Islamic State's Central Africa Province
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|Islamic State's Central Africa Province|
|Participant in the war on terror|
Logo of the Islamic State's Central Africa Province
|Active||2018(?) – present|
|Ideology||Salafist Jihadist Islamism|
|Part of||Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant|
Democratic Republic of the Congo
|Battles and war(s)||Kivu conflict|
Insurgency in Cabo Delgado
The Central Africa Province (abbreviated IS-CAP, also known as Central Africa Wilayah and Wilayat Wasat Ifriqiya) is an administrative division of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), a Salafi jihadist militant group and unrecognised proto-state. As result of a lack of information, the foundation date and territorial extent of the Central Africa Province are difficult to gauge, while the military strength, and activities of the province's affiliates are disputed. According to pro-ISIL media and some other sources, the Central Africa Province has a presence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo as well as Mozambique. In September 2020, IS-CAP shifted its strategy from raiding to actually occupying territory, and declared the Mozambican town of Mocímboa da Praia its capital.
Background and foundation
Following its seizure of much territory in Syria as well as Iraq, and its proclamation of a restored caliphate, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) became internationally well known and an attractive ally to extremist Jihadist Islamist groups around the world. Several rebel groups in West Africa, Somalia and the Sahara swore allegiance to ISIL; these factions grew in importance as ISIL's core faction in the Middle East declined. Despite the growing importance of pro-ISIL groups in western, northern, and eastern Africa, no major ISIL faction sprang up in central and southern Africa for years. A faction known as the "Islamic State in Somalia, Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda" was set up in April 2016, but was only active in Somalia as well as Kenya for a short time.
In October 2017, a video emerged on pro-ISIL channels that showed a small number of militants in the Democratic Republic of the Congo who claimed to be part of the "City of Monotheism and Monotheists" (MTM) group. The leader of the militants went on to say that "this is Dar al-Islam of the Islamic State in Central Africa" and called upon other like-minded individuals to travel to MTM territory in order to join the war against the government. The Long War Journal noted that though this pro-ISIL group in Congo appeared to be very small, its emergence had gained a notable amount of attention from ISIL sympathizers. There were subsequently disputes about the nature of MTM. The Congo Research Group (CRG) argued in 2018 that MTM was in fact part of the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), an Islamist group that has waged an insurgency in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo as well as neighboring Uganda for decades. Some experts believed that the ADF had begun to cooperate with ISIL, and that MTM was its attempt to publicly garner support from Islamic State loyalists. ISIL's self-proclaimed caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi first mentioned a "Central Africa Province" in a speech in August 2018, suggesting that this branch already existed beforehand.
By mid-2018, the African Union claimed that Islamic State militants had infiltrated northern Mozambique, where the Islamist rebels of Ansar al-Sunna[a] had already waged an insurgency since 2017. In May 2018, some Mozambican rebels posted a photo of themselves posing with a black flag which was used by ISIL, but also other Jihadist groups. Overall, the presence of ISIL in Mozambique remained disputed at the time, and the country's police strongly denied that Islamic State loyalists were active in the area.
Several Jihadist news outlets such as the Amaq News Agency, Nashir News Agency, and Al-Naba newsletter declared in April 2019 that the Islamic State's "Central Africa Province" had carried out attacks in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo. This marked the first time that IS-CAP had actually emerged as tangible entity. The first purported raids by ISIL's Central Africa Province targeted the Congolese Armed Forces (FARDC) at the village of Kamango and a military base at Bovata on 18 April; both localities are near Beni, close to the border with Uganda. It remained unclear how many militants in the Congo had actually joined ISIL; journalist Sunguta West regarded the declaration of the Central Africa Province as an attempt by a weakened ISIL "to boost its ego and project strength" after its defeats in Syria and Iraq. A photo released by the Al-Naba newsletter showed about 15 purported IS-CAP members. The Defense Post argued that one splinter faction of the ADF had possibly joined IS-CAP, while the ADF's official leadership had made no bay'ah ("oath of allegiance") to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi or ISIL in general. Researcher Marcel Heritier Kapiteni generally doubted whether Islamic State followers had been involved in the attacks at all, arguing that IS-CAP might be no more than a propaganda tool in a "media war". According to him, "DRC's terrain is not socially favorable to radical Islam".
