Islamic State Province’s Media in Africa: Comparing Trends in West and Central Africa

    Publication: Terrorism Monitor Volume: 19 Issue: 24

    By: Daniele Garofalo

    December 16, 2021

    In analyzing the media of the Islamic State (IS), it is possible to observe numerous trends and compare “provinces” by observing photographs and videos, including choice of clothing, equipment, or weapons. A region of IS media expansion in recent years is Africa, with several officially recognized and active provinces producing different types of propaganda , including both formal and informal material of varying quality. In this article, the media of the two most active African provinces will be analyzed: Islamic State in West Africa Province’s (ISWAP) Nigerian (often wrongly called “Boko Haram”) and Sahelian (“Islamic State in Greater Sahara”) branches, and Islamic State in Central African Province’s (ISCAP) Congolese and Mozambican branches. [1]

    Islamic State Greater Sahara (ISGS)’s Mostly Unofficial Media Productions

    Since spring 2019, ISGS has been an official part of IS, including its centralized media apparatus. However, ISGS remains operationally independent primarily throughout the Sahelian region of Liptako-Gourma between Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso. ISGS has also continued to rely on its rudimentary media infrastructure, often releasing unofficial photographs and videos. These self-produced media materials are released in colloquial languages to local audiences, very often with low quality images and audio disseminated via closed WhatsApp and Telegram groups (GNET, October 27, 2020).

    Formal incorporation into IS nevertheless strengthened ISGS media in quantity and quality, but did not end unofficial productions. In May 2020, the first official ISGS video (under the name “ISWAP”) was released in high quality and titled “Then It Will Be for Them A [Source Of] Regret” (Jihadology, January 10, 2020). In the following period, numerous official media materials, mainly photographs, followed, especially between January and June 2021, and focused on major operations or Eid festivities. ISGS militants could be seen using, among others, AKM(S) Type 56, AK-103, GPMG model PK/Type 80 rifles (some customized with sights or an AN/PEQ-15 IR laser weapon aiming system), and RPG-7/T69. Even in the unofficial photographs and videos, the same weapons mentioned above can be found. Most of the weapons are recovered from assaults on or seizures of Malian, Niger and Burkinabè security forces. The images reveal how ISGS militants are well supplied and prepared for the use of these weapons.

    As far as clothing is concerned, in almost all photographs and videos, ISGS militants wore headgear (tagelmust), sunglasses, and long cotton shirts of different colors , while some also used camouflage waistcoats or jackets (most of them brown or green) with military fatigues or trekking boots. There was also a large presence of militants in unofficial videos wearing typical local sandals made of leather and reinforced with rubber derived from tires. Again, military clothing is seized and recovered from attacks on security forces, although, unlike ISWAP, ISGS militants tend to wear more “local” and less military clothing.

    Islamic State in West Africa Province (ISWAP)’s Media and Militant Professionalization

    ISWAP’s media is mainly about local operations, particularly against the Nigerian army and, in recent months, against ISWAP’s rivals in Boko Haram. ISWAP is among the most active provinces in IS media, with the release of official material, photographs, and claims almost daily. It also has the most frequent releases of videos, including both short claim and long, high-quality propaganda videos, with three long videos released in 2021. [2]

    In ISWAP’s photographs and videos, different types of weapons can be seen, which were mostly stolen from the Nigerian and Chadian armies, including AKM/AKMS rifles (often customized and Type 56), AK-74 rifles, IWI Tavor TAR-21 and Daewoo K2 assault rifles, RPG-7 and Bulgarian RHEAT-7MA2 rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs), M60 and HK21 machine guns, 60 mm mortars with PG-7V projectiles, Zastava M21 rifles, Norinco grenade launchers, Dshk and W85 heavy machine guns mounted on trucks or pickups, 23 double-barreled anti-aircraft guns, and 122 mm 9M22U rockets.

