On September 14, 2021, a suicide bomber killed at least 11 people and wounded several others at a tea restaurant in Mogadishu’s Wadajir district. Al-Shabaab claimed responsibility.
This first monthly analytical report on open source observations of Jihadi activities throughout the Sahel will focus on the most significant events that occurred in December 2022.
Throughout the Sahel in December groups made pledges of allegiance (bay’a) to the new Islamic State “Caliph” Abu al-Husayn al-Husayni al-Qurashi. The bay’a pledges in the Sahel came from:
The massive output of this bay’a campaign mainly manifested itself through pictures on social media outlets linked to ISIS-affiliates in the region that displayed groups varying in membership numbers. Some pictures and videos counted a few hundred of IS militants, in other cases only a handful of fighters were shown pledging allegiance to the new Caliph.
The bay’a campaign dominated the general output of the groups and channels that are monitored, especially during the first week of December when a massive dataset was collected. This campaign demonstrates the continuing relevance of the “ISIS brand” for groups in the region, which despite a continued operational emphasis on local and regional conflict zones demonstrated that they identify themselves as part of the global ISIS network.
(The original report including all these bay’a messages counted around 180 pictures.)
Islamic State and al-Qaeda affiliates claimed 38 attacks in the region during the month of December 2022. The majority of these attacks were aimed at the armed forces of Nigeria and Mali. ISIS affiliates claimed most of these attacks.
Nigeria : 21
Mali : 16
Burkina Faso : 1
The weekly an-Naba’ online newsletter is the central social media propaganda outlet of ISIS. It featured a number of attacks in Nigeria and Mali:
The majority of these attacks were carried out in Nigeria and directed against the Nigerian army. Convoys, patrol cars and army camps were the preferred targets. The number of casualties remains unclear due to a lack of detailed reports in the ISIS-linked propaganda messages.
All three of the attacks carried out by ISIS affiliates in Mali targeted al-Qaeda. This is likely a reaction of al-Qaeda’s attempt to expand its operational area into ISIS-controlled territory, creating friction points between both terrorist networks in the region.
For example, already in December 2021, a breakaway faction of Boko Haram in Nigeria, called Ansaru, declared its loyalty to the al-Qaeda regional coalition Jama'a Nusrat ul-Islam wa al-Muslimin' (JNIM), a pledge that the group reconfirmed in January 2022. Ansaru operates in northern Nigeria and therefore is a competitor to ISWAP. In Mali ISGS and JNIM begin to compete for operational control.
In one case ISIS-affiliates in Mali also targeted the Harakat Khalas Azawad militia. The Azawad militia claims to be a secular, non-terrorist organization, whose main objective is to defend the interests of the Arab community of northern Mali.
Overall, the number of casualties seems rather low, with the exception of the December 6 attack on al-Qaeda in Gao, Mali. According to ISIS-affiliated propaganda outlets, dozens were killed and wounded in the attack.
An equal number of attacks was claimed by ISWAP. Two attacks were directed at Christian villages in the region of Borno, all the other attacks targeted the Nigerian army. The number of casualties from these attacks is relatively low. No major incidents were claimed. It is notable all the claimed ISWAP operations are concentrated around Borno Province, in North-Eastern Nigeria, the main operational area of Ansaru.
There was also one single claim by ISGS concerning clashes with al-Qaeda forces in the area of Tessit, Mali. The number of casualties is unknown. ISIS-linked propaganda outlets claim that about a dozen al-Qaeda fighters were killed.
All but one of the attacks claimed by JNIM (al-Qaeda) occurred in Mali. The majority of the attacks was directed at the Malian army, with attacks on patrols, convoys and camps. The biggest operation was the attack on an army convoy traveling between Guire and Boudjiguire on December 8. JNIM claimed that it killed and wounded dozens of Malian soldiers during this attack.
An attack was also conducted on MINUSMA forces on December 1, which allegedly wounded 3 soldiers. There was also an attack on an army camp in Soli, Burkina Faso, which reportedly resulted in the death of five Burkinabe soldiers. JNIM also published a video of a Burkinabe soldier held captive. This demonstrates the continuously deteriorating security situation in the country. According to data provided by Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) only 60% of the country remained under (tenuous) government control in June 2022. Since then, the situation seems to have deteriorated.
In December, the number of attacks throughout the Sahel remained significant, but the overall impact seems to have been comparatively low. Although there was not a noticeable increase in the overall number and severity of attacks compared to previous periods, the number of terrorism-related incidents in the region has been increasing for a number of years already, demonstrating the continuing volatility in the region.
The extent of the bay’a campaign conducted by various groups in the region, published in pictures and videos indicates the continuing appeal of the global “ISIS brand” and that this global terrorist networks continues to command a broad base of followers and sympathisers within the region. Therefore, it is likely that ISIS-affiliated operations will continue to increase and stability within the region will continue to decline.
A worrying trend, not mentioned in previous reporting, are the activities of the Russia-affiliated Wagner Group throughout several countries in the Sahel and Central-Africa. At this point the activities of Wagner throughout Africa are most likely more impactful on the overall decline of stability in the region than the operations of Jihadi-terrorist groups. It is most likely that Jihadi forces will clash with the Russian mercenaries in the foreseeable future.
Get the latest news on extremism and counter-extremism delivered to your inbox.