ISIL Claims First Attack in DRC
In the spring of 2018, about a year ago, Congolese troops discovered a concerning object on the body of an enemy combatant. It was a book from the Islamic State’s Research and Studies Office, a department of the old Islamic State, which was the territory under the control of the terrorist group ISIS. The department was responsible for issuing doctrinal texts that justified the group’s brutal tactics and ideology.
The discovery of the book is just one of the recent indications that ISIS (or ISIL, Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) may be heading to central Africa to establish a foothold in the region. In November 2018, for example, the US Embassy in Kinshasa closed after intelligence appeared suggesting that ISIS-linked groups might carry out an attack on US interests. The lawlessness of the eastern region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo would appear to be an easy place to establish the foothold that ISIS is looking for.
The country, especially the eastern region, is already plagued with armed violence and an outbreak of the ebola virus. Due to the weak central government in the DRC, rebel groups have rapidly multiplied in recent years. More than a dozen different armed groups and criminal organizations operate in the area of the eastern DRC where it is suspected that ISIS carried out an attack.
On Thursday, April 18, the Islamic State’s news agency claimed that they had carried out the group’s first attack in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The agency said that their soldiers had killed eight people in a military barracks in Kamango, a village near Beni city in North Kivu province. The ISIS propagandists went on to describe Congo as the “Central Africa Province of the Caliphate,” according to a group which monitors Islamic State announcements, the SITE Intelligence Group.
The attack, which took place on the previous Tuesday, has conflicting reports regarding the number of casualties. Congolese officials and ISIS have stated that eight people were killed, while a source at the UN peacekeeping mission said that three had died. A local civil society leader, David Moaze, who is also the UN source, said that witnesses of the attack believe the armed group called the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) is responsible. Over the last three years, the ADF, a rebel groups with origins in the neighboring country of Uganda, has been accused of killing hundreds of people.
The ADF has been “making a tentative attempt to align itself with other jihadist groups,” according to a report released last year by New York University's Congo Research Group and the Bridgeway Foundation. The report showed that the ADF has recently received money from a financier who has links to ISIS, and that ADF members has begun posting propaganda messages on social media in recent years as well.
In a meeting with the Atlantic Council in Washington earlier this month, Congolese President Felix Tshisekedi warned that ISIS could seek to establish a caliphate in the DRC since it was pushed out of its strongholds in Syria and Iraq. The President was seeking to establish a “strategic partnership” with the United States which would, at least in part, strengthen the fight against terrorism. Whether this partnership will be established and the extent of the threat ISIS is to the DRC are yet to be determined.