Islamic State Central Africa Province
Also Known As: Central Africa Wilayah, Wilayat Wasat Ifriqiya, IS-CAP;
Country Of Origin: Mozambique;
Operational Area: Mozambique, Democratic Republic of Congo;
Involved In: Assassinations, Armed Attacks, Bomb Attacks;
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The Central Africa Province (also known as Central Africa Wilayah, Wilayat Wasat Ifriqiya and IS-CAP) is an administrative division of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), a Salafi jihadist militant group and unrecognised proto-state.
As result of a lack of information, the foundation date and territorial extent of the Central Africa Province are difficult to gauge, while the military strength, and activities of the province’s affiliates are disputed.
According to pro-Islamic State media and some other sources, the Central Africa Province has a presence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo as well as Mozambique.
Background and foundation
Following its seizure of much territory in Syria as well as Iraq, and its proclamation of a restored caliphate, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) became internationally well known and an attractive ally to extremist Jihadist Islamist groups around the world. Several rebel groups in West Africa, Somalia and the Sahara swore allegiance to the Islamic State, and these factions grew in importance as Islamic State’s core faction in the Middle East declined.
Despite the growing importance of pro-Islamic State groups in western, northern, and eastern Africa, no major Islamic State faction sprang up in central and southern Africa for years. A faction known as the “Islamic State in Somalia, Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda” was set up in April 2016, but was only active in Somalia as well as Kenya for a short time.
In October 2017, a video emerged on pro-Islamic State channels that showed a small number of militants in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DR Congo) who claimed to be part of the “City of Monotheism and Monotheists” (MTM) group. The leader of the militants went on to say that “that this is Dar al-Islam of the Islamic State in Central Africa” and called upon other like-minded individuals to travel to MTM territory in order to join the war against the government. The Long War Journal noted that though this pro-Islamic State group in Congo appeared to be very small, its emergence had gained a notable amount of attention from Islamic State sympathizers.
There were subsequently disputes about the nature of MTM. The Congo Research Group (CRG) argued in 2018 that MTM was in fact part of the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), an Islamist group that has waged an insurgency in the eastern DR Congo as well as neighboring Uganda for decades.
Some experts believed that the ADF had begun to cooperate with the Islamic State, and that MTM was its attempt to publicly garner support from Islamic State loyalists. Islamic State’s self-proclaimed caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi first mentioned a “Central Africa Province” in a speech in August 2018, suggesting that this branch already existed beforehand.
By mid-2018, the African Union claimed that Islamic State militants had infiltrated northern Mozambique, where the Islamist rebels of Ansar al-Sunna had already waged an insurgency since 2017. In May 2018, some Mozambican rebels posted a photo of themselves posing with a black flag which was used by Islamic State, but also other Jihadist groups. Overall, the presence of Islamic State in Mozambique remained disputed at the time, and the country’s police strongly denied that Islamic State loyalists were active in the area.
Several Jihadist news outlets such as the Amaq News Agency, Nashir News Agency, and Al-Naba newsletter declared in April 2019 that the Islamic State’s “Central Africa Province” had carried out attacks in the eastern DR Congo. This marked the first time that IS-CAP had actually emerged as tangible entity.
The first purported raids by Islamic State’s Central Africa Province targeted the Congolese Armed Forces (FARDC) at the village of Kamango and a military base at Bovata on 18 April; both localities are near Beni, close to the border with Uganda.
It remained unclear how many militants in the Congo had actually joined the Islamic State. Journalist Sunguta West regarded the declaration of the Central Africa Province as an attempt by a weakened Islamic State “to boost its ego and project strength” after its defeats in Syria and Iraq. A photo released by the Al-Naba newsletter showed about 15 purported IS-CAP members.
The Defense Post argued that one splinter faction of the ADF had possibly joined IS-CAP, while the ADF’s official leadership had made no bay’ah (“oath of allegiance”) to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi or Islamic State in general.
Researcher Marcel Heritier Kapiteni generally doubted whether Islamic State followers had been involved in the attacks at all, arguing that IS-CAP might be no more than a propaganda tool in a “media war”. According to him, “DRC’s terrain is not socially favorable to radical Islam”.
On 4 June 2019, ISIL claimed that its Central African Province had carried out a successful attack on the Mozambique Defence Armed Forces (FADM) at Mitopy in the Mocímboa da Praia District, Mozambique. At least 16 people were killed and about 12 wounded during the attack. By this point, Islamic State considered Ansar al-Sunna as one its affiliates, though how many Islamist rebels in Mozambique were actually loyal to Islamic State remained unclear.
The Defense Post argued that it was impossible to judge whether the attack had been carried out by IS-CAP or another armed group due the lack of information on the rebels in Mozambique. In any case, the Mozambique police once again denied that any Islamic State elements were active in the country. In October 2019, IS-CAP carried out two ambushes against Mozambican security forces and allied Russian Wagner Group mercenaries in Cabo Delgado Province, reportedly killing 27 soldiers.
In contrast to its growing presence in Mozambique, IS-CAP’s operations in the Congo remained small in scale and number by late 2019. Researcher Nicholas Lazarides argued that this proved the ADF’s non-alignment with the Islamic State, suggesting that IS-CAP was indeed just a splinter faction. Accordingly, the Central Africa Province’s main importance laid in its propaganda value and its future potential to grow through its connections with the well-established, well-known Islamic State core group.
The Central Africa Province officially pledged allegiance to Islamic State’s new caliph Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurashi on 7 November 2019.