As Islamic State Strikes In Uganda, Christians Remain Key Target In Group's Expansionist African Campaign

By: Romany Shaker*
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December 30, 2021
By: Romany Shaker*

The following report is now a complimentary offering from MEMRI's Jihad and Terrorism Threat Monitor (JTTM). For JTTM subscription information, click here. 

Introduction

With no formal announcement, the Islamic State (ISIS) quietly launched attacks, including suicide operations, in another Christian-majority African country, Uganda, during October and November 2021. These attacks were claimed by ISIS's newest affiliate, known as the Islamic State Central Africa Province (ISCAP), which has so far carried out operations in three other countries: the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Mozambique, and Tanzania. ISCAP's move to target Uganda may be attributed to the ISIS affiliate's deep roots in the east Africa region, Kampala's key role in countering Islamic militancy in Africa, and ISIS's broader expansionist project in Africa.

Since its inception, ISCAP has focused on attacking Christians and targeting their livelihoods as a regular tactic to expand in east and central Africa.[1] Responsibility for these attacks was claimed and backed by official IS media, as well as by a host of supportive outlets operating on various social platforms, who also continued to call for violence against African Christians.

ISIS's expansion in Uganda, accomplished primarily through its common tactic of co-opting local Islamist groups which share a common ideology, similarly witnessed in west and east Africa, substantiates the group's "From Baghdad To Africa" expansionist campaign.

ISIS, which has not been uprooted, will likely seek to carry out attacks in other African countries, specifically Rwanda and South Africa, which have increasingly come under ISCAP's constant threat over their role in combating the group's militants in neighboring countries.

To effectively combat ISIS, it is necessary to form an accurate picture of the group's general shift towards Africa, to shape robust counterterrorism responses and addressing the group's expansion in the African continent.


Map of Uganda (Shutterstock)

This report will examine ISCAP's expansion in Uganda and its increasing threats toward Rwanda and South Africa as part of its ongoing campaign to expand and shift away from the group's traditional heartlands in Iraq and Syria.

ISCAP's Origins In Uganda's Allied Democratic Forces (ADF)

ISCAP has two geographically separate and distinct wings which are engaged in long-term and active local Islamist insurgencies.

One is the DRC-based Ugandan Islamist militant group called the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), which began as an opposition to the Ugandan government headed by long-serving President Yoweri Museveni, in the early 1990s, under its then-leader Jamil Mukulu. ADF became known as one of ISCAP's wings in April 2019. The ADF was sanctioned by the U.S. Department of the Treasury[2] and the United Nations[3] in 2014 for the atrocities it committed, including the 2013 attacks against civilians in the DRC that forced thousands of people to flee into Uganda, which were followed by abducting or killing those who attempted to return, as well as the group's attacks on women and children in several villages, including acts of beheading, mutilation, and rape.

The other wing of ISCAP is a group of Islamist militants based in Mozambique's northern province of Cabo Delgado, called alternately Al-Shabab, Ansar Sunnah, Ahlus Sunnah Wal Jama'ah, or Adherents to the Sunnah and the Community (ASWJ), which became formally known as ISCAP's second wing in June 2019. Al-Shabab, which simply means "the youth," is the name given to them by local people, and has no connection to the Somali Al-Qaeda-affiliated group of the same name.

The ISCAP Mozambican wing rejected all forms of secularism and brought Salafi ideology and a radical new form of Islam into the country's northernmost province of Cabo Delgado in 2017. It is currently led by Abu Yasir Hassan, a Tanzanian national, whom the U.S. State Department designated as a global terrorist in March 2021.[4]

Nevertheless, it is actually the ISCAP Congolese wing, which has origins as an anti-Kampala armed Islamist group operating in the border area between the DRC and Uganda, that is responsible for the latest wave of attacks in the heart of Uganda's capital.

The connection between the ADF and ISIS reportedly started as early as 2017.[5] But it was only in 2018 that ISCAP was acknowledged as a formal new province of ISIS, after satisfying the hard-to-meet criteria needed to be granted such designation. In April 2019, the Islamic State's central media formally claimed attacks in the DRC under the banner of ISCAP.[6]

Although there was no formal announcement, the first official recognition from ISIS leadership was reflected in an April 2019 video featuring late ISIS leader Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi reviewing monthly reports on the activities of various ISIS branches worldwide, including one report labeled Wilayat Wast Ifriqiyah or "Central Africa Province."[7]

Under Jamil Mukulu's leadership, the ADF was blamed for several deadly attacks in eastern DRC and Uganda. In April 2015, Mukulu was arrested in Tanzania and was then extradited to Uganda, where he currently awaits trial.[8] Since Mukulu's arrest, the group has been led by Musa Seka Baluku, an Ugandan militant, whom the U.S. State Department listed as a specially designated global terrorist on March 10, 2021.[9] He reportedly first pledged allegiance to ISIS in 2016.[10]

The first known photo of the new commander was released by ISIS's central media in August 2020, as part of the group's tradition to release photosets of its fighters from various provinces celebrating Eid Al-Adha, in an effort to demonstrate the group's adherence to all religious duties, not just waging war, and thus to win the hearts and minds of young recruits. In one of the photos featuring ISCAP fighters in the DRC, ADF leader Musa Baluku, though not identified by ISIS's central media, was seen preaching to ADF fighters on the holiday. This clear photo reflected ISIS's endorsement of Baluku's leadership of the ISCAP wing in the DRC.


