Abdulqadr Mumin, the Islamic State’s leader in Somalia
The Islamic State’s branch in Somalia is reportedly in control of the northern port town of Qandala after fighting with the local Puntland forces. Qandala sits in Somalia’s northeastern Bari Province, but is under the rule of the autonomous region of Puntland. African Union forces are not deployed in that region.
Amaq News Agency, the Islamic State’s news outlet, claimed control of Qandala earlier today, but did not provide much information. However, the district leader for Qandala said in an audio statement that the town had indeed fallen after the Puntland troops were forced to retreat. Local civilians, as quoted by Reuters, said that the jihadist group cut the town’s communications off before moving into the city. This marks the first time that the fledgling Islamic State branch has been able to take control over any substantive territory.
The branch, which officially formed in Oct. 2015, is led by Abdulqadr Mumin, a former Shabaab commander. When Mumin defected, it was initially reported that only 20 of the 300 Shabaab fighters based in Puntland joined him. It is highly likely the small cadre of militants under his control is higher now. In the US State Department’s designation of Mumin as a global terrorist, State noted that Mumin “expanded his cell of Islamic State supporters by kidnapping young boys aged 10 to 15, indoctrinating them, and forcing them to take up militant activity.” [See LWJ report, US adds Islamic State commander in Somalia to list of global terrorists.]
The Islamic State’s Somali branch has highlighted at least one training camp in its propaganda. The camp, which is likely in Puntland, does not seem to be a permanent facility. It was named after Bashir Abu Numan, another Shabaab commander who defected to the Islamic State. Numan was killed by Shabaab’s Amniyat, or security service, in 2015.
Additionally, the Somali branch has claimed fewer than one dozen attacks thus far. Several of these were in Somalia’s capital of Mogadishu, indicating that the group is able to operate in various places around the country. Its first claimed attack involved an improvised explosive device (IED) targeting African Union forces in Mogadishu. [See LWJ report, Islamic State highlights ‘first camp of the Caliphate in Somalia’.]
The Islamic State has struggled to gain a foothold in Somalia despite a concerted effort to woo Shabaab fighters into its ranks. Shabaab’s Amniyat has been tasked with hunting down and killing any members who seek to or have defected to the Islamic State. Last December, the Amniyat gunned down Mohammed Makkawi Ibrahim, a veteran jihadist who was responsible for killing a diplomat for the US Agency for International Development and his driver in Khartoum, Sudan in Jan. 2008. [See LWJ reports, Shabaab’s leadership fights Islamic State’s attempted expansion in East Africa and American jihadist reportedly flees al Qaeda’s crackdown in Somalia.]
Today’s claim comes as the Islamic State is currently losing ground near Mosul, its largest remaining stronghold in Iraq. This could be part of a larger strategy to deflect attention away from that and preserve the idea of its expansion and global territorial control.
Elsewhere in Somalia, Shabaab – al Qaeda’s official branch – claimed it also captured a town. Shabaab’s Shahada News Telegram channel reported that its forces entered the town of Tiyeglow in the Bakool Region of southwestern Somalia. Quoting Shabaab’s military spokesman, the “news outlet” said that Shabaab’s forces only entered the town after Ethiopian troops withdrew. This fits a larger trend occurring in central and southern Somalia, where Shabaab has been able to regain control over several towns and cities after Ethiopian troops desert their posts.