Some ten months after the opening of the US-led campaign against ISIS, this week there has been a possible fundamental change in Turkey’s policy. The change was manifested in Turkish airstrikes against ISIS targets in northern Syria and widespread detentions of ISIS operatives in Turkey. Concurrently, Turkish warplanes attacked bases of the PKK (the Kurdish resistance) in northern Iraq and detained PKK operatives. The background of the change is the leakage of ISIS terrorism into Turkey and Turkey’s growing fears of the Kurds’ aspirations of separatism. In addition, Turkey has announced an increase in the security measures along its border with Syria. Turkey has also allowed American-led coalition to use the airports in its territory to carry out airstrikes against ISIS.
From ISIS’s perspective, the Turkish activity along the border and the widespread wave of detentions may impede ISIS’s supply routes and make it more difficult for foreign fighters to join ISIS. In addition, Turkish airstrikes are liable to increase the difficulties that ISIS already is facing in the area along the Turkish border. However, the ITIC believes that the new Turkish policy will not pose a significant challenge to ISIS’s military and administrative core areas in Syria and Iraq. This is due mainly to the absence of effective forces of “moderate” and pro-Western rebel organizations, which would take advantage of Turkish and US air support.
In the main areas of fighting in Syria, Iraq, Egypt and Libya,there were no significant changes on the ground this week. The most prominent incident of the week was the killing of a senior Al-Qaeda operative by the name of Muhsin al-Fadhli in a US airstrike in northwest Syria. He was the head of the Khorasan network, which operates under the auspices of the Al-Nusra Front and plans to carry out terrorist attacks against the US and other Western countries.
The international campaign against ISIS
US-led coalition airstrikes
This week, the US and coalition forces continued their airstrikes against ISIS targets. During the week, dozens of airstrikes were carried out in Syria and Iraq by means of fighter planes, attack aircraft and UAVs. Following are the main airstrikes (CENTCOM website):
In Syria, the airstrikes were concentrated in the area of Aleppo, Al-Hasakah, Al-Raqqah and Kobani. The airstrikes reportedly targeted ISIS tactical units, vehicles, (including heavy machinery), weapons, battle positions, staging areas, bunkers, a headquarters and a logistics center, among other things. Some of the airstrikes were carried out by the Royal Air Force.
Iraq- the airstrikes were concentrated in the areas of Hawija, Fallujah, Habbaniyah, Mosul, Ramadi, Sinjar, Tal Afar, Baiji, Haditha, Makhmur, Al-Qaim, Al-Assad and Rutba. The airstrikes reportedly targeted ISIS tactical units, vehicles, bunkers, launching positions, bridges and checkpoints, among other things.
Expanding Britain’s involvement in the campaign against ISIS
Britain, which is an important country in the US-led coalition, has participated so far only in airstrikes on Iraq. This is the first time that the British also carried out airstrikes on Syrian soil. In 2013, the British Parliament voted against British involvement in military operations in Syria. However, following the attack at the hotel in Tunisia (June 26, 2015), which killed thirty British tourists, the Prime Minister and the Minister of Defence decided to expand the military operations against Syria as well (The Guardian, July 17, 2015).
In the past, the British Foreign Office ruled out British airstrikes against ISIS targets in Libya (The Guardian, July 20, 2015). However, British Prime Minister David Cameron has now ordered his government ministries to prepare a plan for the possibility of an attack in Libya as part of the war against ISIS. According to Prime Minister Cameron, if a reliable and stable government is formed in Libya, Britain will be at its side and help it in its fight against ISIS. The main areas of assistance presently being considered are strengthening security on Libya’s borders and assisting Libya in training the local police (The Guardian, July 26, 2015).
Change in Turkish policy regarding ISIS and the PKK
Following the attack in the town of Suruc, and shooting at Turkish military forces near the Syrian border, the Turkish government has decided on a number of significant counterterrorism measures inside Turkey and security measures along the border with Syria and Iraq. These measures are aimed against both ISIS and the PKK, which is perceived by the Turkish government as a terrorist organization. Turkish Prime MinisterAhmet Davutoğlu said that this activity would continue as long as Turkey is threatened (alarabiya.net, July 25, 2015).