A photo published by ISIS central media on August 2, 2020, shows ISCAP's DRC commander Musa Seka Baluku celebrating Eid Al-Adha with "Caliphate soldiers."

In May 2021, ISIS's central media released a set of photos documenting ISCAP fighters celebrating Eid Al-Fitr in the jungle in the DRC, together with their families. While several faces were digitally blurred in the photos, one is believed to show Baluku addressing a group of DRC-based militants.


A photo published by ISIS central media on May 13, 2021, shows ISCAP commander Musa Seka Baluku, with his face blurred, addressing ISCAP militants as part of Eid Al-Fitr celebration.

It was Baluku who clarified, beyond any shadow of doubt, the exact nature of the connection between ISCAP and ADF. He reportedly said in a speech in late 2020: "There is no ADF anymore... ADF ceased to exist a long time ago." He also pledged allegiance to the new ISIS leader, adding: "Currently, we are a province, the Central Africa Province that is one province among the numerous provinces that make up the Islamic State that is under the Caliph and leader of all Muslims... Abu Ibrahim Al-Hashimi Al-Qurashi."[11]

Despite reports and evidence indicating that ADF was rebranded as ISCAP, the UN Group of Experts, as recently as June 2021, continued to state that it was "unable to establish direct support or command and control" of the ISIS over ADF, despite the latter's attempts to project alignment with the former.[12]

It is also unclear why both the Congolese and Ugandan governments continue to blame ADF for attacks, in spite of the increasing evidence of ties between ADF and ISIS. But it is worth noting that while there is evidence that ISIS has rebranded ADF, the group has never explicitly mentioned it by name in any of its media releases.

As explained, the ADF was created in eastern Uganda and waged jihad against the Ugandan government alleging that it oppresses Muslims. However, after its defeat in 2001, the ADF fled Uganda and relocated to North Kivu province in the DRC. In 2014, the group re-emerged in the DRC with several attacks on Congolese civilians.

Since Baluku assumed leadership in 2015, after the arrest of his predecessor Jamil Mukulu, the DRC wing expanded its attacks to Tanzania and now to Uganda, under the banner of ISCAP.

Who Are The Ugandan Leaders Of ISCAP?

The following chart shows some ISCAP leaders of Ugandan origins, as per the recent report of the UN Group of Experts on the DRC[13] and the November 2018 report published by the Congo Research Group.[14]


ISCAP leaders of Ugandan origins (MEMRI)

ISCAP Targets African Peacekeeping Forces Combating ISIS Militants

Prior to moving to Uganda, ISCAP had launched its attacks mainly in the DRC's eastern region, targeting African forces assisting the Congolese army, with training and air support provided by UN forces of the MONUSCO (The United Nations Group Stabilization Mission in the DRC) to combat ISIS.

For instance, on May 31, 2021, ISCAP claimed responsibility via the official ISIS 'Amaq News Agency[15] for a May 30 raid on a military base in the village of Kaliberio, Beni area, North Kivu, eastern DRC. The claim stated that the camp was manned by Congolese armed forces and "African allied forces," who fled the area after sustaining ten fatalities. ISCAP also said that this was the third ISCAP attack on African troops deployed to the DRC, following two others which were perpetrated in the area, and noted that Uganda, Tanzania, Kenya, and Somalia have sent troops to assist the DRC army to combat ISIS in the area.

 
A statement released by the official ISIS A'maq News Agency claiming reasonability for a May 30 raid on a military base in the village of Kaliberio, Beni area, North Kivu, eastern DRC.

ISCAP also claimed on May 13, 2021, several casualties in an ambush on Congolese and UN peacekeeping forces on the road between Beni and Kasindi in eastern DRC.[16]

In 2020, ISCAP claimed its fighters launched an attack on MONUSCO peacekeeping forces in the city of Beni in the DRC.[17] The claim noted that "Caliphate soldiers targeted members of the Crusader U.N. forces on the road linking the Uganda border and the city of Beni yesterday [June 22, 2020] using machine guns, which resulted in the killing of five of them and the seizure of a weapon from one of them."

ISCAP Launches Operations In Uganda

While the ADF is primarily based in the DRC and now largely targets Congolese armed forces and civilians, mainly Christians, its leadership remains primarily Ugandan. This might well explain why Uganda remains a key focus for the group's leadership.

