Islamic State In Somalia


The rise of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has complicated issues for jihadist groups operating throughout Somalia. Throughout 2015, ISIS sent communications to al-Shabaab, the leading jihadist group operating in Somalia with the capability of striking the neighbouring countries of Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda, proposing to ally itself with the Caliphate. Unsurprisingly, the leader of al-Shabaab, Ahmed Umar Abu Ubaidah, rejected the offer, stating long-standing allegiance to al-Qaida, and threatened death for those who sought to defy the fatwa.  However, in October 2015, a small faction, under the leadership of Abduqadir Mumin, broke off from al-Shabaab’s ranks and pledged allegiance to then-ISIS leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Henceforth, the group was known as the Islamic State in Somalia (ISS). At the time of inception, ISS had 20 fighters, including its leader. Mumin kept ISS’ operational basis in the Golis Mountains, Puntland regional state, in northeast Somalia.   

Since becoming a fully-fledged group, ISS has three main objectives: 1) extend its reach outside the Golis Mountains, 2) obtain new sources of revenue, 3) counter Al-Shabaab’s presence in its sphere of influence. Following the footsteps of al-Shabaab, ISS manoeuvred through clan politics to get recruits. The leader appealed to his clan, as well as those clans and sub-clans that felt marginalised by Puntland local government and the federal government. So far, between 300-400 have pledged allegiance to ISS, though recruitment beyond the Golis Mountains has been unsuccessful. In Puntland, the group has seized sparsely populated towns, but their short-lived successes came crumbling down following confrontations with the Puntland security forces. 

As a means for revenue to pay its fighters and to buy ready-made bombs or materials to make homemade bombs, ISS extorts businesses, threatening violence and often assassinations when business do not pay ‘taxes’ to the group. The group claims to have conducted 81 assassinations between February 2017 and July 2018 successfully, but local sources and the UN Monitoring group could not verify most of the claims. However, with limited resources, the group is incapable of conducting sophisticated attacks such as those undertaken by al-Shabaab.

The Puntland Security Forces (PSF) have been tasked with eliminating ISS in Puntland regional state. The PSF conducts military operations in the Golis Mountains and within cities in Puntland state like Garowe and Bosasso where ISS has conducted attacks. The Puntland police have also been making headway against ISS with raids on their warehouses and hideouts. In those operations, they have managed to recover IEDs and other weapons, as well as arrest ISS members and sympathisers. The military courts have convicted many of the ISS members, most of whom were sentenced to death by firing squad.

To support the Federal Government of Somalia (FGS), the United States Africa Command (AFRICOM) carry out airstrikes targeting both Islamic State in Somalia and al-Shabaab, whom both operate on the Golis mountains. Though most of the airstrikes have killed foot soldiers, the deputy head of ISS, Abdulhakim Dhuqub was also killed. The combined efforts by PSF and AFRICOM has significantly limited ISS activities mainly in Puntland, as well as their inability to attract recruits. Currently, there is a periodic conflict between ISS and al-Shabaab, with al-Shabaab’s military wing – Amniyat, being utilised to kill ISS members and sympathisers.


Where: Northeast Somalia

Active base: The Golis Mountains, Puntland regional state. There are independent clandestine chapters of ISS operating in Southern Somalia, but not much is known

Founded: End of 2015

Goal: The general goal of ISS is to create an Islamic Caliphate in Somalia.

Target: ISS target government and military officials

Type of attacks: Close quarter assassinations and improvised explosive device (IEDs)

Fighters: 300 – 400 fighters (2019 figures); Currently, it is estimated that the group has between 300 and 400-foot-soldiers. The number of foreign fighters, if any, is unknown.

People killed:  Estimated 30 people – mostly government and military officials; The group claims the number of people killed is much higher

Current situation: Currently, ISS is actively conducting a terror campaign against military officials though planting IEDs and close-quarter assassination. In February 2020, 15 al-Shabaab fighters, including one foreign fighter, defected to the ISS. 

