The Islamic State (IS) declared Raqqa the capital of the “caliphate” in 2014, which retained its capital status until 2017. On October 17, 2017, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) announced that they had liberated the region (including Raqqa) from IS.
However, the Islamic State reverted back into an insurgent force, carrying out armed attacks against various targets, especially SDF positions. These operations included ambushes, assassinations, arson attacks, as well as “jailbreaks” and prison raids. Regarding the latter, the attempted jailbreak of IS prisoners in Hasakah on January 20, 2022, revealed how effective and dangerous the cells in the region can be.
It is worth noting that IS has attempted these types of attacks, which it commonly calls “Hadm al-Aswar” (هدم الأسوار), in different regions, including Syria. However, none of these attempts was as effective in Syria as the assault on January 20th.
This article will first look at the Islamic State’s prison raids or “Hadm al-Aswar” attacks.
1- Weapons Used by IS during Gweiran Jailbreak on January 20, 2022
On January 20, 2021, Islamic State cells and imprisoned IS militants in Hasakah launched a coordinated attack on al-Sina’a prison in northeastern Syria, which is under the control of the SDF. It was stated that IS militants carried out the attack from both inside and outside, and two suicide-bombing attacks were carried out to initiate the assault. In a statement released through the official IS Amaq News Agency, the group announced that the names of the drivers of the SVBIED vehicles were “Abu- Abd al-Rahman” and “Abu Al-Farouq Al-Muhajirin” (Both of them are likely foreign fighters).
Videos released by both the SDF and IS in this attack provided a clear view of some of the weapons used by the group's militants.
IS militants inside the prison during the attack.
On January 22, through the Amaq Agency, IS released a video showing its militants inside the prison at the time of the attack. Here, it is seen that the militants use 7.62x39mm AKM/S type rifles, and at least one of the weapons has an under-folding stock.
As the conflict escalated, intense exchanges of gunfire began to take place between SDF forces and IS militants. The clashes continue more than 48 hours since the raid was first launched.
On the morning of January 21st, the SDF released a video of IS militants who were killed in the fighting and of the weapons they possessed. The armed militants in this particular video appear to be militants from the cells outside, not prison escapees.
Amongst the weapons seized from the militants, there is one 7.62x54mmR PK/Type 80 general-purpose machine gun (GPMG), one Zastava M70AB2 (or its Iraqi copy; “Tabuk”) rifle, and an RPG-7 rocket launcher.
In addition to these, there is another AKMS pattern rifle belonging to a dead IS militant.
Furthermore, it is seen that the killed militants had explosive vests on them. But apparently, the militant was killed by the SDF before he could detonate the vest.
A UZRGM-2 (УЗРГМ-2) type grenade detonator is visibly attached to this explosive vest.
After the prison raid, IS released another video on January 22, again through the Amaq News Agency. In this video, four IS militants appeared with captured SDF members.
Looking at the weapons, the militants at the rear possess a machete, a 7.62x39mm AK-type rifle (apparently similar to Bulgarian AKK rifles) and a 7.62x54mmR PK(M) pattern GPMG.
However, the militant making the speech seems to have a Serbian 7.62x39mm Zastava M05E1 rifle.
It is known that Zastava M05E1 guns were given to YPG fighters a few years ago. These weapons have changed hands frequently over time and appear in the hands of different countries and organizations.
Yet, there are complaints that this gun jams from time to time and is prone to rust. Therefore, it is not a highly-desired weapon of choice.
However, it is the most likely and highly probable that this weapon was obtained from a killed SDF member:
On January 23, 2022, IS released another video of SDF members captured through Amaq.
IS video shows captured SDF members. January 23, 2022.
In the video, militants are armed with a Zastava M05E1, a possible Bulgarian AKK (with milled receiver), an M4 carbine, Roman PM md. 63 and carries an AKM.
You can also see the EOTech pattern RDS attached to the M4 carbine. This weapon was probably also seized from YAT members during the clashes.
On January 23, Amaq Agency released another image of ISIS militants in prison. This video was probably recorded by militants on January 20, but was released on January 23.
A scene from the video published by Amaq Agency on January 23.
In the video, it is also possible to see one of the Militants carrying a craft-produced weapon. Its appearance resembles M16A1/A2 pattern rifles crudely.
Also the militants in the prison appear to be wearing red/orange colored bands —which might be for IFF (Identification friend or foe).
On Friday, January 28, ISIS published a photograph of a technical captured from the SDF in their newsletters “al-Naba”.
Captured technical from SDF in Gweiran, Hasakah. A possible 12.7x108mm DShKM pattern HMG can be seen as well.
In addition to these, on Januarg 28, ANHA News also published the weapons seized by the SDF from ISIS in Gweiran, Hasakah.
