Islamic State claims Christmas day suicide bombing in Congo

Photo released by the Islamic State showing ‘Bayan al-Ugandi,’ the reported suicide bomber.

After a long delay, the Islamic State has taken credit for the Christmas day suicide bombing in Beni, DRC, which left at least eight people dead. 

The bombing was orchestrated by the DRC wing of its Central Africa Province (ISCAP), which is locally known as the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF). 

According to the Islamic State, the bomber “killed and wounded upwards of 27 people, including [military] officers and government officials” after he detonated his explosive belt “at a Christian pub.” 

The jihadist group also provided a photo of the purported bomber that was taken prior to the attack (seen above), identified as ‘Bayan al-Ugandi,’ indicating he was a Ugandan national.  This photo matches graphic photos of a man purported to be the bomber that were distributed on social media in the aftermath of the attack.

Casualty numbers and the identities of victims provided by the Islamic State largely comport to what has been repeated in local media, suggesting that the Islamic State’s media apparatus monitored local reporting for such details. 

On Dec. 25, a suicide bomber detonated himself at the entrance of a popular restaurant in the town of Beni after being prevented by local security in entering the crowded establishment.

The death toll initially stood at six people killed, but this number was later raised to eight after two additional people succumbed to their wounds from the blast. Another 18 people were wounded in the explosion.

Despite local officials quickly placing blame on the ADF, it took 16 days for the Islamic State to officially comment on the bombing.

It is unclear what exactly caused the delay. However, it is worth noting that sustained joint operations by the Congolese and Ugandan militaries against the group – launched in the wake of the Nov. 2021 triple suicide bombings in Kampala, Uganda – have likely hampered the ADF’s communications. This may have included a delay in providing a picture of the bomber himself. 

This is the first time the Islamic State has published a photo of an ADF bomber that was taken prior to the bombing taking place, which is the Islamic State’s standard operating procedure for such operations globally. 

This alignment with common IS practice could indicate that the ADF received specific direction from IS central leadership on media practices in general or on this operation in particular.

The ADF, which historically did not undertake suicide operations until last year, has now conducted four individual suicide attacks, utilizing six individual bombers. 

This includes the group’s first ever suicide bombing in June 2021, which also took place inside Beni, DRC, a failed suicide bombing outside of Kampala, Uganda, on Oct. 25, 2021, and the Nov. 16, 2021, triple suicide bombings in Kampala. 

Additionally, a suicide bombing plot at the funeral of late Ugandan General Paul Lokech, in Pader, Uganda, was foiled in Aug. 2021. 

All known bombers have been identified as Ugandan nationals. These bombings came after the group’s senior ideologues began sensitizing the group’s rank and file to so-called ‘marytrdom’ operations in early 2021, according to translated audio recordings reviewed by the authors.  

In March 2021, ADF senior ideologue Abu Qatada al-Muhajir said in a widely-shared sermon to the group that an “explosive belt [is what] a leader wears all the time for self-destruction and defense, this is worn by every [jihadist] commander.” 

He continued by saying, “they will soon get all of you those suicide belts which you will be required to wear.” He also urges to the fighters to “pray that Allah makes it possible for you to die with a suicide vest that blows hundreds of infidels.”

Showing the supposed ideological importance to the group, al-Muhajir also contends that ADF leader Musa Baluku himself “has to put on his suicide vest or belt on a daily basis as a defensive mechanism against being arrested and subsequently tortured by infidels” as according to al-Muhajir, “it is compulsory for all Islamic leaders to adorn it [a suicide vest] daily.”

With the continued use of suicide bombings, the ADF has shown a clear ideological and tactical shift since officially joining the Islamic State. 

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