A Glimpse Inside the Congolese Branch of Islamic State in Central Africa Province

Publication: Militant Leadership Monitor Volume: 12 Issue: 12

ISCAP Congolese branch leader Muse Seka Baluku (Source: Nile Post).

The Islamic State in Central Africa Province (ISCAP)’s Congolese branch has been expanding its operations from Congo into Uganda, while also officially being part of the same group as ISCAP’s Mozambique branch (Al-Jazeera, November 22, 2021). The leadership of ISCAP’s two branches have remained unannounced by the branches themselves, but recent reporting from Congo has shed light on at least three of the Congolese branch’s leaders. They are Muse Seka Baluku, Nasser Abdu Hamid Diiru, and Elias Segujja (Radio Okapi, December 13, 2021).

Baluku’s key role has been establishing a sustainable self-financing program for the Congolese branch. In particular, this program has focused on the timber trade between Congo, Uganda, and Kenya. He is also among the group members most responsible for the group’s predecessor, the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF, becoming ISCAP because he succeeded ADF founder, Jamil Makulu, who was arrested in Tanzania in 2015 (NTV Uganda, December 2, 2021). Diiru, meanwhile, was an operational commander for the ADF since 2014 and continued in a similar role for ISCAP. Segujja, whose nickname is “Fezza,” is a field commander responsible for ISCAP in Beni, which is the group’s main area of operations in Congo. He also has a role in the group’s financing operations and procurement of supplies (U.S. Department of Treasury, December 10, 2019).

Other key members include Sheikh Lumisa and Abdulrahman Waswa. Lumisa, who joined the ADF as early as 1999 and is now in his 50s is the religious leader, controls the group’s external communications, and functions as a sort of medical doctor for the group by providing members with supplies to care for their wounds. Waswa is the group’s supreme judge. His responsibilities include organizing the group’s Islamic police and ensuring internal discipline (UN Security Council, January 12, 2015). While many of these ISCAP leaders remain at large, the overall military commander, Rashid Hood Lukwongo, was killed in Beni in 2016 when the group was still known as the ADF. His alias was “Mzee Meya Pierro,” with “Mzee” referring to his being an “elder” like Lumisa and “Pierro” being the surname of an Italian soccer star (Chimp Reports, January 13, 2020).

Alarmingly, ISCAP’s Congolese branch has increasingly resembled the Islamic State (IS) core. This is especially visible through  its expansionary campaign in Uganda and in the evolution of its propaganda, having gone from wearing ragged clothing to outfits like IS wears. Further, the profiles of ISCAP’s Congolese branch’s leaders demonstrates that the leadership maintains a diversified organizational structure with different militant leaders managing a wide variety of roles from financing, to logistics, to battlefield strategy, to external communications with IS. These changes are not entirely surprising, however, as the group has historically hosted a small number of Middle Easterners deployed by IS to ISCAP’s jungle hideouts in Congo (Twitter/@kyruer, April 19, 2019).

Previously, other African IS provinces had been underestimated, especially Islamic State in West Africa Province (ISWAP). The growing entrenchment of ISCAP in Beni and nearby parts of Congo, its expansion to Uganda, and its diverse leadership responsibilities and penetration into Uganda also points to the risk of underestimating ISCAP’s Congolese branch. Recent bombings by ISCAP in Uganda, which were carried out by two Ugandans,  reinforce such concerns, as they demonstrate the leadership’s ability to recruit and operate across borders (Twitter/@mobilisingniger, November 17).

The real test for the ISCAP Congolese branch may only be weeks away due to a likely Congolese and Ugandan joint military offensive against the group (Majalla, December 10, 2021). At the same time, Rwanda has been elevating its counter-terrorism profile throughout East Africa, including as far as Mozambique, while also combating what it terms “ADF militants” in neighboring Congo (The New Times, October 6, 2021). If ISCAP’s Congolese branch can withstand these military pressures, the group will emerge stronger than before and will become even more coveted by IS core.