sale of truffles. Others targeted include shepherds and travelers killed by gunfire or mines. 200 civilians were killed, 80 wounded, and as many as 47 kidnapped in recent weeks.
No group has claimed responsibility for the surge in civilian attacks in central Syria, leaving people pointing fingers at Iranian militias, ISIS, or criminals. Syrian opposition media outlets have cast blame on “Iranian militias” rather than ISIS, citing past atrocities, and some local Facebook-based news outlets have published reports insistent that Iranians and their Afghan and Pakistani foreign fighters committed these attacks. Additionally, interviews conducted with locals for this report confirmed a standing Iranian presence across central Syria.
Some, however, are more circumspect in assigning responsibility for the attacks to Iran and suggest that because the locations of the attacks and subsequent chaos are favorable to ISIS that ISIS is most likely responsible. The terrorist group has for years used sheep theft to fund its insurgency, has used kidnapping for ransom and terror, and is incentivized to keep civilians out of regions where its fighters are based or use as transit.
“There is extensive circumstantial evidence that points to ISIS, but criminal gangs and pro-regime forces can never be completely ruled out,” said CEP research analyst Gregory Waters. “Regardless, the shooting and kidnapping of locals, not to mention the near daily tragedy of locals killed by mines, will continue to push civilians out of their villages for the safety of larger towns and deepen distrust between locals and security forces. All of this will strengthen ISIS’s ability to transit the region at will and engage in black market financial operations with the local illicit economy.”
To read the CEP report, Unsolved Murders In Syria’s Badia: Truffle Hunters In The Crosshairs And ISIS At Large, please click here.
To listen to CEP Research Analyst Gregory Waters on BBC Newshour, please click here.