US adds $5 million bounty to the Islamic State’s leader in the DRC

Yesterday, the United States’ State Department’s Rewards for Justice program placed a $5 million bounty on Musa Baluku, the emir of the Islamic State’s Central Africa Province in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). The group is known locally as the Allied Democratic Forces, or ADF.

Using the U.S. government’s preferred nomenclature for the group, the Rewards for Justice poster notes that “under [Seka] Musa Baluku’s leadership, ISIS-DRC targets, kills, maims, rapes, and commits other sexual violence and engages in abduction of civilians, including children. The group also recruits and uses children during attacks and for forced labor in the DRC’s Beni territory.”

Baluku, a Ugandan national who first joined the ADF in the mid-1990s, has been twice sanctioned by the United States. In 2019, Baluku, alongside five other prominent commanders of the group, were sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury Department under the Global Magnitsky Act for human rights abuses.

And in 2021, Baluku was sanctioned by the U.S. State Department as a global terrorist alongside the ADF for its relationship as an affiliate of the Islamic State. 

Prior to becoming the overall leader of the Islamic State’s Central Africa Province (ISCAP), Baluku was the chief qadi, or Islamic judge, of the group where he first earned a reputation for violence and extremism.

After rising to become the group’s emir in 2015, Baluku oversaw the ADF’s transition to become an Islamic State affiliate and has since presided over an unprecedented level of violence and expansion: ISCAP has killed over 4,000 civilians in the last four years and has grown its area of operations inside the DRC by over 400%.

Baluku’s threat is not just limited to the DRC. The terrorist leader has become an integral part of the Islamic State’s networks in East, Central, and Southern Africa. Baluku’s group is also responsible for attacks inside Uganda, including the November 2021 triple suicide bombing in Kampala, as well as thwarted bomb threats in Rwanda.

With financial and logistical networks that reach into Kenya, Tanzania, Burundi, and down to southern Africa, as well as fighters from across the region who have flocked to ISCAP, the group poses a significant regional terrorist threat

Multiple informed sources have also reported to the author that Baluku previously held a leadership role over the Islamic State’s affiliate in Mozambique. Baluku purportedly helped resolve internal disputes and provided guidance that helped the Mozambique branch become its own province for the Islamic State in May 2022 (the Mozambique faction was previously one half of a combined ISCAP with the ADF). 

The jihadist leader has also coordinated his activities with the Islamic State’s leadership in Somalia, particularly Abdul Qadir Mu’min and recently killed Bilal al-Sudani. Islamic State Somalia hosts the Al-Karrar regional office, which helps oversee and coordinate the Islamic State’s activities across Central, Eastern, and Southern Africa.

Baluku’s relationship with the Islamic State Somalia leadership has made him instrumental in plotting the Islamic State’s expansion across much of the continent. 

With the new bounty placed on his head, Musa Baluku now joins other infamous Sunni jihadists belonging to both al-Qaeda and the Islamic State who are actively sought after by the United States government.

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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