Islamic State in Somalia

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Islamic State in Somalia
Participant in the War in Somalia
AQMI Flag asymmetric.svg
Active October 2015[1]–present
Ideology Salafist Islamism
Salafist Jihadism
Leaders Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi (self-proclaimed caliph of ISIL)
Sheikh Abdul Qadir Mumin[1] (leader of ISS)
Mahad Maoallim[2] (ISS senior commander)
Mohamed Dulyadin[3] (ISS senior commander)
Headquarters Galaga mountains[1]
Area of operations Somalia
Size 100[3]–300[4]
Part of  Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant
Allies Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant ISIL-YP[4]
Somali pirates[5]


 United States
Battles and wars

War in Somalia

The Islamic State in Somalia (Abnaa ul-Calipha, short: ISS) is an Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant-affiliated group that primarily operates in the mountainous areas of Puntland, though has also claimed responsibility for several terrorist attacks throughout the rest of Somalia. Led by Sheikh Abdul Qadir Mumin, the group is estimated to have up to 300 active fighters.[1][6] ISS is considered to be a significant threat to the unity of the Jihadist insurgency in Somalia; due to this, al-Shabaab is actively trying to destroy the group.[7]


Abdul Qadir Mumin and al-Shabaab in Puntland

The origins of the Islamic State in Somalia trace back to 2012, when Abdul Qadir Mumin was sent by the al-Shabaab leadership to its remote outpost in Puntland, far from the terrorist group's primary areas of operation in southern Somalia. As cleric with little military experience, Mumin's role in Puntland was originally to attract recruits for the numerical small and militarily weak local al-Shabaab group, which was led by Mohamed Said Atom at the time. In course of the Galgala campaign in 2014, however, Atom defected to the government, and Mumin was forced to take control of the Puntland group. Isolated in the remote north and feeling increasingly distanced from al-Shabaab, Mumin began to consider himself more and more independent.[1]

Meanwhile, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant had launched a propaganda campaign to convince al-Shabaab to join to them, which was "angrily refused" by al-Shabaab's central leadership; the Somali organization even began to hunt down and kill any dissidents that actually joined ISIL. Mumin, however, long dissatisfied with his situation, pledged bay'ah to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and the Islamic State in October 2015. This caused a violent split within Puntland's al-Shabaab, as only 20 of the 300 local Islamist fighters joined Mumin,[1][8] while the al-Shabaab loyalists attempted to kill these defectors. The small group of Islamic State followers proceeded to form Abnaa ul-Calipha or the Islamic State in Somalia, and to evade their erstwhile comrades, while recruiting new members for their cause.[4] It should be noted that al-Baghdadi and the ISIL leadership did not acknowledged Mumin's bay'ah, instead choosing to wait and see how the Islamic State in Somalia fared.[1]

Rise in power and Qandala campaign

A variant of the Islamic State in Somalia's usual black flag, which is also sometimes used by the group.[9]

In March 2016, an ISS cell in southern Puntland was pursued by al-Shabaab fighters into Mudug; the pursuers were however attacked and completely defeated by the Puntland Dervish Force and Galmudug soldiers, thus unintentionally allowing the Islamic State militants to escape into safety.[7] Over the following months Mumin's followers built up their strength, and by April 2016 they had set up a temporary training camp named after Bashir Abu Numan, an ISIL follower who had been killed by al-Shabaab in 2015. In one of the group's propaganda videos, Mumin blessed the makeshift base as the "first camp of the Caliphate in Somalia". On 25 April, ISS also carried out its first attack on government forces, when one of its fighters detonated an IED against an AMISOM vehicle in Mogadishu.[9] By August 2016, Mumin's cell still remained very small, probably under 100 militants, and was not yet very active. According to the United States Department of State, however, ISS began to expand in size by abducting and indoctrinating boys between 10 and 15 and employing them as child soldiers.[10]

