ISIS in Congo
TARA CANDLAND, ADAM FINCK, HARORO J. INGRAM, LAREN POOLE, LORENZO VIDINO, CALEB WEISS (March 2021)
This report systematically examines how the efforts of the Islamic State to expand globally and the aspirations of Musa Baluku’s Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) merged in a mix of push and pull factors that resulted in the ADF becoming the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) chapter of the Islamic State in Central Africa Province (ISCAP). Based largely on primary sources, including a unique collection of defector and local source accounts, it tracks the ADF’s evolution from its Ugandan origins to being part of a formal province of the Islamic State, revealing unique insights into the group’s inner workings and its efforts to build transnational networks to support its operations.
The report’s key findings include:
● The ADF’s ties with the Islamic State may have started as early as 2017. By 2018, ISCAP was acknowledged as a formal province of the Islamic State, and in April 2019, ISCAP attacks in the DRC were first formally claimed by the Islamic State’s central media units. The debate should no longer concern whether the ADF has a formal relationship with the Islamic State but rather focus on the nature of that relationship.
● While there is currently no evidence of direct command and control orders from the Islamic State to the ADF, the evolution of the ADF’s operational and strategic activities under Baluku’s leadership suggests that the group is seeking to implement the Islamic State’s aqeeda (creed) and manhaj (method). This is most notable in the ADF’s propaganda output, content, and rhetoric that reflect the Islamic State’s influence on the group.
● There is growing evidence to suggest that the ADF has established communication links with the Islamic State as evidenced by ISCAP’s DRC-based elements featuring in messaging by its central media units since 2019 (although retroactively claiming an attack in 2018). Human source reporting also suggests that financial links have been established between Islamic State entities and the ADF. The ADF has a history of foreign outreach, and it continues to leverage its transnational networks for funding, recruitment, and logistics.
● Given the frequency with which ADF activities in the DRC 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. With formal Islamic State affiliates and pro-Islamic State groups dotted across Africa, the potential for transnational collaboration and the migration of increased numbers of regional foreign fighters may threaten regional stability.
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While this report seeks to address some crucial gaps in the research field, it also aims to bring strategic policy attention to what are urgent security and humanitarian issues in the DRC that are being exacerbated by the Islamic State’s influence.