Mogadishu, Somalia (TFC) The new militant group– Jahba East Africa– pledged allegiance to ISIS last week. An unnamed spokesperson took to Twitter to”Al-Shabaab Was a Psychological and Physical Prison,” Says Group Who Now Pledges Allegiance to ISIS call on all mujahideen in East Africa to leave al-Shabaab and other al-Qaeda affiliate groups.
“We are telling the mujahideen in East Africa that al-Shabaab has now become a psychological and physical prison.”
The group is so new that their name is only recently known. Jahba East Africa is said to be made up of about 200 militants– some former members of al-Shabaab– from Somalia, Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda. Reportedly, al-Shabaab has had an ongoing internal conflict for years between members supporting both ISIS and al-Qaeda. Jahba East Africa seems to be the ultimate result of this dispute. Technically al-Shabaab is al-Qaeda’s Somalian affiliate group with an estimated 7,000 – 9,000 members as of last year. Al-Shabaab has a history of successfully recruiting several American-born-and-raised members through their tactical use of social media and other jihadi websites.
In addition to resembling a “physical and psychological prison”, Jahba East Africa claims that al-Shabaab and their sponsor groups do not understand the “binding obligation” of a caliphate. ISIS on the other hand takes the idea of “global caliphate” very seriously: with affiliated groups throughout Africa, the Middle East, the Philippines, and the Caucasus region. Over the past few months, ISIS has been seeping back into Libya as they lose ground throughout Iraq and Syria.
ISIS has indeed been putting pressure on African militant groups to switch affiliation from al-Qaeda. A major loss for al-Qaeda came last March when Boko Haram in Nigeria announced switching allegiance to ISIS. An ISIS affiliated splinter group in Somalia– if successful– would mean not only another loss for al-Qaeda, but an ISIS stronghold throughout most African regions.
Jahba’s focus on Somalia could either prove extremely foolish or shrewd. Jahba East Africa only has about 200 members currently; a 7,000 – 9,000 member al-Shabaab would crush them. On the other hand, Somalia’s lack of government combined with mass unemployment makes it a perfect location to recruit employees.
Weapons are heading to somebody. In March, on two separate occasions, ships containing several weapons were seized by authorities– both reportedly heading to Somalia. The first ship, seized by the Australian Navy near Oman, contained roughly 2,000 assault rifles and about 100 rocket-propelled grenades. That’s about $2 million dollars worth of weapons. The French Navy seized another ship later that same month which only contained a few hundred assault rifles and anti-tank missiles.
Neither vessel was registered to any country; authorities have not released any further information on where they were heading, who the weapons were intended for, or who was on board the ships. It was previously assumed that the weapons were heading to al-Shabaab in Somalia; but maybe Jahba East Africa was acquiring the weapons in preparation for new recruits and intensive fighting against al-Shabaab.
Jahba in Africa may only be a small group or even joke at this moment, but if you want to gain support as an African militant group, declaring allegiance to ISIS is certainly one way to do so. Especially with ISIS’ growing presence in Africa. Maybe al-Shabaab will even end up switching allegiance to ISIS out of necessity. Either way, we cannot overlook this extremely unstable (and ungoverned) region as a hotbed for fighting between ISIS and al-Qaeda.