Thursday, June 20, 2024

Africa File, June 20, 2024: Africa Crucial to IS Global Network; Burkinabe Junta Faces Coup Risk

Author: Liam Karr

Data Cutoff: June 20, 2024, at 10 a.m.

The Africa File provides regular analysis and assessments of major developments regarding state and nonstate actors’ activities in Africa that undermine regional stability and threaten US personnel and interests.

Key Takeaways:

IS in Africa. The reported presence of multiple high-level leaders in Somalia and across Africa reflects Africa’s increasingly focal role in the IS global network. This includes the involvement of African-based affiliates and leaders in IS global operations, including funding external attacks and recruiting foreign fighters.

Burkina Faso. The deadliest attack on the Burkinabe military since the Salafi-jihadi insurgency in the country began has triggered internal tensions threatening Burkinabe junta leader Ibrahim Traore. The Kremlin and other Sahelian juntas rushed to support Traore, demonstrating the regime-security functions of the Russian-backed Alliance of Sahel States. The attack adds to already growing internal tensions that threaten to cause prolonged instability, which will preoccupy security forces and create opportunities for the regional al Qaeda and IS affiliates.


IS in Africa

The United States targeted a senior IS leader in an air strike in Somalia in late May. A US drone targeted Islamic State Somalia Province (ISS) Emir Abdulqadir Mumin on May 31, although it is unclear whether the strike killed Mumin.[1] US officials claimed that Mumin became IS’s “global leader” in 2023 and that IS views Africa as “a place where they should invest, where [governments] are more permissive and [IS is] able to operate better and more freely.”[2]

Multiple analysts have clarified that Mumin is likely the head of the General Directorate of Provinces and not the official IS caliph.[3] Making a non-Qurayshi Arab the caliph would challenge IS’s religious legitimacy among its worldwide followers due to their belief that a rightful caliph must hail from the Prophet Muhammad’s Quraysh tribe.[4] IS also publicly named Abu Hafs al Hashemi al Qurayshi the caliph in an August 2023 press release but provided no additional details on the caliph or his background.[5]

The head of the General Directorate of Provinces has been more operationally significant than the strategic and somewhat symbolic role of the caliph since ISIS was territorially defeated. IS founded the predecessor of what is now the directorate to manage its new affiliates across the globe in 2014.[6] The directorate has grown in importance since the late 2010s when ISIS’s military defeats forced IS to significantly decentralize.[7] The directorate provides operational guidance and coordinates funding to all of IS’s global affiliates through various IS regional offices, plays a central role in external attack operations, and oversees internal administrative high-level affairs within provinces.[8] The current directorate head has been unknown since February 2023.

ISS already plays a major role in the IS global network that would enable it to support the General Directorate of Provinces office. ISS hosts the regional East Africa IS office, al Karrar, which oversees financing, training, and other support for the group’s personnel in East and South Africa and the global IS network.[9] The office has allowed ISS to play an outsized role in the Islamic State’s administrative network despite the Somalia faction’s small military footprint, which numbers fewer than 400 militants.[10] The United States and UN have reported that the group generates hundreds of thousands of dollars per month for regional IS financing efforts through extortion rackets in the nearby regional port capital, Bossaso, despite the pressure it faces from al Shabaab.[11] ISS’s relatively central location between the IS affiliates in Central Africa, West Africa, the Middle East, and Southeast Asia would also support the directorate’s global responsibilities.

Voice of America also reported “rumors” that the IS caliph arrived in Somalia from Yemen in early June. Voice of America is presumably re-reporting a claim initially made by Middle East Institute scholar Guled Wiliq.[12] Qurayshi could have used the many smuggling routes throughout the Middle East and the Somalia-Yemen arms-smuggling corridor in the Gulf of Aden to reach Somalia.[13] Various armed forces had killed the two previous IS caliphs in Syria in just over one year, highlighting the increasingly hostile environment and cause for potential relocation.[14] However, relocating to Africa risks undermining the group’s legitimacy by effectively admitting at least temporary defeat in IS’s historical and religious heartland, the Middle East. The IS affiliate in Somalia is also relatively small and faces threats from al Qaeda’s Somali affiliate, al Shabaab, and Western and Western-backed security forces.

ISS has waged an offensive against al Shabaab since 2023 to improve its position, which may be tied to IS efforts to reduce pressure on potential leadership havens in northern Somalia. IS has published two updates in 2024 in its weekly newsletter highlighting this offensive, saying ISS has killed hundreds of militants and taken control of the ’Al Miskaad Mountains.[15] Al Shabaab is ISS’s main competitor for control of the mountain range, although both groups face sporadic pressure from local and international forces.[16] CTP assessed in April that these sanctuaries would strengthen the IS regional office’s ability to support global IS activity.[17] US officials specifically said IS leaders “want to expand” the IS Somalia cell, when commenting on the May 31 air strike targeting Mumin.[18]

Figure 1. Al Shabaab and Islamic State Somalia Province Battle for Supremacy in Northern Somalia


Source: Liam Karr; Josie Von Fischer.

