ISIS is desperate to try to establish a state in Africa’s Sahara desert as the alternative location for Syria and Iraq, especially after suffering from recent strikes, the most prominent being the death of its leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in October 2019. Turkey is cooperating with ISIS by sending nearly 500 armed ISIS militants from Syria and Iraq to Libya.
From ashes to rebirth
The Moroccan website Assabah revealed that there are secret reports that as part of the announced plan to revive the alleged ISIS caliphate, Turkey is sending extremists from Syria and Iraq, along with prison escapees, to the Sahara region, with the aim of extending to the southern regions of Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya and Egypt, and northern Mauritania, Sudan and Mali.
ISIS is trying to merge factions from Turkey, Syria and Iraq – most of whom are Uighur and Turkmen militants – with the pro-ISIS Boko Haram group in Mali and mercenary groups from Sudan to form an organization including hundreds of thousands and to revive ISIS in North Africa.
The terrorist organization is trying to combine these factions with the groups loyal to it in Africa and to put them under the banner of Abou Walid al-Sahraoui, who is believed to be well acquainted with the lax region between the Maghreb and the Sahel. It also has many relationships with countries that help to send it money and militants to the Sahara desert.
The beginning of ISIS’s emergence in that region dates back to 2015, following the merger of several terrorist groups into the Al-Mourabitoun group under the leadership of Sahraoui, who was born in Laayoune, Western Sahara in 1973.
When Sahraoui first appeared in 2011, he had announced the establishment of the Tawhid wal-Jihad in West Africa group, which kidnapped three European citizens in the Sahel region, although it had not announced its allegiance to any party or organization at that time.
Prior to that, he had been an activist in the separatist Polisario Front, a national desert liberation front that aims to end Morocco’s presence in the Western Sahara region.
On May 15, 2015, ISIS released an audio recording of Sahraoui in which he said that the Al-Mourabitoun group was pledging its allegiance to Baghdadi.
In August 2018, the United Nations Security Council and the United States separately placed Sahraoui on their lists of most dangerous terrorist figures, affirming that he is linked to ISIS.
In June 2019, intelligence reports revealed that Baghdadi announced the appointment of Sahraoui to be responsible for the organization’s branch in Africa, specifically in Burkina Faso, South Africa, Congo and Mozambique, along with his leadership of armed operations in Niger and Mali.
ISIS and al-Qaeda between conflict and expansion
ISIS has managed to infiltrate many terrorist groups loyal to al-Qaeda, chief among them the Jund al-Khilafah fi Ard al-Jazair (Soldiers of the Caliphate in Algeria), members of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, and the Al-Mourabitoun group led by Sahraoui, in addition to some elements of the Boko Haram group in Nigeria and elements of the Uqba bin Nafi Brigade in Tunisia. Since 2018, ISIS has also managed to expand into new African countries, led by Congo, Burkina Faso and Central Africa.
Recently, ISIS has continued to use its media machine to broadcast propaganda videos to help it spread in the middle of the Sahara desert, around Lake Chad, and in northern Nigeria, Burkina Faso and Benin. The Sahara also represents a large area for ISIS because of its vast terrain of 9 million square kilometers and its vast borders that overlook a number of countries in North and West Africa.