Following are the main steps taken by Turkey in the last week:
On July 24, 2015, for the first time, three Turkish Air Force aircraft attacked ISIS targets inside Syria.The targets attacked included ISIS positions in the area of Al-A'zaz, in northern Syria, near theTel al-Hawa crossing, and a number of targets in the area of Jarabulus (in the northern Aleppo province). Turkish security officials have stressed that the airstrikes were carried out from Turkish territory near the town of Kilis and that Syrian airspace was not violated. In addition, Turkishaircraft attacked PKK bases in northern Iraq for the first time since the agreement was signed between Turkey and the Turkish underground in 2013. These attacks were carried out after two police officers were killed in the city of Diyarbakir on July 22, 2015. The military arm of the PKK claimed responsibility for the murder in retaliation for the attack in Suruc (Hürriyet, July 23, 2015).
Turkey has announced an increase in the security measures along its border with Syria (some 900 km long) and its intention to tighten its control over the border regions. To that end,it was decided to build a double fence system along the border, dig a trench system and install screens, lighting and advanced surveillance equipment (including a row of observation balloons). Turkey alsoreinforced its troops along the Syrian border with Special Forces (the Brown Berets). Turkish government has stressed that construction of the fence along the border is intended to prevent the movement of “terrorists” through its territory (Al-Jazeera TV, July 23, 2015).
At the level of Turkish-US relations, Turkey has allowed the United States and other countries in the coalition to use its airports, especially Incirlik Air Base in southern Turkey, for airstrikes against ISIS (The Washington Post, July 24, 2015). In addition, Turkey and the United States have reportedly arrived at general understandings regarding the plan to create a buffer zone approximately 95 km long in northern Syria, along the border with Turkey, where there will be no presence of ISIS operatives. This area, which is expected to be controlled by “moderate” rebel organizations, will also serve as a shelter for Syrian displaced persons and will ensure relative stability and security along the border (The New York Times, July 27, 2015). On the other hand, a senior US government official denied that such an agreement is being formed between the US and Turkey (CNN, July 27, 2015).
At the same time, Turkey has carried out a wave of detentions across the country, aimed at PKK and ISIS operatives. A few hundred operatives have been detained, including foreign nationals. According to reports, the detainees include Abdullah Abdullaev, a Russian citizen from Dagestan, one of ISIS’s senior leaders in Turkey(Hürriyet, July 25, 2015).
In the ITIC’s assessment, these measures reflect a change in Turkish policy towards ISIS and apparently also towards the PKK. From Turkey’s perspective, the terrorist attack in Suruc, which symbolized the leakage of ISIS terrorism into Turkey, was apparently the last straw. In addition, the Turks apparently took advantage of the opportunity to act against the PKK, which they see as a political and security threat, and against the intention of the Kurds to establish an autonomous region under their control in northern Syria along the border with Turkey.
It is not yet clear how resolute Turkey will be in effectively implementing anti-ISIS measures over time. From the perspective of ISIS, the Turkish operations - if the Turks do indeed persist over time - will make it difficult for foreign fighters to pass through Turkey and will also make it difficult for ISIS to maintain its supply routes that pass through Turkey. In addition, this is liable to further impede ISIS’s freedom of action in northern Syria, along the border with Turkey, where it is under pressure from the Kurdish forces (YPG). However, it is doubtful whether the new Turkish policy will pose a significant challenge to ISIS’s military and administrative core areas in Syria and Iraq. In the ITIC’s assessment, one of the weak points of the Turkish policy (and of the US strategy in general) is the lack of effective forces of the so-called moderate Syrian rebel organizations that will be able to establish control along the Syrian-Turkish border with Turkish (and American) air support.
Main developments in Syria
According to a report by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), the Kurdish forces (YPG) claim to have regained control of the town of Sarrin, northern Syria, from ISIS. The town, located near the Euphrates River, was captured from the Kurds during the fighting on Kobani, located to its north. The town was taken over with air support by the US-led coalition forces (Al-Arabiya, July 27, 2015).
On July 25, 2015, an ISIS-affiliated Twitter account posted photos originating from ISIS, allegedly taken inside the village of Al-Ra’i, near the Syrian-Turkish border, and the nearby village of Iyashah. Turkish planes attacked ISIS targets in both these villages. The photos show an ISIS checkpoint manned by masked and armed operatives (ISIS-affiliated Twitter account, July 25, 2015).
