Abstract: The Islamic State’s Somalia branch pledged allegiance to the Islamic State in October 2015 and was formally recognized in December 2017. Since its founding, the group has been one of the weaker groupings on the African continent and has struggled to expand in any significant way. Somalian security forces with multifaceted operational support from the United States have degraded and hindered the group. The Islamic State’s leadership and central propaganda apparatus have been pushing to boost the Somalia branch’s profile, while pro-Islamic State-Somalia groups have been producing media content to help the movement’s message reach Somali, Amharic, Oromo, and Swahili speakers to boost fundraising, recruitment, and violent incitement efforts as well as to grow grassroot support in regions populated by these ethnolinguistic communities. The efforts are very much in line with the spirit of the global Islamic State movement’s ethos in outreaching and trying to win over Muslims of all languages, ethnicities, and geographical locations. These developments could have regional security implications if the Islamic State is able to strengthen the Somalia branch using these means. Bolstered transnational connections could enable violent incitement and attacks directed into neighboring countries.
Following the loss of the last bastions of the Islamic State’s caliphate in 2019, the organization has increasingly promoted the successes of its branches in other conflict theaters—most prominently, those in Africa. The African branches are by no means heterogeneous; the Islamic State’s West Africa Province (ISWAP) is the movement’s most powerful external network, while Islamic State-Somalia is one of the weaker branches on the continent.
Given this, the Islamic State-Somalia Province has sought to grow by tapping into local grievances to appeal to a broader range of ethnolinguistic population segments.1 This has been done through official propaganda in regional languages as well as through unofficial propaganda and supporter networks in additional tongues.
This article will examine the background and current state of the Islamic State’s Somalia branch, as well as Islamic State Central’s propaganda promotion of the outfit and the role supporting media outlets are playing in the outreach campaign to Amharic, Somali, Oromo, and Swahili-speaking target audiences. It will then conclude with an analysis of the potential regional security implications relating to these developments.
History of Islamic State-Somalia
The expansion of the Islamic State in Africa is increasingly evident, and the continent is a highly strategic region for the jihadi organization. This expansion includes an active official province in Somalia. Somalia’s security is threatened not only by al-Shabaab’s violent military campaigns but also by the military and propaganda activities of the Islamic State province in Somalia.
In 2012, al-Shabaaba leadership sent a charismatic leader, Abdulqadir Mumin, to Puntland to carry out a vast recruitment campaign to establish an outpost of the al-Qa`ida affiliate in East Africa in the mountainous areas of the northern Somali hinterland and expand its areas of activity. With the severe operational and leadership difficulties faced by al-Shabaab in 2014, Mumin found himself alone and isolated running the Somali jihadi group’s cell in Puntland.2 This isolation and distance from al-Shabaab’s central leadership made the operations of the group increasingly independent. At that time, al-Shabaab was in the midst of a bitter internal dispute between factions.3 Mumin, dissatisfied with the situation and his isolation, decided to pledge allegiance to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and the Islamic State in October 2015,4 causing a violent split in the Puntland group, as only about 30 of the 300 local Islamist fighters reportedly joined Mumin.5
On April 25, 2016, the Somali province of the Islamic State carried out its first attack against government forces, an AMISOM convoy in Mogadishu.6 In October 2016, the group launched its first major operation targeting the main port city of Qandala,7 which it controlled until December 3 that year.8 Throughout 2016 and 2017, the group suffered several losses in counterterrorism operations, and was also designated by the United States as a global terrorist organization.9 In December 2017, the central Islamic State media indirectly confirmed that it had elevated the Islamic State in Somalia to the status of a province, releasing a propaganda video from Somalia showing three fighters from the Mumin-led cell threatening attacks on Western states and calling on Muslims, particularly those in East Africa, to join the Islamic State’s cause.10 In 2018, the group bolstered its ranks with other al-Shabaab defectors, carried out several attacks in Puntland, expanded into Mogadishu and the south of the country,11 began collecting taxes in the areas it controlled or operated in, and created small new cells in central and southern Somalia. Between December 2018 and March 2019, a full-blown war between Islamic State-Somalia and al-Shabaab began in numerous locations within Somalia.12 In August 2021, Islamic State militants in Somalia carried out another major military operation, occupying and looting the town of Balidhidin in the semi-autonomous Somali region of Puntland.13