By October 2016, ISS had claimed less than one dozen attacks overall since its foundation, showing that the group was still relatively weak. Nevertheless, the fact that many of these strikes had taken place in Mogadishu, indicated that ISS had become able to operate throughout wider Somalia, not just in its core regions in Puntland.[8] Experts also estimated that Mumin's cell had significantly grown to up to 300 fighters. On 26 October, the group eventually launched their first major operation by targeting the major port town of Qandala. The town had both symbolic as well as strategic significance, as it could allow ISS to bolster their local support and receive more supplies from Yemen. The Islamic State fighters managed to overrun the town, meeting little resistance, and thereafter controlled it largely unchallenged until 3 December. On that day, the Puntland Security Force launched a counter-offensive, and after sporadic fighting for four days, retook Qandala on 7 December 2016.[4][2][1] Mumin's men were forced to retreat to El Ladid, a village 30 kilometers south of Qandala, where government forces once again attacked and scattered them on 18 December.[11] Overall, ISS suffered numerous casualties during the Qandala campaign,[2] but had scored a symbolic victory nonetheless, having captured and held a major town for more than a month.[1] Having established a new headquarters in the al-Mishkat Mountains, ISS subsequently managed to attract new recruits, mostly children and orphans, though also some new defectors from al-Shabaab.[12]

Operations in 2017

ISS is primarily active in the eastern Galaga Mountains, which mostly lie in the Bari region of Puntland.

Furthermore, the Qandala campaign resulted in the Puntland government as well as the African Union taking ISS more seriously, with both taking more steps to counter ISS' growing strength.[1] On 8 February 2017, ISS launched its next major attack in Puntland, with several militants of the group attacking the Village Hotel in Bosaso. A fierce shootout ensued, with the hotel's guards eventually repelling the attackers. At least four guards and two ISS fighters died during the fighting.[6] On 28 March 2017, ISS ambushed a convoy of Puntland soldiers near Qandala. The attackers retreated into the hills after inflicting two casualties on the government forces.[13] On 16 April, the group occupied Dasan village near Qandala, though abandoned it again after a few hours.[12] ISS was also blamed for a roadside bomb in Galgala on 23 April that killed 8 soldiers and injured 3 others.[14] On 23 May 2017, ISS carried out a suicide bombing, which was possibly the group's very first suicide attack. When the ISS suicide bomber tried to close in on the Juba Hotel in Bosaso, he was stopped at a military checkpoint, causing him to detonate his explosives, killing five and wounding twelve.[15][16]

In June 2017, a Puntland military official claimed that ISS had been reduced to around 70 active fighters, and sustained itself by stealing food and livestock from local communities.[17] Regional expert Matthew Bryden, on the other side, said that ISS still had up to 300 fighters and had become entrenched in the eastern Galaga mountains, where it had gained the support of some local communities which felt ignored by the government.[18] Observers also noted that ISS had significantly increased their output of propaganda material in an attempt to sway disenfranchised locals[12] and international jihadists to their side.[3]

After reports circulated in June/July 2017 that Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi had been killed, terror expert Candyce Kelshall said that Abdul Qadir Mumin might be tempted to declare himself the new caliph of ISIL, noting that he had the advantage to be not only "eloquent and persuasive, [...] very savvy and sophisticated", but to also be deeply involved in international jihadism. Kelshall noted that "up until now, Mumin has been held at bay because Baghdadi was such an important presence. Things have changed. He is a clear and present danger."[3]

In November 2017, the United States launched its first ever airstrike againts IS in Somalia. The strike was carried out by an unmanned drone and the US Africa Command stated that several terrorists had been killed.[19]

