ISIS in the Congo: Video Calls Jihadists to New Turf in Central Africa
A video circulating on pro-ISIS message boards purports to show the expansion of ISIS into the Democratic Republic of the Congo, though the Islamic State has not yet pushed on their official media channels the call to join fighters in the African country.
The DRC is only about 10 percent Muslim, with about 80 percent of residents following some form of Christianity.
The two-minute video shows several men dressed in camouflage and wielding weapons in a nondescript rainforest area, as a few young boys mingle around. The video quality is rough compared to highly produced films from ISIS' official and affiliated media arms, but also resembles some rough-cut video statements delivered by Boko Haram in Nigeria.
With a logo including ISIS' insignia and a rifle, the group calls itself "The City of Monotheism and Monotheists," or MTM.
The jihadist delivering the statement is the only one in the group who does not look Congolese; he speaks Arabic and declares that those in the lands of "kuffar," or disbelievers, should migrate to the DRC for jihad. “I swear to God that this is Dar al Islam of the Islamic State in Central Africa," he said, swearing again that the group is "in the jihad."
None of the fighters who appear to be Congolese speak in the video; the official language in the DRC is French, with other local dialects spoken as well.
The declaration of an ISIS chapter is a first for this part of Africa; the closest affiliations are Boko Haram to the northwest and, to the west, some Al-Shabaab members in Somalia who pledged allegiance to ISIS over al-Qaeda (the latter still being the terror group's official patron). ISIS doesn't always recognize groups of adherents as provinces, though caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has urged followers to expand their reach as ever-increasing amounts of ISIS' original turf have been reclaimed by local forces in Iraq and Syria.
In an audio message last November, al-Baghdadi addressed ISIS adherents in far-flung regions, including Afghanistan, the Caucasus, Indonesia, Philippines, Sinai, Bangladesh, West Africa and North Africa, as the "base of the caliphate," and warned that "kuffar will try to split you."
Four U.S. soldiers were killed in an ambush while on a routine counterterrorism patrol with local forces in Niger at the beginning of the month. Both al-Qaeda and ISIS operate in the region.
In a Pentagon briefing last week, Joint Staff Director Lt. Gen. Kenneth McKenzie Jr. noted it's "easier to actually stop resources than it is people" going from Syria, where ISIS' caliphate is crumbling, to Africa, and "I think we're having significant success doing that; probably not perfect, because perfection is probably not an attainable goal."
"But we strive very hard to prevent that," he said. "Now, what you can't prevent is local franchisement. You know, self-enabled radicalization. That's a harder task to prevent and we're going to continue to work at that ... I'm sure some personnel have moved. We're stopping I think the vast majority of that. I'm not going to tell you that we're going to be able to stop everyone."
There is, the general said, "some minimal flow of people across the divide," though fewer jihadist transfers than this time a year ago.
The United Nations' peacekeeping force, MONUSCO, has been operating in the DRC, which is nearly a quarter the size of the United States, since 1999, though the UN cut troop levels in March with the encouragement of the U.S.
The State Department issued a new warning Monday about travel to the DRC "because of ongoing instability and sporadic violence in many parts of the country."
"Armed groups operate in the provinces of North and South Kivu, Bas-Uele, Haut-Uele, Ituri, Tanganyika, Haut-Lomami, and the Kasai region," the warning states. "These groups have been known to kill, rape, kidnap, pillage, and carry out operations in which civilians may be indiscriminately targeted."
Also on Monday, a new report from The Sentry, an investigative initiative co-founded by George Clooney and John Prendergast, connected a prominent Congo bank with funding Hezbollah in subversion of sanctions.
BGFIBank DRC, states the executive summary of The Terrorists' Treasury, has been used by individuals and entities subject to U.S. sanctions for their Hezbollah connections, including key Hezbollah financier Kassim Tajideen, "to move money through the international banking system, despite several warnings from bank employees that doing so could violate U.S. sanctions."
The bank is run by DRC President Joseph Kabila’s brother.