The Islamic State group, essentially pushed out of Iraq and Syria by a U.S.-led coalition in March 2019, has re-established itself in Africa, conducting attacks in 13 countries, capturing territory and establishing de facto governments in portions of two of them in the past year and a half, a report by a West Point-affiliated policy institute says.
The militant Islamists, which went by the names of Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and later by Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), have re-established themselves largely in west and central Africa and the Sinai Peninsula, with its strongest presence in northeast Nigeria, the Combatting Terrorism Center at the U.S. Military Academy says.
“Contrary to what some claimed in the months since the last vestiges of the territorial caliphate in Syria were liberated in 2019, the Islamic State is far from defeated,” the report says, adding that IS has been operating as separate but affiliated military units which go by names such as Islamic State, Western African Province (ISWAP).
“…This dynamic is especially clear in northeast Nigeria and the surrounding region, where ISWAP is engaging in operations that are increasingly audacious, staggeringly brutal, and worryingly akin to what ISIL, as it was known at the time, was doing in Syria in early 2014.”
Besides Nigeria, ISWAP has launched attacks in Niger, Cameroon, Chad, Mali and Burkina Faso.
Similarly, the Islamic State, Central African Province (IS-CAP) affiliate has been gaining territory in Congo and Mozambique, while Islamic State-Sinai Peninsula (IS-SP) has likewise been doing the same in the Egyptian-controlled territory.
“IS-CAP is gaining more strength by the month,” the CTC says. “In March 2020, it managed to take over two towns in Cabo Delgado Province in just 48 hours, a clear sign that it enjoys more than just a foothold in the area. This became even clearer in August 2020, when the port city of Mocimboa da Praia, with its population of over 100,000, was seized by IS-CAP after days of clashes with Mozambican soldiers.”
And albeit relatively small, the Sinai contingent is troubling, the CTC says, because it can be used as a staging area.
“On account of the persistent threat posed by these three African (affiliates) — not to mention the relatively stable presence of the Islamic State’s affiliates elsewhere on the continent — it is paramount that strategic policymakers and military practitioners consider the threat posed by the Islamic State in Africa as a priority, not just a sideshow of the activities of its remnants in Iraq and Syria,” the CTC report concluded.