Key Actors

The Islamic State in Somalia (ISS) is one of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) affiliates. ISS, led by Abdul Qadir Mumin, splintered from al-Shabaab in October 2015 to become an independent jihadist group. The group has appealed to al-Qaida affiliates throughout the world and those marginalised in Somalia using social media. Four years after its founding, ISS is struggling to expand its influence outside the Golis mountains and the nearest villages. Currently, it is estimated that ISS has between 300 and 400 fighters. The statistics do not factor the deaths of members following airstrikes and those who have been arrested by the Puntland Security Forces. In addition to their inability to expand its reach, the group struggles to find a steady source of income. Similar to al-Shabaab, ISS extorts businesses in Garowe and Bosasso in Puntland state and Mogadishu. Unlike al-Shabaab, the group has not managed to create checkpoints on the road which taxes vehicles and passengers that use the facility. Without the human resources and finances, the Islamic State in Somalia is only capable of close-quarter assassinations and plant improvised explosive devices on the road targeting government and military officials. Members of the business community have been assassinated, mostly because they refused to pay ‘taxes’ to the extremist group.

Abdu Qadir Mumin is the founder and Emir of the Islamic State in Somalia (ISS). Munim was born in Somalia but lived in Sweden and the United Kingdom, gaining citizenship in the latter. In the UK, he had a well-known reputation for being an extremist cleric. Mumin returned to Somalia in 2010 to fight alongside Al-Shabaab. In 2012, he was sent by then al-Shabaab leader, Godane, who was killed by a US airstrike in 2014, to the Puntland regional state. He was tasked with attracting recruits while building a more substantial base in Northern Somalia. Until that point, Al-Shabaab’s sphere of influence was southern Somalia. In 2014, Mumin became al-Shabaab’s Emir of Puntland after then-leader Mohamed Said Atom surrendered to Puntland Security Forces. In October 2015, Emir Mumin defied orders from al-Shabaab, declaring his allegiance to then-Emir of ISIS, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Since then, Mumin has been leading the Islamic State in Somalia (ISS).

The Puntland Security Forces (PSF) have been tasked with destroying ISS in Puntland regional state. The PSF conduct military operations in the Golis Mountains and within cities in Puntland state like Garowe and Bosasso where ISS has conducted attacks. Additionally, the PSF carry out operations on the population where they talk to the locals, especially those in the Golis Mountains, to urge the community to work alongside the government to eradicate both ISS and al-Shabaab from the area.

The Puntland police occasionally raid warehouses and hideouts in control of ISS. In those operations, they have managed to recover IEDs and other weapons, as well as arrest ISS members and sympathisers. The military courts have convicted many of the ISS members, most of whom were sentenced to death by firing squad.

The United States’ involvement has primarily been to assist with the counterterrorism efforts against extremist groups, i.e. al-Shabaab and Islamic State in Somalia. The counterterrorism efforts, conducted by United States Africa Command (AFRICOM), are part of the broader strategy of decapitation. Decapitation is the killing and/or arresting of leaders and high-ranking officials with the assumption that without such individuals, the group will not operate effectively, therefore, causing its demise.  Since ISS is still at its infancy, the US has been conducting few airstrikes against the case. Though the case, they have managed to kill the deputy Emir of ISS. 


Abdiqadir Mumin and 20 of his followers break from al-Shabaab and pledge loyalty to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISS). The formal allegiance comes after ISIS attempted to get al-Shabaab to defect to the group and abandon al-Qaida. The formal allegiance also comes just a month after the leader of al-Shabaab, Abu Ubaidah, issued an internal memo stressing that the group’s loyalty will remain with al-Qaida and the group will retaliate against ISIS supporters with the group.

Sheikh Hussein Abdi Gedi, and four others, are ambushed by al-Shabaab near Gudedley village in Middle Juba region, southern Somalia.  Gedi, who was al-Shabaab’s deputy governor of the Juba region, is believed to have defected to Islamic State in Somalia. 

The governor of Bari region, Puntland regional state in Somalia, Yusuf Mohamed Dhedo, claimed that Puntland Security Forces (PSF) have killed seven militants allied to ISS. The clash took place while the militants attempted to lay down Improvised Explosive Device (IED) on the road frequently used by the government soldiers. During the confrontation, three PSF were injured.

Local reports indicate that al-Shabaab fighters target Islamic State in Somalia militants near Timirshe village in Puntland region.  The number of casualties has yet been reported nor have either side commented on the incident. 

The Islamic State in Somalia releases a video highlighting its “Commander Sheikh Abu Numan training camp,” located somewhere in the Puntland region, northern Somalia. The training camp is named after Bashir Abu Numan, a former commander killed by al-Shabaab after he defected to the IS-Somalia. The Emir, Mumin, appears in the video where he renews the group’s allegiance to the ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.  

