Islamic State vs Al-Qaeda: The Battle for the Sahel

The Sahel region of Africa has quickly become the battleground of Jihadist terrorist organisations, Islamic State and Al-Qaeda. This is due to the economic and humanitarian hardships that many of the countries in this region are facing. Both the Islamic State (IS) and Al-Qaeda affiliates have gained a strong foothold in the region. Terror-related attacks increased by 1000% between 2007 and 2021. (Source)  

Both IS and AQ and their affiliates namely, Islamic State Sahel Province (ISSP) and Jama’at Nusratul Islam wal Muslimin (JNIM) are battling it out to be the dominant Jihadist group in the region. With each group conducting almost daily attacks across the Sahel. Each group uses different tactics to achieve its aims. JNIM sees itself as the protector of all Muslims in the Sahel. Whereas, ISSP takes a more hard-line approach and will not accept any compromise in its attempts to create a new caliphate in West Africa.

Key Judgement 1: It is highly likely that infighting between ISSP (Islamic State) and JNIM (Al-Qaeda) will continue over the next 12 months as both groups seek to get the upper hand in the Sahel.

  • Until April 2020, ISSP and JNIM both grew steadily and in unison. This was known as the “Sahel exception”. The exception ended when Abu Yahya al-Jazairi was killed, a veteran JNIM commander and the last man upholding the ‘peace’. (source)

  • Additionally, with both groups in open conflict with each other and ISSP encroaching on JNIM strong between April 2020 and January 2021 they clashed over 125 times. (source)

  • Furthermore, the groups clashed on the 6th of June 2022, in the Tessit region of Mali. (source)

  • Finally, the latest clash between JNIM and IS in Mali took place on the 15th of July 2022, in the Gao region of Mali. (source)

Key Judgement 2: The Islamic State (ISSP) will likely gain more new recruits from Al-Qaeda and JNIM ranks over the next 12 months.

  • After a vast uptick in attacks by ISSP (formerly ISGS) in 2019 along the tri-border region of Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso. Several JNIM members defected to ISGS. (source)

  • ISSP can attract members of JNIM to join them as ISSP brandishes JNIM to be infidels because they seek to negotiate with governments. (source)

  • Lastly, the latest defections from JNIM to ISSP took place on the 17th of July 2022. 11 JNIM members defected to ISSP. Confirmed by ISSP Al-Naba weekly newsletter. ISSP claim to be reaching out to JNIM members over known radio frequencies. (source)

Key Judgement 3: Both Islamic State and Al-Qaeda will likely continue to attack both civilian and government targets over the next 12 months to solidify their positions.

  • ISSP’s latest attack on civilians in the Sahel took place on the 18th of July 2022. At least 10 people were killed in Burkina Faso. (source)

  • Furthermore, ISSP’s latest attack on government forces took place in Niger, on the 18th of July 2022. After which they displayed the spoils of that skirmish. (source)

  • On the 15th of July 2022 JNIM carried out an attack in Northern Togo that killed at least 12 villagers. The deadliest attack to hit Togo. (source)

  • Between the 25th of June and the 1st of July 2022, JNIM’s activities in Burkina Faso increased by 155% compared to the last month. (source)

Intelligence Cut-Off Date: 20th of July 2022

Bobby Payne
Bobby Payne
Bobby has ten years experience in contracts management and business ownership. He is an alumni of the University of East Anglia where he studied history, focussing on Spanish colonisation. He is currently studying MA Intelligence and Security Studies at Brunel University. His research focus is on terrorism and geopolitics.

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