A new terrorist group has pledged allegiance to Isis as it continues to expand its presence in East Africa.
A group calling itself “Jahba East Africa” announced its alliance on Thursday, hailing a “new era” in the region.
In a statement, militants gave bayah (an oath of allegiance) to Isis leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and recognised him as the “rightful Khalifa (leader) of all Muslims”.
The group’s name is previously unknown but there were hints in the statement that its supporters may previously have been part of al-Shabaab.
Jahba East Africa criticised the group, which is linked to al-Qaeda and controls swathes of Somalia, as well as launching attacks in Kenya and other countries in the region.
“We in Jahba East Africa are advising all East Africans to leave al-Shabaab and their sponsor groups, like Al-Muhajiroun, Al-Hijra and Ansar Islam,” the statement said.
“Like Al-Shabaab the sponsor groups have not understood the binding obligation of the Khalifah (caliphate).
“We are telling the mujahideen in East Africa that al-Shabaab has now become a psychological and physical prison.
“To pledge bayah to Caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is freedom for the mujahideen in East Africa and opportunity to wage jihad according to the Sunnah against the enemies of Allah.”
A spokesperson said the group was “newly created” and comprised of militants fighting in Somalia, including Kenyans, Tanzanians and Ugandans.
He said militants had been detained for pledging allegiance to Isis, adding that the statement was “on behalf all the East Africans in al-Shabaab and those that seek to open new up fronts in East Africa”.
There have been rumours of internal disputes between supporters of Isis and al-Qaeda within al-Shabaab for years, culminating in the reported creation of a pro-Islamic State faction.
Pressure to switch allegiance from al-Qaeda grew when Nigerian insurgents Boko Haram joined Isis in March last year and released a message urging its fellow sub-Saharan jihadists to do the same.
Isis leaders are understood to have approached al-Shabaab leaders themselves to make an alliance and released a series of propaganda videos calling for the creation of “Wilayat Somalia” – Somalia province.
A memo was reportedly circulated among al-Shabaab fighters in September saying that its allegiance to al-Qaeda would not change and warning of punishments under Islamic law for any dissenters.
The move to silence pro-Isis elements appears to have failed. In a newly-created Twitter account, Jahba East Africa were calling on jihadists to join them on Friday, adding: “A new era will come to East Africa soon InshaAllah (God willing).”
Isis uses pledges of allegiance by existing terrorist and insurgent groups to establish franchises around the world.
Libya’s Shura Council of Islamic Youth, for example, became Wilayat Barqa, while Egyptian jihadists Ansar Bait al-Maqdis were rebranded as Wilayat Sinai.
Groups in Southeast Asia, the Caucasus, West Africa, Algeria and Gaza have also declared their allegiance to become part of the “global caliphate”.
The US Africa Command warned that the number of Isis fighters in Libya had doubled to between 4,000 and 6,000 in the last year as it seeks to expand.
American drone and air strikes have targeted jihadists in the country, as well as in other African countries where jihadists are launching insurgencies.
Al-Shabaab and other insurgents in Somalia are being fought by an African Union mission (Amisom) and United Nations coalition (Unosom), which includes British troops.
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