KAMPALA, Uganda—Islamic State was collapsing in Iraq and Syria, but from the jungles of Eastern Congo a jihadist appeared on YouTube to declare that the so-called caliphate was regrouping in Central Africa.
“I call on all Muslims in the world to join us in Congo,” said the man, who identified himself as an Arab and sported an oversize machine gun and bandoleer, flanked by a small group of ragtag fighters under a dense forest canopy. “I swear by God this is the abode of Islamic State.”
The video was largely dismissed by analysts as an attempt by the crumbling terror group to gain headlines. But three years after it aired, Islamic State’s little-known Central African Province has expanded so rapidly that the U.S. State Department last month imposed sanctions on the group and its leadership for the first time.
In late March, hundreds of the group’s fighters in Mozambique occupied a key port town after a dayslong siege in which they massacred dozens of people and sent thousands running for their lives through forests and mangrove swamps. The attack forced French oil major Total SE to evacuate all its staff from the $16 billion project along with 2,000 refugees.
Known as Iscap, the swelling band of Congo- and Mozambique-based militants once fighting for autonomy from the central government has this year become one of the terror group’s deadliest franchises, according to SITE intelligence tracker, which monitors extremist groups globally. Led by a veteran Ugandan jihadist, Musa Baluku, the Congolese militia previously known as the Allied Democratic Forces, or ADF, killed over 849 civilians in 2020 alone, the State Department said.