In response to the loss of its heartland in Syria and Iraq, the Islamic State is putting its efforts into portraying itself as a resilient organization. Although the militant group no longer controls territory in the Levant, it still regulates its communications channels, including the Amaq news agency, which it uses to project an image of global reach and strength.
Ejected from its cradle in Mesopotamia, the Islamic State is expanding rapidly elsewhere in the world, including Central Africa — or so it says. On April 18, the Islamic State's central media channel, Amaq, published a claim for an attack that occurred in North Kivu in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. According to Amaq, militants belonging to the Islamic State's "Central Africa Province" attacked Congolese soldiers, killing three and injuring five, in the remote locality of Kamango.
This is the first time that Amaq has claimed an attack in the country, even though fighters claiming allegiance to the Islamic State have been conducting attacks in the area for years now. More active in the area, however, are the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), a jihadist group with origins in Uganda that has attempted to rebrand itself in part by adopting the slogans and flags of an Islamic State-like group.
Why It Matters
Amaq's claim fits within the Islamic State's broader attempt to portray itself as a group that retains its global reach. The organization's reputation has suffered a battering since it lost its last territory in Iraq and Syria, but claims of activity around the world help remediate its image.
Whatever the Islamic State's attempts to shape perceptions, the threat of militancy on the ground in the eastern Congo is unlikely to rise.
Amaq has claimed a series of attacks in a number of countries as part of what it describes as the "Campaign of Vengeance for the Blessed al-Sham Province." In reality, however, the attacks were part of the typical militant activity in each theater whose only link was the Amaq claim. Similarly, the Congolese attack (which is separate from the purported campaign of vengeance) demonstrates how the Islamic State is seeking to shape perception regardless of the reality on the ground. Whatever the Islamic State's attempts to appear potent, the claim does not necessarily indicate a rapid influx of fighters and materials into the Congolese battle, meaning the threat of militancy on the ground is unlikely to change.
The objective of the ADF, which has operated in the border areas between the Congo and Uganda since 1996, is to establish an Islamic State, although it has so far failed in its goals beyond a few remote villages in the rainforest. But despite numerous Ugandan and Congolese offensives against it, the group continues to pose a threat. Since 2015, the ADF has sought to bolster its importance by adopting the symbols of the Islamic State, amid allegations that it has even received direct funding from known Islamic State financiers on at least one occasion. The tenuous affiliation with the Islamic State, however, has not gained the ADF new capabilities or expanded the scope of its activity — something that is unlikely to change even if the global jihadist movement claims responsibility for one of the African group's attacks.