U.S. designates Islamic State financier in Somalia

On Thursday, the United States government sanctioned Abdiweli Mohamed Yusuf, the financial emir for the Islamic State’s Somali Province (or Islamic State-Somalia, ISS). In this capacity, Yusuf was responsible for overseeing the collection and allocation of millions of dollars flowing through ISS’ coffers. 

According to the U.S. Treasury Department

“In the first half of 2022, ISIS-Somalia generated nearly $2 million by collecting extortion payments from local businesses, related imports, livestock, and agriculture. In 2021, ISIS-Somalia generated an estimated $2.5 million in revenue. ISIS-Somalia is one of the most significant ISIS affiliates in Africa, generating revenue for ISIS to disburse to branches and networks across the continent.”

In his role as financial emir, which he reportedly took office in 2019, it was Yusuf that oversaw this collection of money from both northern Somalia’s semi-autonomous region of Puntland and in Mogadishu itself. 

And though Treasury describes Yusuf as Islamic State-Somalia’s financial emir, it seemingly makes a distinction between the hierarchies of ISS and the Islamic State’s Al-Karrar regional office, an important node within the Islamic State’s global management system that itself is based in Somalia. 

Interestingly, Treasury states that “Yusuf, a key senior member of ISIS-Somalia, meets with and reports to other ISIS leaders in Somalia, including ISIS al-Karrar office emir Abdiqadir Mu’min and ISIS-Somalia emir Abdirahman Fahiye Isse Mohamud.” It was Mu’min that first founded ISS in October 2015 after breaking away from al-Qaeda’s Shabaab. 

Mu’min was long believed to be ISS’ emir and the wali [governor] of the Islamic State’s so-called Somali Province, while Abdirahman Fahiye was considered his long-time deputy. Based on Treasury’s statement, however, Mu’min was promoted and now reportedly just heads the aforementioned Al-Karrar office, while Fahiye is now ISS’ emir. 

This distinction further implies that Yusuf was just the financial emir for ISS and not necessarily also acting in this capacity for Al-Karrar. That role was previously headed by Bilal al-Sudani, a Sudanese commander in ISS, who was killed by the U.S. military in a raid in Puntland earlier this year. It is unclear who replaced Sudani in this capacity. 

Funds transferred to other Islamic State wings by Al-Karrar, however, were most certainly collected by ISS itself. It would be these collection efforts that were (and likely still are) overseen by Yusuf. These funds from Somalia are then pooled together by other Islamic State affiliates and cells, particularly in South Africa, and dispersed to other Islamic State wings elsewhere. 

Al-Karrar thus plays a significant role in the financing of the Islamic State’s Central Africa Province (ISCAP) in the Congo and Uganda (which is locally known as the Allied Democratic Forces) and the Islamic State’s Mozambique Province (known locally as Al-Shabaab, which is not to be confused with al-Qaeda’s branch in Somalia). 

For example, Al-Karrar has sent hundreds of thousands of dollars (and likely significantly more) to ISCAP and Islamic State Mozambique. This money has had drastic consequences for both insurgencies. 

This so-called “regionally-pooled” model of financing, of which the regional offices coordinate, is the current favored financing model of the Islamic State. Leaked Islamic State documents further detail that each financial office of a province is subordinate to their designated regional office.

The Al-Karrar office is just one such regional office around the globe under the Islamic State’s General Directorate of Provinces (GDP). These offices act as key nodes of middle management in the Islamic State’s vast global enterprise, offering a degree of decentralized coordination as the offices oversee and direct various affiliates within their respective designated areas on behalf of the GDP and the Islamic State’s central leadership. 

Other offices include the Al-Furqan office (responsible for Nigeria and the Sahel), Al-Saddiq office (Afghanistan-Pakistan-Central Asia), Al-Faruq office (Turkey and Europe), with less active offices also based in Yemen, Libya, and Egypt/Sudan. 

It is likely, however, that leaders within such offices also constitute Islamic State ‘central’ leaders. For instance, the aforementioned Bilal al-Sudani, also oversaw the facilitation of funds to Afghanistan and the Middle East. 

This level of direction implies a bigger leadership role within the Islamic State’s overall global apparatus. Those acting within roles of these regional offices are usually trusted individuals by the Islamic State’s overall leadership. 

For instance, promotions from provincial walis to emirs of such regional offices typically demonstrate a large degree of trust and confidence in the individual from the Islamic State’s central leadership, as was the case with Abu Mus’ab al-Barnawi in Nigeria. Barnawi went from the wali of its West Africa Province to the emir of its Al-Furqan office, much like Mu’min’s own promotion. 

As such, these promotions also indicate that a leader, such as Mu’min or al-Barnawi, went from a regional Islamic State leader to being part of its global management – again indicating those in such offices act within an Islamic State “central” capacity. 

Though entirely more centralized and direct, this is not dissimilar to al-Qaeda’s current globalized leadership structure, with its own Hattin Committee, or “central” leadership, having globally dispersed leaders. 

The U.S. government’s recent designation of Abdiweli Mohamed Yusuf thus has much wider consequences for a large portion of the Islamic State’s global operations and not just inside of Somalia.

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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