Mozambique: Islamic State Claims Reveal Little About Ansar al-Sunna
Brian M. Perkins
Islamic State Central Africa Province (ISCAP)—which is comprised of a wing in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and one in Mozambique—has claimed responsibility for three attacks in Mozambique since its first reported incident on June 4. The latest claim came on July 25, in which the group took responsibility for killing army collaborators and spies in the village of Makoul in Cabo Delgado’s Mocimboa da Praia district. The announcement came just one day after Islamic State (IS) released the latest episode of its “And the Best Outcome is for the Righteous” series in which a video purports to show fighters from both the DRC and Mozambique pledging allegiance to IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi (Jihadology, July 24). However, questions as to the veracity of the video remain. The uptick of attacks and the alleged pledge of allegiance indicate the worst is likely still to come for Mozambique, but the ISCAP claims reveal more about core IS’ strategy than the nature of Ansar al-Sunna, the group behind the ISCAP claims.
One of the most notable shifts regarding the insurgency in Mozambique since early June has been the public claims for attacks, as Ansar al-Sunna has not historically issued public statements. The claims have also followed core IS’ overall rhetorical strategy of promoting its brand of Islam and condemning “crusaders” and “apostates,” noting in its latest claim that its fighters “burned multiple houses of apostates as punishment for their loyalty to the Crusaders and their fighting the monotheists.” The attacks claimed by ISCAP to date have primarily occurred in the restive Cabo Delgado province and targeted the Mozambican army and alleged government/army collaborators described as “spies,” another phrase common across IS propaganda (Twitter.com/Cmellaniac, July 25).
What is particularly interesting about these claims is the fact that the group has not outwardly or publicly portrayed an Islamic identity—unlike many other IS affiliates across the world. While there is evidence to suggest Ansar al-Sunna subscribes to an Islamic ideology, the group has not publicly promoted its motivations or ideology, and locals have similarly not regularly referenced its ideological leanings. The language used in the claims indicates—which is the case for some other affiliates—that they are almost certainly not coming from those on the ground. The disparities in the two groups’ desire to publicly project their ideological proclivities raises skepticism regarding the level of connection between them and whether Ansar al-Sunna will eventually move further into the IS fold. The fact that the claims have started to coincide with confirmed attacks does, however, suggest IS might have open lines of communication. While the nature of the relationship remains unclear, continued claims by ISCAP will only raise Ansar al-Sunna’s profile and could entice more and more radicalized individuals from neighboring countries, particularly Tanzania, to join the insurgency.
Indonesia: Arrests Underscore Regional Terror Network as Government Sets Conditions for Return of IS Fighters
Brian M. Perkins
Despite some notable successes against terrorist organizations in the past few years, including the recent arrest of Jemaah Islamiyah leader Para Wijayanto, Indonesia continues to struggle to contain the threat of terrorism and spread of radical ideology with disjointed counterterrorism tactics and politics. In fact, recent developments have made it clear that radicalized Indonesians with links to its local terrorist groups and Islamic State (IS) pose an increasing and broader regional threat at a time when Indonesia, as well as its neighbors, is preparing for the repatriation of IS fighters.
Authorities in the Philippines and Indonesia confirmed on July 23 that an Indonesian couple described as members of Jamaah Ansharut Daulah (JAD)—Indonesia’s IS-aligned terrorist group—were involved in the devastating suicide bombing of a cathedral on Jolo Island in the Philippines (Jakarta Post, July 24). The bombing was claimed by IS and attributed to its affiliate, Abu Sayyaf. A week before they were identified, Indonesia’s National Police uncovered a terror financing network that spans Indonesia’s regional neighbors such as Malaysia and the Maldives as well as countries further afield, including Afghanistan and Venezuela (Jakarta Post, July 26). The discovery stemmed from the arrest of a JAD operative known as Novendri in West Sumatra. The investigation into Novendri revealed a network led by a militant known as S, who allegedly stayed with IS members in Afghanistan and funded the Indonesian couple’s trip to the Philippines.
Several days later, Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo decided to reinstate its military Special Operations Command, a.k.a. Koopsus, to work alongside the National Police in an attempt to stem the rising threat from local terrorist groups. Meanwhile, however, Indonesia is preparing for the return of hundreds of IS fighters/sympathizers and their families from Syria, with Defense Minister Ryamizard Ryacudu setting a simple precondition that the returnees make an oath denouncing IS and agreeing not to join local terrorist groups (Jakarta Globe, July 9).
While it is unclear at this time when these individuals will start to return or what, if any, other conditions will be set, it is clear that Indonesian authorities have largely been unable to track and prevent terror-related activities by those who travelled to fight alongside IS. This includes the couple responsible for the Jolo attack, who were deported back to Indonesia from Turkey after attempting to travel to Syria. Additionally, their return to Indonesia not only poses a threat to the country’s own security but also to the security of the Maldives, Malaysia, and the Philippines—where terrorist networks share similar links. These countries do have security agreements in place but the coordination between their respective security apparatuses has been shown to be deeply flawed by the cross-border nature of attacks and financing networks. As each prepares to receive their own fighters, they should also prep for the likelihood that these individuals, if they do return home, will attempt to make their way to neighboring countries to evade persistent surveillance and rejoin IS affiliates. The governments should work to share the identities of their foreign fighters in order to improve the ability for each to detect cross-border operations.