The various claims on senior IS leaders residing in Somalia adds to other indicators that IS is diffusing or relocating more key leadership positions to Africa. The UN noted in its January 2024 report on IS that several member states assessed that Africa is the most likely destination for IS core leadership if the attrition and security challenges in Iraq and Syria forced IS to shift away from the Middle East.[19] Unverified reports from the well-connected, Nigeria-based, open-source reporting network Zagazola claimed in January 2024 that the IS Shura Council was considering setting up a base for core leadership in Niger.[20] CTP previously assessed in November that Islamic State Sahel Province’s (ISSP) growing strength throughout 2023 was creating the conditions for a leadership hub in the tri-border area of Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger.[21]

This leadership shift from the Middle East would reflect the de facto change to Africa as the epicenter of IS activity that has occurred since ISIS’s territorial defeat. IS African affiliates combined have claimed more attacks than either ISIS or IS Southeast Asia affiliates since 2022 and have claimed more attacks than all other IS branches combined since 2023.[22] IS affiliates in the Sahel and Lake Chad Basin, and Mozambique and Somalia to a lesser extent, also control and govern more territory in their area of operations outright than most IS affiliates.[23]

IS media reflects this reality, as 80 percent of the weekly al Naba newsletters have focused on African affiliates in 2024.[24] Some of this media also focuses on the soft propaganda related to governance and religious efforts that boost IS legitimacy.[25] ISIS used to focus on these topics but has been unable to continue such efforts since its territorial collapse.[26]

IS’s Africa affiliates—especially ISS—also increasingly contribute to the group’s global operations, including foreign fighter recruitment and external attacks. The UN and United States have confirmed that ISS has used operatives in South Africa to transfer money to IS Khorasan Province (ISKP).[27] ISKP has become the most active IS branch in terms of plotting and conducting external operations and has killed hundreds of civilians in Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan, and Russia.[28] European security forces have thwarted several ISKP attack networks, and analysts and security officials have warned in 2024 of a heightened risk of ISKP plots targeting the West, including the United States.[29] Swedish police have also disrupted multiple attack and recruitment cells linked to ISS, and Mumin’s alleged role as the GDP head would further connect ISS to external attack planning.[30] These ties illustrate that IS uses Somalia to at least facilitate funding—and possibly planning—for external attacks.

IS affiliates’ growing territorial enclaves have also become hubs for foreign fighters looking to join IS, especially in recent years.[31] The presence of foreign fighters has historically led to an increase in Salafi-jihadi groups’ external attack plots.[32] Foreign fighters are more hardened ideologues that ascribe to transnational Salafi-jihadism and are not as interested in the local aims and grievances that motivate local militants. Many foreign fighters have also demonstrated interest in returning to their countries of origin to organize attack plots after being further radicalized in an active conflict theater.[33]

Figure 2. The Salafi-Jihadi Movement in Africa


Source: Liam Karr.

Burkina Faso

The deadliest attack on the Burkinabe military since the Salafi-jihadi insurgency in the country began in 2015 has triggered internal tensions threatening Burkinabe junta leader Ibrahim Traore. At least 400 militants from al Qaeda’s Sahelian affiliate Jama’at Nusrat al Islam wa al Muslimeen (JNIM) overran security forces in Mansila village, eastern Burkina Faso, on June 11, killing over 100 Burkinabe soldiers.[34] Unknown soldiers exchanged fire near the presidential palace and national broadcast station in Ouagadougou the following day.[35] Local reports tied the violence to widespread discontent among army commanders and soldiers after the June 11 attack.[36]

Ibrahim Traore has been largely absent since the attack and resulting tumult, fueling coup rumors. Traore appeared in public only once in the week after the Mansila attack, when he briefly appeared at a blood drive on June 14.[37] The French newspaper Le Monde reported on June 19 that Traore was hiding in an unknown location due to the unrest in the military and that talks were underway to peacefully remove him from power.[38] However, Traore emerged on June 20 to visit the national broadcast station and hold a delayed ministerial meeting.[39]

Large-scale insurgent attacks have contributed to multiple coup attempts in Burkina Faso since 2022. JNIM killed more than 50 Burkinabe soldiers and civilian auxiliaries in an attack in northern Burkina Faso in early September, which had been the deadliest attack since the current junta took power, in October 2022.[40] The junta claimed to thwart a coup attempt several weeks later, on September 26, following reports of unrest among multiple army garrisons and camps.[41] High-casualty militant attacks also preceded both successful Burkinabe coups, in January and October 2022.[42]