The area of Idlib–Latakia
US Department of Defense announced the killing in an airstrike of Muhsin al-Fadhli, a senior Al-Qaeda operative from Kuwait. The airstrike took place on July 8, 2015, when Muhsin al-Fadhli was driving his car near the town of Sarmada, in the Idlib province in northwestern Syria.
Muhsin al-Fadhliwas the leader of the “Khorasan Group,” a network of longtime Al-Qaeda operatives residing in Syria. The network was planning attacks against US and other Western countries. According to US officials, Muhsin al-Fadhli was aware of the planning of September 11, 2001 and was involved in an attack against French and US Navy ships in Kuwait in October 2002 (US Department of Defense website, July 21, 2015).
The Khorasan network was first mentioned by US President Barack Obama in September 2014. It is a terrorist network operating in Syria and comprising Al-Qaeda operatives who fought in Afghanistan and Pakistan, who have been joined by a number of foreign fighters from Europe and the United States. The network operates as a branch of Al-Qaeda under the sponsorship of the Al-Nusra Front. Muhsin al-Fadhli (codenamed Abu Osama the Kuwaiti), was one of Osama bin Laden’s advisers and took part in the fighting against the Russians in Chechnya. He was sent to Syria from Kuwait by the leader of Al-Qaeda to command the Khorasan terrorist network. In 2012, the US State Department offered a $7 million dollar reward for Al-Fadhli. During the first wave of US airstrikes (September 2014), targets of the Khorasan network in northern Syria were also attacked. Attacking Khorasan targets is an exception in the US attack policy, which is aimed solely at ISIS targets.
Al-Nusra Front operatives claim to have shot down a Syrian Army UAV.Photos of the aircraft were posted on the Twitter page of an Al-Nusra Front reporter in the area of Latakia on July 21, 2015.
On July 23, 2015, Al-Nusra Front operatives announced the beginning of an attack in the Jabal al-Turkman area, east of the city of Latakia, in order to regain control of several hills that had been taken over by Syrian Army troops several days earlier (SNN, July 23, 2015).
In the area of the city of Al-Zabadani, northwest of Damascus, fighting continued between Jaysh al-Fatah, led by the Al-Nusra Front, and the Syrian Army forces with the assistance of Hezbollah. According to Syrian media reports, Jaysh al-Fatah is trying to relieve the pressure on Al-Zabadani by military initiatives against Al-Fu'ah and Kafriya, two Shiite villages near Idlib that are loyal to the Syrian regime, and against Hezbollah outposts in the northern Aleppo province (All4Syria, July 25, 2015).
In the second half of July 2015, a Twitter account affiliated with Jaysh al-Fatah in Al-Qalamoun published photos of mortar shells called “Hell,” which are allegedly self-manufactured by Jaysh al-Fatah. These mortar shells were reportedly used in the fighting in the villages of Al-Fu'ah and Kafriya (Twitter account affiliated with Jaysh al-Fatah, July 15, 2015). Hundreds of such shells were reportedly fired at the two Shiite villages (Twitter account affiliated with Jaysh al-Fatah, July 24, 2015).
On July 25, 2015, CNN’s Arabic-language Twitter account reported that ISIS had detonated two car bombs against Kurdish (YPG) military positions. One car exploded near the city of Tell Abyad, near the Syria-Turkey border, and another car near the town of Sarrin, to its west (CNN's Arabic-language Twitter account, July 25, 2015).
Main developments in Iraq
nOn July 25, 2015, ISIS published a video showing a young man codenamed Abu al-Hawra' al-Ansari, who ISIS claims carried out a suicide bombing attack against an Iraqi Army checkpoint in Aden Square in the Kadhimiyah Shiite neighborhood of Baghdad. The date of the attack was not specified, but it was apparently a terrorist attack that was carried out last week (Isdarat al-Dawla al-Islamiyya, July 25, 2015).
