Islamic State claims attack in the Democratic Republic of the Congo

An Arabic-speaking Tanzanian fighter within the ranks of the ADF/MTM shown in a video released by the group in late 2017.

The Islamic State has claimed its first official attack in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) in a statement released by Amaq News earlier today.

“[Members of] The Congolese Army were killed and wounded in an attack in the village of Kamango near the borders of the Congo and Uganda,” the Islamic State said in its statement. While it is not immediately clear an attack took place today in Kamango, local media has reported that Islamist forces targeted civilians near the town in recent days.

That assault, like many others in the DRC’s North Kivu region, was blamed on the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), a rebel group that has fought both the DRC and Ugandan governments for over two decades. However, researchers from the Congo Research Group have found that the ADF has made several overtures to the Islamic State in recent years.

For instance, a report released last year from the group found that the ADF rebranded itself as “Madinat al Tawhid wal Muwahedeen,” or the City of Monotheism and Monotheists (MTM), and produced new imagery more aligned to jihadist organizations.

After a military raid on an ADF/MTM camp in February 2018 near Beni, Congolese troops also found Islamic State material and books within the militants’ possessions. Photos and information gathered by the Bridgeway Foundation for the Congo Research Group from this raid were shared with FDD’s Long War Journal for further review.

One book found within the ADF/MTM camp was published by the Islamic State’s Maktabah al Himma, an important wing of the Islamic State that once produced theological and ideological treatises. The book in question, for example, dealt with proper ways to implement hudud [punishments under Islamic law] and how to progress social services to local populations.

The book was also a hardcover copy, indicating that the book had been delivered to the militants.

Videos released by ADF/MTM and gathered by the Bridgeway Foundation were also shared with FDD’s Long War Journal. Many of the videos demonstrate clear jihadist messaging, including mantras of establishing a caliphate and that their goal is to implement their strict interpretation of Sharia in the DRC and Uganda. Anasheed [Islamic a cappella songs] produced by both al Qaeda-linked militants and the Islamic State were used in the videos.

In one video, which was shared by Islamic State accounts at its time of release, also featured an Arabic-speaking militant, identified as a Tanzanian national by the Congo Research Group, calling on people to join “the Islamic State in Central Africa.” To date, that is the only ADF/MTM video to have been widely shared by the Islamic State and its supporters.

Additionally, designations from the US government have also shed light on the Islamic State’s activities in the DRC. In Sept. 2018, the US Treasury designated Waleed Ahmaed Zein, an East African-based Islamic State financier. Treasury said that his network was able to move money to Islamic State fighters in “Syria, Libya, and Central Africa.”

Earlier this week, Zein’s partner, Halima Adnan Ali, was also designated by the US Treasury. In its designation, Treasury reiterated that Ali and Zein moved money for the Islamic State to fighters in Central Africa. It is likely that these fighters refer to the ADF/MTM.

Today’s Amaq claim offers the first recognition by the Islamic State to any activity in Central Africa. The exact nature of the relationship between the Islamic State and the ADF/MTM remains opaque. The claim does suggest some degree of communication, however.

But it is also unknown if today’s claim is signaling any deepening of ties between the organizations or that there is more to come from the DRC. A follow up to the Amaq statement was also released, branding the attack under a “Wilayat Wasat Ifriqiyah,” or the “Central Africa Province.”

It is possible that the Islamic State is trying to restructure its African operations, as it has also produced claims from Mali in recent weeks.

The connections between the DRC attack and the Islamic State could, however, be more tenuous as the group attempts to portray itself as more globally active after its loss of territory in Syria.

That said, it is indeed clear that the Islamic State has supported the ADF/MTM in the past and the two groups have been trying to establish more concrete ties in recent years.

Caleb Weiss is an editor of FDD's Long War Journal and a senior analyst at the Bridgeway Foundation, where he focuses on the spread of the Islamic State in Central Africa.

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