    Attacks on security forces, meanwhile, are conducted by ISWAP fighters on foot, on motorcycles, in reinforced and armed pickup trucks, and even in armoured vehicles for vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices (VBIED) and suicide vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices (SVBIED). Recent videos and photographs from ISWAP, therefore, reveal an increasingly well-equipped force, demonstrating that ISWAP is not a group of thugs, peasants or militants with no experience in weapons and warfare, but instead an organization with skilled and battle-hardened militants who are not easy to defeat.

    As far as the clothing worn by ISWAP fighters is concerned, compared to ISGS, there is a greater uniformity and propensity for purely military clothing. The majority of ISWAP fighters wear military uniforms, or at least trousers and camouflage shirts (brown, sand-coloured, or green), military fatigues (even though there are some photographs of militants wearing sandals), tactical military waistcoats, military bullet-proof vests, multi-purpose military camouflage balaclavas, ballistic goggles or military ventilated masks, and in some cases, the seemingly highest-ranking commanders wear helmets with hearing protection.

    Islamic State Central Africa (ISCAP) Branches’ Similar Media Profiles

    The operations of the Mozambican branch of ISCAP is concentrated in the northern province of Cabo Delgado, and recently in the province of Niassa, while the Congolese branch mostly operates in Ituri, North Kivu, and most recently, in Kampala, Uganda (Terrorism Monitor, October 21). Most of the propaganda of the two ISCAP branches consists of written claims of attacks and photographs, but no lengthy official videos. IS released a 1:13-minute low-quality, raw footage on March 29, 2020 via its Amaq News agency of an attack in Palma, Mozambique, stating “Islamic State militants take control of the city of Palma in Cabo Delgado following a major raid carried out last Wednesday [March 24, 2020]” (BBC Monitoring, March 30, 2020). This was followed by two more short videos in the following months.

    In all the photographs and short videos from both branches of ISCAP, the militants appear with various weapons and equipment, including Zastava M84 rifles, AKM (S) Type 56, RPG-7, 60 mm mortars, 40 mm grenades, AK-S 47 type 80, and many motorcycles. In terms of clothing, like ISGS, there is little presence of military clothing. Rather, there is civilian clothing, including trousers, t-shirts, long shirts, sweatshirts, and hats often with the addition of camouflage waistcoats that are green in color. In the previously mentioned video, many militants also wore red headbands, which may denote elite units during key battles (bbc.com, March 31).

    In numerous photographs, militants wear black camouflage balaclavas and, in particular for ISCAP, a large number of militants wear black, including civilian clothes such as trousers and shirts, and black and grey camouflage. Another interesting detail is the presence of backpacks (in place of tactical waistcoats), especially in all the photographs of the Congolese branch, unlike the Mozambique branch’s fighters who mainly wear military camouflage. Also notable is the presence of rubber boots of various colours (yellow, green, blue, etc.). These are practical for use in wet valleys and slippery slopes frequently found in areas where ISCAP’s Congolese branch operations.

    Conclusion

    For IS, the use of the media is inseparable from operational and military strategy. It is useful for building sympathy or instilling fear and dread in IS enemies, yet it can only reflect part of IS provinces’ strength. They often show their best weapons and attire, but it is still propaganda. Nevertheless, it is necessary to analyze these videos and photographs to understand that IS provinces in Africa are not poorly armed or unprepared, but groups that are trained and able to move and strike in the territories in which they operate.

    Notes

    1. The analysis was conducted directly by the author on photographs and videos through monitoring. For details related to the weapons used, the author was supported by a fellow analyst and expert in the field: War Noir (https://twitter.com/war_noir?s=20 ).
    2. The latest video in 2021 was the fifth in the series “Makers of Epic Battles.” Two other videos had already been published this year (MilitantWire, November 15). They are also at jihadology and unmaskingbokoharam.com: https://jihadology.net/category/the-islamic-state/wilayat-gharb-ifriqiyyah/ and https://unmaskingbokoharam.com/archived-sources-2/.

    SOURCE

    Evarist Chahali

    Evarist Chahali

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