In Ramadi, in the Al-Anbar province, which was taken over by ISIS, ISIS and the Iraqi Army are still fighting for control. The Iraqi Army announced on July 26, 2015, that it hadmanaged to cleanse the University of Al-Anbar in Ramadi, which had served as a headquarters for ISIS operatives (AFP, July 26, 2015). According to Iraqi military and civilian sources, ISIS now has a small foothold in Ramadi, which is limited to the area of the government buildings and a number of entrances to the city (Al-Arabiya, July 25, 2015). On the other hand, ISIS operatives reportedly managed to carry out a series of suicide bombings in the city, killing sixty Iraqi soldiers and injuring fifty others (ISIS-affiliated Twitter account, July 27, 2015). The actual situation in Ramadi is unclear at this stage.
On July 21, 2015, the Iraqi Army announced that it had successfully cut off ISIS’s forces in Fallujah from their supply lines (Al-Alam TV, July 21, 2015). The Al-Anbar province council, on behalf of the Iraqi government, reported that more than 80% of the residents of Fallujah had left the city and that ISIS was preventing the remaining families from leaving the city (Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, July 26, 2015).
ISIS’s Tigris province posted a propaganda video showing teenagers from ISIS’s youth organization, The Lion Cubs of ISIS, undergoing military training and religious indoctrination. Statements made by a few children can be heard on the tape. One of the children says, “Islam today is facing a crusader [i.e., Christian] – Jewish crusade.” Another boy, who was apparently filmed against the background of the city of Palmyra, says: “Thanks to Allah who ordered the jihad ... We are on our way to Rome” (archive.org file-sharing website, July 23, 2015).
Left: “Thanks to Allah who ordered the jihad ... We are on our way to Rome” (archive.org file-sharing website, July 23, 2015). Right: One of the children saying that Allah ordered the jihad for the believers.
Egypt and the Sinai Peninsula
ISIS’s Sinai province's campaign against the Egyptian security forces
During the week, the Egyptian security forces continued their intensive activity against operatives of the Sinai province of the Islamic State, including airstrikes.The Egyptian forces reportedly attacked terrorist bases in the area of Al-Arish and Sheikh Zuweid, hit car bombs and motorcycles, blew up several houses, neutralized IEDs and arrested dozens of operatives. They also uncovered explosives that had been planted near the homes of police officers in Al-Arish and an underground operations room of operatives of ISIS’s Sinai province in Rafah (Al-Tahrir, July 24, 2015; Al-Watan, July 26, 2015).
Despite the intense activity of the Egyptian security forces, the intensive guerilla activity by operatives of the Sinai province against the Egyptian security forces in northern Sinai has not ceased:
On July 23, 2015, an IED was detonated in a vehicle of the Egyptian security forces while they were carrying out searches in the Rafah area. The blast killed an officer and wounded three other people. A Twitter account affiliated with ISIS’s Sinai province claimed responsibility for the attack (Facebook page of the spokesman of the armed forces, July 23, 2015; Twitter account affiliated with the Sinai province, July 23, 2015).
On July 23, 2015, four soldiers were killed and an officer and seven others were wounded in an explosion of an armored vehicle near the Al-Mahdiya checkpoint in southern Rafah (Veto portal, July 23, 2015).
On July 25, 2015, a soldier was killed and ten others were wounded when a guided anti-tank missile hit a tank in the area of southern Sheikh Zuweid. ISIS’s Sinai province claimed responsibility for the attack on the tank (ISIS-affiliated Twitter account, July 25, 2015). According to Egyptian “military sources,” ISIS’s Sinai province obtained six anti-tank missiles, three of which were used in the attack (Ma’an News Agency, July 25, 2015).
Left: Claim of responsibility for the attack on the tank by ISIS’s Sinai province. Right: Documentation of the anti-tank missile being launched and hitting a tank of the Egyptian security forces (ISIS-affiliated Twitter account, July 25, 2015; dump.to, July 25, 2015).
On July 26, 2015, twelve Egyptian policemen going on leave were wounded by an IED planted in their bus on the road between Al-Arish and Al-Qantarah. Searches by the security forces revealed another explosive device. ISIS’s Sinai province claimed responsibility for the attack (ISIS’s Twitter page, July 26, 2015).
On July 26, 2015, operatives of ISIS’s Sinai province reported clashes at a checkpoint near Al-Jora Airport, south of Sheikh Zuweid (ISIS-affiliated Twitter account, July 26, 2015). Al-Jora airport is located near the main headquarters of the Multinational Force and Observers (MFO) that supervises the implementation of the military appendix in the peace treaty between Israel and Egypt. Recently, there have been a number of attacks against this force by operatives of ISIS’s Sinai province.
