The battle of supremacy between two jihadist groups in Somalia continues. Security analysts at Strategic Intelligence warns of Islamic State in Somalia (ISS) establishing foothold in the horn of Africa nation barely in five years.
ISS homegrown threat steadily burgeoning, significantly expanding its operations in central and northern Somalia. ISS has grown in numbers in Somalia and now maintains active large cells operating in El-Adde, El-Wak, Buale, Gododwe, Jiliib, Salagle, Saakow, Afgoye and Mogadishu. These areas had been majorly, Al-Shabaab areas of operations for years.
ISS encroachment into these areas continue to threaten Al-Shabaab’s survivability, highlighting the number of the recent clashes fronted by Al-Shabaab against the ISS operatives.
The Islamic State Somalia sprouted in the northern part of Somalia after splintering from Al-Qaeda branch Al-Shabaab in October 2015 and now continue to expand its operations up-to Al-Shabaab held town and headquarters in Jilib and losing dozens of its fighters to ISS.
According to security experts, ISS is more appealing ideologically and attracting more defections than Al-Shabaab. This is why ISS is getting traction, a move that is not being received well within Al-Shabaab leadership.
Islamic State in Somalia has claimed 106 attacks in Somalia since April 2016. In 2018 alone, ISS claimed over 70 operations 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 Abdikadir Mumin, the group’s Amir to its list of global terrorists and it also started targeting Mumin’s men in airstrikes.
ISS and Al-Shabaab rivalry has seen each group target and kill the other group’s operatives. The analysis points out that the prospect of ISS continuous encroachment on Shabab territory will continue to ignite more internal conflict and bloodshed.
In one its, latest campaign against Al-Shabaab, Islamic State Somalia killed 14 Al-Shabaab fighters and wounded 48 others outside El-Mirole village west of Qandala, Bari region, northern Somalia. Over the weekend, in yet another operation against Al-Shabaab, ISS suicide bombers killed 2 Al-Shabaab commanders and dozens of fighters in Garsaal, a village township near Elwak Somalia. Over 60 Al-Shabaab fled nursing injuries.
The clash comes barely three weeks after ISS defeated Al-Shabaab again in Puntland and tactically withdrew from its vulnerable positions at Calmiskaad mountains and set up new positions outside Timershe.
Recently, ISS in a video published eulogized several of its killed fighters. The video included 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 intended to show that the ISS 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 featured two killed ISS 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 thousands of ISIS returning foreign fighters left Mosul and Raqqa towards the East, North, Central and West Africa.
ISS mainly operates Bari region in Puntland and in southern Somalia but has been spreading its area of operations as well as its type of operations; relying less on typical improvised explosive devices and more on targeted assassinations using hit squads to eliminate its arch-rival; the Al-Shabaab operatives.
ISIS in Somalia is now threatening Al-Shabaab in all fronts, the continued defeat even in the areas perceived to be under Al-Shabaab’s control (for example the suicide attack in Gedo, last weekend), is a significant indicator that the Al-Qaeda branch in Somalia has been infiltrated by Mumin-led faction and tactically is yet to receive such humiliating defeats in the coming days.