Uganda is known as a bulwark against violent Islamist militants in east Africa, thanks to sending troops to neighboring countries to fight ISIS militants. Additionally, Uganda plays a major anti-Islamist role in countering Al-Qaeda. It contributes the most troops to the African Union peacekeeping mission, AMISOM, in Somalia, at 6,223 troops.[18] AMISOM was set up in 2007 to help the Somali government withstand the threat posed by the militant Al-Shabab, and is currently comprised of troops drawn from Uganda, Burundi, Djibouti, Kenya, and Ethiopia.

The surge of ISIS-led operations in Uganda may come as a sudden move, but it is part and parcel of the group's strategy to target countries countering its project in Africa. Thus, with no formal announcement, ISIS quietly launched its operations in Uganda on October 7, 2021 by carrying out its first attack in the east African country after decades of activity in neighboring DRC.

On November 16, 2021, ISIS claimed its first suicide attacks in Kampala, a month after launching operations in the country. In a statement released by A'maq Agency, the group claimed: "three Islamic State fighters carried out two successive bombings within a short time.[19] The first bombing took place at the central police station in the city [Kampala], and the second at the Parliament building, which was preparing to hold a session." The statement named the three attackers as 'Abd Al-Rahman Al-Ughandi, Abu Shahid Al-Ughandi, and Abu Sabr Al-Ughandi, indicating all were Ugandans.

The statement also claimed that the twin bombings led to "the killing and wounding of more than 30 Ugandan soldiers and police officers and a number of Christians, in addition to burning and damaging a number of police vehicles." The statement noted that the bombings caused the Ugandan government to cancel its scheduled Parliament session. The statement concluded by highlighting that "Uganda is one of the countries participating in the war against Islamic State fighters in central Africa."


The official ISIS claim of responsibility for the first suicide attack in Uganda on November 16, 2021.

In response, on November 30 Uganda's armed forces launched joint air and artillery airstrikes with the DRC against ADF camps in DRC's eastern region of Beni, which Uganda believed were responsible for the suicide bombings which reportedly killed five people, not including the perpetrators.[20] Uganda also reportedly sent 1,700 soldiers to eastern DRC to join Congolese forces battling ISCAP, and 300 more soldiers are expected to join the DRC-based Operation Shujja, which means hero in Swahili.[21]

Moreover, Ugandan police have shot dead four ADF suspects and killed a Muslim cleric named Sheikh Muhammad Abas Kirevu just outside Kampala following the November 16 bombings. Kirevu was accused of recruiting for cells run by ADF. Twenty-one others were also arrested.[22]

Despite ISIS's claim of responsibility for the Kampala bombings, Ugandan President Museveni, in power since 1986, said in a recent interview with Reuters that ADF stood behind the attacks and that foreign links stretched beyond eastern DRC.[23] "We have some indication that they were coordinating with groups in Kenya and in Somalia," Museveni noted. "Maybe not command and control, but collaboration."


Ugandan President, Yoweri Museveni (Reuters, December 5, 2021).

The Kampala bombings were the third attack in Uganda claimed by ISIS. ISIS's second attack, claimed on October 24, was an October 23 detonation of an IED by an ISIS "security detachment" at a "bar serving as a meeting place for operatives and spies of the Crusader Ugandan government," in the Komamboga neighborhood in Kampala. According to the claim, two people were killed and five were injured in the explosion.[24]


The official ISIS claim of responsibility for the October 23, 2021 detonation of an IED.

The attack followed ISIS's first attack in Uganda on October 7 which caused several unspecified Ugandan casualties and damage to a police compound. According to the claim released by ISIS on October 8,[25] an ISCAP "security detachment" detonated an IED on October 7, inside a "Crusader" Uganda Police compound in the Kawempe area in Kampala. The claim also stated that the blast resulted in several unspecified Ugandan casualties and damage to some buildings in the compound.


The official ISIS claim of responsibility for its first attack in Uganda on October 7, 2021 on a police station in Kampala.

In the aftermath of these October attacks, Ugandan security forces said they arrested 48 suspects allegedly connected to the ADF.[26] Ugandan officials blamed the ADF for an attempted assassination on a minister in June 2021 in the Kampala suburb of Kisasi, and for a series of killings of Ugandan officials that included Muslim leaders and police officials, nearly all of which were perpetrated by gunmen on motorcycles.[27]

ISCAP Becomes Increasingly Lethal

The following figures, compiled from ISIS's weekly newspaper, Al-Naba', which is released on the encrypted social platform Telegram, show that ISCAP is increasingly lethal.

Between its launch on April 18, 2019 and the end of the year, ISIS claimed 56 attacks under the ISCAP banner, targeting Congolese and Mozambican forces, resulting in 304 casualties in the DRC and Mozambique.