Seized weapons by SDF in Gweiran on January 28.
Among the seized weapons, Romanian PM md. 63 rifles and Type 56 pattern rifles. An RPG-7 Launcher, Bulgarian OGi-7MA round for the Launcher, various hand grenades (F-1, RGD-5 and Iranian Mk2 pattern grenades) and IEDs with UZRGM fuzes were also captured.
The Type 56 pattern rifle appears to be either an early Chinese Type 56 or its Albanian copy; ASh-78 Tip-1 AK (note the lack of mag well dimple).
Also rifles with fixed stocks feature noteable PK style hollowed stocks. These stocks are known as the iconic stocks of the YPG and are used by them. So it can be said that the rifles were originally seized from SDF/YPG by ISIS and recovered back again by SDF.
In general, it is clear that the attacks of IS in the region pose a considerable threat. There had been prison raid/breakout type attacks before, but all of these previous attacks were foiled by the SDF. The weapons used in these attacks in the past naturally show a great similarity to those used in the attack on 20 January.
2- Weapons of IS Militants During Previous Jailbreak Attempt in Gweiran on November 2021
A similar escape attempt took place in November of 2021. In this instance, IS wanted to attack the same prison in Hasakah in a coordinated way from inside and outside. However, this attack was blocked by HAT/Asayîş.
In the photos above, the weapons used in the prison raid attempt, seized by HAT/Asayîş in November 2021, are seen.
Here, too, the militants seem to have a large number of 7.62x39mm AK rifles. In addition to these, two 7.62x54mmR PK(M) pattern GPMG, a Type 69 RPG Launcher (Chinese copy of RPG-7), PG-7V, PG-7VM, PG-7VL and OG-7V pattern projectiles for the RPG launcher, various improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and a large number of hand grenades were also seized from the militants, including F-1 and M52P3 grenades.
3- Weapons Captured FROM IS Cells and Militants in AANES
As noted, it is clear that IS militants, whether active or sleeper cells, have the firepower to pose a serious threat. Of course, the weapons used by the militants are not limited to the ones mentioned above.
It is possible to see many different weapons in IS cells in AANES, from pistols to machine guns.
Weapons seized by Asayîş from an IS cell in Raqqa on August, 2020.
When we look at the weapons seized by Asayîş on 30 August, it is possible to see an AKMS, a Type 3 AK-47, a converted Turkish Retay G17 blank-pistol and a Beretta Model 70 pistol. A craft-produced suppressor, an F-1 grenade and an RGD-5 grenade were also seized.
While the weapons are generally common in the region, it is worth noting the silencer seized from IS. As it is known, silencers are frequently used by IS militants, especially in Iraq and Syria. It is possible to see weapons with silencers in both sleeper cells and active cells of IS in AANES from time to time.
IS militant with a suppressed Star Model B pistol in Deir ez-Zor on February 2021.
Besides pistols, 12-gauge shotguns are frequently seized from IS cells. These weapons are generally used by “low/mid-tier cells”. Compared to other weapons, the effects are less. Many of these shotguns, on the other hand, are of Turkish origin.
IS militants detained by SDF in Dhiban, Deir ez-Zor on October, 2020.
For example, looking at the weapons of IS militants arrested in October 2021, it can be said that these people probably belong to a low/mid-tier cell.
One Turkish 12-gauge shotgun, three AKM(S) & Type 56(-1) type rifles and one Type 3 AK-47 were seized from the militants. All the weapons shown here can be easily obtained in the area.
It can also be noted that from time to time older/historical weapons were found in various cells.
Turkish 12-gauge shotguns, a French MAS-36 rifle, Type 56-1 AK rifle, a Russian Mosin-Nagant rifle and a Beretta 80-pattern pistol (very likely a converted/blank-firing pistol) were seized from an IS cell in Deir ez-Zor by SDF on December 12, 2021.
Various weapons captured from IS by SDF in Deir ez-Zor on February, 2021.
It is possible to see a few interesting items among the weapons that the SDF seized in Deir ez-Zor in February 2021.
First of all, we see a few AKM(S) pattern assault rifles and Turkish 12-gauge shotguns. Additionally, several possibly converted blank pistols and a Makarov PM pistol were also captured from IS militants.
The weapon seen on the far left is a Serbian Zastava M05E1. As stated earlier, these weapons were first supplied to the YPG. The weapon in this photo was once again in the hands of the SDF after it was seized from IS. In addition, a Mosin-Nagant and a notable Walther P1/P38 pistol are also seen in the photo.
Close-up photo of the Walther P1/P38 pistol.
