Isis sends message with co-ordinated Syrian bombings

Neither Russian military nor Syria’s coastal enclave is secure from attack

A blazing car after explosions hit the Syrian city of Tartous. Photograph: Syrian Arab News Agency handout via Reuters

A blazing car after explosions hit the Syrian city of Tartous. Photograph: Syrian Arab News Agency handout via Reuters


Monday’s co-ordinated attacks by Islamic State on Tartous and Jableh sent a message to Damascus, the government’s stronghold, and its ally Russia: Syria’s coastal enclave is no longer secure.

Both cities have so far been largely unscathed during more than five years of warfare. So, targeted by government forces and Russian air strikes, Islamic State – also known as Isis – seeks to deter attacks and destabilise a stable region of the country.

Summer resort

Jableh, in Latakia province, is half an hour’s drive from the hill town of Qardahah, the home town of president Bashar al-Assad’s clan. Jableh is also the location of the upgraded and expanded airfield used since last October by Russian war planes to carry out strikes against Islamic State and other insurgent groups.

Tartous and Latakia are the only Syrian provinces with a majority of Alawites, adherents of an off-shoot of Shia Islam. By targeting Jableh, Islamic State is warning Alawites that they cannot be protected by the government – and telling Russia its deployment of aircraft and men are not beyond the reach of suicide bombers.

Islamic State and other insurgents mischaracterise the government as an “Alawite regime” because it is headed by an Alawite. While Assad and his relatives hold key positions, most government offices are filled by Sunnis, who account for about 70 per cent of the population.

Pro-government Sunnis and Sunni army soldiers are considered apostates by Islamic State and threatened with execution.

The jihadist group has repeatedly carried out suicide and car bombings in other Alawite towns, villages and communities to punish Alawites for joining the military. The terrorist group seeks to drive a wedge between Alawites and the government.

In April, dissident Alawite figures circulated an anonymous document calling upon the community to dissociate itself from the government. Still, there appears to be no serious communal challenge to Assad. He has the backing of Syria’s Christians and Shias, who have been persecuted and driven from their homes by Islamic State.

Coastal corridor

HizbullahJabhat al-Nusra

This was largely successful, and the coastal cities – with the exception of Latakia, which has been targeted by Nusra – have enjoyed relative peace. Monday’s attacks show that Islamic State can penetrate this security zone.