The former director fo the US-backed Puntland Intelligence Agency (PIA), Abdi Hassan Hussein, says that the IS-Somalia has been setting up training camps in the Golis region in Puntland. He adds that the ISIS sent trainers to inspect the bases and training camps. The group, which started with between 20 and 30 fighters, has been recruiting more fighters. He estimates that the group now has between 1000 and 150 fighters. Hussein claims that the group receives military supplies – weapons, and uniforms –  from Yemen. 

50 heavily armed Islamic State in Somalia fighters attempt to take over the port town of Qandala in Puntland regional state. Qandala is 90KM east of Bosaso, the main port city and economic hub of Puntland. ISS was able to briefly take Qandala because the majority of the town belong to Majerteen clan, the clan for the leader of ISS, Mumin. Additionally, minority clans increasingly felt marginalised by the local government. They claimed victory over the town with placing the ISIS flag on top of the district commissioner’s headquarters. Many of the residents flee the town fearing confrontation between the extremists and the government forces.

Military officials in Puntland are caught unaware by the surprise attack.  Since placing their flag on the government building, the military deploys gunboats to the area to stop any shipments by militant groups in Yemen. 

After a month and a half of fighting, the Puntland Security Forces (PSF) retake Qandala from the extremist group. The town was recaptured by land and sea just after 10 am triggering IS-Somalia fighters to flee Qandala.  The fight to retake the town is slowed down by the terrain with narrow roads. Upon taking the city, the PSF enter each home ensuring that lingering IS-Somalia fighters are captured. The fleeing militants, including Senior Commander Mahad Moallim, are spotted in Gurur village, south of Qandala. 

The PSF claims to have killed 30 IS-Somalia fighters and wounding 35 others. 

Puntland Security Forces (PSF) claims to have destroyed a base belonging to the Islamic State in Somalia. The base is located in El Ladid, 30km south of Qandala, the town which the PSF recaptured from the extremist group. PSF claims the base was used by the group to regroup and make a military build-up following the defeat in Qandala. 

Days after abducting nine people, residents in Qandala town find three decapitated bodies on the road. The abducted included off-duty soldiers returning from areas where the troops were battling IS-linked fighters.  According to a local elder, the bodies showed signs of torture. 

The Islamic State in Somalia claims suicide bombing and assault on the Villae Hotel in Bosaso, northern Somalia. The attack left at least four security guards and two gunmen dead.  The number of attackers varies in local and international media, with the numbers between 3 and 7 gunmen. 

A suspected Islamic State in Somalia roadside bombing kills one soldier and wounds another. The attack took place outside Qandala resulting in a gunbattle. Though the group has not claimed the attack, regional government officials have placed the blame on IS-Somalia.

A suspected ISS roadside IED kills 8 Puntland soldiers. The group does not claim responsibility for the attack.

Islamic State in Somalia claims responsibility for a suicide bombing in the Puntland region in northern Somalia.  A suicide bomber blew himself up at a police checkpoint, killing five people and injuring another twelve people. According to witnesses, the suicide bomber detonated the bomb when he was stopped by a soldier at the checkpoint. 

Puntland Security Force say a militant linked to the Islamic State in Somalia has surrendered to government forces in Bari region, Puntland state.  The suspect, identified as Abdullahi Mohamed Saed, surrendered at Ja’el town. 

Islamic State in Somalia claims responsibility for the bombing in the port city of Bosaso.  According to witnesses, a man pushing a wheelbarrow laden with explosives approached the central police station and detonated the device. The bomb killed the bomber and injured six others.  Minutes after the wheelbarrow attack, a second explosion could be heard.  The second explosion, an improvised explosive device (IED), did not cause any casualties. 

This is the fourth attack that IS-Somalia has claimed between October 2015 and October 2017. There is suspicion that the group has conducted more attacks but they have not claimed. 

The regional president of Puntland region, Abdiweli Mohamed Ali “Gaas” comfirms that the US airstrike on 3 November targeted the leader of IS-Somalia, Sheikh Abdulkadir Munin. President Ali said, “Based on the information we have been told by our security agencies, Mumin is still alive and is not dead following 2-day U.S. airstrikes targeted on pro-ISIL militants in the area.” 

The airstrike killed 20 militants, including a foreign fighter from Sudan and two Arabs from an unknown origin. 

A UN report raises alarm over the growing Islamic State influence in Northern Somalia. The UN says that the group has grown from two dozen at its inception to at least 200 in 2017.  The UN says that the vast majority of the fighters are Somali. They have links with other extremist groups in Yemen.  The UN investigation also says that the fighters have received money from the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) 

AFRICOM’s first airstrike against Islamic State in Somalia kills two militants. Less than two weeks later, the US conducts three airstrikes within 24 hours targeting both ISS and al-Shabaab operating in Puntland region. One of the airstrikes takes place in Buqu, which is one of the four ISS operations centres in Puntland, according to an ISS defector.

