A new ISIS affiliate has been formed in the Horn of Africa — vowing to differ from Al-Shabaab by not keeping operations within the “prison” of al-Qaeda.
Jabha East Africa, without specifying, promises that their fighters will be ready to sow terror on new fronts.
And as Al-Shabaab has drawn recruits from America, that could potentially affect our home front.
There had been dissension with Somalia’s Al-Shabaab for some time about whether to remain allied to al-Qaeda or to follow the lead of Boko Haram and pledge allegiance to ISIS.
Just the act of crossing over to ISIS would mean expanding the group’s reach beyond Shabaab’s fairly tight focus of establishing strict Sharia rule in Somalia. The government and allied African forces have pushed Shabaab’s control out of the cities and into rural areas.
It’s not the only place on the map where ISIS is trying to flip al-Qaeda chapters — there are pitched battles in Afghanistan and Bangladesh, whether physical brawls or wars of words, between the terror outlets. ISIS wins over recruits who like Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s message of expanding the caliphate ASAP by any means possible.
The Jabha East Africa statement begins by pledging allegiance to al-Baghdadi, recognizing him as “the rightful Khalifa [caliph] of all Muslims.”
“We pledge our obedience to him in times of ease and hardship, and Allah is witness to our pledge.”
The group called on Al-Shabaab members and associated groups to leave and come join their new ISIS affiliate.
“Sadly, Al-Shabaab has forgotten the resolve needed to work for the establishment of the rule of Allah,” they said. “Many Kenyans, Tanzanians and Ugandan Mujahideen have been accused without evidence of working against Islam and the Mujahideen. Many have been detained for accepting the declaration of the Khalifah [caliphate].”
They added that many jihadists “carry the sword of Al-Shabaab with fear,” while their message is “Al-Shabaab has now become a psychological and physical prison.”
The ISIS pledge, Jabha East Africa said, “is freedom for the Mujahideen” to “wage jihad according to the Sunnah [Mohammad’s teachings] against the enemies of Allah.”
The announcement of the terror group was made “on behalf of all the East Africans in Al-Shabaab and those that seek to open up new fronts.”
The English-language statement, released on a new Twitter account — Al-Shabaab releases most of its media in Somali or Arabic — could indicate Jabha East Africa’s reach-out to a wider swath of recruits.
“All Mujahideen must accept the Khalifah,” they tweeted.
At least 50 U.S. citizens or permanent residents have joined or attempted to join Al-Shabaab since 2007. A video released last summer showed white fighters mingled with the group who could have been American, European or even Chechen.
The majority of Americans who have trained with Al-Shabaab were radicalized via Internet and person-to-person contact in the U.S., particularly in Minneapolis.
And while Al-Shabaab hasn’t carried through on its threat to attack the Mall of America, they’ve still had reach. In December, Mohamed Abdullahi Hassan of Minnesota, who goes by Miski, was picked up in Somalia. He claimed he’d left his job in Al-Shabaab’s media and preaching departments, but was prolific on social media, including encouraging an attack on the Muhammad cartoon contest in Garland, Texas, just 10 days before the event.
Early this year, Al-Shabaab produced a nearly hourlong video featuring video of Donald Trump in their appeal to convince Western Muslims to wage jihad. Soon afterward, Shabaab released another video with ISIS-style threats: “To the kuffar, we say, we are on our way coming for you. We will hunt you down in your own lands. We will not let you live in peace and you will know that we are the lions of war. We are a nation that loves death just like you love living. You strive day in, day out to fill your bank accounts but we on the other hand want our accounts to be in Jannah [paradise]. We are ready to sacrifice ourselves fully.”
The new ISIS affiliate and its eagerness to open new fronts may draw recruits ready to carry out on those threats.
ISIS is relying more and more on a bloom-where-you’re-planted strategy that encourages jihadists to conduct terror operations in their home countries where they know the people, the culture and language, and are less likely to arouse suspicion.