Throughout 2020, ISCAP claimed 85 attacks on Congolese and Mozambican military forces and Christians, killing and wounding a total of 619 people. In October 2020, ISCAP formally expanded, claiming its first cross-border attack in neighboring Tanzania.[28]

Since the beginning of 2021 until December 2, ISCAP claimed a total of 166 attacks that killed or wounded 613 people, suggesting that the African ISIS affiliate has doubled the number of attacks in comparison with 2020.


Source: ISIS weekly newspaper Al-Naba' (MEMRI)

Celebrating ISCAP's Expansion In Uganda, Pro-ISIS Outlets Declare: The War On Christians Is A War Without Borders; Christians Of America Are No Different From Christians Of Uganda

Since launching activity in Uganda, ISIS's central online media, supported by numerous pro-ISIS outlets across social media platforms, particularly Telegram, started to celebrate the group's expansion and its deadly attacks on Christians.

On November 17, 2021 the pro-ISIS Al-Murhafat Foundation released a poster titled "And Today in Uganda" depicting an armed African soldier, vehicles in flames, and a bundle of dynamite. celebrating the November 16 ISIS suicide bombing in Kampala, Uganda, the poster declared that ISIS strikes unbelievers "from the north in Khurasan to the far south in Mozambique, Congo, and Nigeria, and today in Uganda, to Mesopotamia and Syria" and quoted from a February 2016 editorial in Al-Naba' declaring that the anti-ISIS alliances will not succeed.


Al-Murhafat poster (November 17, 2021)

On November 18, the pro-ISIS Al-'Adiyat Foundation released a poster titled "Uganda: The Spark Has Flared Up," depicting a masked fighter firing his weapon, with flames burning in the foreground.[29]

 
Al-'Adiyat poster (November 18, 2021)

Another poster, titled "Without Borders," showed slain African Christians. It was released on November 20 by the pro-ISIS Al-Battar Foundation[30] to celebrate attacks on Christians. The text on the poster declared that ISIS's war against Christians is a war "without borders" and "without stagnation." "It is a single war on multiple fronts [...] the Christians of America are no different from the Christians of Uganda," it noted.


Al-Battar poster (November 20, 2021)

It added: "Just as they kill, they are killed. We fight against them collectively according to Allah Almighty's command because they kill us collectively. 'And fight against the disbelievers collectively as they fight against you collectively.'" [Quran 9:36]. It also threatened that ISIS will take revenge on Christians everywhere for their alleged crimes against Muslims. The poster was released with the hashtag #AfricaOfJihad.

Christians Remain ISCAP's Key Target In Uganda

84% of Ugandans are Christians, with Muslims comprising about 14% of Uganda's population of 45 million. Uganda's Muslim population is largely concentrated in the country’s east where Islamist extremists have stepped up their proselytization campaign to convert Ugandan Christians to Islam and implement Islam-based shari'ah law in Uganda.

Much like the situation in the DRC, Mozambique, and Tanzania, ISCAP's expansion in Uganda was carried out through targeting Christians. In the November 16, 2021 claim of the suicide attacks in Kampala, ISCAP made it clear that the two bombings led to "the killing and wounding of more than 30 Ugandan soldiers and police officers and a number of Christians."

It should be noted that ISIS's first mention of Uganda in a statement was on February 26, 2021 when it claimed responsibility for ambushing a vehicle belonging to "infidel" Christians on the road connecting the DRC and Uganda, using machine guns. According to the claim, the vehicle was torched and its passengers were killed. This likely signaled the group's interest in expanding operations, mainly against Christians, in neighboring Uganda.


ISIS's claim of reasonability for a February 26, 2021 ambush of a vehicle carrying Christians between the DRC and Uganda

ISCAP's usual tactic of targeting Christians has helped the African affiliate to expand swiftly in the DRC, Mozambique, Tanzania, and now in Uganda.

ISIS propaganda views Christians as "worshippers of the cross" and "belligerents" who participate in the war against Islam and Muslims. Like other African Christian-majority nations, Uganda is likely to witness more attacks against Christians.

"From Baghdad To Africa"

ISIS has expanded in Africa, moving away from its traditional epicenter in Iraq and Syria. This expansion was highlighted and promoted by the group's central media apparatus.

The expansion was first highlighted on April 23, during Ramadan 2021, when ISIS's weekly Al-Naba' (issue 283) featured an editorial titled "From Baghdad to Africa." The editorial celebrated the group's recent activity in Africa, touting the increase in attacks as proof that its Caliphate is still expanding beyond its original areas in Iraq and Syria. The editorial also presented ISIS's African affiliates as a unified ideological front, with a single creed and objective, viewing the expansion into Africa as a fulfillment of the words of slain ISIS spokesman Abu Muhammad Al-'Adnani, who stated that the Caliphate will grow beyond Iraq and Syria. ISIS focused on the successes of the "far-away" affiliates in various regions of Africa against all "unbelievers and apostates," and on the increasing activity in the "home front" of Syria and Iraq.[31]


Al-Naba' issue 283 editorial (April 23, 2021)

Justifying attacks on Christians in Africa, the editorial noted that group's soldiers are avenging the persecution suffered by African Muslims, who have been mistreated by African Christians for many years. "Today, the infidel Christians of Africa are getting a taste of the vengeance of the mujahedeen. Their villages, gatherings, and churches in Nigeria and Congo are being repeatedly targeted in raids," it said.

