Washington, D.C., United States –
The U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) imposed sanctions yesterday on Abdiweli Mohamed Yusuf, who serves as the head of finance of the Islamic State in Somalia (ISS). ISS is the Somalia-based affiliate of the so-called Islamic State organisation.
ISS is the official Somali branch of the Islamic State terrorist organisation, also abbreviated as ISIS or Daesh, due to its Iraq and Syria origins. The group operates primarily from the mountainous areas of Puntland, one of the Federal Member States of Somalia. Although in the past, it managed to carry out attacks and targeted killings throughout Somalia, including in the capital Mogadishu.
Mr Yusuf has been designated as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist (SDGT) under Executive Order 13224 for “having acted or purported to act for or on behalf of, directly or indirectly,” the ISS, the press release says. The activities, which Mr Yusuf has been accused of heading, include extortion of local communities to extract money, recruitment of new members, and facilitation of the transportation of foreign fighters, supplies, and ammunition for the terrorist group.
The U.S. Treasury report further states that in 2021, the ISS was able to generate an estimated $2.5 million in revenue. Concerningly, in the first half of 2022 only, they reportedly generated almost $2 million.
Gateway to Africa
As a significant affiliate of the so-called Islamic State, IS-Somalia plays a pivotal role in generating revenue, which is then distributed to various branches and networks of the group throughout the continent.
To move these funds, ISS has employed various channels, including cash transfers, money laundering through businesses, hawalas (an informal method of transferring money without any physical cash actually moving; an alternative remittance channel outside the traditional banking systems), bank transfers, and mobile money transactions.
Most of the revenue, totalling hundreds of thousands of dollars per month, is obtained through extortion from financial institutions, mobile money service providers, and local businesses, concentrated mainly in the port of Bosaso in Puntland’s Bari region.
ISS and al-Shabaab rivalry
Upon its inception, ISS even posed as a serious competitor to the other significant jihadist group in Somalia – al-Shabaab, an al-Qaeda affiliate. The two groups clashed several times. A Puntland security source told the Somali Digest that al-Shabaab and ISS had been fighting in the highlands near Balidhidhin, and al-Shabaab seemed to gain the upper hand. This rivalry is probably one of the main reasons for the overall downward spiral of ISS.
Despite its limited reach and number of fighters, the Somali faction of Daesh has managed to wield significant influence within the Islamic State’s propaganda networks. Upon their initial arrival in the region in 2015 and 2016, the group consisted of just about 20 fighters. However, their ranks gradually expanded to include approximately 250 to 300 fighters, including individuals from outside Somalia.