In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section The Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) in Africa

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews of Islamic State Branches in Africa
  • Islamic State in Libya
  • Islamic State in Algeria
  • Islamic State in Tunisia
  • Islamic State in Egypt
  • Islamic State’s West Africa Province
  • Islamic State in the Sahel and Greater Sahara
  • Islamic State in Somalia and East Africa
  • Islamic State’s Central Africa Province and Mozambique Province

International Relations The Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) in Africa
by
Christopher Anzalone
  • LAST MODIFIED: 21 June 2024
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199743292-0322

Introduction

With the June 2014 declaration by the senior leadership of the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) that the militant organization now constituted a new “caliphate” under Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi to which all Sunni Muslims were religiously required to pledge allegiance (bayʿa), the organization grew in prestige among many militant Sunni Islamists and in infamy to the rest of the world’s peoples, including the vast majority of Muslims. The declaration also marked the start of a campaign by the Islamic State’s “core” organization, under al-Baghdadi and based in Syria and Iraq, to attract new recruits to its side, chief among them defectors from al-Qaeda Central and its regional affiliates and allies, including groups across Africa. As of October 2023, the Islamic State has officially recognized seven official affiliate “provinces” (wilayat) in Africa: “Somalia Province,” “West Africa Province,” “Central Africa Province,” “Libya Province,” “Sinai Province,” “Mozambique Province,” and “Algeria Province.” Islamic State–Central Africa Province (IS-CAP) initially included two branches, one based in Mozambique and the other in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, before Islamic State declared the Mozambican branch to constitute a separate “province” in 2022. Islamic State–West Africa Province originally included a semi-autonomous branch in the Sahel, Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (IS-GS), which officially broke away to form a new “Sahel Province” in 2022. During part of its history, Islamic State in Libya was subdivided into a number of regional “provinces,” though the Islamic State core consolidated them into a single province in 2018 as it continued to lose control of most of its territory, something it also did in response to territorial losses in Iraq, Syria, and Yemen. In Libya, the Islamic State core played a particularly hands-on role in the establishment and operations of the “province” group. Islamic State also acknowledged pledges of allegiance made by African militant groups, which it did not name as full provinces. Following their official “wilayat” status, Islamic State’s province affiliates in Africa have had mixed experiences with the core organization and its leadership based in Syria and Iraq. There are also wide variations between the African Islamic State affiliates in their levels and targets of violence, attempts to establish proto-state governance and territorial control, and relations with civil society, the Islamic State core, and other Islamic State provinces, as well as al-Qaeda-aligned groups in their areas of operation. Given these variations between Islamic State’s provinces and other affiliates in Africa, this article seeks to provide an overview of the best literature available on the histories, evolutionary trajectories, activities, and multifaceted identities of these militant organizations. The article adopts a “province”-specific approach in addition to making note of a few continent-wide analyses that are currently available.

General Overviews of Islamic State Branches in Africa

Speaking to the relative newness of the topic, there is only one book-length academic study of Islamic State’s expansion into Africa, Warner, et al. 2022, which offers a detailed historical analysis tracing the emergence and evolutions of all of Islamic State’s official “province” affiliate branches on the continent up to the October 2019 death of the group’s leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, in a US military raid on his hideout in Idlib governorate, Syria. Zimmerman 2020 provides overviews of Islamic State and al-Qaeda affiliated and allied groups in Africa, including in the Sahel. Other summary comparative overviews of the Islamic State’s expansion into Africa include Hansen 2019, Warner 2017, Zenn 2020, and Bacon and Warner 2021. Rolbiecki, et al. 2020 uses primary source attack claims of the Islamic State to compare Islamic State “province” groups in African between roughly 2019 and 2020. Warner and Hulme 2018 uses descriptive data to estimate fighter numbers between IS groups in Africa. Zenn and Clarke 2021 argues that the Islamic State core, despite setbacks in Syria and Iraq, is still able to offer incentives to African militant groups to affiliate with it. Hoover Institution 2023, an e-journal issue focused on jihadism in Africa, includes several articles on Islamic State affiliate branches in Africa, including in West Africa, the Sahel, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

  • Bacon, Tricia, and Jason Warner. “Twenty Years after 9/11: The Threat in Africa—The New Epicenter of Global Jihad.” CTC Sentinel 14.7 (2021).

