On Thursday, April 7, 2016, Jahba East Africa officially pledged an allegiance to Islamic State (IS) leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, and recognized him as the rightful Khalifa “leader” of all Muslims. The group hailed the merger as a “new era” in the region.
The group is made up of former al-Shabaab members who are linked to the al-Qaeda network and has conducted attacks in Somalia, Kenya, and other east African nations. A Jahba East Africa spokesman said that members of the group come from Somalia, Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania, and condemned al-Shabaab for being a “physical and psychological prison.”
A statement from the group read, “We in Jahba East Africa are advising all East Africans to leave al-Shabaab and all of their sponsor groups like al-Muhajiroun, al-Hijra, and Ansar Islam.” Jahba East Africa claims that these groups are like al-Shabaab and do not understand the binding obligation of the caliphate.
There had been reported rumors for years within al-Shabaab of conflicts between loyalists of al-Qaeda and supporters of the IS, and culminated with a portion of al-Shabaab breaking off to become their own IS group. Pressure to switch alliances from al-Qaeda to IS mounted in March 2015 when the Nigerian jihadist group Boko Haram announced it had joined IS and encouraged other sub-Saharan jihadists to do the same.
IS leaders are believed to have approached al-Shabaab about potentially orchestrating the group’s oath of allegiance. IS released a series of propaganda videotapes calling for “Wilayat Somalia” or the Somalia province.
A memo was reportedly circulated last September and stated the group would not abandon its loyalties to al-Qaeda and that any dissenters would be punished under Islamic law. IS utilizes pledges of allegiance from exiting terrorist groups and insurgents from all over the world to set up cells and bases of operations. Many of the younger members of al-Shabaab have called for allegiance with IS while older members have said they will remain loyal to al-Qaeda.
Groups in Southeast Asia, the Caucasus, West Africa, Algeria, and Gaza have all pledged allegiance to the IS to become part of the global caliphate.
US drone strikes have become far more aggressive on al-Shabaab targets and other jihadist groups operating out of Africa. The ranks of al-Shabaab are weakening as African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) and Somalia Armed Forces (SNA) have hit the group hard in the first quarter of 2016 by killing 1,500 jihadists, and several of their territories have been recaptured, weapons confiscated, and training camps destroyed.
As al-Qaeda is gradually losing its grip on parts of Africa the IS will continue to gain momentum. US Africa Command reported that in one year IS supporters doubled and now range between 4,000-6,000 fighters in the region.
Al-Shabaab, was originally part of the now defunct Union of Islamic Courts, which controlled Mogadishu back in 2006, but were disbanded when Ethiopian forces intervened to oust the group and restore the Somali government. The jihadist group emerged and began its campaign of violence on Somali cities in 2009, controlling the capital and area of territory in Southern Somalia until it was forced out in 2012 by domestic and international coalitions.
It remains to be seen to what degree Jahba East Africa will be able to weaken Al-Shabaab’s control of East Africa. In recent months U.S. and coalition forces have aggressively targeted the Aminyat, Al Shabaab’s core intelligence and foreign operations unit which is most deeply associated with Al Qaeda, and which enforces group cohesion. As a result, Jahba East Africa may be in a position to gain momentum.