Islamic State in Somalia: A 12 Month Outlook


    The Islamic State (IS) in the Horn of Africa conducts a low-intensity feud with Somalia’s al-Qaeda affiliate al-Shabaab. There are fresh concerns that the two rivals may have closer connections than previously acknowledged. Moreover, IS Somalia associates with Somali pirate groups and the Islamic State affiliate in Yemen. US combat personnel reportedly are driving the group back from several key towns in Puntland. US air strikes were essential in assisting the Puntland Security Forces. Between pressure from the United States and its rival insurgent groups, IS Somalia will find it difficult to expand its operational capacity and grow its ranks. 

    KJ-1: It is highly unlikely that al-Shabaab and IS Somalia will cooperate in the next 12 months. 

    • The US Department of Treasury issued a warning which highlighted the connection between IS Somalia and al-Shabaab [source].
    • The Treasury Department alleges that IS Somalia and al-Shabaab share the same arms trafficking networks. They may cooperate in the procurement of weapons [source].
    • IS Somalia aligns with the Islamic State affiliate in Yemen, as well as various elements engaged in piracy in the Horn of Africa [source]. 
    • IS Somalia targeted its propaganda effort towards former al-Shabaab members. They made attempts to entice current Al Shabaab members accordingly [source]. 
    • These propaganda efforts were successful in gaining several recruits from al-Shabaab as well as several field commanders [source]. 
    • Al Shabaab’s leadership reissued its proclamation of loyalty to al-Qaida and denounced the defections [source]. 
    • A state of all out war was declared by al-Shabaab on IS Somalia in late 2018 [source].
    • In 2018, IS Somalia could expand into parts of Somalia traditionally controlled by al-Shabaab, further inflaming the rivalry [source]. 
    • Al-Shabaab was likely behind the execution of Mahad Maalin in Mogadishu in 2018. Maalin was the deputy leader of IS Somalia prior to his death [source]. 
    • There have been further clashes between IS Somalia and al-Shabaab in Mudug and near Dassan [source].

    KJ-2: It is unlikely that IS Somalia will expand its operational activity in the next 12 months.

    • IS Somalia plays on Somalia’s clan networks to give the impression of widespread support amongst the public [source].
    • Abdulqadir Mumin, the current emir of IS Somalia, is a member of the Ali Salebaan sub-clan. Support by the sub-clan directly links to the group’s survival in Puntland [source]. 
    • IS Somalia uses mob-style extortion tactics to raise funds from the local population in urban areas [source].  
    • IS Somalia attempted to expand its operations into southern Somalia. IS Somalia’s and al-Shabaab’s propaganda arms noted the attempted expansion [source]. 
    • IS Somalia handles a large amount of the illicit arms trafficking in Puntland and is moving large amounts of weapons into Puntland from abroad [source].
    • The Treasury department sanctioned several key individuals involved in the trafficking. These individuals include Abdirahman Fahiye (head of operations), Mohamed Ahmed Qahiye (head of intelligence) and Isse Mohamoud Yusuf, a go between for IS Somalia and Somali pirate groups. [source]. 
    • Security forces in Puntland dealt a severe blow to IS Somalia cells in Bosaso. This forced the group to divert its activities south towards Mogadishu [source]. 
    • The head of IS Somalia’s southern branch is reportedly in custody of the Somali intelligence services [source].
    • US airstrikes in Dari region killed Abdulhakim Dhuqub, IS Somalia’s second in command [source].
    • The Ethiopian security forces repelled cross border incursions by IS Somalia [source].
    • IS Somalia’s affiliate in Yemen lost much of its operational capacity in the last few years [source].
    • The IS branch in Yemen acted as the facilitator for financial networks between IS Somalia and IS Khorasan Province (Afghanistan) [source].

    KJ-3: There is a realistic probability that IS Somalia will increase recruitment in the next 12 months.

    • IS Somalia can sustain a permanent presence in the highlands of Puntland, operating a training base there which acts as the command-and-control center for Islamic State – Central Africa Province [source]. 
    • The ability of IS Somalia to operate in urban as opposed to rural areas indicates a greater capacity [source].
    • IS Somali released several recruitment videos in Amharic geared towards gaining recruits in Ethiopia. There are several recruits currently in IS Somalia from Ethiopia and Djibouti [source].
    • IS Somalia established a new training center in the north of Puntland. The new camp, as well as an older one, are both used in propaganda videos throughout the last number of years [source].
    • IS Somalia showed the ability to attract foreign fighters, most notably from Canada. Canadian national Yusuf al-Majeerteeni is believed to have directly joined IS Somalia from Canada [source].
    • al-Majeerteeni issued a recorded message aimed at young men in the West, where he claimed that IS Somalia treats the locals of Puntland well and provides quality medical care [source].
    • The FBI arrested three men in Michigan for attempting to travel to Somalia and join IS, demonstrating that videos like al-Majeerteeni’s have appeal [source].
    • IS Somalia can recuperate battlefield losses after US airstrikes targeted the group. Despite the loss of combatants, IS Somalia can “offset” those losses through recruitment [source].
    • IS Somalia uses a network of clan-based ties in order to bolster its ranks and drive recruitment [source].
    • They provide financial incentives to prospective recruits, potentially enticing unemployed young men into the ranks [source].

    Yusuf al Majeerteeni, Canadian national fighting with IS Somalia

    Intelligence Cut-Off Date: November 29th, 2022

    Alec Smith
    Alec Smith
    Alec Smith is a graduate of the MSC International Relations program of the University of Aberdeen and holds an LLB in Global Law from Tilburg University. He works in the private sector in field investigations and security.

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