The Current Status of Islamic State-Somalia
Analyzing the claims and attacks conducted by the Islamic State in Somalia, 36 attacks were claimed by the Somali jihadi group in 2021 and 32 attacks in 2022, mostly in Puntland and the capital, Mogadishu. The Islamic State in Somalia currently operates mainly in the mountainous areas of Puntland, and in southern Somalia mainly in the areas of the capital Mogadishu. In January and February 2023, Islamic State-Somalia conducted five attacks:14 on the road between Mogadishu-Afgooye; in the towns of Blay Tadan and Wadi Ja’il, southeast of the city of Bosaso, in the province of Bari; in the district of Karan, in Mogadishu; hitting several targets such as Somali police, the Somali army, Puntland security forces, and politicians.15
At the head of the Somali jihadi organization is still the veteran leader Mumin, whose group consists of around 200-250 fighters.16 Importantly, the Islamic State’s Al-Karrar office is based in Somalia, acting as a financial hub and transmitter of funds to other provinces.17 According to a February 2023 report by the U.N. monitoring team tracking the global jihadi threat, the Al-Karrar office has been sending financial funds to the Islamic State Khorasan Province (ISK), totaling approximately $25,000 per month in cryptocurrency. The U.N. report also states that Islamic State-Somalia “generated $100,000 per month through extortion of the shipping industry and illicit taxation.”18
A major blow to the Somali Islamic State organization came in January 2023, when U.S. special operations forces raided a remote mountainous cave complex in northern Somalia and killed an important Islamic State leader in Somalia, Bilal al-Sudani,19 who was responsible for the promotion and growth of the Islamic State in Africa and the group’s global funding.20 The exact impact is yet to be discerned, and it is unknown how the group will adapt following this loss and how it will reorganize its operational and financial side, as al-Sudani’s departure is certainly a blow to the Somali province. Al-Sudani was a veteran member of the group since the creation of the province.21 The most recent attack, officially claimed in a statement and later published by the newspaper Al Naba, was conducted on April 4, 2023, in Mogadishu, with an improvised explosive device hitting a convoy of the African Union Mission to Somalia (ATMIS) armed forces. In total, three attacks were conducted from March 1 to April 18, two in Mogadishu and one in the town of Bili Tadan, southeast of Bosaso, Puntland.22
Islamic State Central Media Promotion of Somalia Branch
The Islamic State-Somalia’s propaganda is far inferior to that of its direct rival, al-Shabaab, and it is exclusively disseminated via Amaq News Agency and Al Naba. Recent Islamic State propaganda products in Somalia included the July 2021 publication of an extensive photo reportage of its fighters in daily activity, with many photos dedicated to its leader, Mumin.23 In November 2021, a photo reportage featured its fighters at one of its training camps in Puntland carrying out different types of physical and weapons training.24 After several months of silence, in March 2022, the Wilayah al-Somal released a photo reportage and a six-minute video25 to extend its oath of allegiance to the new leader of the Islamic State, in which numerous fighters including several children are seen swearing allegiance to the new ‘caliph.’26
Of notable importance was an Islamic State official media production released in July 2022. The 25-minute video, entitled “Upon the path of the Conquerors,”27 was published in Amharicb with Arabic subtitles. Amharic is the official language of Ethiopia but is also spoken in parts of Eritrea and Somalia.c The video is shot in high quality and shows the military operations, training, and daily life of Islamic State-Somalia fighters, with a special emphasis on the Ethiopian fighters in its ranks. The video particularly focuses on showing Ethiopian recruits undergoing military training, and taking theoretical, religious, and jurisprudence (fiqh) courses. The video is a clear appeal to Ethiopians, Somalis, and Eritreans who speak the Amharic language to join the Islamic State and the Somali group28 in particular, as well as a way to increase recruitment, fundraising, and support.
