The DRC (Democratic Republic of Congo) has suffered a series of massacres in the past three months. Most of the massacres have been concentrated on its eastern regions and the group implicated in these massacres is the Alliance of Democratic Forces – National Army for the Liberation of Uganda (ADF-NALU); a coalition of militant Islamist groups originally from Uganda but currently operating in Eastern DRC. The Islamist group massacred 36 people in Oicha region of North Kivu province on December 7th 2014. At least 250 people have been massacred in North Kivu by the group from October 2014 till the Oicha massacre.
Attacks perpetrated by the group show a pattern where the attackers use crude weapons – machetes, knives, rocks, hammers, hoes and axes – and occasionally firearms to murder its victim. Most of the victims are usually blindfolded before being killed. Nonetheless, recent attacks by ADF-NALU against both DRC and Ugandan government troops are consistent with a terror group receiving resources from established terror groups based in East Africa. The government of DRC has repeatedly accused al Shabaab jihadists of fighting alongside ADF-NALU militants in North Kivu. It is conventional knowledge that Jihadists across Africa are collaborating and creating alliances to fight national governments and also subvert the continent.
Mukulu’s band of Ugandan Jihadists.
ADF-NALU was established in 1989 after ADF merged with the remnants of NALU. Its principal founding member is its current leader, Sheikh Jamil Mukulu – a Muslim convert. Most of the group’s original fighters were Muslims who came from Central Uganda, especially the regions of Masaka, Kampala and Iganga. The original band of fighters considered themselves as Ugandan jihadists fighting an apostate regime of Yoweri Museveni whom they accused of discriminating against Tablighi muslims. Sheikh Jamil Mukulu hoped that his band of Ugandan Jihadists would fight an insurgency that would overthrow the secular Ugandan regime and replace it with an Islamist administration.
Currently, most of the group’s fighters belong to the Tablighi Jamaat group. There also exist former Muslim soldiers from Idi Amin’s army. The group has also recruited foreign Islamist fighters from DRC, Tanzania and Somalia.
Their initial active areas of insurgency were in south-western Uganda especially the Ruwenzori Mountains area. They chose to base their insurgency in south-western Uganda because the terrain provided an ideal environment for rural insurgency and the region was populated by ethnic groups hostile to the government and who could provide assistance and resources. Moreover, the region bordered the DRC thus allowing the insurgents to establish bases on either side of the border and recruit fighters from both Uganda and the DRC. Intelligence reports also show that Mobutu Sese Seko – former president of Zaire – provided support to the group during its nascent phases.
The Ugandan military was able to contain the Islamist insurgency but was unable to extinguish it entirely thus allowing the insurgency to evolve and spill over into the neighboring DRC. In 1995, the Islamists conducted their first operations in North Kivu province; and at the moment, the group has strengthened its hold on captured territory and it has launched offensives into strategic lands such as Beni town.
The group has re-trained its jihadists and subsequently dispersed them in small formations in order to enhance their resilience in face of offensives being conducted jointly by both Ugandan and Congolese forces. The increased mobility of the group has seen it relocating its headquarters and operational bases thereby evading search-and-destroy missions conducted against them
Muslim Brotherhood crosses into Congo.
Jamil Mukulu was born David Stephen and was a catholic before he was exposed to Islamic proselytization especially the Tablighi Jamaat teachings which ultimately convinced him to convert to Islam. After becoming radicalized and forming ADF-NALU, he exiled himself in Sudan during the early 1990s.
In Sudan, he was acquainted with bona-fide members of the National Islamic Front, including its pre-eminent and charismatic ideologue – Dr. Hassan al-Turabi. The National Islamic Front (NIF) was formed by Dr. Hassan al-Turabi as the Sudanese offshoot of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, and its charter and ideological underpinnings mirror those of its parent organization. Dr. al-Turabi has been instrumental in the institutionalization of Sharia rule in Sudan and western nations still consider him a powerful hard-line Islamist ideological leader. His influence over the NIF enabled Mukulu to receive support from the Sudanese government.
The NIF (al-Jabhah al-Islamiyah al-Qawmiyah) governs Sudan through its legal political front, the National Congress (the current ruling party in Sudan), and it has proved itself politically-and-ideologically adept in using political resources to advance its objectives. NIF has also used disproportionate violence to stabilize its political rule and counter-act internal conflicts especially the Darfur conflict and the Sudanese civil wars in addition to provisioning external proxy forces such as the West Nile Bank Front, ADF-NALU, LRA (Lord’s Resistance Army) and Uganda National Rescue Front to destabilize Uganda.
Dr. al-Turabi wanted to use his influence over Mukulu to spread the ideology of the Muslim brotherhood into Uganda, Congo and the entire central African region as a prelude to the entire region being co-opted into a sharia-ruled Islamic Caliphate.
