The number of Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL)-linked jihadists in northern Somalia is “growing significantly in strength,” reaching up to 200 terrorists already this year, the United Nations reported a few days after U.S. airstrikes targeted the terrorist group for the first time in the African country.
In March, Gen. Thomas Waldhauser, the chief of U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM), warned that ISIS-affiliated terrorists were beginning to “make inroads into Somalia,” adding that the group could potentially “gain a stronger foothold in the country” absent any military action.
Last Friday, the U.S. military carried out its first airstrikes against ISIS militants in Somalia, reportedly killing an estimated 20 terrorists.
Reuters acknowledges that some security officials in the country have expressed concern that Somalia may provide sanctuary for ISIS terrorists fleeing military defeat in Iraq and Syria.
“The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant [ISIL] faction loyal to Sheikh Abdulqader Mumin—estimated … in 2016 to number not more than a few dozen … [is] growing significantly in strength, and [now] consists of as many as 200 fighters,” reveals a U.N. report obtained by Reuters.
“Even a few hundred armed fighters could destabilize the whole region,” an unnamed regional diplomatic security source told the news outlet. “It [airstrikes] is a recognition from the U.S. that the situation in terms of the [ISIS] faction in Puntland is becoming increasingly critical.”
Reuters learned from the source that the American strikes failed to kill the leader of the ISIS faction northern Somalia, Mumin.
ISIS established a presence in Somalia reasonably soon after the group swept through the Middle East in 2014, but turf battles with its rival—the al-Qaeda-affiliate al-Shabaab—have seemingly helped to slow the group’s growth.
Al-Shabaab is the most prominent terrorist group in Somalia and the surrounding region. Al-Qaeda and ISIS are considered enemies.
Last year, the group was among the deadliest terrorist organizations in the world, responsible for 332 attacks that killed 740 people and injured 921 others, according to the U.S. State Department.
Leaders from the al-Qaeda affiliate in Somalia have threatened ISIS converts with immediate execution.
“Somalia’s al-Shabab militant group, which has declared loyalty to al-Qaeda, also is carrying out a sweeping purge, threatening to kill members who are suspected of defecting to the Islamic State,” reported the Washington Post in December 2015.
Until last Friday, the United States military had primarily focused on fighting al-Shabaab in Somalia.
According to the Pentagon, the U.S. coordinated its recent airstrikes against ISIS affiliates with the Somali government.
Citing Abdirizak Ise Hussein, director of the spy service in northern Somalia’s semi-autonomous Puntland region, Reuters reports that the U.S. attack killed nearly 20 terrorists.
“U.S. forces will continue to use all authorized and appropriate measures to protect Americans and to disable terrorist threats,” declared AFRICOM officials. “This includes partnering with the African Union Mission to Somalia and Somali national security forces and targeting terrorists, their training camps, and safe havens throughout Somalia, the region and around the world.”