The Kremlin and other Sahelian juntas rushed to support Traore, demonstrating the regime-security functions of the Russian-backed Alliance of Sahel States. A Russian IL-76 transport aircraft has made numerous rotations between Mali and Ouagadougou since June 15.[43] French outlet Radio France Internationale reported that these flights deployed between 80 and 120 Malian and Russian soldiers to support Traore’s “faltering” regime.[44] An anonymous officer from one of the Alliance of Sahel States countries also claimed the juntas in Mali and Niger—the other two countries in the alliance—offered “direct support” to Traore if needed amid the coup rumors.[45]

The Mansila attack add to already growing internal tensions that threaten to cause prolonged instability, which will preoccupy security forces and create opportunities for the regional al Qaeda and IS affiliates. Hundreds of civilian militia auxiliaries across northern and eastern Burkina Faso have reportedly quit since May 2024 due to high casualty rates, rights violations, withholding of salaries, and a lack of equipment.[46] Traore launched a campaign shortly after taking power to recruit at least 50,000 of these civilian auxiliaries to address the Burkinabe military’s inherent manpower shortages and stem the rapidly escalating insurgency.[47] Burkinabe authorities claimed over 90,000 Burkinabe enlisted, which marked an enormous expansion on preexisting efforts that began in 2020 to mobilize civilians under a formal auxiliary group called Volunteers for the Defense of the Homeland—or Volontaires pour la défense de la patrie (VDPs).[48] VDP units participated in 269 offensive engagements in the first 18 months of Traore’s rule, compared with only 78 in the 18 months before October 2022.[49]

The junta has also mobilized the VDP and Burkinabe soldiers to safeguard against any coup plot, which degrades the military’s ability to conduct counterinsurgency operations. Many VDP members had strongly supported Traore, creating a populist armed support base that provides some regime security against rival security force factions.[50] The Burkinabe army chief of staff mobilized Burkinabe soldiers and VDP to their respective detachments on June 13, which internal security sources claimed was due to internal tensions.[51] Several elite Rapid Intervention Battalions also relocated from their regional bases near insurgent-afflicted areas to the capital on the night of June 19.[52] These shifts will decrease the frequency and effectiveness of defensive and offensive operations around the country as long as security forces are preoccupied.

Focusing on regime stability rather than counterinsurgency operations will reduce pressure on insurgent support zones, enabling the insurgents to continue massing in large numbers for overwhelming attacks. JNIM is already besieging numerous towns—including provincial capitals—around Burkina Faso.[53] This enables the group to overwhelm isolated bases and villages, such as Mansila. JNIM and ISSP conducted 23 attacks that killed 20 or more security forces and civilians in the first five months of 2024.[54] The groups conducted 29 such attacks in 2023.[55] The groups also conducted four attacks that killed over 50 people in the first five months of 2024, which is already close to the six such attacks that occurred in 2023.[56] The broader trend of growing insecurity will further undermine the junta’s legitimacy and stability, creating a self-feeding cycle that compounds internal instability and creates more space for insurgents.

Figure 3. JNIM Intensifies Attacks in Burkina Faso


Source: Liam Karr; Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project.

Growing insecurity in Burkina Faso will likely continue fomenting political instability for the foreseeable future regardless of Russian assistance. Russian assistance to Niger is primarily focused on regime security, not counterinsurgency operations. Traore has expanded the VDP as the answer to manpower shortages and has sought Russian assistance only when his grasp on power has been under threat.[57] This is reflected in the small Russian contingent in Burkina Faso, which is between 100 to 300 soldiers based around Ouagadougou, not on the front lines. Even if Russian assistance played a more active counterinsurgency role, up to 2,000 Russian soldiers have also not slowed the Salafi-jihadi insurgency in neighboring Mali.
















[15] Site Intelligence Group, “In Focus on Somalia in an-Naba 428, IS Reveals Battles with Shabaab over Past Year Resulting in 100s of Casualties,” February 7, 2024, available by subscription at; Site Intelligence Group, “IS Reports Driving Shabaab from Cal Miskaad Mountains, Inflicting over 50 Casualties in Campaign over 3 Months in an-Naba 439 ‘Exclusive,’” April 22, 2024, available by subscription at















[30]; https://www.hiiraan dot com/news4/2024/May/196101/somali_imam_arrested_in_sweden_on_terrorism_charges.aspx;



















[49] Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project (ACLED) database, available at





[54] ACLED database, available at

[55] ACLED database, available at

[56] ACLED database, available at