Brief: Islamic State Spokesman Emphasizes African Focus

Publication: Terrorism Monitor Volume: 22 Issue: 7

Militants on the Mali–Niger border. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Executive Summary

  • Islamic State’s (IS) spokesman hailed the group’s African “provinces” for their sustained expansion. IS has been able to continue to opportunistically consolidate its presence in Africa while global attention is concentrated elsewhere.
  • While IS has focused on the Israel–Hamas conflict to some extent, the vast majority of its attempted attacks have failed.

Africa has been a key area for IS expansion ever since late Islamic State (IS) spokesman Abu Muhammed al-Adnani accepted Boko Haram’s pledge of loyalty to then-caliph Abubakar al-Baghdadi in 2015. Boko Haram would rebrand itself Islamic State in West Africa Province (ISWAP) following this, and under that name became known for a decade as IS’s most powerful province not only in Africa, but also globally, following the group’s loss of its territories in Iraq and Syria in 2019. However, in addition to ISWAP, IS’s other African provinces, such as Islamic State in Greater Sahara (ISGS), Islamic State in Somalia Province (ISSP), Islamic State in Mozambique Province (ISMP), and Islamic State in Central Africa Province (ISCAP), are all on the rise.

IS spokesman Abu Hudhayfah Al-Ansari gave a speech on social media that suggested that the group is now focusing on Africa as much as, if not more than, anytime in IS’s history (see Terrorism Monitor, March 22). This comes against the backdrop of increasing reports that the European set of the African diaspora is attempting to travel to East Africa to support IS and its efforts there. On the tenth anniversary of the caliphate’s founding on March 28, the IS spokesman hailed his group’s expansion into Africa as the main evidence that the organization is “remaining and expanding”—a key claim to legitimacy for the group. Although it may have been a sign of weakness to acknowledge “divisions” within IS ranks in the speech, the “recent victories and conquests” of IS’s Mozambican province overshadowed this admission (X/@Minalami, March 28; X/@ajaltamimi, March 28; Express [United Kingdom], March 28).

The IS spokesman also praised the IS province in the Congo for its targeting of Christians. The fighters there have not only targeted Christians in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, but also across the border in Uganda. These attacks have gone after boarding schools, similar to what ISWAP has done in Nigeria (People’s Daily [Nairobi], June 17, 2023). In reference to ISWAP and ISGS’s continued rivalry with the faction of late Abubakar Shekau and al-Qaeda affiliates in the region, the spokesman lamented the latter group’s opposition to IS’s aims (Punch [Nigeria], November 18, 2023). This was followed by praise for ISWAP and ISGS’s expanded or maintained territorial holdings.

As for IS in Somalia Province, the IS spokesman encouraged the group to challenge al-Shabaab in areas the latter controls. Likewise, he suggested that IS in Somalia Province should conduct operations in Somali cities as al-Shabaab does. While it may be tempting to write off IS in Somalia Province, given that it is much weaker than both al-Shabaab and ISGS or ISWAP, the group plays a crucial role in the global IS infrastructure. IS in Somalia Province serves as a logistics and financial hub for not only East Africa, but also as far as Afghanistan (Hiiraan Online, July 28, 2023). Even with this caveat in mind, however, given the de facto disparities in size, the spokesman’s call for IS in Somalia to seriously rival al-Shabaab was exceedingly ambitious.

While Africa is simmering with jihadist militancy and the continent’s importance for IS can be clearly seen in the spokesman’s speech, the group is at present most concerned with activities in Israel (The Jerusalem Post, April 4). While the group has attempted attacks in the country at an increased tempo, the vast majority of them have failed. Ultimately, IS is an opportunistic organization and therefore will exploit the crisis in Gaza to be seen as a “defender” of Muslims worldwide. Amid the many crises globally, IS’s sustained expansion in Africa has flown under the radar of governments and the international media. This can offer the group breathing room to continue to consolidate its presence in Africa, which is absolutely critical for IS and its continued survival.