Recent American reports criticized the Biden administration for ignoring what the reports called “ISIS in the Equator,” and warned that sub-Saharan Africa, after West Africa, might be ISIS's next battleground of violence and atrocities.
But officials in the Biden administration, while not denying violent group attacks in countries like Congo and Uganda, played down their relationship to the main ISIS in the Middle East.
One report, published by Texas-based Bridgeway Foundation, was titled “Denying the links between the Allied Democratic Forces and militant Islamists will endanger civilians.”
According to the report, ISIS claimed its first attack in Uganda when, in November, two nearly simultaneous suicide bombings rocked downtown Kampala and forced the closure of Uganda’s parliament.
The attacks were said to be perpetrated by ISIS’s affiliate group in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which calls itself the Islamic State Central Africa Province (ISCAP) and is known locally as the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF).
The report criticized “Those skeptics who are concerned that acknowledging a relationship between the ADF and the ISIS risks obscuring the region’s local drivers of violence, such as competition for illicit economies.”
Another recent report entitled “The Islamic State in Congo” was published by the Program of Extremism, at George Washington University, in Washington, DC. The report quoted Musa Baluku, leader of the terrorist group, saying: “There is no ADF anymore. Allah willing, ADF ceased to exist a long time ago … Currently, we are a province, the Central Africa Province, which is one province among the numerous provinces that make up the Islamic State that is under the Caliph and Leader of all Muslims, Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Quraishi.”
According to the report, ADF began in 1995 as a militant Islamist movement in Uganda and has held bases in the forests of eastern Congo for nearly two decades. Four years ago, the ADF’s operations stalled, and according to reports from former members, the group faced severe funding shortages and was on the brink of collapse.
Then, in 2017, the group began receiving money from Islamic sources in Kenya and Uganda, and its leader, Musa Baluku, pledged allegiance to ISIS.
Another recent report by the Washington, DC-based Jamestown Foundation said that Kenya and the Congo “signed agreements on security and defense amid growing threats from Islamic State in Central African Province (ISCAP)," and that the agreement was signed by Presidents Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya and Felix Tshisekendi of the Congo.
The report added that “Recent massacres by the ADF in North Kivu (Congo) show increasing signs of Islamic State procedures of instilling fear. This relates to beheading videos that resemble what happened in Syria and other parts of the world where this Islamist group operates.”
However, the report echoed statements by some US officials that these violent activities might not be directly related to the main ISIS of the Middle East, and might just be continuations, or side activities, of the decades-old interventions by Rwanda and Uganda governments forces in the Congo.
According to the report, “Civilians in the Congo are increasingly alarmed by Islamist terrorist attacks. However, past intrigues by Rwanda and Uganda in the Congo also remain vivid.”
On the other hand, the George Washington University report, while also mentioning past interventions by Rwanda and Uganda governments troops in the Conge, confirmed Musa Baluku’s ISIS connections. The report added that “activities in the Congo have appeared in Islamic State media messaging since 2019; it is evident that the Islamic State is leveraging these activities to demonstrate that it remains a relevant and active movement with a broad transnational reach, despite its loss of territorial control across Syria and Iraq.”
While this report said it “systematically examines the efforts of the Islamic State to expand globally,” the abovementioned Bridgeway Foundation’s report went beyond examination, and harshly criticized the Biden administration. Driven by its conservative ideology, the foundation’s report warned that “ignoring, or minimizing, this connection makes it much harder to protect civilians against both local violent groups and established players in the global extremist network.”
This report added: “Continued disagreement about the ADF’s links to the Islamic State dilutes Western efforts to assist in finding a durable solution for the group’s escalating violence.”
A few years ago, the Bridgeway Foundation partnered with Human Rights Watch and New York University’s Congo Research Group to establish the Kivu Security Tracker, which employs a strict independent verification methodology to monitor and analyze violence in eastern Congo.
The Bridgeway report said that the terrorists were pushing into new territories and waging campaigns in Congo’s northern Ituri province. It added that Baluku had framed these attacks as a “conquest war,” telling his fighters in a camp speech: “The Islamic State declared a few days ago that we were going to fight and conquer new areas. This is a war purposely to bring more new areas under our control.”
According to the report, last June the terrorist group, “released its first beheading video … Violent, graphic video productions are a hallmark method of other Islamic State affiliates, and the fact that the terrorist group has adopted the practice emphasizes the degree to which the group’s ideology and communications strategy are being influenced by the Islamic State.”
The terrorist group also “began preparing its fighters to use suicide belts, communicating to its members that all great jihadis, including former Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, wore them.”
The November attack in Kampala that closed the Ugandan parliament was carried out simultaneously by two suicide-bombers.