Jihadis continue to target civilians in western Uganda

Photo of Musa Kamusi, the reported leader of the ISCAP unit inside western Uganda

On Christmas day, at least three people were burned alive in western Uganda by militants from the local Islamic State affiliate. The assault marks just the latest attack from jihadis in western Uganda. 

Men from the Islamic State’s Central Africa Province (ISCAP), which is known locally in Uganda and neighboring Democratic Republic of the Congo as the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), have terrorized western Uganda and plotted bomb attacks elsewhere in the country since June. 

On Dec. 25, local Ugandan officials reported that at least three people were killed by suspected Islamic State gunmen in Nyabitusi I, a village just east of the Kibale National Park in Uganda’s western Kamwenge District. This marks the fourth attack by ISCAP in or near the Kibale National Park so far this month. 

For instance, on Dec. 19, at least 10 people were killed in Kyitehurizi, another village near the park. This massacre followed a clash between the militants and the Uganda Peoples’ Defence Forces (UPDF) within the park just a week prior. 

The UPDF attempted to flush the militants out of the park after they killed a woman and abducted her son from Nkoko village, which sits just outside of the park, in early December. The son was later also found executed within the park. 

Interestingly, the Islamic State has so far not claimed any of these assaults in western Uganda this month. This is either due to the Islamic State, or ISCAP itself, prioritizing operational security of its unit, and/or the overall decline of the Islamic State’s propaganda

These series of attacks followed two previous raids in western Uganda in October. Those assaults, which took place closer to the border with the Congo and in Uganda’s Queen Elizabeth Park, left at least five people dead, including two foreign tourists. Those attacks followed an alleged thwarted raid on Mpondwe, a town right on the border of Congo and Uganda, in early October. 

All raids in western Uganda since October have been perpetrated by the same small ISCAP unit that initially infiltrated Uganda from its Congolese bases that month.

The UPDF has killed or captured several of the militants, including the unit’s deputy commander, in a series of clashes with the unit since then. Ugandan troops continue to pursue the small terror unit as it utilizes Uganda’s national park systems in the country’s west to hide. 

The UPDF had identified a known ISCAP commander, Musa Kamusi, as the leader of the attacking squad. Kamusi is a known deputy of one of ISCAP’s most prominent commanders, Abuwakas, a Tanzanian Arab who was instrumental in helping the ADF join the Islamic State in 2017. 

Abuwakas, whose real name is Ahmed Mahamud Hassan Aliyani, was recently sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury Department. 

And to note, the attacks since October follow a large-scale massacre in Mpondwe in June. That raid, which targeted school-children, left at least 42 people dead. The U.S. government has pinned this massacre on Abuwakas. 

Kamusi’s current status remains unconfirmed, though the UPDF reported that he was killed in a clash in the Kibale National Park earlier today. If confirmed, his death would deal a major blow to the remaining militants of his group inside Uganda.

In total, this means that at least 62 people have been killed in western Uganda by the Islamic State so far this year. 

At the same time, other Islamic State cells across Uganda have attempted several bomb plots, particularly in the Ugandan capital of Kampala. For instance, in early December, two IEDs were detonated inside Kampala’s districts of Kabalagala and Nabweru, wounding just one person. The bombing in Kabalagala was quickly claimed by the Islamic State as its handiwork. 

In early November, Ugandan police announced that ISCAP attempted to target a popular music festival in the eastern city of Jinja. This followed warnings by both the U.S. and the U.K. about an attempted bombing at the festival. 

Just a month prior, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni announced that police thwarted further attempts to bomb at least two churches in Uganda’s Butambala District, just west of Kampala. 

And finally in September, at least six improvised explosive devices (IED) were recovered by police as part of a wider bomb plot after one bomber was stopped as he attempted to place explosives inside a church. 

As previously written at FDD’s Long War Journal following ISCAP’s October raids into western Uganda, the group is attempting to foment a small-scale insurgency inside Uganda. This attempt is in response to Uganda’s joint operations with Congo against the group and its bases within the Congolese jungle. 

As the group continues to get pushed out of some of its long-time strongholds, and is kept continuously on the move which disrupts its communication, leadership, and attack planning, it is lashing out against Uganda. And to be clear, it has also perpetrated a series of massacres inside Congo in response to the operations as well. 

The attacks in Uganda’s west are thus likely being used to try to force Uganda to redeploy troops away from Congo to alleviate the pressure against ISCAP there. The increased bombing attempts are also likely in this vein, though Uganda has been a target for ISCAP’s bombings since it restarted its external operations in 2021. 

At the same time, these events are also meant to provide ample propaganda opportunities against Uganda – should either ISCAP or the Islamic State’s central leadership wish to utilize it – as this small unit continues to wreak havoc and other cells around the country continue to plot.

Edit: Updated with information related to the possible death of Musa Kamusi.

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.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,


Islamic state



Al shabaab

Boko Haram