On 4 June 2019, ISIL claimed that its Central African Province had carried out a successful attack on the Mozambique Defence Armed Forces (FADM) at Mitopy in the Mocímboa da Praia District, Mozambique. At least 16 people were killed and about 12 wounded during the attack. By this point, ISIL considered Ansar al-Sunna as one its affiliates, though how many Islamist rebels in Mozambique were actually loyal to ISIL remained unclear. The Defense Post argued that it was impossible to judge whether the attack had been carried out by IS-CAP or another armed group due to the lack of information on the rebels in Mozambique. In any case, the Mozambique police once again denied that any ISIL elements were active in the country. In October 2019, IS-CAP carried out two ambushes against Mozambican security forces and allied Russian Wagner Group mercenaries in Cabo Delgado Province, reportedly killing 27 soldiers. In contrast to its growing presence in Mozambique, IS-CAP's operations in the Congo remained small in scale and number by late 2019. Researcher Nicholas Lazarides argued that this proved the ADF's non-alignment with ISIL, suggesting that IS-CAP was indeed just a splinter faction. Accordingly, the Central Africa Province's main importance laid in its propaganda value and its future potential to grow through its connections with the well-established, well-known ISIL core group.
Increased activity in Mozambique and the Congo
The Central Africa Province officially pledged allegiance to ISIL's new caliph Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurashi on 7 November 2019. On 7 April 2020, IS-CAP fighters massacred 52 civilians in Xitaxi village of northern Mozambique when they refused to join their forces. Later that month, the Mozambican authorities admitted for the first time that Islamic State followers were active in the country. On 27 June, IS-CAP troops occupied the town of Mocímboa da Praia for a short time, causing many locals to flee. The Islamic State's al-Naba newsletter consequently touted IS-CAP's alleged successes in Mozambique, claiming that the "Crusader Mozambique army" and the "mercenaries of the Crusader Russian intelligence apparatus" (a.k.a. the Wagner Group) were being driven back by the local Islamic State forces. By this time, South Africa had sent special forces to assist the Mozambican security forces against the rebels, including IS-CAP.
In addition, IS-CAP greatly increased its attacks in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, with 33 operations from mid-April to July. Its most notable strike took place on 22 June, when Islamic State fighters ambushed Indonesian MONUSCO peacekeepers near Beni, killing one and injuring another. On 11 August 2020, IS-CAP defeated the Mozambique Defence Armed Forces and once more managed to take over the town of Mocimboa da Praia in a major offensive. The Jihadists also proclaimed to have captured several other settlements as well as two military bases around the town, seizing significant amounts of weaponry and ammunition. The rebels subsequently declared Mocímboa da Praia the capital of their province, and further expanded their holdings by capturing several islands in the Indian Ocean during September, with Vamizi Island being the most prominent. All locals were forced to leave the islands, and the local luxury hotels were all torched.
- The group is also known by a variety of other names, such as "Ahlu Sunnah Wa-Jama" and "al-Shabaab".
- West (2019), p. 7.
- Warner & Hulme (2018), p. 25.
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- West (2019), pp. 7–8.
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- Lazarides (2019), pp. 5–6.
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- "Insurgents Kill 8 Gas Project Workers in Northern Mozambique". Defense Post. 6 July 2020. Retrieved 28 July 2020.
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- Warner, Jason; Hulme, Charlotte (2018). "The Islamic State in Africa: Estimating Fighter Numbers in Cells Across the Continent" (PDF). CTC Sentinel. West Point, New York: Combating Terrorism Center. 11 (7): 21–28.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
- West, Sunguta (31 May 2019). "Has Islamic State Really Entered the Congo and is an IS Province There a Gamble?" (PDF). Terrorism Monitor. Jamestown Foundation. 17 (11): 7–9.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
- Lazarides, Nicholas (6 November 2019). "Islamic State Central Africa Province: Rebranding or Coopting of ADF Faction" (PDF). Terrorism Monitor. Jamestown Foundation. 17 (21): 5–6.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)