The Islamic State Somalia Propaganda Coalition's Regional Language Push.

AuthorWebber, Lucas

Following the loss of the last bastions of the Islamic State's caliphate in 2019, the organization has increasingly promoted the successes of its branches in other conflict theaters--most prominently, those in Africa. The African branches are by no means heterogeneous; the Islamic State's West Africa Province (ISWAP) is the movement's most powerful external network, while Islamic State-Somalia is one of the weaker branches on the continent.

Given this, the Islamic State-Somalia Province has sought to grow by tapping into local grievances to appeal to a broader range of ethnolinguistic population segments. (1) This has been done through official propaganda in regional languages as well as through unofficial propaganda and supporter networks in additional tongues.

This article will examine the background and current state of the Islamic State's Somalia branch, as well as Islamic State Central's propaganda promotion of the outfit and the role supporting media outlets are playing in the outreach campaign to Amharic, Somali, Oromo, and Swahili-speaking target audiences. It will then conclude with an analysis of the potential regional security implications relating to these developments.

History of Islamic State-Somalia

The expansion of the Islamic State in Africa is increasingly evident, and the continent is a highly strategic region for the jihadi organization. This expansion includes an active official province in Somalia. Somalia's security is threatened not only by al-Shabaab's violent military campaigns but also by the military and propaganda activities of the Islamic State province in Somalia.

In 2012, al-Shabaab (a) leadership sent a charismatic leader, Abdulqadir Mumin, to Puntland to carry out a vast recruitment campaign to establish an outpost of the al-Qaida affiliate in East Africa in the mountainous areas of the northern Somali hinterland and expand its areas of activity. With the severe operational and leadership difficulties faced by al-Shabaab in 2014, Mumin found himself alone and isolated running the Somali jihadi group's cell in Puntland. (2) This isolation and distance from al-Shabaab's central leadership made the operations of the group increasingly independent. At that time, al-Shabaab was in the midst of a bitter internal dispute between factions. (3) Mumin, dissatisfied with the situation and his isolation, decided to pledge allegiance to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and the Islamic State in October 2015, (4) causing a violent split in the Puntland group, as only about 30 of the 300 local Islamist fighters reportedly joined Mumin. (5)

On April 25, 2016, the Somali province of the Islamic State carried out its first attack against government forces, an AMISOM convoy in Mogadishu. (6) In October 2016, the group launched its first major operation targeting the main port city of Qandala, (7 )which it controlled until December 3 that year. (8) Throughout 2016 and 2017, the group suffered several losses in counterterrorism operations, and was also designated by the United States as a global terrorist organization. (9) In December 2017, the central Islamic State media indirectly confirmed that it had elevated the Islamic State in Somalia to the status of a province, releasing a propaganda video from Somalia showing three fighters from the Mumin-led cell threatening attacks on Western states and calling on Muslims, particularly those in East Africa, to join the Islamic State's cause. (10 )In 2018, the group bolstered its ranks with other al-Shabaab defectors, carried out several attacks in Puntland, expanded into Mogadishu and the south of the country, (11) began collecting taxes in the areas it controlled or operated in, and created small new cells in central and southern Somalia. Between December 2018 and March 2019, a full-blown war between Islamic State-Somalia and al-Shabaab began in numerous locations within Somalia. (12) In August 2021, Islamic State militants in Somalia carried out another major military operation, occupying and looting the town of Balidhidin in the semi-autonomous Somali region of Puntland. (13)

The Current Status of Islamic State-Somalia

Analyzing the claims and attacks conducted by the Islamic State in Somalia, 36 attacks were claimed by the Somali jihadi group in 2021 and 32 attacks in 2022, mostly in Puntland and the capital, Mogadishu. The Islamic State in Somalia currently operates mainly in the mountainous areas of Puntland, and in southern Somalia mainly in the areas of the capital Mogadishu. In January and February 2023, Islamic State-Somalia conducted five attacks: (14) on the road between Mogadishu-Afgooye; in the towns of Blay Tadan and Wadi Ja'il, southeast of the city of Bosaso, in the province of Bari; in the district of Karan, in Mogadishu; hitting several targets such as Somali police, the Somali army, Puntland security forces, and politicians. (15)

At the head of the Somali jihadi organization is still the veteran leader Mumin, whose group consists of around 200-250 fighters. (16) Importantly, the Islamic State's Al-Karrar office is based in Somalia, acting as a financial hub and transmitter of funds to other provinces. (17) According to a February 2023 report by the U.N. monitoring team tracking the global jihadi threat, the Al-Karrar office has been sending financial funds to the Islamic State Khorasan Province (ISK), totaling approximately $25,000 per month in cryptocurrency. The U.N. report also states that Islamic State-Somalia "generated $100,000 per month through extortion of the shipping industry and illicit taxation." (18)

A major blow to the Somali Islamic State organization came in January 2023, when U.S. special operations forces raided a remote mountainous cave complex in northern Somalia and killed an important Islamic State leader in Somalia, Bilal al-Sudani, (19 )who was responsible for the promotion and growth of the Islamic State in Africa and the group's global funding. (20) The exact impact is yet to be discerned, and it is unknown how the group will adapt following this loss and how it will reorganize its operational and financial side, as al-Sudani's departure is certainly a blow to the Somali province. Al-Sudani was a veteran member of the group since the creation of the province. (21) The most recent attack, officially claimed in a statement and later published by the newspaper Al Naba, was conducted on April 4, 2023, in Mogadishu...

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