Supply, support and allies

In its endeavor to build up its military strength, the Islamic State in Somalia is aided by the fact that Puntland's government has only limited control over its hinterland while its military is overstrechted. Peripheral areas are thus mostly ignored by the security forces and instead run by rebellious and infighting tribal militias. As result, local clans (including Mumin's own, the Majeerteen Ali Saleban) are aggrieved by their perceived marginalisation by the government and in some cases ready to support ISS. Such dissatisfied elements are the ones from which ISS receives supplies and recruits new members.[7][12] There have also been accounts, however, that ISS raids those communities which do not support it for food and other necessaries,[17] and to kidnap children in order to indoctrinate and train them as child soldiers.[10]

The group is also directly supported by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant – Yemen Province, which is known to have sent experts, trainers, money, weapons and other materials to ISS.[4] In smuggling fighters and supplies across the Gulf of Aden, ISS works closely with Somali pirates, namely Mohamed Garfanje's Hobyo-Haradhere Piracy Network and another unidentified group that is based in Qandala. These pirates do, however, also supply ISS' rival in Puntland, al-Shabaab, with weapons and other materials.[5]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Warner (2017), p. 30.
  2. ^ a b c Harun Maruf (7 December 2016). "Forces Retake Somali Town Held by Pro-Islamic State Fighters". Voice of America. Retrieved 10 February 2017. 
  3. ^ a b c d Marco Giannangeli (16 July 2017). "British jihadi bids to be leader of Islamic State". Daily Express. Retrieved 7 August 2017. 
  4. ^ a b c d e Harun Maruf (28 October 2016). "Somali Officials Vow to Retake Puntland Town". Voice of America. Retrieved 10 February 2017. 
  5. ^ a b Robyn Kriel; Briana Duggan (10 July 2017). "CNN Exclusive: Somali pirate kings are under investigation for helping ISIS and al-Shabaab". CNN. Retrieved 7 August 2017. 
  6. ^ a b Caleb Weiss (9 February 2017). "Islamic State claims hotel attack in northern Somalia". Long War Journal. Retrieved 10 February 2017. 
  7. ^ a b c Zakaria Yusuf; Abdul Khalif (17 November 2016). "The Islamic State Threat in Somalia's Puntland State". International Crisis Group. Retrieved 13 July 2017. 
  8. ^ a b Caleb Weiss (26 October 2016). "Islamic State in Somalia claims capture of port town". Long War Journal. Retrieved 10 February 2017. 
  9. ^ a b Bill Roggio; Caleb Weiss (25 April 2016). "Islamic State highlights 'first camp of the Caliphate in Somalia'". Long War Journal. Retrieved 27 February 2017. 
  10. ^ a b Bill Roggio (31 August 2016). "US adds Islamic State commander in Somalia to list of global terrorists". Long War Journal. Retrieved 27 February 2017. 
  11. ^ Mohamed Olad Hassan (19 December 2016). "Regional Somali Forces 'Destroy' Islamic State Base". Voice of America. Retrieved 10 February 2017. 
  12. ^ a b c d Marco Cochi (26 May 2016). "The growing threat of Islamic State in Somalia". EastWest. Retrieved 13 July 2017. 
  13. ^ Abdiqani Hassan; Duncan Miriri (28 March 2017). "One soldier killed, one wounded by roadside bomb in Somalia's Puntland". Reuters. Retrieved 31 March 2017. 
  14. ^ "Roadside bomb in Somalia kills 8 soldiers". Herald Sun. 23 April 2017. Retrieved 25 April 2017. 
  15. ^ Caleb Weiss (25 May 2017). "Islamic State claims suicide bombing in Somalia". Long War Journal. Retrieved 27 May 2017. 
  16. ^ Abdiqani Hassan (23 May 2017). "Suicide bomber kills five in Somalia's northern Puntland region". Reuters. Retrieved 27 May 2017. 
  17. ^ a b "Somalia: ISIS fighter surrenders to Puntland authorities". Garowe Online. 6 June 2016. Retrieved 9 June 2017. 
  18. ^ Harun Maruf (9 June 2017). "Somali Officials Condemn Attacks, Vow Revenge". Voice of America. Retrieved 28 June 2017. 
  19. ^


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