    The authors provide a detailed analysis of the expansion of Sunni militant Islamist groups, including Islamic State affiliates, in Africa since the 9/11 attacks carried out by al-Qaeda Central in New York City and on the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia.

  • Hansen, Stig Jarle. Horn, Sahel, and Rift: Fault-Lines of the African Jihad. New York: Oxford University Press, 2019.

    Hansen provides analytical histories of Africa’s major Sunni militant Islamist organizations, including all of the continent’s Islamic State branches and affiliated groups. He also provides a new framework for understanding these groups’ different approaches to territory and local and national governments.

  • Hoover Institution. “Africa, Jihad and the West.” The Caravan 2239 (2023).

    This themed e-journal issue focuses on jihadi organizations in Africa. It includes articles on Islamic State’s African affiliates/branches—including Islamic State affiliates/branches in West Africa, the Sahel, and southern Africa—the shift of the Islamic State core to Africa, US and French counterterrorism efforts, and al-Qaeda affiliates on the continent.

  • Rolbiecki, Tomasz, Pieter Van Ostaeyen, and Charlie Winter. “The Islamic State’s Strategic Trajectory in Africa: Key Takeaways from Its Attack Claims.” CTC Sentinel 13.8 (2020).

    The authors analyze patterns in attack claims in Africa issued by the Islamic State’s official media department and argue that, of all the group’s African affiliates and based on the number and type of claimed attacks, Islamic State’s West Africa Province poses the most serious security threat.

  • Warner, Jason. “Sub-Saharan Africa’s Three ‘New’ Islamic State Affiliates.” CTC Sentinel 10.1 (2017): 28–32.

    The author provides an early analysis of possible trajectories of Islamic State’s first African provinces in the Greater Sahara/Sahel, Somalia, and Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda. The article also considers factors that may limit the expansion of these new affiliate branches, such as the superior forces fielded by Islamic State-Somalia’s chief rival, the al-Qaeda-affiliated Harakat al-Shabaab al-Mujahideen.

  • Warner, Jason, Ryan Cummings, Ryan O’Farrell, and Heni Nsiabia. The Islamic State in Africa: Emergence, Evolution, and Future of the Next Jihadist Battlefront. New York: Oxford University Press, 2022.

    DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780197639320.001.0001

    This book offers the most comprehensive overview of the Islamic State’s emergence, evolution, and future on the African continent. In general, it argues that the Islamic State’s global rise democratized jihad on the African continent; saw aspirant provinces needing to prove their utility to IS Central; and, once official provinces, becoming sovereign subordinates, nominally under the control of IS Central, but existing more or less autonomously.

  • Warner, Jason, and Charlotte Hulme. “The Islamic State in Africa: Estimating Fighter Numbers in Cells across the Continent.” CTC Sentinel 11.7 (2018).

    This article, one of the earliest stand-alone pieces to examine the Islamic State’s expansion into Africa, looks at the issue from a comparative perspective, considering differences and similarities in the organization’s outreach approaches to African militant Islamist groups in different parts of the continent.

  • Zenn, Jacob. ISIS in Africa: The Caliphate’s Next Frontier. Washington, DC: New Lines Institute, 26 May 2020.

    In light of Islamic State’s growth in Africa, this paper considers potential trajectories for the group’s provinces on the continent, where they faced not only government forces but also hostile militant Islamist rivals, chief among them al-Qaeda affiliated groups.

  • Zenn, Jacob, and Colin P. Clarke. “The Islamic State’s Signing Bonus.” Foreign Policy (Online, 23 April 2021).

    The authors argue that the Islamic State core, despite its decline in fortunes in Syria and Iraq, continues to be able to offer African militant groups a range of incentives to affiliate with it, including human and financial resources as well as increased media reach via Islamic State’s centralized media department.

  • Zimmerman, Katherine. Salafi-Jihadi Ecosystem in the Sahel. Washington, DC: American Enterprise Institute, 2020.

    This report provides brief analytical overviews of the major Islamic State and al-Qaeda regional affiliates and allies in the Sahel. The author argues that the Sahel is a theater where Sunni militant Islamist groups are rapidly expanding and strengthening.

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