ISIS may have lost in the battlefield, but its sleeper cells are still actively spreading extremist ideology and carrying out attacks in its former territory in northeast Syria.
Al Arabiya’s reporter Rola al-Khatib was able to gain exclusive access to the Syrian city of Deir Ezzor, a former ISIS stronghold, to document the US-led international coalition’s efforts to combat ISIS’s presence.
Her report exposed a city struggling from frequent violence at the hands of ISIS sleeper cells.
“There are ISIS sleeper cells, there are Iranian sleeper cells, there are sleeper cells from the regime itself, there are sleeper cells for the Euphrates Shield and al-Nusra Front,” a soldier from the Syrian Democratic Forces told Al Arabiya’s reporter.
“Explosions happen in this area on a daily basis,” he said. “Every day there’s an explosive device or two.”
“The area is dangerous, the security situation is bad,” he added.
The Euphrates river, which has one official crossing connecting its eastern and western banks, is the frontline that separates the international coalition forces, led by US troops, and the Iranian forces fighting alongside the Syrian regime.
Boats transport civilians and supplies from one side to the other. The crossing is also a site for the smuggling of illicit goods, including oil.
Earlier in March, ISIS faced imminent defeat in its final enclave of Baghouz as hundreds of extremists and their families surrendered to the Syrian Democratic Forces.