Data sets show terrorist attacks (successful and failed attacks) by both Al-Qaeda and ISIS extremists group’s branches in Africa have steadily and persistently increased in the past decade. Both the Islamic State and Al-Qaeda benefits from and exacerbates sectarianism and Africa is rich with sectarianism besides, remains an easy ground to socio-religiously colonize. For example; from 2003 to the present, the Iraqi Christian population has fallen by one million to merely 300,000 people, and nearly half of Syrian Christians have emigrated in the last decade. The Islamic State attracted more than 40,000 foreign fighters, the vast majority from the greater Middle East and Africa. After the fall of the caliphate, thousands of Africans, and Middle East Jihadists are docking in Africa to plant cells. Almost every of Africa’s regional states are unprepared for the return of foreign fighters and their comrades, a
Thus, the upsurge in Jihad organizations poses a significant and yet growing threat to Africa from ISIS especially in East and Central regions of the continents. While ISIS dominance in the Middle East had subsided due to the numerous offensives, the caliphate appears to export operatives and militants to foster and mentor the numerous groups of youths parading as jihadists and aligning themselves with IS.
ISIS in Central Africa
In October 2017, a video was circulated on ISIS-affiliated media that showed a call to the youths to join jihad in the Democratic Republic of Congo in central Africa believed to have been shot in Beni area in North Kivu Province in the eastern part of the country. Previously, North Kivu has been marred by conflict believed to be orchestrated by rebels active both in DRC and Uganda. The video, albeit poorly shot, sends the message to youth in DRC and her neighbors to join ISIS, and fight in the name of making the region a Dar al Islam loosely translated to the house of Islam by migrating from being Dar al-Kufr [Abode of Apostasy] to Dar al-Jihad, Dar al Qitl [Abode of Fighting] and help in the establishment of the Islamic State in Central Africa.
DRC is comprised of a mere 2% Muslim population and lacks a charismatic yet radical Imam to lead the despondent Muslim youth as evidenced in the video where the speaker and apparent leaders appears to be of Arabic/ Middle Eastern decent. Reports indicate that ISIS emigrants from the Middle East have taken it upon themselves to lead militant offshoots in different parts of Africa to expand ISIS’ agenda. ISIS leadership has been known to export top lieutenants to jihadi groups like Boko Haram in Nigeria and The City of Monotheism and Monotheists (MTM) in DRC to offer structure, leadership and create a clear administration hierarchy replacing the chaotic and guerilla-like activities funneled by the local militants.
ISIS in Somalia
The Islamic State in Somalia (ISS) was formed in October 2015 under the leadership Abdulqadr Mumin, a former al-Shabaab commander and member of the Shura council. The group was recognized by Islamic State as an official wilayat, or province, in December 2017 when it was called Wilayat al Somal. The group operates in the semi-autonomous Puntland region of Somalia. So far its numbers have significantly increased to an estimated 600 active fighters.
The group has been able to plant cells in Kenya’s coast and north eastern prefectures. Its most active cells are in Puntland where they train and indoctrinate members. However, the Mogadishu and Afgoye based cells are the most active, conducting daring attacks targeting Somali security personnel and filming them in daylight.
Terrorists in Mozambique
Moreover, the charisma and persuasion ability of radical clerics and recruiters has given rise to other terror organizations that have not necessarily declared their allegiances but appear to be in line with ISIS causing an even greater risk to Africa as evidenced by the Al-Sunnah wa Jama’ah in Mozambique. It’s the new battleground and worse, home to thousands of youths who escaped death in Syria and Iraqi fighting for Al-Baghdadi’s ISIS.
In the Maghreb
Needless to say, Libya, the Sinai Peninsula and the larger Sahel and Maghreb regions have been the known havens of ISIS fighters fleeing Iraq and Syria, the jihadi emigrants have however embarked deeper south in Africa. They have changed tactics which makes them more dangerous and even harder to decimate as they operate in small and uniquely guerrilla groups.
Change in Tactics
General Mark Hicks, the commander of American special forces in Africa has maintained that while the jihadists groups seem to be emerging every day, they have attracted the attention of Western-backed task forces in different countries including the Horn of Africa where a splinter faction of the al Qaeda-affiliated Harakat Al Shabaab al-Mujahideen (HSM) pledged allegiance to ISIS under the acronym Abnaa ul-Calipha in 2015. The increased offensive including ground combat and airstrikes has caused the jihadist in the region to result into isolated yet indiscriminate attacks on civilian population reducing the risk of major attacks but increasing the number of attacks by small cells operating independently but still doing ISIS’ bidding in Africa.
ISIS causes a grave threat to Africa especially now that it has suffered major setbacks in Iraq and Syria. The docility of other major terror organizations like Al Qaeda seems to fuel the increasing number of terror offshoots that are aligning themselves with ISIS who appear radical, active and willing to tactically and financially sponsor missions and activities of protégé groups, especially in Africa. The Horn and Central African countries appear to be the new preferred destination for the exportation of emigrant jihadis who wage war on behalf of their parent-organization-ISIS.
The threat is even heightened by the fact that ISIS is seeking to change its battleground and as such offers tactical, logistical and financial assistance to some of the affiliates in Africa as propelled kicks of a dying horse in the Middle East seeking new ground.