After several months of silence, with only individual claims disseminated through the Islamic State’s central media or in Al Naba, between November and December 2022 the official media of the Islamic State published a photo report and a short video showing the Somali province’s pledge of allegiance to the new Islamic State caliph.29
About six months after the last video, on January 20, 2023, the Islamic State’s official media released a 14-minute video in reference to the Somali province entitled “God is the guardian of the believers.”30 This video is different from the others, as it focuses on displaying the type and quality of attacks and different types of training, as well as presenting a lengthy interview with Abu Salam al-Muhajir, a Kenyan fighter of the group.31 The video began by showing one of the most important military operations conducted by Islamic State-Somalia in 2022, the armed clash against U.S. forces and the Somali army in Puntland on the Cal Maskad mountain range, east of Bosaso. The video of the violent attack by Islamic State fighters ends by showing images of Somali and U.S. soldiers fleeing. In the video, the group insisted that the armed clashes lasted more than six hours and that after killing dozens of “crusaders and apostates, they achieved victory despite the U.S. bombardment.” The video also showed several attacks with IEDs against Somali military forces in Puntland and against military convoys near the town of Balli Dhiddin, and showed several moments in which Somali fighters repelled military offensives of the Puntland army in the same mountainous area. Additionally, the video displayed several killings conducted by Islamic State-Somalia cells operating in southern Somalia, particularly in the Mogadishu area. The killing of Somali policemen and soldiers are then shown, almost all conducted with small-caliber guns, in broad daylight, and notably when many civilians are present. In almost all the images, an Islamic State militant (at most, two) approaches and flanks the policeman and shoots him in the head or abdomen, and then flees.
Pro-Islamic State-Somalia Propaganda Target Audiences
In addition to these Islamic State Central productions, the Somalia branch is bolstered by several unofficial media outlets and online supporter networks. Most notable are those designed to build support among Somali, Amharic, Oromo, and Swahili-speaking populations. These groups share propaganda content on platforms such as Facebook, YouTube, Telegram, and the pro-Islamic State I’Lam Foundation, which is an archival website also accessible on the dark web that provides a backlog of Islamic State propaganda that is regularly updated.32 I’Lam has a tab for media content in Somali, Swahili, and Amharic.
Somali is the national language of Somalia and is spoken by over 20 million people globally.33 In Africa, it is the second language of sizable population segments in Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, and Kenya. According to the United Nations, Swahili is among the 10 most-used languages in the world and is spoken by residents in more than 14 countries, including Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, South Sudan, Somalia, Mozambique, and even as far as Oman and Yemen in the Middle East.34 Amharic is mainly spoken in Ethiopia and Eritrea, while Oromo is mostly spoken in Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, and Egypt. These facts provide insight into the motivations behind, and opportunities assessed by, pro-Islamic State propaganda groups in pushing to expand the movement’s reach by appealing to and winning over radical elements belonging to these ethnolinguistic populations. These Islamic State propaganda groups also provide discussion platforms for existing supporters who speak these languages and allow them to develop narratives, comment on current affairs and Islamic State-related news, as well as share jihadi content.
Amharic-Language Media Networks
Since the release of the Islamic State’s July 2022 video in Amharic, a considerable pro-Islamic State media and communication ecosystem has emerged in Amharic, consisting of networks comprising various propaganda production models, with numerous ideological and religious materials and interactive discussion channels. The authors, in their daily monitoring of jihadi propaganda (both official and unofficial), found the presence of numerous Amharic-language media channels. Initially, the presence of these channels was mainly found on Telegram. As the weeks went on, links were posted within these channels that referred to other applications, both messaging and social media platforms (especially Facebook), websites, and online archives (some on the dark web, but many easily accessible and available simply from a search on any search engine). As the months passed, many media channels were closed or became inactive, but some of them, the most important ones, continued their activities and are still active today, such as Munasir Radio (or The Voice of Munasir), and Fatwa Media. In addition, the I’Lam Foundation, al-Furat Media, al-Bayan Radio, and Raadiyoo al-Hijrateyn (in the Oromo language) disseminate Amharic-language material often, and in some cases daily, from different channels.