"There is an accord and a harmony between the different wilayat [provinces] and regions of the Islamic State. Despite the distance and the differences in language, the religion [of the fighters] is one, their ideology is one, and their goal is one: to establish the religion and to eliminate polytheism from the earth."

In an August 5, 2021, editorial titled "But the Hour Is Their Appointment [For Due Punishment]," (Quran 53:46) in ISIS's weekly Al-Naba' (298),[32] ISIS defiantly challenged the efforts of the international community to defeat ISIS's African affiliate, ISCAP, saying other nations will be torn apart by internal conflict and will be unable to defeat the Caliphate. It also downplayed the formation of a new regional coalition to combat ISIS, saying it was joined by "Rwanda, Botswana, Zimbabwe, and South Africa." The editorial predicted that the participation of countries like Rwanda will "reignite tension again between the opposition and the Mozambican government, after years of calm."


Al-Naba' issue 298 editorial (August 5, 2021)

Addressing the situation in Mozambique, the editorial denied claims linking the presence of ISIS in Mozambique to access to natural resources, such as gas fields, or other possible economic gains, saying such claims are "deliberate disinformation." It added: "The disbelievers and the hypocrites try, through their media, to depict the ongoing war and battles in northern Mozambique as a 'war for gas', overlooking the old-new Crusader invasion of Muslim lands in that region, which was subjected to the most heinous crimes and massacres, committed by the Christians and their armies against the Muslims."

ISIS's surge in Africa, continued the editorial, is purely motivated by jihad, and is aimed at defending Muslims. This is why the "Crusader armies" are escalating their battles in Mozambique and the DRC, it claimed.

Discussing the DRC, the editorial praised ISCAP's Congolese wing for their attacks against military and economic targets, as well as against Christians, rejecting the "odd local names" used by international and local media to describe ISIS fighters, hinting at the prevalent attribution of ISCAP attacks to ADF fighters in the Central African country.

The editorial concluded by urging ISIS fighters in central Africa to escalate attacks and to "sharpen your swords, because the Crusaders are rushing into your traps. Set up ambushes [...] and set fires in the bushes and forests, to make their losses exceed their [efforts in their] campaign."

Despite the group's denial that there is any link between its presence in Mozambique and gaining access to natural resources, such as gas fields, or other possible economic gains, the surge of ISCAP operations comes as French energy giant Total SE stalled its $20 billion LNG project in Mozambique indefinitely, due to the rising ISCAP threat, and shifted its focus to its $5.1 billion Tilenga LNG project in Uganda's Lake Albert region.[33]

ISCAP's expansion in Uganda, coupled with its growth in west Africa,[34] is part of the group's "From Baghdad To Africa" expansionist campaign, aimed to boost its fighters' morale by showing that their Caliphate is expanding, and to mitigate the impact of ISIS's setbacks in its traditional epicenter in Iraq and Syria.

ISIS's focus on Africa will turn the continent, like the Middle East region, into a battleground of jihad in the coming period. ISIS appears to have successfully found ways not just to survive, but to expand, increasingly focusing its propaganda on the recent accomplishments of its African affiliates and threatening even more African countries.

ISIS Threatens Rwanda, South Africa

As declared in ISIS's "From Baghdad To Africa!" expansionist slogan, the group aims to expand its presence in Africa. To make this clear, the messaging of ISIS's official media has focused on the global reach of its African affiliates, highlighting their successful operations against the armed forces of various countries in the continent, and threatening additional countries, such as Rwanda and South Africa. The threats made against these two countries are a response to their involvement in the ongoing anti-ISIS campaign in Africa, and their sending of troops to affected regions.

Although no attacks were claimed by ISCAP in Rwanda, Rwanda's military involvement in northern Mozambique, which helped retake the strategic port city of Mocímboa da Praia from ISCAP's Mozambican wing in August 2021, after being controlled by ISCAP militants since August 11, 2020, has attracted the attention of ISIS outlets and supporters.

After the loss of Mocímboa da Praia, pro-ISIS media groups launched a coordinated media campaign against Rwanda,[35] which deployed a 1,000-person contingent of the Rwanda Defence Force (RDF) and the Rwanda National Police (RNP) to Cabo Delgado Province, Mozambique, in July 2021 at the request of the Mozambican government to "support efforts to restore Mozambican state authority by conducting combat and security operations, as well as stabilization and security-sector reform (SSR)."[36]

 
The August 8, 2021 tweet from the Rwanda Defence Forces reports the recapture of Mocímboa da Praia from ISCAP fighters.

