Over the last month, the Islamic State has conducted several assassinations inside Somalia, representing an increase in the number of attacks emanating from its fledgling East African affiliate. In four of the five claims since April 15, the assassinations took place in Mogadishu.
On April 15, the Islamic State’s news outlet, Amaq News, claimed that militants loyal to the group assassinated a member of the Somali military in the southern town of Afgooye. A little over a week later, a similar Amaq statement claimed a Somali intelligence officer was murdered in the streets of Mogadishu. Just four days later, another intelligence officer was reportedly gunned down in the Somali capital.
Last week, Amaq claimed a Somali policeman was assassinated in Mogadishu. While yesterday, another intelligence officer in Mogadishu was murdered by an Islamic State-loyal gunman.
So far in 2018, the Islamic State has conducted at least 13 attacks inside Somalia. That number is set to outpace both last year and 2016, according to data culled from Amaq News and Islamic State central releases.
It is unclear exactly how many claims made by the group are legitimate, as few are reported by local media or proven with visual evidence. Some assassination claims, however, are followed up with photo or video proof. That said, the statements still indicate the types of operations and claimed areas of operation of the organization inside Somalia.
The claims were broken down into categories of “types of operations,” “targets,” and “locations.” The Somali military and police, as well as the Puntland Security Forces, were combined into “Somali Security Forces,” while the Somali intelligence agency, NISA, remained separate. Attacks on Somali government employees or buildings were categorized under “Somali government.” Two reported locations, Jarur in Puntland, and Hawa Abdi in the Middle Shabelle, could not be geolocated and were not added to the map above.
Of the total 45 claimed operations, 14 have occurred inside Mogadishu and a further three were reported within the city’s outskirts or suburbs. At least 12 were inside Afgooye. Other attacks were reported by the group in Bosaso, Baidoa, Bay, and Qandala. Operations also reportedly took place in lesser known towns, like Jarur in Puntland or Quf Jadud in western Somalia.
The most common type of operations are targeted assassinations, with Somali intelligence officers of NISA being the primary targets. The Islamic State has claimed at least five improvised explosive device (IED) blasts in Somalia, including its first ever claim in the country on April 25, 2016. Eleven of the claims included either assaults or clashes with Somali security forces, while a further six involved hand-grenade attacks.
African Union forces were the target in only four claims, with members of the Somali security forces or intelligence officials being the primary targets of the attacks. Only one government employee, a financial officer in Afgooye, and a government office in an unspecified town in Bay, has been targeted by Islamic State-loyal militants.
The Islamic State has claimed just one suicide bombing in the country. Last May, a suicide bomber detonated his explosives at a security checkpoint near the Juba hotel in the northern city of Bosaso. It has also only claimed capturing one city, Qandala in Oct. 2016, a city it held for two months before a Puntland military campaign recaptured it.
The main Islamic State faction operating in Somalia is led by Abdulqadir Mumin, a former Shabaab official who appeared in many of its propaganda videos before defecting to the Islamic State in Oct. 2015. In Aug. 2016, the US State Department added Mumin to its list of global terrorists. The US has also targeted Mumin’s men in airstrikes, starting last November.
Mumin’s group may have had around 200 to 300 members before a Puntland military campaign drove them back from Qandala, according to Voice of America. Last year, a defector from Mumin’s group reportedly told Puntland authorities that there are only around 70 people remaining in the group.
The faction is largely based in the Golis and Bari mountains of northern Somalia. It is known to run at least one training camp in that area. The facility is named after Bashir Abu Numan, a Shabaab commander who defected to the Islamic State but was killed by Shabaab’s Amniyat (internal security force).
Smaller Islamic State-loyal cells are also present in central and southern Somalia. For example, the claimed attacks in Mogadishu and Afgooye are committed by these cells. However, it is unclear what their organizational relationship is, if any, to the larger Mumin-led faction in Puntland. Another Islamic State-loyal cell operating in southern Somalia captured a small town in Dec. 2015, almost a year prior to Mumin capturing Qandala.
However, the Islamic State has had a difficult time establishing a strong foothold inside the country. Shabaab’s Amniyat has been tasked with hunting down and killing any members who seek to or have defected to the Islamic State. The Amniyat has arrested or killed dozens of pro-Islamic State minded members within its ranks since 2015. The assassinations in southern Somalia appear to be more opportunistic rather than part of a concerted strategy of increasing its presence, which is severely hampered by the Shabaab campaign against it.
That said, the competition with Shabaab has not completely stopped the group from continuing to operate inside Somalia, as the attack claims show the Islamic State’s presence and operations. Some of these operations continue to be far from its stronghold in the Puntland region.
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Something to note though is that the actual size- in terms of actual jihadists- of the Islamic State in Somalia is questionable. There have been indications of maybe 50 to 60 foreign fighters arriving in the Qandala area, but the majority of the “so-called” IS fighters in Somalia are in fact Clan militia who support Muumin for Clan as opposed to ideological reasons.
There is an interesting nexus in the whole Qandala area mind you between former pirate warlords and jihadists. Isse Yulux- the principle Puntland pirate leader and smuggler- and Sheikh Muumin of IS are cousins.
Indeed the Qandala capture was a lot more nuanced than to say it was a jihadist success story. If anything the jihadists were welcomed with open arms due to their Clan affiliation as opposed to being feared. In fact there is evidence to suggest that many of the IS fighters were living in the town prior to the capture. It should also be noted that many of the IS fighters still live in the area around Qandala and have most definitely not been driven away from the town following its liberation.