In Bid to Boost Its Profile, Islamic State Turns to Africa’s Militants
The Islamic State group’s self-declared caliphate has fallen, its fighters have dispersed and its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, has been killed.
But two years after it suffered stinging defeats in Syria and Iraq, the terrorist group has found a new lifeline in Africa, where analysts say it has forged alliances with local militant groups in symbiotic relationships that have pumped up their profiles, fundraising and recruitment.
Many of those homegrown insurgencies are only loosely connected to the Islamic State group, also known as ISIS. Still, over the past year, as violence from Islamic extremists on the African continent reached a record high, ISIS has trumpeted these battlefield wins to project an image of strength and inspire its supporters worldwide.
Most recently, ISIS claimed credit for a dayslong rampage in war-afflicted northern Mozambique, where militants with distant ties to ISIS ambushed a key port town. The attack left dozens of people dead, and set off talk on ISIS’s online forums of the establishment of a new caliphate there.
“As an organization more broadly, ISIS is hurting,” said Colin Clarke, a counterterrorism analyst at the Soufan Group, a New York-based security consulting firm. “To improve morale among its supporters, its leadership is seeking to elevate regional branches showing the most promise in launching attacks and maintaining a robust operational tempo.”
The siege on Palma, the town in Mozambique, was the most brazen attack yet by the local insurgency and is part of an alarming rise of brutal clashes involving militant Islamic extremists across the continent.
For over a decade, U.S. military and counterterrorism officials have warned that Africa was poised to become the next frontier for international terrorist organizations like al-Qaida and more recently the Islamic State group.
More recently, U.S. officials have warned that even in its weakened condition, ISIS remains a cohesive organization in its former strongholds in Iraq and Syria, with perhaps 10,000 fighters who have gone underground.
ISIS has forged ties with many of these local insurgencies in what analysts have described as a marriage of convenience: For the militants, the Islamic State brand brings legitimacy and recognition from local governments. ISIS, in turn, has been able to broadcast the local militants’ attacks as proof that their global jihad is alive and well.
文／Christina Goldbaum and Eric Schmitt 譯／李京倫、核稿／樂慧生