Featuring the hashtag #Christian_Crimes_Rwanda in Arabic, English, French, and Swahili, several pro-ISIS media outlets released posters denouncing Rwanda as an enemy of Islam and threatening to slaughter Rwandan "Crusader" soldiers. These outlets also published Telegram posts falsely portraying the notorious 1994 Rwandan genocide, in which members of the Hutu ethnic group massacred ethnic Tutsis, as an act of Christian violence against Sunni Muslims. Moreover, these outlets urged Muslims in Central and East Africa to support ISCAP and avenge Christian "crimes" against Muslims, referring to Rwanda, which does not share any border with Mozambique.

On August 11, 2021, the pro-ISIS Tala'i' Al-Ansar Foundation released a poster threatening Rwanda for its anti-ISIS intervention in Mozambique. The poster depicted an armed, masked IS fighter in a ruined city, with the word "Rwanda" written beneath in Latin script. The text read: "O unbelieving Christians of Rwanda, your crimes against the defenseless Muslims are one of the greatest motivations for the Muslims to wage war against you. You are only plotting against yourselves. Soon you will see that with these deeds of yours, you have killed yourselves by your own hands..."[37]


A poster by Tala'i' Al-Ansar declaring that the "crimes" of Rwandan Christians against Muslims will lead Muslims to kill them.

On August 21, 2021 the pro-ISIS media outlet Al-'Adiyat Foundation released two audio messages in French and Arabic justifying the destruction of churches and the targeting of women and children who take up arms to fight for unbelievers or provide them material support, as well as carrying out attacks that will inevitably cause collateral damage to Christian civilians.

 
Poster of the French audio message, titled "Destruction des églises" justifying the destruction of churches (August 21, 2021)

Like Rwanda, South Africa has been threatened for its military involvement in the anti-ISIS campaign against ISCAP's Mozambican wing. The recent surge of ISCAP attacks in Mozambique makes the border with South Africa –  which is 81% Christian[38] –  porous, and exposes South Africa to possible ISIS spillover.

Recently, the Mozambican wing of ISCAP moved its operations beyond Mozambique's Cabo Delgado into the neighboring Niassa province. On November 30, 2021, ISCAP claimed two attacks on Mozambican army forces and Christian villagers in the Niassa province of northeastern Mozambique. This is the first time ISCAP has claimed attacks in this province, prompting ISIS supporters to celebrate this significant expansion.[39] Like in Cabo Delgado,[40] ISCAP's attacks in Niassa were directed mainly at military forces and Christians and their villages.[41]

ISCAP grew deadlier when it took over the port city of Mocímboa da Praia between August 2020 and August 2021, and also seized the city of Palma for several days in March-April 2021,[42] forcing French energy giant Total to suspend its $20 billion liquified natural gas project there.[43] According to UNICEF, the conflict in Mozambique has displaced nearly 856,000 people, nearly half of them children.[44]

ISIS threatened to expand into South Africa if the country became involved in the war against ISIS in Mozambique. The editorial in Al-Naba' weekly's issue 241 of July 2, 2020, warned Western "Crusaders" that their investments in Mozambique are in danger, threatening to open a "fighting front" in South Africa if it becomes militarily involved in the fight against ISIS in Mozambique.


Al-Naba' issue 241 editorial (July 2, 2021)

ISIS acknowledged South Africa's reluctance to take part in the fighting in Mozambique, but threatened to open a new front in South Africa if it chose otherwise. The editorial, which was titled "The Crusaders Are Risking Their Investments In Mozambique," warned that the current battles in Mozambique are confined to areas close to gas fields, where foreign companies are investing "billions of dollars."

It should be noted that South Africa sent 1,495 troops to Mozambique, as part of a regional force aimed at fighting Islamist militants in the Cabo Delgado region.[45] The Southern African Development Community's Standby Force (SADC), which is commanded by South African Major General Xolani Mankayi, includes troops from Angola, Botswana, Lesotho, South Africa, and Tanzania. Mozambique President Filipe Nyusi was reluctant to accept foreign troops into Mozambique, but in July 2021 said that outside help was needed to defeat the insurgents.[46]

ISCAP Employs Guerrilla Warfare Against "Crusader African Coalition"

In a detailed report published by ISIS's Al-Naba' weekly issue 312, which was released on November 11, 2021, ISIS extensively discussed "the ongoing battles against the African Coalition in Mozambique" over the past four months, based on reports from an "exclusive source."[47] The report stated that the "Crusader African Coalition" consists of forces from the armies of Mozambique, Rwanda, Malawi, Botswana, and South Africa. More than a dozen operations reported in Al-Naba' were not previously claimed by ISCAP.

