The Islamic States (ISS) has set foothold in Somalia and has recognized central and northern region of the horn of Africa country as its operational prefectures. The Islamic State Somalia sprouted in the northern part of Somalia after splintering from al-Qaeda branch Al-Shabaab in October 2015.
Founded by Sheikh Abdul Qadir Mumin a former Al-Shabaab commander, ISS broke from Al-Shabaab with about 20 fighters. The Mumin led-faction has grown and now it is estimated to have between 300-400 fighters. ISS that has been operating especially in the northern Somalia continues to extended its foothold in other regions of Somalia. It currently maintains small-loyal cells in central and southern Somalia further threatening to outshine Al-Shabaab in the future of jihad in Somalia.
ISS swore fealty to ISIS leader Emir Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, a move that continue to orchestrate war between the splinter faction and its parent Al-Shabaab. Islamic State in Somalia in 2017 claimed over 70 attacks from across Somalia with its small foot soldiers as compared to Al-Shabaab that has an estimated 7000-9000 fighters according to 2017 statistics.
Due to the group’s proactiveness, the jihadist group continues to appeal to both local and foreign fighters further threatening survivability of the Al-Qaeda branch in Somalia. In Aug. 2016, the U.S. State Department added Mumin to its list of global terrorists and it also targeted Mumin’s men in airstrikes.
As more fighters defecting from Al-Shabaab to ISS faction, Lead Security Expert at Strategic Intelligence (SI) warns that in coming years, Al-Shabaab won’t be much of a threat as compared to the Islamic State faction in Somalia. The expert cites ISS’s ability to plan and perpetuate terror as ‘lone wolves’ unlike Al-Shabaab who only conduct attacks as a cell. It is hard to track a lone wolf (fighter) activated through a cell phone as compared to a group of fighters.
In early 2018, ISS released a video shot in Galgala Mountains that showed the recruits singing and taking baths in natural fresh water streams, combat training as well as a number of recruits receiving religious teachings. The video was posted on groups’ propaganda website as a way to appeal to Jihadists. The terrorist group has released another video eulogizing several of its killed fighters. The video includes at least one Canadian citizen and several regional foreign fighters who were within its ranks.
Many of the ISS fighters featured in the video killed since the group began in late 2015 are local Somalis and a number of foreign fighters from neighboring countries; Ethiopia and Djibouti. The video intends to show that the group is made up of the Somali clan and subclans of Majeerteen, Lailkase, Sheekhaal, Rahanweyn, Marehan, Gaalje’el, Abgaal, Hawadle, and Mahamuud Saleban and thus represents the face of local Somali fighters besides being appealing to foreign fighters.
The video also features a Canadian fighter. Provides a brief background that he was a doctor who travelled to Somalia to join the insurgency, firstly a member of Al-Shabaab and later decamped to ISS. The Canadian jihadist identified in the video as Yusuf al Majeerteeni, a purported doctor speaks in a North American accent, explains how ISS has provided medical assistance to the locals of Puntland and calling on other foreigners, especially other doctors, to migrate and join ISS. This video is aimed amplifying ISS cause in Somalia besides being used as a honeypot to appeal for recruits in the region.
The video also covers archival footage of its deadliest assaults on the Village Hotel in Bosaso on February 2017 and the March 2017 suicide bombing on Puntland security forces also in Bosaso. The two attacks remain the group’s biggest attack to date.
The video also briefly features two killed Islamic State Somalia leaders in a montage of killed Islamic State leaders from around the world. The two include, Bashir Abu Numan who was an Al-Shabaab commander before defected to the Islamic State. Numan was killed by Al-Shabaab’s internal security and intelligence force, the Amniyaat, in late 2015. The other one identified in the video as Mohamad Makkawi Ibrahim Mohamad is a former member of Al-Qaeda in Sudan who was responsible for killing a US citizen in Khartoum in 2008, was also targeted by the Amniyaat in December 2015.
The Islamic State Somalia offering old footage and eulogies is intended to provide the glimpse of the group as not only regional but that has appealed to western foreign fighters within it ranks. ISS certainly looks to bag more foreign fighters as the wider Islamic State wanes elsewhere. This can already be seen in the recent FBI arrests of three U.S. citizens attempting to travel to Somalia and join ISS.
It is paramount to note that fundamentally, ISIS is more appealing ideologically and attracts more defections than Al-Shabaab. The global, terror ensemble of ISIS where it gives equal precedence to all fighters is what makes it stronger than Al-Qaeda’s Al-Shabaab which has actively looked down upon its foreign fighters now finding refuge in ISS.