The Bombing in the Democratic Republic of Congo Is a Sign of Islamic State’s Growing Presence in Central Africa

December 27, 2021 | Ryan O’Farrell
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On Saturday, a suicide bombing killed at least five people in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), near its border with Uganda. Likely responsible for the attack are the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), a jihadist group founded in the 1990s, which since at least 2019 has been affiliated with Islamic State (IS). Ryan O’Farrell, in an article published on December 14, outlines the ADF’s history, its terrorist activities, and its deepening ties with IS. The last began after 2014, when the ADF was reeling from a Congolese military campaign against it:

By early 2017, contact had been made with Islamic State financiers in Kenya, and the ADF received transfers of money throughout 2017. In October 2017, a video circulated on unofficial Islamic State supporters’ channels of a Tanzanian man of Arab descent exhorting others to come to “Dar al-Islam of the Islamic State in Central Africa,” the first public mention of “Islamic State” and “Central Africa” as a name for the group and a clear aspirational reference to Islamic State.

When Islamic State began releasing claims and media of ADF attacks in April 2019, it became clear that communications had become sustained and consistent. It was almost certainly no coincidence that Islamic State began claiming the ADF’s attacks less than a month after the fall of Baghuz, the last stretch of its “territorial caliphate” in Iraq and Syria to fall to the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces. While Musa Baluku, [commander of the ADF], saw recognition as a means of securing his position as leader, Islamic State saw the ADF as another front into which it could expand its reach, even if this “expansion” was really the adoption of a local insurgency rather than substantial movement of personnel or weaponry.

The Congolese military thus launched a major operation against the group in late October 2019, just weeks after [the IS leader] Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s death in northwestern Syria. . . . In the three months after the offensive began, the ADF killed at least 334 civilians. . . . Despite the October 2019 offensive, and later the declaration of martial law in April 2021, the ADF has grown increasingly active, launching more and deadlier attacks on civilian and military targets.

Unlike other jihadist groups in Africa, the ADF does not try to appeal to local civilian populations by providing social services and has not attempted to portray itself to local civilians as a preferable alternative to the Congolese state. . . . Perhaps most importantly, the Muslim community in the areas where the ADF operates remains a tiny fraction of the total population, while the ADF’s leadership utilizes extremist rhetoric to justify indiscriminate attacks against the largely Christian local population.

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