On July 26, 2015, ISIS’s Sinai province posted images showing weapons allegedly seized from the Egyptian security forces during an ambush near the village of Al-Lafitat in northern Sinai, south of Sheikh Zuweid (ISIS-affiliated Twitter account, July 26, 2015).
Weapons seized from the Egyptians security forces (ISIS-affiliated Twitter account, July 26, 2015)
On July 28, 2015, an IED exploded in the area of Al-Masurah (south of Rafah) near a tank patrolling the area. There were no casualties. As the tank was leaving the area, shots were fired at the security forces (ONA, July 28, 2015). A Twitter account affiliated with the Sinai province claimed responsibility for the incident.
IDF officer’s statement about the capabilities of ISIS’s Sinai province
According to a senior IDF officer in the Southern Command, the latest combined attack carried out by ISIS’s Sinai province was planned by professionals. The attack was directed against 15 positions and checkpoints of Egyptian security forces simultaneously and displayed a high level of coordination, command and control. The guiding hand behind the attacking force of over 100 operatives was clearly evident.
According to the senior officer,the operatives of ISIS’s Sinai province are displaying ever-improving combat capability. In recent months, it has become evident that they arebecoming more professional in the use of IEDs and booby-trapped vehicles, using techniques that are known from other battle zones in the Middle East. ISIS is also displaying its ability to organize itself quickly and enjoys a steady supply of weapons. For example, during the attack, the operatives made use of weapons such as anti-tank missiles and anti-aircraft missiles (article by Amos Harel, Haaretz daily, July 27, 2015).
ISIS-affiliated networks in the Gaza Strip
Tension between Hamas and Salafist-jihadi groups in the Gaza Strip continues.The Ibn Taymiyyah Media Center, which is affiliated with the Salafists in the Gaza Strip, published a communiqué harshly criticizing Hamas’s activity. The communiqué states that the detention of the operatives was a step up to the “bone breaking” stage, because some of the Salafist detainees were taken to the hospital for treatment after being tortured.
According to the communiqué, Hamas has detained members of the families of Salafist operatives in order to force them to surrender their relatives. Hamas operatives raided the houses at night, abducted people in mosques, and posted pictures of the wanted men around the city and on the Internet. The communiqué blamed Hamas, claiming that its actions are carried out in full coordination with Israel and its intelligence apparatus, “as has already happened in dozens of cases in the past” (Ibn Taymiyyah Media Center’s Twitter account, July 23, 2015).
The conduct of the Islamic State
ISIS’s sources of income
US Treasury officials estimate that ISIS raked in more than a billion dollars in cash when its forces took over the city of Mosul and northern Iraq in June 2014.The amount came into ISIS’s hands when its operatives took over the reserves of more than ninety banks. In addition to the cash that it seized, ISIS has revenues from smuggling oil, mainly to Turkey, worth around $40 million a month. ISIS’s cash flow enables it to pay monthly salaries to its operatives in the sum of approximately $1,000 per person (christiantoday.com, July 27, 2015).In addition, these revenues enable the ongoing management of the civil infrastructure and daily life of the residents in areas controlled by ISIS.
The global jihad in other countries
During the week, battles continued outside the city of Derna, after ISIS withdrew its forces from the city. On July 25, 2015, forces of Majles Shura Mujahidi Derna (which is affiliated with Al-Qaeda and fought against ISIS in the city of Derna) attacked ISIS’s headquarters southeast of the city.The rocket attack killed senior ISIS operative Miftah al-Darnisi, along with two other operatives (Al-Jazeera TV, July 25, 2015; ISIS-affiliated Twitter account, July 24, 2015).
According to several websites affiliated with the global jihad, six senior ISIS operatives in Iraq went to Libya to help the Libyan branch’s leadership, and mainly to extend the branch’s activity in the country. They are six former Iraqi Army officers who arrived in the city of Sabratah, which is located west of the capital Tripoli and is the main traffic artery between Tripoli and the Tunisian border. The area also contains the country’s largest oil fields (Shafaq, July 25, 2015).
