Controversy Erupts Over Release of ISIS Militants in Puntland

Published: May 16, 2024

In a highly controversial move, authorities in Somalia’s semi-autonomous Puntland region have released a group of six Moroccan nationals who were previously sentenced to death for belonging to the Islamic State (ISIS) militant group.

The men were part of a contingent of foreign fighters, mostly from Morocco, who had traveled to Puntland to join the local ISIS affiliate known as Daesh. They were captured in late 2023 in the Al Miskaad mountains, a longtime stronghold for the extremist organization led by Abdulqadir Mumin.

Death Sentences Handed Down

In late February 2024, a military court in Puntland’s capital Garowe condemned the six Moroccans to execution after they confessed to joining Daesh. The harsh ruling drew criticism from anti-death penalty advocates like the Moroccan Coalition Against the Death Penalty, but was not officially opposed by the Moroccan government itself.

Abrupt Release After “Defective” Legal Process

However, in a shocking turnaround on May 13th, the men were released from Garowe prison during a meeting with correctional officers. The release process lacked an appeals process, and did not follow proper procedure.

The news was met with outrage from the business community in Puntland’s commercial hub Bosaso. ISIS has been heavily involved in extorting local companies through mafia-style tactics to finance their operations. Just one day after the militants’ release, a bombing struck the major Bulsho trading firm in an attack widely seen as ISIS retaliation.

Security Force Corruption Alleged

Unconfirmed reports suggest the release deal was brokered between Puntland security officials and Daesh, as well as another suspected ISIS-linked group. If true, it would point to potential corruption that allowed extremely dangerous terrorists to go free in exchange for money.

The circumstances have raised serious concerns about the threat Daesh still poses to stability and security in Puntland. Observers warn the situation lays bare challenges Somalia faces in its counterterrorism efforts and protecting citizens from groups like ISIS that generate funds through criminal means like extortion.

As the saga continues to unfold, all eyes are on how Puntland’s authorities will respond to intense public pressure to re-apprehend the released militants and ensure the integrity of prosecuting terrorism cases. The region remains a hotbed for the international anti-ISIS campaign.