During the 1990s, several international jihadists –including Osama bin Laden- were welcomed into Sudan by NIF; and intelligence reports show that Mukulu became acquainted with them including Osama bin Laden. Sudan trained Mukulu alongside an unknown number of his fighters. Unconfirmed reports allege that Mukulu received further training in Afghanistan before Al Qaeda (also an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood) provided seed funding to enable him establish an active Islamist insurgency in Central Africa. These plans were thwarted in early 2000s when the Ugandan military launched a broad offensive that ultimately dislodged the Islamists from western Uganda in 2002 and forced the group to disperse and re-assemble in Eastern Congo.
ADF-NALU is led by Sheikh Jamil Mukulu. The UN sanctioned him in 2011. Hood Lukwago and Amis Kasadha serve respectively as the military commander and the deputy military commander of ADF-NALU. The chief political commissar who also doubles as the chief judge of the group is Musa Baluku. Combat operations are led by Mohammad Kayiira; while special operations and internal intelligence are headed by Filipo Bogere and Benjamin Kisikolanio respectively.
Under the leadership of the above eccentric but radical leaders, ADF-NALU has been able to transform itself into a disciplined, battle-hardened and well financed jihadist front with about 1400 fighters in its payroll. External assistance – provided by regional and international jihadists – has enabled the group to reorganize its administrative structure and also develop relatively sophisticated offensive capabilities that have made its insurgency resilient in face of counter-insurgency operations being conducted in the region by several national armies.
Recently, the terror group has carried out bold attacks against UN peacekeepers, DRC troops and Ugandan military bases using machine guns, rocket-propelled grenades and mortars. It has also carried out attacks against soft targets located in areas having heavy presence of both FARDC (Forces Armées de la République Démocratique du Congo –DRC military) and MONUSCO (United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo) troops. The group has also boosted its fighting strength through kidnappings and forced recruitment in areas under its control.
The group finances itself through illegal business, donations and funds provided by other Jihadist organizations, including Somalia-based Al Shabaab. ADF-NALU participates in illegal gold mining, timber smuggling and precious metal mining in DRC. The group also owns a transportation grid made up of a network of motorcycle and car taxis which operate in several eastern DRC towns including Oicha, Beni and Butembo.
The group has also received considerable financial support from supporters and sympathizers residing in Kenya, Uganda and the United Kingdom. Additionally, Islamist organizations have also financed the group. These finances go through an informal money transfer network which sends the money from Kenya, London and Uganda to ADF-NALU intermediaries in Butembo and Beni.
Train alongside al Shabaab.
Regional intelligence agencies have established that Mukulu has been sending fighters to Somalia to train alongside al Shabaab jihadists. This probably accounts for the existence of non-Swahili speaking Central Africans among the ranks of al Shabaab in Somalia.
In 2014, a joint offensive by MONUSCO, FARDC and UPDF (Uganda People’s Defence Force) managed to destroy the group’s military bases – including its huge “medina” camp – located in Virunga National Park and also driving Mukulu and some of his senior commanders underground. However, the group has been able to successfully integrate itself into the existing cross-border economy and it has manipulated the existing corruption within the security forces to its advantage thus surviving the joint offensive. Moreover, al Shabaab trained fighters have taught the group how to survive multinational UN-backed offensives.
Al Shabaab looming expansion.
Al Shabaab is currently facing military defeat in Somalia and this has compelled its leadership to seek for ways to open new fronts to fight the nations currently engaged in Somalia’s counter-terrorism efforts. By opening a new terror front in the backyard of Uganda and Tanzania, Al Shabaab intends to destabilize both nations and also weaken their military capacities to conduct operations in Somalia. Such a new front also enables Al Shabaab to survive military operations in Somalia besides providing it with a new operational base from where it would spread violent jihad into central Africa thereby actualizing one of its goals of spreading jihad from the shores of the Indian ocean to the shores of the Atlantic ocean and thus establishing itself as the pre-eminent jihadist organization in Africa.
Intelligence sources have reported that al Shabaab jihadists have fought alongside ADF-NALU in eastern Congo, and have also assisted the group to organize attacks against government and civilian targets. Intelligence reports have also asserted that foreign jihadists speaking Arabic have been training ADF-NALU fighters, and it is probable that they are al Shabaab trainers hired out to the group.
Al Shabaab seeks to spread its influence across national borders by manipulating weak border controls and sharing resources with like-minded entities to destabilize and establish expansive jihadi networks across the continent. Al Shabaab has shared logistics, funds, military resources and intelligence with ADF-NALU thereby enabling the group to weather military offensives. ADF-NALU has in turn provided a launch-pad from where Al Shabaab can launch itself into central Africa. The biggest loser in this conflict will be DRC- the borderline failed state whose weak government can neither protect the national borders nor protect its abundant natural resources besides stop its disenfranchised minority Muslim demographic from being radicalized by jihadists.