 


Al-Naba' report detailing ISCAP's previously unreported four-month activity, including an "exclusive" photo of ammunition and communications equipment allegedly captured by ISCAP fighters in Mozambique.

Below is the Al-Naba' summary of ISCAP activities carried out between late July to mid-November 2021:

  • On July 24, forces of the African Coalition attempted to advance on ISCAP positions in the Awiso area, but ISCAP fighters repelled the advance after engaging with coalition forces for three hours, during which they killed or wounded several soldiers and disabled some vehicles. On the following day, according to Al-Naba', the coalition brought armored vehicles and aircraft to support its offensive, and although ISCAP fighters again "foiled their advance," they decided to withdraw from the area for fear of being targeted with airstrikes and infrared surveillance, doing so without incurring any losses.

  • On July 29, ISCAP fighters clashed with forces of the African Coalition in Mozambique on the road between Mocímboa da Praia and Palma, disabling two armored vehicles and killing or wounding several soldiers. After the coalition sent "large reinforcements," the fighters withdrew from the area.

  • On August 4, ISCAP fighters ambushed coalition forces in Unidade, between Mocímboa da Praia and Palma, as they were attempting to advance toward the city of Palma. ISCAP fighters disabled a tank and killed or wounded several soldiers, after which the survivors fled the area.

  • On August 20, ISCAP fighters launched a "coordinated attack" on Southern African Development Community (SADC) forces south of Mocímboa da Praia. After surrounding an SADC headquarters, killing or wounding several soldiers, and destroying several vehicles, the fighters withdrew safely from the area due to the "intervention of warplanes." On the following day, ISCAP fighters ambushed coalition forces traveling between Mocímboa da Praia and Muidumbe and detonated several IEDs on their vehicles, destroying two tanks and killing or wounding soldiers.

  • On September 1, ISCAP fighters ambushed coalition forces on the main road south of Mocímboa da Praia, killing or wounding several soldiers with "various weapons." Al-Naba's source reported that the mujahideen heard the "screams and wailing" of the coalition soldiers during the attack. On September 5, ISCAP fighters detonated IEDs and fired machine guns at coalition forces south of Mocímboa da Praia, destroying a tank, killing or wounding several soldiers, and inducing the others to flee. On September 7, ISCAP fighters again ambushed coalition forces in a nearby area, killing or wounding several soldiers with machine gun fire.

  • On September 20, ISCAP fighters attacked a coalition barracks on the outskirts of Mocímboa da Praia, killing or wounding several soldiers. After the remaining soldiers fled the position, the fighters seized assorted weapons and ammunition.

  • On September 28, ISCAP fighters attacked a Christian village near Quiterajo in Macomia District, and killed a Christian resident, after which the rest of the villagers fled.

  • On October 2, ISCAP fighters again ambushed coalition forces on the road south of Mocímboa da Praia, killing or wounding several soldiers, and once again the remaining soldiers fled.

  • On October 13, ISCAP fighters clashed with a coalition convoy attempting to advance on an area near the Messalo River. The mujahideen managed to repel the attempted advance for two days, killing or wounding coalition soldiers in the process.

ISIS Ignores ISCAP's Losses

It is noteworthy that on August 8, 2021, joint Mozambican and Rwandan forces captured the strategic port city of Mocímboa da Praia from ISCAP without firing a shot, after ISCAP fighters withdrew.[48] ISIS has ignored the loss of the city in all its official media, and it was not mentioned in the detailed list of ISCAP operations in Mozambique published in ISIS's weekly.

At the time, ISIS supporters reacted to the capture of Mocímboa da Praia by praising the ISCAP decision to withdraw without suffering casualties rather than fight a suicidal battle, and predicted that ISCAP will "terminate [coalition] armies" by engaging them in a "war of attrition" through guerrilla warfare tactics.

ISIS's official media messaging, reflected in its coverage of ISCAP operations in Mozambique, is likely aimed at demonstrating the group's resilience despite its loss of territory, as well as its ability to cause harm to the Mozambique Armed Defense Forces and the African troops supporting them, as well as to local Christians.

Conclusion

As ISIS seeks to expand by establishing foothold in more African countries and celebrating the exploits of its African affiliates, African Christians remain vulnerable to the group's attacks.

For the international community and African countries combating ISIS, successfully addressing this threat will require an accurate picture of today's ISIS. It is clear that under ISIS's current leadership, the group's shift towards Africa reflects a fundamental transformation in its strategy.

Thus, to effectively counter ISIS expansion in Africa, a deep understanding of this transformation and the subtle ways in which ideology and tactics serve as key forces in the group's spread in Africa can contribute to shaping effective counterterrorism responses, before the threat metastasizes further in the continent, as emphasized in the June 2021 pledge of Western countries in Rome, that recent successes by ISIS across Africa will not go unanswered.[49]

*Romany Shaker is a Research Fellow at MEMRI. 

 


[2] Treasury.gov/press-center/press-releases/Pages/jl2449.aspx, July 1, 2014.