In their monitoring of Amharic-language media and propaganda channels, the authors noted that on Facebook, Telegram, YouTube and WhatsApp, as well as on the website of the I’Lam Foundation, the most important and, above all, the most consistently published Amharic-language channel is The Voice of Munasir Radio. This channel publishes numerous types of media content, in particular audio dealing with theological and religious topics, jurisprudence topics, news and weekly updates on politics and geopolitics, news concerning the Islamic State, and explanations of historical and religious events. The Voice of Munasir Radio also broadcasts official Islamic State audios translated into Amharic (such as the latest audios of the Islamic State’s central spokespersons), stories of martyrs (mainly Islamic State fighters in Somalia, but also from other Islamic State provinces, both past and more recent), and the narration of ideological and religious books. The channel’s most important media product is a weekly program entitled “Mirror on the World,” varying in length between 60 and 90 minutes and usually divided into five or six parts dealing with several topics, which reached its 165th episode in April 2023. During the Ramadan period, on the other hand, a purely religious media product lasting about seven minutes is aired every morning.
Al-Bayan Radio publishes audio material in the Amharic language on a continuous basis. One of the most popular and followed products, in its 44th episode in April 2023, is “Fatwa from the stronghold of Muslims.” It is an ideological and religious product that discusses Islamic fatwas, but also issues concerning sharia, hijrah, and jihad. The Amharic-language radio product usually lasts 25 minutes. The Amharic version of al-Bayan Radio is disseminated on Facebook, Telegram, WhatsApp, and YouTube.
Another channel monitored by the authors throughout 2022 and until April 2023, important for its stability, consistency of publications, and audience following, was Fatwa Media, an Amharic-language media channel that deals exclusively with propagating religious and ideological material, present mainly on Telegram and Facebook. Fatwa Media also translates the official propaganda material of the Islamic State from Arabic into Amharic, which is then shared on all networks and platforms.
In addition, there are several related channels such as Ahlul Khilafa Media, Fatawa Min Sugur Media, and Qirat Media, as well as through the I’Lam Foundation, al-Furat Media, and Raadiyoo al-Hijrateyn that disseminate Amharic-language material such as religious material, sermons, videos, unofficial posters, material from the main channels mentioned above, and translated Islamic State material.
All the channels mentioned are present on Telegram, Facebook, and WhatsApp. A notable component of these pro-Islamic State online networks in Amharic is the network of interactive channels where supporters, sympathizers, and ideologues discuss current affairs, religious topics, and events related to the Islamic State in Somalia and the rest of its provinces.
Somali, Oromo, and Swahili-Language Media Networks
One of the more notable recent developments in this space is the emergence of Fursan Altarjuma, an umbrella network bringing together various disparate and scattered pro-Islamic State media outlets. The new collective includes the Somali-language propaganda producer and translation foundation Al-Hijrateyn as well as 14 other groups, covering at least 18 languages. This cooperative is the manifestation of months of mixing and matching by certain outlets now involved in the operation. The English-language translation propaganda outfit Halummu have, for instance, partnered with Islamic State Khurasan’s Al-Azaim Foundation for Media Production and the pro-Islamic State outlets Al-Battar and At-Taqwa over the last couple of years.35 Halummu has been operating since at least 2016 and is one of the central drivers of the pro-Islamic State propaganda coalition. The cooperative is unprecedented in the scale and coherence of coordination; however, Halummu has a years-long history preceding this of bringing disparate propaganda elements together.
The announcement of Fursan Altarjuma’s formation36 included the mission statement declaring its objective as being “dedicated to the spread of the translated media around the world on as many platforms as possible from social media to applications, and websites in a way that the Islamic State media can reach and [be] accessed to as many users as possible.” Its doctrine is aimed “to be the single source for translations of Islamic State media, publications that explain its policies bound by Shari’ah, dispel suspicions and false arguments raised by its enemies, and articles and graphics to inspire dedication and faith.”
