Mogadishu, SOMALIA — A hand grenade attack on a Hormuud Telecom Base Transceiver Station in the Jabadgele area of Elasha Biyaha(Somali: Ceelasha Biyaha) on the outskirts of Mogadishu and a branch office of the in the capital’s Daynile District has raised speculation that the Islamic State Somalia Province (IS-Somalia) may be targeting the telecommunications company. However, while the group has violently attempted to extort Hormuud since 2018, it has continued to establish and maintain a robust extortion network in the capital in the face of pressure from both Somali Government security forces and al-Shabaab.
Decrease in Attacks by IS-Somalia
It would appear the Islamic State had high hopes for its ‘Somalia Province’ at the beginning of 2023. On 20 January 2023, the Islamic State’s official media agency released a 14-minute video of its local affiliate entitled “God is the Guardian of the Believers.” The production featured high-quality footage of the group’s fighters in battle with U.S. and Puntland State Forces Cal Maskad mountain range, improvised explosive device (IED) attacks, and the assassination of police officers and soldiers in Mogadishu. in addition to training footage of well-armed fighters, the video also included a lengthy interview with Abu Salam al-Muhajir, a Kenyan foreign fighter.
However, compared to the 36 attacks conducted by IS-Somalia in 2021 and 32 incidents in 2022, the group has only claimed responsibility for 9 incidents in either Puntland or Mogadishu and its immediate environs.
Attacks in Puntland
Puntland Federal Member State, and notably the areas around the towns of Balidhidin and Tuur Masale in Qandala District and other small settlements in neighbouring Iskushuban District continues to remain the centre of gravity for IS-Somalia. The group also maintains a significant presence around Galgala, Bosaso District, and the Cal Miskaad Mountains
The attacks officially claimed by official IS media outlets during 2023 include:
- On 8 February, in the Ja’il Valley area of Bosaso District, an IED targeted a convoy of Puntland Transitional Electoral Commission workers and their police escort.
- On 25 March, at Bulay Tadan, Bosaso District, a firefight occurred with a Puntland Security Forces patrol attempting to advance on positions occupied by IS-Somalia fighters.
- On 6 October at Bulay Tadan, Bosaso District, a raid was conducted by IS-Somalia fighters on a position held by Puntland Security Forces.
Of note, on 11 January IS-Somalia fighters attacked a Puntland Security Forces outpost near Balidhidin, Qandala District, killing at least one police officer. The perceived failure of the raid to capture the position and the reported death of the IS-Somalia commander, an Ethiopian foreign fighter, may explain the lack of any official statement.
A Weaker but Resilient Network in Mogadishu
While the IS-Somalia network in Mogadishu has also struggled to carry out a similar number of attacks to the 2021 and 2022 periods, it has managed to conduct one operation on average every two months. Incidents claimed in 2023 by official IS media outlets include:
- On 6 January, on the Mogadishu-Afgooye road, either in Dayniile District or Elasha Biyaha area (Afgooye District), an IED targeted a police officer.
- On 12 February, in Karan District, an IED targeted the vehicle of an unidentified government official.
- On 3 March at the Sanaa’ Junction in Yaqshiid District, an IED targeted a gathering of Somali Police Force officers.
- On 3 April, at the KM4 intersection, Hodan District, an IED targeted an African Union Transition Mission in Somalia (ATMIS) military truck.
- On 9 June, a ‘sticky’ or under-vehicle improvised explosive device (UVIED) targeted a Somali Police Force vehicle.
- On 27 July, in Yaqshid District, an IED targeted an intelligence officer.
Notably, the IS-Somalia has [so far] failed to conduct any assassinations or raids using pistols or assault rifles as depicted in the aforementioned ‘God is the Guardian of the Believers’ which showed multiple incidents carried out in 2022.
Still recovering from a Damaging Blow?
The reason for the decline in the number of attacks by IS-Somalia remains unclear. One of the factors may have been the killing of IS-Somalia leader Bila-al-Sudani and 10 other Sudanese fighters on 25 January 2023. Formerly a key financier for al-Shabaab, al-Sudani managed the operations of the al-Karrar office, a key node for the financing of Islamic State operations in Africa and Afghanistan. Likely, the death of al-Sudani at the hands of US Special Forces and the security fall-out caused by the capture of internal documents and records resulted in some disruption to the internal workings of IS-Somalia, contributing to a lower number of attacks during the year.
Extortion is the Lifeblood of IS-Somalia
Still, while IS-Somalia continues to struggle to expand its support base from among the Ali Saleban clan, of which its leader Sheikh Abdiqadir Mumin is a member, the group continues to demonstrate remarkable resilience.
A key factor remains the group’s ability to run shadow taxation and extortion networks in both the capital as well as the important port city of Bosaso. Despite pressure from Somali government security forces as well as al-Shabaab’s feared Amniyaat intelligence agency IS-Somalia has seen its revenue grow from around USD70,000 a month in 2018, to USD2.5million in 2021 and over USD2 million for just the first half of 2022.
As with al-Shabaab, these extortion networks also rely on the threat of violence. In late January 2022, a taxation campaign by IS-Somalia provoked traders in Mogadishu’s Bakara Market to shut their stores in protest and the failure of security forces, and albeit unspoken, al-Shabaab’s inability to protect them.
Cutting-Off Funds Key to Ending the Threat of IS-Somalia
Continued military pressure from al-Shabaab, Puntland State Forces, and even the US military which has conducted raids and around twenty airstrikes against the group since 2017, have failed to dislodge IS-Somalia from its foothold in Puntland and maintain a small but resilient network in Mogadishu.
Federal and State-level authorities will need to be provided with further assistance to help prevent IS-Somalia from moving the funds it makes through extortion via cash transfers, and money laundering through businesses, hawala, banks, and mobile money transfers.
A failure to address this problem will allow IS-Somalia to not only maintain its small but resilient network. The group will not only remain a significant security threat but also remain a key node of support for other Islamic State affiliates in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Mozambique, and Afghanistan if this is not done.