Islamic State in Somalia Province: Before and After the Death of Bilal al-Sudani

Publication: Terrorism Monitor Volume: 21 Issue: 19

Islamist leader Abdel Qadir Mumin via The East African

Among Islamic State’s (IS) provinces, a majority of their most active affiliates are in Africa; included among these is Islamic State in Somalia Province (ISS). Recently, however, ISS suffered a severe blow when US forces killed a prominent militant leader in late January, alongside nine other fighters (see MLM, March 2; TM, March 31). Al-Sudani was responsible for the growth of IS in Africa and the group’s global funding (SomTribune, January 28). Moving forward, the group will have to reorganize both its leadership and finances, in part because of al-Sudani’s experience in the group since its foundation and his close association with Abdel Qadir Mumin, charismatic Islamist leader in the movement.

Birth and Evolution (2012-2020): Defecting from al-Shabaab

The history of ISS can be traced to 2012, when al-Shabaab leadership sent Mumin to Puntland to carry out a recruitment campaign and to establish an outpost for the group in the mountainous areas of the northern Somali hinterland. The severe operational and leadership difficulties faced by al-Shabaab between 2012 and 2014—to include bitter disputes within and between the various factions—isolated Mumin and his cell, forcing him to operate independently (AllAfrica, September 13, 2013).

The key turning point came in October 2015, when Mumin pledged allegiance to Abubakar al-Baghdadi and sought to join IS (SomTribune, November 2, 2022; see also MLM, October 2, 2016). This caused a violent split in the Puntland group, as only about 100 of the 300 local fighters joined Mumin (Hiiraan, March 26). ISS was formally launched in April 2016, attaining the status of IS province officially in December 2017. In October 2018, the group launched its first major operation by capturing and occupying the port city of Qandala, which it held for several months (AllAfrica, December 4, 2016).

In 2018, the group expanded its ranks by recruiting other al-Shabaab defectors and carried out several attacks in Puntland, with forays into Mogadishu and the south of the country. ISS began collecting taxes in the areas it controlled or operated in, and created small new cells in central and southern Somalia (Nation Africa, April 23, 2017). Between April 2017 and March 2019, a full-scale war between ISS and al-Shabaab ignited across Somalia, raging on to the present day (Hiiraan, March 26).

ISS from 2021 until 2023: Prioritizing Propaganda

Between 2021 and 2022, ISS expanded its propaganda efforts and increased the number of military operations it was launching. ISS, for example, claimed 32 attacks in 2022; they occurred mostly in Puntland and the capital Mogadishu, where the group still operates. Between January and August 2023, ISS also carried out and claimed 13 attacks. [1] Mumin is the head of ISS, with his group numbering around 200-250 fighters. [2] While most of the militants are from Somalia, Ethiopians, Yemenis, and Egyptians are all present.

Central to ISS’s operations is IS’s al-Karrar office; this outpost operates in Somalia, and acts as a jihadist financial hub, transmitting funds to other IS provinces. According to a recent UN report, the al-Karrar office has been sending approximately $25,000 per month to Islamic State in Khorasan Province (ISKP). [3] ISS itself is self-financing, acquiring $100,000 per month through extortion of the shipping industry and illicit taxation. [4]

ISS’s propaganda is, however, inferior to that of its direct rival, al-Shabaab, and its propaganda output is almost exclusively disseminated through IS’s Amaq News agency and al-Naba newsletter’s rare publication of the photos and videos from the group. One example of IS’s Somalian propaganda involved the release of an extensive photo collection in July 2021 of ISS fighters performing daily activities; of these, many photos were specifically dedicated to Mumin. In November 2021, another set of photos was released, this time showing ISS fighters training in Puntland. After several months of silence, ISS released another photo report and a six-minute video in mid-March 2022 to reveal its declaration of allegiance to Abu Ibrahim Hashimi al-Qurashi, the new “caliph” of IS (Amaq News Agency, March 2022).

In that video, numerous fighters swore allegiance to the then-head of IS, including several children. Of further importance, however, was a 25-minute video published in Amharic by IS in July 2022, entitled “In the footsteps of the conquerors.” [5] The use of Amharic is notable; while Amharic is the official language of Ethiopia, it is also spoken in parts of Eritrea and Somalia, with some 57 million speakers total, when one includes the East African diaspora. The video showed military operations, training, and the daily life of ISS militants, with a special focus on Ethiopian fighters in its ranks. The video was a clear appeal to Ethiopians, Somalis, and Eritreans to join IS.