The primary group creating and disseminating pro-Islamic State content in Somali, Oromo, and Swahili is Al-Hijrateyn, which dates back at least as far as spring 2022.37 Al-Hijrateyn creates audio (Al-Hijrateyn Radio) and online print propaganda, while using a host of social media platforms and encrypted messaging application channels to distribute its materials. These include I’Lam Foundation (accessible on the internet and the dark web), Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Telegram, Archive.org, and more. Al-Hijrateyn is an outlet that covers weekly news and fatwas relating to the Islamic State.38
A study by the Institute for Strategic Dialogue described Al-Hijrateyn as “the primary outlet for Islamic State support in the East Africa region.”39 ISD asserted that unlike official Islamic State propaganda content, unofficial Islamic State media outlets can proliferate and successfully evade social media moderators.
Al-Hijrateyn’s new partnership with the streamlined umbrella network Fursan Altarjuma elevates its status among the global Islamic State movement and empowers the outlet to more quickly make available Somali, Oromo, and Swahili-language translations of official Islamic State Central propaganda content and attack claims. This enables the Islamic State to reach massive audiences that may not speak Arabic and make Islamic State Central media content easily accessible so that these audiences can more closely follow the activities of Islamic State-Somalia and each of the other branches.
This is likely to extend the reach of Islamic State-Somalia and other regional branches in terms of recruitment, support base enlargement, and fundraising. The partnership also expands Al-Hijrateyn’s relations and links to an array of Islamic State actors around the world including ISK’s Al-Azaim Foundation for Media Production, the Russian Irshad group, Turkish Meydan Medya, Indonesian At-Tamkin, Indian Al-Qitaal Media, and others. This media connectivity is a further indication of its growing transnational linkages with a recent U.N. report on the global jihadi threat suggesting the Islamic State-Somalia branch controls Al-Karrar office—a coordinating hub based in Puntland and involved with networks in Mozambique and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The United Nations noted that the Al-Karrar office had also been active in funding ISK.40 And following the U.S. special operations forces’ raid that killed Bilal al-Sudani, the Biden administration emphasized al-Sudani’s role in regional and international terrorist financing as well as his activities supporting the Islamic State in Afghanistan.41
The Islamic State-Somalia branch was already weak before suffering a series of setbacks and blows in recent years. Islamic State Central has sought to promote the group and urge the faithful to join Islamic State-Somalia’s ranks. This has come in the form of financing, advising, and propaganda in Arabic and local languages.
Islamic State-Somalia’s supporters, often in the form of unofficial media outlets, have produced propaganda in Somali, Oromo, Amharic, and Swahili to engage existing supporters and win over new ones. Outfits such as Al-Hijrateyn play a crucial role in this as do sympathizers who create online spaces on social media and encrypted messaging application channels to further the Islamic State cause and spread the organization’s messaging. Al-Hijrateyn’s integration into Fursan Altarjuma’s umbrella network marks a new phase for outlets of this kind, yet it is too early to gauge if or how much of an impact it will have in strengthening Islamic State-Somalia’s capabilities.
If these efforts do work, the Islamic State-Somalia branch could possibly pose a comparatively greater threat inside the country and even throughout the region. This could involve directed operations and violent incitement. Neighboring Ethiopia, for instance, has reportedly disrupted Islamic State activities, including in 2017 when 26 people were arrested who allegedly received training in Somalia, in 2019 when the military captured Islamic State militants, and in 2021 when government officials announced the dismantling of a cell known as the ‘Islamic State Center.’42
Finally, there is also precedent for Islamic State branches yielding success in tailoring propaganda to appeal to specific local and regional ethnolinguistic populations. ISK, for example, has produced media content targeting South and Central Asia, growing notable levels of support among Indian, Tajik, Uzbek, and other radicals.43 Militant groups are often learning organizations, and given the financial and now media links between the two, the Islamic State in Somalia may very well take lessons from ISK’s media outreach techniques. CTC
Lucas Webber is a researcher focused on geopolitics and violent non-state actors. He is cofounder and editor at militantwire.com. Twitter: @LucasADWebber
Daniele Garofalo is an analyst and researcher on jihadi terrorism and an expert in propaganda monitoring. He collaborates with the Jamestown Foundation, Akhbar al-Aan Media, and Militant Wire. Twitter: @G88Daniele
© 2023 Lucas Webber, Daniele Garofalo
[a] Starting in 2008, al-Shabaab began to have ties and operate under the umbrella of the leadership of al-Qa`ida Central, when Usama bin Ladin was leading the organization. Officially, al-Shabaab became an affiliate of al-Qa`ida in 2012, with the commitment formally accepted by new leader Ayman al-Zawahiri. Thomas Joscelyn and Bill Roggio “Shabaab formally joins al Qaeda,” FDD’s Long War Journal, February 9, 2012.
