Islamic State-aligned fighters unlikely to establish insurgency in 2019 despite attacking Al-Shabaab unit in northeastern Somalia

21 December 2018

This picture taken on 1 September 2016, in Nairobi shows a computer screen displaying the portrait of Somali-born cleric Abdulqadir Mumin, accused of heading the Islamic State group in Somalia. Source: Simon Maina/AFP/Getty Images

Key Points

  • Islamic State fighters on 16 December reportedly conducted a small-arms assault on Al-Shabaab fighters southwest of Qandala in the northeastern Puntland state. This represents the group's first pre-emptive small-arms assault against Al-Shabaab since a core group of around 25 Al-Shabaab fighters pledged allegiance to the Islamic State in October 2015, and engaged in series of armed confrontations with Al-Shabaab throughout late 2015.
  • We assess that Al-Shabaab will remain the most capable non-state armed group in Somalia over the next year. Pro-Islamic State fighters are unlikely to establish a sustained insurgency in Puntland, primarily due to Al-Shabaab counter-attacks and unfavourable clan rivalries undermining recruitment and operations.
  • However, if the Islamic State force begins to receive more external financing - and/or can generate revenue from domestic sources in 2019 - then this would indicate an increased likelihood of a VBIED attack in Puntland's capital of Bosaso.


Islamic State's Amaq News Agency on 18 December released video footage of the group's first pre-emptive assault against Harakat al-Shabaab Al-Mujahideen (Al-Shabaab), targeting their position in Bir Mirali, southwest of Qandala in Puntland state. We assess, however, that pro-Islamic State fighters are unlikely to establish an insurgency in 2019.

Harakat al-Shabaab al-Mujahideen's (Al-Shabaab) spokesperson Ali Mohamoud Rage (alias Ali Dhere) on 21 December said that Al-Shabaab fighters had been ordered to "uproot" an Islamic State-aligned faction in Somalia's northeastern state of Puntland. The statement came in response to the Islamic State's Amaq News Agency on 18 December releasing video footage of Islamic State fighters assaulting a remote Al-Shabaab position on 16 December in the northeastern village of Bir Mirali, southwest of Qandala in Puntland state. Amaq claimed that 14 Al-Shabaab fighters had been killed. Four deceased fighters and eight captured AK-pattern assault rifles were displayed. Amaq reported the assault targeted an Al-Shabaab unit that was "preparing to attack the Islamic State's position".

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