Note: According to Puntland senior intelligence officials, the US airstrike killed at least 20 militants, not two as AFRICOM claims.

The Islamic State in Somalia was featured in an ISIS video released a video titled “Hunt Them Down, O Montotheists.” ISIS has called on its fighters globally to increase attacks during the holidays.  Specifically to Islamic State in Somalia, the video shows the Emir Mumin as he lectures fighters, as well as scenes from the training camps. 

US department of treasury lists Mohamed Mirre Ali Yusuf as a designated global terrorist. The US views him as a financial operative who provides funds to US-designated terrorist Abdulqadir Mumin, who is the leader of IS-Somalia. Yusuf, also known as Soodareeri, is a Bosasso-based Somali businessman who has been accused of arms trafficking by UN Monitoring Group.

Note: Though the US has placed him on a terror list, UN monitoring group believes it is unlikely that Yuuf is an IS-Somalia member or a facilitator.

The US State Department designates IS-Somalia and its deputy head, Mahad Moalima, as global terrorists.

Somali police claim to have arrested a suspected IS-Somalia member, named Jama Hassan Hussein, while he was planting an IED. Electronic copies of Dabiq magazine, a defunct ISIS publication, was also found in his possession. The police chief said that Hussein was originally an al-Shabaab member but defected to ISS. Following his arrest, he was handed over to the National Intelligence and Security Agency (NISA). ISS has not made any comments following news of Hussein’s capture.

Jama Hussein was arraigned in court on 19 July 2018 and charged with planting IEDs and recording attacks for ISS. During his court trial, the prosecution claimed had previously taken part in fighting between ISS and Puntland forces, though UN Monitoring Group’s evidence does not support those claims.

IS-Somalia claims to have killed a Somali National Intelligence and Security Agency officer in Elasha suburb in Mogadishu. Though the group makes this claim, no local media reported the incident.

Somalia’s National Intelligence and Security Agency (NISA) arrests two suspected IS-Somalia members in Mogadishu, Mahid Mohamud Abdi, also known as Abtidoon, and Moahumed Dahir Warsamow, also known as Dr Rage. NISA claims that one of the suspects shot and killed a traffic officer in broad daylight.

Mohamud Abdi was accused of founding an ISS branch in Southern Somalia independent from the Puntland faction while Warsamow was accused of being a finance officer for the group. Both men were sentenced to 15 years in prison on 2 August.

Suspected Islamic State militants assassinated three people, two soldiers and a civilian, in Mogadishu near Elasha Biyaha village. The civilian was a student, identified as Shador Dahir Hassan, who was gunned down outside a mosque.  Islamic State in Somalia claimed the shooting, releasing videographic proof of the incidents. 

An investigative report by a local Somali reveals that the Islamic State in Somalia has been imposing heavy taxes on local businesses in Bosaso, Puntland Region, Somalia. The local businesses tend to adhere to the taxation calls due to fear of retribution from the group, especially after businessmen who refused to pay were gunned down.  It is estimated that the group receives $72,000 in monthly revenue from the city of Bosaso alone. 

The Islamic State in Somalia claimed responsibility for the Bosaso, Puntland region, attack. The assault resulted in the deaths of three Ethiopian migrants at the business centre int the port city of Bosaso.

This is the first IS-Somalia attack on foreigners in Puntland. 

In a recent issue of Islamic State’s weekly Al Naba newsletter, the Islamic State in Somalia warns al-Shabaab of an impending clash between the two sides. The article accuses al-Shabaab of provoking conflict, through the sustained assassination campaign against supporters of IS-S. 

Somali businesses and analysts say that IS-Somalia and Al-Shabaab are targeting companies to an unprecedented degree with demands for so-called taxes. Since IS-Somalia is a product of al-Shabaab, they are using taxation of businesses to have funds to support its activities in Puntland regional state and other parts of the country, including Mogadishu. When a company do not pay the expected tax, some have been killed or injured by Islamic State. On 7 August, Islamic State militants killed Abdullahi Ali Omar, a telecommunication officer, in Bosasso for not paying taxes to the group. The group is also behind recent shootings of at least eight employees of Hormuud, the country’s largest telecommunications company.  Somali intelligence sources say that IS-Somalia set 7 August outside Mogadishu Salama bank on 14 September after the bank defied the group’s extortion demands. Three days later, unidentified gunmen possibly tied to ISS attacked senior bank officials who miraculously survived the attack despite his car being sprayed by bullets.

