The recent attack which DAESH claimed responsibility for is the latest chain of emerging links between the terrorist group and the Allied Democratic Force, a shadowy Ugandan-led group in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
It was an unusual attack in the already troubled Democratic Republic of Congo, with militants killing two Congolese soldiers and a civilian last Thursday.
Daesh, the terrorist group that for years occupied international headlines, an addition to land, claimed responsibility of its first attack in the DRC, waging a war in a nation that has already been devastated by the decades of regional wars, dozens of militia groups and a recent Ebola outbreak.
In the statement, Daesh said ascribed the attack in the Congolese Beni region, to Central Africa Province, the first time the group has named an affiliate in the region.
While Daesh has lost control of most of the lands it captured in Syria and Iraq, it has begun planting its flag and expanding violence in Africa’s most remote areas, where a lack of state presence leads to extreme poverty and a cycle of violence.
With Daesh-linked Boko Haram refusing to give up on its presence in the Lake Chad region, multiple Daesh-like militant groups have also been making inroads into the entire Sahel region of West Africa, threatening the already weak state structures and the future of millions of people.
Likewise, in the eastern part of DRC, a Uganda-based militant group, the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), has in recent years rebranded and armed itself with the strict, radical and violent interpretation of Islam which is similar to Daesh.
However, due to its lack of public communication, ADF has always remained a shadowy group that kept out of the spotlight.
The Allied Democratic Forces
The ideological origins of ADF had been rooted in the Ugandan government’s long-standing perceived discrimination against its Muslim minority.
The group was founded in 1995 in the eastern DRC by a prominent Ugandan Salafi, Jamil Mukulu, when his armed group was driven out of Uganda.
The group was founded with the stated goal of overthrowing the Ugandan government and setting up a state governed by Islamic laws, for which the group retreated into the conflict-driven eastern DR Congo’s forests.
Questions have been raised regarding the real intentions of the militant group.
Although ADF declared that it seeks to create an Islamic state in Uganda and uses violent narratives for this purpose, many doubt it is the group’s primary motivation but rather one of the many layers used as a tool to assist or cover its political ambitions.
A defector interviewed in 2002 said: “The agenda of the ADF was purely political.” He continued: “Islam was a ticket, so the leaders disguised their political motives in religion.”
However, as the violent ideology has taken a prominent position in the group since the late 2000s, it appears the ADF has undergone internal ideological and structural shifts.
The Congo Research Group, an independent research group focusing on conflict in DRC, analysed dozens of videos posted by the ADF on private social media channels between 2016 and 2017. The videos, according to the organisation, show a “shift in the rhetoric employed by the movement, from a war against the Ugandan government to a broader struggle for Islam”.
The examination of the videos reveals that the group follows its interpretation of Islamic law and the members in the video seem to use Salafi narratives to explain their motives.
As the group has been “making a tentative attempt to align itself with other militant groups” according to the Congo research group, it changed its name to Madina at Tauheed Wau Mujahedeen (MTM) which translates as the city of monotheism and holy warriors.
Tentative ties with DAESH
ADF has often been accused of having ties with other militant groups that operate across the continent, such as Boko Haram, Al Shabab or Al Qaeda.
Kristof Titeca, a lecturer on internal development at the University of Antwerp, told TRT World that the group’s “murky character has been used by a variety of actors for their own benefit”.
Titeca said: “Uganda has used the presence of the ADF as an excuse to enter Congo during the Congo wars; and has used its presumed links with radical elements to tap into US support.”
A comprehensive report published by the research group said that the Ugandan government in particular “has positioned itself as a major ally of the United States in the war on terror”.
It also stated that Uganda “has in the past attributed other attacks to the ADF that have not been corroborated”.
Between 2001 and 2012 overall US military and economic assistance to Uganda rose drastically from $77 million to $399 million. The narrative that Uganda has used to convince its US counterparts has enabled its government to avoid sanctions by Western donors over its poor human rights and corruption records.
However, despite Uganda’s claims, the arrest of Waleed Ahmed Zein, a Kenyan national and alleged Daesh facilitator is significant, providing the first material evidence of links between the ADF and global militant networks.
Zein was arrested in July 2018 on terrorism financing charges and he was sanctioned by the US government in September in 2018.
Kenyan police claimed that Zein was responsible for moving over $150,000 through an extensive Daesh financial network that spanned African countries including DRC. However, the research group’s report says that “it is unclear how closely the ADF is currently in touch with those networks, and how much money or other material support has actually arrived via these channels”.
In addition, in February 2018, DRC soldiers found a Daesh-published book on the body of a dead ADF militant.
The hard copy of the book suggests that there has been an organic connection between ADF and Daesh.
Lastly, the videos that have been examined by the research group found that the flag in the videos is similar to those used by Daesh, Al Shabab, Al Qaeda and Boko Haram “placing a strong emphasis on a radical interpretation of the Quran”.
However, Titeca believes that radical discourse is not the source of the group’s attacks.
“The ADF always had contacts with radical elements, but these always seem to have been minimal,” he said.
“The radical discourse has been used for internal disciplinary purposes, rather than to inspire its actions and attacks.”
The eastern DRC has been the epicentre of continuous violence and the Ebola outbreak, with more than 100 armed groups operating in the mineral-rich area.
ADF attacks have killed at least 1,000 civilians in the region since October 2014.
The involvement of Daesh-linked militant groups in the restive region will most likely do nothing else but add fuel to the decade-long conflict in DR Congo.