US kills deputy Islamic State leader in Somalia

The Islamic State in Somalia’s (ISS) deputy emir was reported killed by a US airstrike yesterday in Somalia’s northern Puntland region. Both the United States and Somali governments have confirmed the death of the emir.

“Abdulhakim Dhuqub, a high-ranking Islamic State Somalia official,” was killed in the strike, which took place “in the vicinity of Xiriiro, Bari Region, Somalia, on April 14, 2019,” US Africa Command (AFRICOM) notes in a press release. Dhuqub, whose real name was Abdihakim Mohamed Ibrahim, was the overall deputy emir of ISS. He assumed this role after the death of the previous deputy emir, Mahad Moalim, in Mogadishu late last year.

AFRICOM provides a brief overview of the jihadist leader, reporting that “as second-in-command of ISS, Dhuqub was responsible for the daily operations of the extremist group, attack planning, and resource procurement.”

The Somali government further confirmed the airstrike, stating that it was conducted as part of a joint-operation with Somali troops. Speaking to VOA News, Abdisamad Mohamed Gallan, the Minister of Security for the Puntland region, also purportedly confirmed the death of Dhuqub.

The Islamic State in Somalia is led by a former Shabaab commander, Abdul Qadir Mumin, and is largely based in the Puntland region. It has been responsible for dozens of shootings, bombings, and assassinations across Somalia since April 2016.

In 2018, ISS was able to expand its operation across Somalia. Last year, it claimed 66 offensives alone; while in the previous two years combined it only claimed 39 attacks. It also also been able to reach into central Somalia, which was previously untouched by the Islamic State wing, as well as Mogadishu and its surroundings.

According to local officials, it has also been collecting taxes on civilians and businesses in rural Puntland as well as in the port city of Bosaso.

Its operational tempo has not slowed despite a renewed Shabaab effort against the group. So far this year it has already claimed 26 assaults, according to data compiled by FDD’s Long War Journal.

Yesterday’s strike that killed Dhuqub was the first by the US military that targeted ISS’ network in Somalia since Nov. 2017. AFRICOM hit ISS four times that month. No senior ISS leaders were killed in those strikes.

The US military has stepped up its air campaign against Shabaab, al Qaeda’s branch in East Africa, which is a rival of ISS. There have been 30 strikes against Shabaab in 2019, compared to 47 in all of 2018. Shabaab is estimated to control 25 percent of Somalia territory.

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of The Long War Journal. Caleb Weiss is an intern at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and a contributor to The Long War Journal.

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