On July 26, 2015, ISIS-affiliated Twitter accounts reported that ISIS operatives in Algeria had attacked an Algerian Army base in northeastern Algeria with missiles.Al-Qaeda in the Maghreb also claimed responsibility for the attack (two ISIS-affiliated Twitter accounts, July 26, 2015).
On an audiotape released on July 25, 2015, a representative of an Islamic jihadi network operating in Algeria by the name of the Foreigners Company of the city of Constantine is heard pledging allegiance to ISIS’s leader (Constantine is a coastal city near Algeria’s border with Tunisia). The speaker on the tape notes that the organization formerly operated as part of Al-Qaeda. The network calls on all Muslims to unite around ISIS’s leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi (archive.org file-sharing website, July 25, 2015).
Counterterrorism and preventive activity
Turkey announced that its security forces had used DNA testing to identify the suicide bomber who carried out the attack in the town of Suruc. He is Seyh Abdurrahman Alagoz, a 20 year old college student and Turkish citizen from the Adiyaman province. According to the Turkish authorities, he and his brother are known as supporters of ISIS.According to the suspect’s mother, he left Turkey six months ago and returned ten days before the attack. His younger brother is also missing. The investigation into the whereabouts of the body of a woman suspected of involvement in the attack is still underway (Hürriyet, Zaman, July 22, 2015).
Adam Brookman, an Australian citizen, nurse by profession, was charged in Australia with assisting terrorism. According to the charges, Brookman, 39, spent 2010-2014 in Syria and fought in the ranks of ISIS. He returned to his home in Australia after being caught by the Turks. He claims that he was forced to join ISIS after being wounded and sent to a hospital in an area controlled by ISIS.
The Australian government is reportedly determined to prosecute anyone whose name is linked in any way with terrorist activity, which carries a sentence of up to ten years. According to the Australian government, about 120 Australian operatives have left Australia to fight in Syria.There are also around 160 active supporters of radical organizations in Australia itself (Al-Arabiya, July 27 2015).
Assad Uzzaman, 25, aka Abu Abdullah the Briton, was reportedly killed recently in Syria. Assad Uzzaman was the last Briton in a group of young people from Portsmouth that went to fight in the ranks of ISIS in October 2013. Four of the members of the group were killed and the fifth is imprisoned in Britain. The sixth member of the group was one of the first Britons to join the fighting in the ranks of ISIS and he was the one who encouraged the rest of the group to go to Syria. He was killed in December 2013. According to estimates, up to now, fifty British citizens have been killed fighting in Syria and Iraq (The Sunday Mirror, July 26, 2015).
The battle for hearts and minds
ISIS’s message to the residents of Kyrgyzstan
In a video posted on an ISIS file-sharing website, an ISIS operative addresses the residents of Kyrgyzstan in their own language (along with Arabic subtitles). Speaking on behalf of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, he calls on them to perform migration (Hijra) to the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq. The speaker stresses that Hijra and jihad are the obligation of every Muslim. He also says that every Muslim must live under the control of Muslims and not in the countries of infidels (archive.org file-sharing website, July 25, 2015).
The battle for Western hearts and minds
ISIS and the Al-Nusra Front are waging a battle for Western, American and European hearts and minds, through organs that they issue that are intended for an English-speaking readership. In July 2015, the new issue No. 10 of Dabiq came out. Dabiq, ISIS’s English-language organ, is published by the Al-Hayat Media Center. Most of the issue is devoted to the subject of ISIS’s “superiority” over all other jihad organizations, with an emphasis on Al-Qaeda and the Al-Nusra Front.
On July 4, 2015, the Al-Risalah media foundation published the first issue of an English-language organ by the name of Al-Risalah, issued by the so-called Jihad Fighters in Syria(apparently a reference to a body affiliated with the Al-Nusra Front, since its flags and symbols appear throughout the issue). The issue includes a feature article about ISIS’s “false” caliphate, on the first anniversary of its establishment.
Recently, the English-language battle for hearts and minds between ISIS and the Al-Nusra Front has apparently taken a step up. It is intended primarily for the recruitment of potential Western foreign fighters, with each organization trying to attract foreign fighters to its ranks. From the perspective of ISIS and the Al-Nusra Front, foreign fighters from Western countries are of great importance as fighters, officials and administrators, and also as potential terrorist operatives in the future. http://www.terrorism-info.org.il/en/article/20850
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