ISIS Expansion in Puntland Escalates Jihadist Infighting in Somalia

Published: May 26, 2024

A new report by the Emirates Policy Center has highlighted the growing threat posed by the Islamic State (ISIS) offshoot in Somalia, which has successfully expanded its presence in the Bari region of the semi-autonomous Puntland state. This expansion has come at the expense of the rival Al-Shabaab militant group, which is aligned with Al-Qaeda.

According to the report, ISIS fighters have taken control of the strategic Al-Miskaad mountains from Al-Shabaab after years of clashes between the two groups. The mountains provide ISIS with logistical advantages, including access to the sea, opportunities for taxation and financial operations, and potential coordination with the group’s offshoot in Yemen.

“The expansion of ISIS in Puntland provides the group with a significant propaganda boost to bolster its recruitment efforts and attract foreign fighters,” said Ahmed Khalid, a counterterrorism analyst at the Emirates Policy Center and the lead author of the report.

The report warns that ISIS’s gains in Puntland could complicate counterterrorism efforts across Somalia and have implications for regional maritime security and the interests of international partners. There are concerns that the group may engage in piracy and compete with Al-Shabaab, which has been known to provide protection to Somali pirates in exchange for a share of the ransom proceeds.

Additionally, the report highlights the potential for ISIS to expand its global funding and recruitment networks, leading to increased extortion activities and an influx of more foreign fighters into Somalia.

“The Puntland administration must prioritize containing the threat of ISIS expansion within the state,” Khalid said. “This can be achieved through increased intelligence work and community engagement, aiming to prevent further deterioration of the security situation, dry up ISIS’s funding streams, and undermine its cross-border organizational ties.”

The report also emphasizes the need for a coordinated response from all stakeholders, addressing internal fissures and strengthening local governance across Somalia. Somalia requires sustained internal and external support to regain momentum in its comprehensive strategy to degrade both ISIS and Al-Shabaab, which involves military pressure, as well as ideological and financial warfare.

As the rivalry between ISIS and Al-Shabaab intensifies, the security situation in Puntland and the broader region remains precarious, with potential implications for regional stability and the global fight against terrorism.