Analysis: Islamic State claims in the DRC

Photo released on May 30 by the Islamic State’s Amaq News showing fighters in the DRC.

In a statement released earlier today on its social media channels, the Islamic State claimed its Central African Province attacked UN forces near the city of Beni in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). The claim is the latest in a series of statements from Central Africa released by the jihadist group.

First releasing a brief statement, the Islamic State said that “Soldiers of the Caliphate attacked three shared barracks of the Congolese Army and the Crusader UN forces – who were preparing to attack the mujahideen’s positions – near the village of Mavivi.” The jihadist group goes on to state that “dozens were killed and wounded” in the attack.

Another short summary was then released, providing more details to the reported attacks. The summary, which was released by the Islamic State’s Amaq News, states that the raids occurred on “road #4” near Beni and that the firefights lasted nearly three hours.

A picture showing Islamic State fighters in an alleged camp in the DRC’s North Kivu region was also released alongside Amaq’s summary. However, the photo appears to be from the same event in DRC that was previously detailed in the April 25th issue of the Islamic State’s weekly Al Naba newsletter.

Reporting from the area has confirmed that Congolese forces did in fact come under fire today. Congolese forces reported killing 23 militants from the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), one of the largest insurgent groups operating in the North Kivu region and who is blamed for most attacks in the region.

Speaking to AFP, a Congolese army spokesman said that “early this morning, the ADF attacked our position in the town of Ngite-Mavivi, our men reacted and inflicted a heavy loss in their ranks.” No mention of UN troops was made in the Ngite attack.

However, in an issue of Al Naba released on May 30, the Islamic State released photos of the purported ID cards of UN troops. Photos of dead Congolese troops were also shown.

According to data compiled by FDD’s Long War Journal, the Islamic State has now claimed at least nine attacks in the DRC since April 18. Some of these claims were not reported in local media, but others have indeed been confirmed.

All, however, have been located in the DRC’s North Kivu region – an area that has been afflicted with violence by a multitude of armed groups for over two decades.

While some observers have casted doubt on the overall presence of the Islamic State in the area, it is evident that an Islamic State-loyal cell does exist in North Kivu. Moreover, this cell likely exists within the context of the ADF.

Researchers from the Congo Research Group have found that the ADF has made several overtures to the Islamic State in recent years.

This includes rebranding itself as “Madinat al Tawhid wal Muwahedeen,” or the City of Monotheism and Monotheists (MTM), and producing new imagery more aligned to jihadist organizations.

ADF/MTM videos gathered by the Bridgeway Foundation were 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.

Islamic State material has also been found within the ADF/MTM ranks, including a book published by the Islamic State’s Maktabah al Himma, an important wing of the Islamic State that once produced theological and ideological treatises.

The US government has also designated two individuals that moved money for the Islamic State to fighters in the DRC.

While it is possible that the apparent rebranding within the ADF is a move to garner more international attention, it is clear that the Islamic State made a concentrated effort to reach out to militants within the DRC.

It is also possible that the Islamic State wing in the DRC originated as a splinter within the ADF/MTM, as other observers and regional experts have casted doubt on the overall Islamic State affinity within the ADF.

The existence of a pro-Islamic State splinter within the ADF would help account for the dissonance between the amount of claims made by the Islamic State in the DRC and the overall attacks perpetrated by the ADF since the “Central African Province” was formed in April.

Despite the current unknowns about the Islamic State in the DRC, it is abundantly clear that there is in fact an Islamic State-loyal cell operating within the North Kivu region and it is indeed in communication with the overall Islamic State network.

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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