Mosin-Nagant and MAS-36 rifles are easily purchased in the region and they are also commonly used by several different organizations, especially in Syria. Various modifications are made to these rifles before they are used. Chief among these modifications is the refitted barrel. These barrels are generally taken from the PK and its derivatives. In addition, it is seen that new binoculars and top rails are added from time to time. However, there are no modifications to the weapons seized from IS cells.
Seized weapons by SDF from IS in Al-Shahel, Deir ez-Zor on September 16, 2021: An AKMS rifle, a PG-7V rocket and a PG-7VL rocket for RPG-7 derivatives can be seen.
Captured weapons by SDF from IS in Deir ez-Zor on May 15, 2021
In addition to standard AK rifles, one M16A2, AKS-74 and French MAS-36 were captured from IS. Also among the weapons seized are a Star Model B pistol, a Tokarev pattern pistol (probably Tokagypt) and a Glock 19 Gen 3 pistol.
Captured weapons by YPG from IS in Hujna, Deir ez-Zor on March 12, 2021.
AKS-74U (a well-known status weapon) and AK-74M were seized along with 30-round plum mags + 45-round bakelite 5.45x39mm RPG-74 mags. Significant raid on high-ranked militants.
Captured weapons from a weapons cache belonging to IS by SAA on Mount Bishri (Between Deir ez-Zor and Raqqa).
Cache includes two AKM rifles, Type 3 AK-47, PK barrel, KPV HMG and plenty of ammos including 5.56x45mm Link 27 cartridges for belt-fed weapons. —1x M856 Tracer for 4x M855 Balls—
4- Weapons Used and Captured BY IS Cells and Militants in AANES
Of course, there are various weapons used and seized by the militants in the videos and photos that IS has released itself.
One of the most important of these is the AKS-74U. This weapon is also known as an important status symbol among jihadist organizations. This weapon stands out as a weapon used by the jihadist leaders Osama bin Laden and Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
Apart from the AKS-74U carbines, various rifles, rocket launchers and pistols are also used by IS cells and militants in AANES.
IS militants with two AKS-74U carbines (plus one 45-round RPK-74 mag) and a Glock 19 Gen 3 pistol during the Ramadan in 2021 in Deir ez-Zor.
An AKS-74U carbine in use by IS militants in Deir ez-Zor in 2021. It can be noted that the muzzle device of carbine(s) were removed.
The muzzle brake may be damaged or intentionally removed. Usually, muzzle brakes are removed to attach a suppressorr, but the photos do not show any.
IS militants during Ramadan in 2021 in Deir ez-Zor. A very similar AKS-74U carbine without a muzzle device can be seen.
IS militant with an AKMS pattern rifle during the attack on Daas Oil Field in the town of Al-Huraiji, north of Deir Ez-Zor on December 2021.
IS attack on SDF forces in Deir ez-Zor, Syria on March 2021. An RPG-7 with PG-7VM/S rocket can be seen.
In addition, IS militants occasionally published photos of various weapons seized from the YPG/SDF in AANES. But these weapons are also extremely common in the region. There doesn't seem to be an interesting firearm among the seized weapons.
Romanian Pistol Mitralieră model 1965 (PM md. 65) rifle, seized by IS from an “Asayîş” member in Al-Sajr, Deir ez-Zor on December, 2021. The rifle can be distinguished from the appearence of side-folding stock and rivet patterns.
A stockless AKM-pattern rifle captured from a YPG fighter by IS in North of Raqqa on May, 2021.
The rifle also features "YPG" markings on handguards, swapped gas block and SAR-308/Magpul style 7.62x39mm AK mag.
The pistol captured from SDF/YPG fighter by IS in the town called al-Buhamid (Tabiyet Jazira, DeirEzzor) on July, 2021.
The pistol appears to be a Turkish EKOL "Grizzly" Special 99 Rev. II pistol (blank-firing copy of Beretta 85FS).
Even though IS lost its caliphate territories, it still seems to have significant firepower and active/sleeper cells in the region. As a result of the prison raids, they may have further bolstered their ranks.
Almost all of the weapons held by IS are easily accessible in the region. Considering the easy access to weapons in the area and the variety and number of weapons in the organization, it is possible for the cells to be properly armed to conduct many different types of operations.
In particular, the prison raid in Hasakah and the numerous attacks that took place in various AANES regions in conjunction with this raid shows that the activity of IS cells in the area may increase over time - although some of these attacks seem to have been carried out to distract attention from the jailbreak in Hasakah.
Notes: The main purpose of this article is to make a basic and brief review of the weapons of IS in AANES, especially the weapons they used during their recent attacks. Almost all of the photos and videos were taken from material published by the SDF and IS.
This article may need to be updated from time to time given the ongoing conflicts in the region. When this happens, the article will be expanded by adding new materials.