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The Islamic State expands attacks in southern Somalia

02 July 2018 Jane's Editorial Staff

This is an extract from a report featured in Jane's Terrorism and Insurgency Centre.

Since emerging in October 2015, pro-Islamic State forces in Somalia have operated at a relatively low tempo, although the group's activities intensified through 2017 and expanded south to the capital Mogadishu at the end of the year. Jane's examines the group's operational trajectory and assesses its current threat and capability level.

Key Points

  • In late 2017, pro-Islamic State forces in Somalia began expanding operations from the northern region of Puntland into the capital Mogadishu and areas further to the south.
  • Whereas operations in Puntland have included suicide bombings, assaults, and the short-lived capture of a town, operations in Mogadishu have been characterised by low-level assassination operations targeting the security forces.
  • Although the size of Islamic State forces operating in southern Somalia is unclear, as is the extent of its organizational links to the forces in Puntland, the expansion and increased tempo of attacks underline that the group is attempting to make further inroads in the country despite being targeted by security forces and Al-Shabaab.

In November 2017, the Islamic State in Somalia began to rapidly expand its attacks in southern Somalia, specifically in and around the country's capital city, Mogadishu, and the strategically important town of Afgooye located about 30 kilometers from the former. Pro-Islamic State forces first emerged in the semi-autonomous region of Puntland in northeastern Somalia in October 2015 as a splinter faction of Harakat al-Shabaab al-Mujahideen, and in 2016 claimed attacks in southern and western Somalia and in neighboring Kenya. Its attacks in these areas decreased between January and mid-November 2017 with the bulk of its operations taking place during this period in Puntland. The renewal of a sustained campaign and series of attacks in the south by the Islamic State's forces in Somalia - referenced as Wilayat Sumaal (Somalia province) by the Islamic State's central media apparatus in December 2017 but not in other subsequent releases through affiliated agencies - suggests that it has been able to make new inroads in the region despite the successes of its primary militant Islamist rival, Al-Shabaab, in cracking down on defectors, killing or arresting many, and limiting the Islamic State's further expansion in the country.


Pro-Islamic State militants in Somalia's semi-autonomous Puntland region in September 2017 (IHS Markit)

Expansion of attacks in southern Somalia (November 2017-May 2018)

From 19 November 2017 and continuing through to 26 May 2018, Wilayat Sumaal claimed 25 attacks in or around Mogadishu and Afgooye or their suburbs including the Elisha district in the Shabeellaha Hoose region outside the capital, all of which were conducted using firearms and targeting individuals accused of working for the Federal Government of Somalia (FGS). Most of the targeted victims were accused by the Islamic State's semi-official Amaq News Agency of working for the army (6), police (8), the National Intelligence and Security Agency (NISA; 12), or the Ministry of Finance (1). Amaq released short videos of six of the attacks and the Islamic State's official media network released photographs of four other attacks. In all but one of these videos and photography sets, the targeted victim was shown wearing civilian clothing rather than a uniform or other insignia identifying them as being employed by the FGS. The identities of the attackers were not given.

Of the 10 attacks for which visual media was released to document the assassinations in this six-month period, three were conducted at night and seven during the day in public places including busy urban centers and streets. The majority of the Amaq reports on the attacks did not specify in which districts or areas the assassinations were committed. Of the reports that did identify specific districts, these included Tawfiq (near Mogadishu Stadium), Hawl Wadaag, Hodan, and Bakaara Market in Mogadishu, and the nearby suburb of Elisha in Shabeellaha Hoose region, immediately to the capital's west and south. In the same period, Wilayat Sumaal claimed two attacks in Puntland, the first a 13 December 2017 attack using an improvised-explosive device (IED) to destroy a Puntland regional government army vehicle in the city of Bosaso, and the second a 14 March 2018 assassination of a Puntland police officer.

This is an extract from a report featured in Jane's Terrorism and Insurgency Centre, which delivers a structured, consistent and comprehensive database of open source events related to non-state armed groups. Plus insight and in-depth analysis on trends and driving forces behind global unrest, insurgency and terrorist activities. Learn more.

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