Islamic State in Somalia claims to have killed at least 14 al-Shabaab fighters after the two groups clashed near B’ir Mirali, Southwest of Qandala. In a statement from IS-Somalia, the group claimed to have captured weapons and equipment from al-Shabaab. 

At least two people wounded in Beledweyne town following an explosion. A car drove over a landmine planted on the road near the house of the former Beledwyene governor, Omar Aden Ibrahim Baadiyow. Former governor was not in the vehicle nor his home when the explosion took place. The two injured victims were civilians, including a young girl. Though no group has claimed responsibility for the attack, officials suspect the IS- Somalia.

A US airstrike in Puntland, northern Somalia, kills the Deputy Leader of the Islamic State in Somalia, Abdulhakim Dhuqub. AFRICOM airstrike targeted Dhuqub, whose real name is Abdihakim Mohamed Ibrahim, at Xiriiro, Bari region. He became deputy after his predecessor Mahad Moalim was killed last year. He was in charge of daily operations, attack planning and resource procurement.

U.S. Africa Command conducts multiple airstrike targeting ISIS-Somalia encampments in the Golis Mountains, Somalia. It is assessed that the airstrikes kill over (27) terrorists.

A military court sentenced a suspected ISIS member, Adan Mohamed Ali (25) to death by firing squad. Adan Ali is accused of killing five people, including civilians and a security official in separate incidents in 2018 and 2019. The attacks took place in the port city of Bosaso, Puntland State and Mogadishu, capital of Somalia.

Islamic State in Somalia publishes photos showing their makeshift camp, the so-called “Dawoud al Somali” training camp, named after one of its military trainers who was killed. The group claims the photo is of new recruits. The camp is likely located in Bari mountains, south of Bosaso. 

The Islamic State in Somalia pledged its allegiance to the new ISIS leader, Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurashi. Abu Ibrahim became the leader of ISIS five days after the death of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. 

The Somali Puntland regional state execute five men found guilty of being members of ISIS and Al-Shabaab. The militants were blindfolded with their hand-tied to poles behind their back before they were shot dead with a firing squad. The men were between the ages of 19 and 39.

At least 30 al-Shabaab fighters, including at least 5 foreign fighters, have defected to the Islamic State in Somalia. 3 foreign fighters are from Yemen while the other two are from Iraq. The five foreign fighters have been sighted at the Any Bake al-Qurayshi training camp located in the mountainous area in Puntland.  Security sources believe that the defected militants are undergoing training then will be sent to southern Somalia to compete with al-Shabaab. 

Local media reports that more than 30 fighters, five of whom are believed to be foreign fighters, have joined the Islamic State in Somalia. Three of the five foreign fighters are presumably from Yemen while two are from Iraq. The fighters were all sighted at the Any Bake al-Qurayishi training camp located in the mountainous region in Puntland.

The Puntland Security Forces announced that a security operation in the town of Bosasso led to the arrest of several individuals accused of being part of Al-Shabaab and ISS. The security forces recovered detonators and other weapons at the terrorist’s den.

The PSF announced they conducted a security check in Bosasso to flush out elements of the ISS in the area. The operation killed at least one ISS militant and injured another. Additionally, a senior ISS officer was arrested, though no details about the individual were revealed. Explosive material was also recovered at the site of operation.

United States Africa Command (AFRICOM) conducted an airstrike against ISS in a remote location near Timirshe, in the Puntland regional state. The airstrike killed at least seven militants. BG Miguel Castellanos, AFRICOM’s Deputy Director of Operations, said, “We continue to apply pressure on terrorist groups and assist our Somali partners in disrupting their operations. We continue our support to rid Somalia of the likes of ISIS and Al-Shabaab.”

On the same day as the AFRICOM airstrike, the Puntland Security Forces (PSF) mounted a ground offensive against the militants in the Cal Miskaat mountain range of Puntland. The gun-battle between the two sides lasted several hours. Local media reports that at least twenty militants were killed while an unspecified number of militants were critically injured. SPF also claimed senior local militant and senior foreign fighters were killed in operation. The foreign fighter has been on the radar of Puntland forces since 2014. SPF recovered two trucks carrying food and explosives    

Leave a Reply