[b] Since 2017, there is already evidence of material from pro-Islamic State supporters and sympathizers in the Amharic language, but this was the first output of the Islamic State’s official media.
[c] A total of over 57 million speakers is estimated, taking into account also the diaspora communities in different areas of the globe.
 Jason Warner, Ryan O’Farrell, HÉNI Nsaibia, and Ryan Cummings, The Islamic State in Africa. The Emergence, Evolution, and Future of the Next Jihadist Battlefront (London: Hurst & Company, 2022), p. 259.
 Daniele Garofalo, “Monitoring Jihadist Terrorism in Africa. Propaganda and Military operations,” Daniele Garofalo Substack, March 5, 2023.
 “Letter dated 13 February 2023 from the Chair of the Security Council Committee pursuant to resolutions 1267 (1999), 1989 (2011) and 2253 (2015) concerning Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (Da’esh), Al-Qaida and associated individuals, groups, undertakings and entities addressed to the President of the Security Council,” United Nations Security Council, February 13, 2023, p. 8.
 Jacob Zenn, “A Profile of Islamic State’s Former Top Operative in Somalia: Bilal al-Sudani,” Jamestown Foundation, Militant Leadership Monitor 14:2 (2023).
 The data is retrieved from the authors’ daily monitoring activities via the Islamic State’s official media.
 Daniele Garofalo, “Very interesting photos from the #Somalia published by official media of the Islamic State (ISS),” Twitter, July 21, 2021.
 Daniele Garofalo, “Very interesting photos published by the Islamic State #Somalia Province (#ISS). After months of inactivity …,” Twitter, November 15, 2021.
 Aaron Zelin, “New Video message from Islamic State: Jihad of the Believers continues #4 Wilayat al-Sumal,” Jihadology, March 18, 2022.
 Aaron Zelin, “The Islamic State’s Second Bayat Campaign,” Jihadology, March 11, 2022.
 Aaron Zelin, “New Video message from Islamic State: Upon the path of the Conquerors. Wilayat al-Sumal,” Jihadology, July 30, 2022.
 Lucas Webber and Daniele Garofalo, “Daesh Expands its Language Capabilities to Amharic,” Extremist Monitoring Analysis Network, November 29, 2022.
 Daniele Garofalo, “The propagandistic dissemination of pledge of allegiance to the new “caliph” of the Islamic State,” Daniele Garofalo Substack, December 26, 2022.
 Daniele Garofalo, “Analysis of the new Islamic State video in Somalia,” Daniele Garofalo Substack, January 22, 2023.
 Aaron Zelin, “New Video message from Islamic State: God is the guardian of the believers. Wilayat al-Sumal,” Jihadology, January 20, 2022.
 “Somali,” National African Language Resource Center, Indiana University Bloomington, n.d.
 FJ, “Several pro-ISIS translation media translation groups have united under the name Fursan Al-Tarjuma,” Twitter, March 4, 2023.
 “Al-Shabaab and Islamic State News Networks in East Africa: Terrorist Exploitation of Facebook,” Institute for Strategic Dialogue, 2022.
 “Dozens of suspected Ethiopian extremists arrested: report,” Xinhua, January 25, 2021.
 Jasminder Singh and Rueben Dass, “ISKP’s Continued Interest in India,” Jamestown Foundation, April 8, 2022; Lucas Webber and Riccardo Valle, “Islamic State in Afghanistan seeks to recruit Uzbeks, Tajiks, Kyrgyz,” Eurasianet, March 17, 2022.