Nothing more was heard until December 4, 2022, when official IS media published a photo report, with a short video coming out two weeks later. These both showed ISS’s pledge of allegiance to the next IS caliph, Abu al-Hussein al-Husseini al-Qurashi (Amaq News Agency, December 2022). In January 2023, the next ISS propaganda material to be released was a 14-minute video (Wilayat al-Somal, January 20); entitled “Allah is the protector of the believers,” the video celebrated attacks conducted in the Puntland and Mogadishu areas and displayed the different types of training provided to ISS militants. Also included was a long interview with Abu Salam al-Muhajir, a Kenyan ISS fighter, and Abu Munther al-Muhajir, an Ethiopian jihadist. [6]

The video exhibited and boasted of the group’s military capabilities, in particular hailing the specific training of a sub-group of ISS called the “Internal Security Forces” (a kind of special forces), of which Abu Salam al-Muhajir was said to be a member. Footage of the propaganda includes ISS militants conducting armed reconnaissance (notably, an example of a fight against US forces was shown), monitoring and studying the movements of convoys and enemy forces, assassinations, assaults on convoys, and the use of IEDs.

Abu Salam al-Muhajir said that his path toward jihad began by joining al-Shabaab, fighting for the group until the day Abubakr al-Baghdadi proclaimed the IS caliphate. At that time, his comrades decided to leave al-Shabaab and declare their allegiance to IS. In the interview, Abu Salam al-Muhajir criticized the United States as well as the Somali government and its allies, announcing that “the mujahideen have reached a new stage.” In the second interview, the Ethiopian jihadist (Abu Munther al-Muhajir) criticized and threatened the Somali police and army, alongside the security forces in Puntland. The Ethiopian militant claimed that “the rest of the Somali people will rise against you.” The choice to use an Ethiopian and a Kenyan is not accidental—it is reflective of ISS’s efforts to expand recruitment outside Somalia. Similarly, the choice of a speaker who left al-Shabaab to join IS is not accidental.

As had previously been the case, when the caliph was killed in August 2023 and a new one (Abu Hafs al-Hashimi al-Quraysh) took power, ISS released media demonstrating their loyalty to IS’s new head. The photo report consisted of ten high-quality photos (Amaq News Agency, August 7). Unlike the previous campaign in November and December 2022, this report contained fewer photos, with fewer fighters. A total of four different cells were shown, all in caves or mountains.


The leadership of veteran jihadists like al-Sudani and Mumim has allowed ISS to be resilient, despite constant pressure from al-Shabaab and US counter-terrorism forces. While ISS remains an important threat—due in part to IS’s current focus on Africa—the group does not compare with al-Shabaab in either military or propaganda terms. Particular attention must be paid to ISS’s efforts at recruitment, building support, and obtaining financing by working with Ethiopians, Kenyans, and Eritreans. This may provide new opportunities and breathe life into IS’s Somalian province, even with al-Sudani dead.



[1] The attacks were conducted: on the road between Mogadishu and Afgooye; in the towns of Blay Tadan and Wadi Ja’il, which is southeast of Bosaso, Puntland; in the Karan and Yaqshid district of Mogadishu; and on the outskirts of the capital. ISS hit different targets such as the Somali police and army, Puntland security forces, African Union Transition Mission in Somalia (ATMIS) troops, and politicians. For more information on IS’s operations in Somalia, see “Monitoring Jihadist Terrorism in Africa” and “Somalia: Country Risk Assessment and Security Threat” at and .

[2] UN Report Security Council, “Letter dated 13 February 2023 from the Chair of the Security Council Committee under resolutions 1267 (1999), 1989 (2011) and 2253 (2015) concerning Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (Da’esh), Al-Qaida and associated individuals, groups, undertakings and entities addressed to the President of the Security Council,” February 13, 2023, p. 8.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] As of 2017, there is already evidence of material from pro-IS supporters and sympathizers in the Amharic language, but this was the first output from IS’s official media.

[6] A full analysis of the video is available at