On Wednesday, UN experts said they had been unable to identify evidence of Islamic State’s direct backing for an Islamist militia in eastern Congo that Washington had designated as a terrorist group in March.
Experts on Central Africa have been disputing whether the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), which has been accused for escalating violence in eastern Congo over the past two years, has true ties to the Middle Eastern-based Islamic State group, often known as ISIS or ISIL.
The ADF has publicly aligned itself with Islamic State, which in turn has claimed responsibility for some of its attacks. The United States referred to the ADF as “ISIS-DRC” when it added it to its terrorism blacklist.
In its latest report, the U.N. Group of Experts on the Congo said the ADF and Islamic State both benefited from making public statements that link them with each other. Such statements were “complementing and amplifying ADF local propaganda, and suggesting increased global reach for ISIL,” the report said.
But it added: “The Group did not however find conclusive evidence of ISIL command and control over ADF operations, nor of ISIL direct support to ADF, either financial, human or material.”
It found the ADF was getting better at making bombs using expertise from fighters recruited from East Africa, but that these bombs were used for “tactical, offensive, defensive and harassment purposes rather than as a terrorist tool”.
Since the army initiated operations against it in late 2019, the ADF has carried out a series of deadly revenge assaults on civilians. According to United Nations data, the gang killed roughly 850 people in Congo’s restive east last year, and bloodshed has continued this year with virtually weekly attacks.
According to experts, the militia has expanded its reach through recruitment, better terrain command, and the placing of bombs that far outpace the Congolese army’s capabilities.
They encouraged the Congolese government to strengthen the army’s intelligence and technological capacities while stepping up efforts to negotiate a disengagement and disarming with the group.