[3] Un.org/securitycouncil/sanctions/1533/materials/summaries/entity/allied-democratic-forces-%28adf%29, June 30, 2014.

[4] State.gov/state-department-terrorist-designations-of-isis-affiliates-and-leaders-in-the-democratic-republic-of-the-congo-and-mozambique, March 10, 2021.

[5] Longwarjournal.org/archives/2017/10/islamic-state-loyal-group-calls-for-people-to-join-the-jihad-in-the-congo.php, October 15, 2017.

[6] See MEMRI JTTM report First Ever ISIS Claim Of Central Africa Attack, April 19, 2019.

[8] Wsj.com/articles/tanzanian-court-clears-extradition-of-rebel-leader-jamil-mukulu-to-uganda-1435252890, June 25, 2015; Observer.ug/news/headlines/66371-jamil-mukulu-trial-moved-to-inside-luzira-prison, September 1, 2020.

[9] State.gov/state-department-terrorist-designations-of-isis-affiliates-and-leaders-in-the-democratic-republic-of-the-congo-and-mozambique/#.YElIZPH6PZc.twitter, March 10, 2021.

[10] Bbc.com/news/world-africa-57246001, June 12, 2021.

[11] The Islamic State in Congo, Extremism.gwu.edu/sites/g/files/zaxdzs2191/f/The%20Islamic%20State%20in%20Congo%20English.pdf, March 2021.

[12] Final Report of the Group of Experts on the Democratic Republic of the Congo, United Nations Security Council, Daccess-ods.un.org/access.nsf/Get?OpenAgent&DS=S/2021/560&Lang=E, June 10, 2021.

[13] Documents-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/N21/113/46/PDF/N2111346.pdf, June 10, 2021.

[14] Insidetheadf.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/11/Inside-the-ADF-Rebellion-14Nov18.pdf, November 2018.

[18] Amisom-au.org/uganda-updf/, accessed on December 14, 2021.

[19] See MEMRI JTTM report ISIS Claims Twin Suicide Attacks In Kampala, Uganda, November 16, 2021.

[20] Voanews.com/a/ugandan-drc-forces-launch-airstrikes-against-adf-rebels-in-congo/6333423.html, November 30, 2021.

[21] Reuters.com/world/africa/uganda-says-troops-stay-congo-long-needed-defeat-adf-2021-12-03/, December 3, 2021.

[22] Bbc.com/news/world-africa-59337953, November 18, 2021.

[23] Reuters.com/markets/europe/exclusive-western-companies-are-blind-ugandan-investments-president-museveni-2021-12-05/, December 6, 2021.

[26] Reuters.com/world/africa/ugandas-police-detain-48-suspects-linked-last-months-bombings-2021-11-01/, November 1, 2021.

[27] Reuters.com/world/assassination-attempt-made-ugandan-minister-army-spokeswoman-2021-06-01/, June 1, 2021.

[29] Telegram, November 18, 2021.

[30] Telegram, November 20, 2021.

[33] Bloomberg.com/news/articles/2021-04-09/total-to-extend-dominance-in-africa-with-go-ahead-for-uganda-oil, April 9, 2021.

[34] See MEMRI JTTM report Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) Video Depicts Attacks On Nigerian Army To Demonstrate ISWAP's Strength, October 31, 2021.

[36] Newtimes.co.rw/news/video-rwandas-mission-support-efforts-restore-mozambican-state-authority-rdf, July 11, 2021.

[37] Telegram, August 11, 2021.

[38] State.gov/reports/2019-report-on-international-religious-freedom/south-africa, accessed December 7, 2021.

[43] Reuters.com/article/us-mozambique-insurgency-total/total-says-mozambique-gas-project-work-suspended-after-fighting-idUSKBN2BK06O, March 28, 2021.

[44] Reliefweb.int/report/mozambique/humanitarian-action-children-2022-mozambique, December 8, 2021.

[45] Allafrica.com/stories/202107300001.html, July 29, 2021.

[46] Voanews.com/a/africa_mozambiques-president-unveils-southern-african-troops-fight-insurgents/6209375.html, August 10, 2021.

[49] Voanews.com/a/europe_global-coalition-fears-islamic-state-expansion-africa/6207584.html, June 28, 2021.

The Cyber & Jihad Lab

The Cyber & Jihad Lab monitors, tracks, translates, researches, and analyzes cyber jihad originating from the Middle East, Iran, South Asia, and North and West Africa. It innovates and experiments with possible solutions for stopping cyber jihad, advancing legislation and initiatives federally – including with Capitol Hill and attorneys-general – and on the state level, to draft and enforce measures that will serve as precedents for further action. It works with leaders in business, law enforcement, academia, and families of terror victims to craft and support efforts and solutions to combat cyber jihad, and recruits, and works with technology industry leaders to craft and support efforts and solutions.

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