Bilal al-Sudani’s Death Weakens Islamic State Influence in Somalia

Somali soldiers through the World Peace Organization

On January 26, a US special forces operation in the mountainous region of Puntland, Somalia, eliminated Bilal al-Sudani, a militant trainer and financial and logistics strategist within the Islamic State in Somalia (ISS). Al-Sudani, also known as Suhail Salim Abd al-Rahman, was killed along with 10 other members of the group in a shootout at a cave complex in the mountainous region. The exact location of the raid was not made public, but it was reportedly in the Iskushuban area of ​​the Cal Miscad Mountains. The area is home to the ISS, and Somali media had been reporting drone attacks there prior to the US announcement (mustaqbal media, January 27). The operation against al-Sudaani underscored the importance of the US-Somali partnership in the counter-terrorism arena.

Al-Sudani’s key role in Islamic State in Somalia, East Africa and beyond

Al-Sudani’s death deals a blow to ISS’s ambitions to expand into sub-Saharan Africa. He headed a group known as al-Karar, whose regional office facilitated the movement of tactical advisors to IS’s sub-Saharan provinces in Congo and Mozambique and financial and logistical support for the production of propaganda material. Did. Al-Sudani was therefore one of the militants responsible for transforming Congo’s main jihadist rebel group, the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), into the Islamic State in Central Africa Province (ISCAP).intelligence briefs30 January).

Al-Karrar also served as a bridge for auxiliaries in Europe and for IS fighters in Afghanistan. For example, al-Sudani cited the 2021 bombing of Kabul’s Hamid Karzai International Airport by the Islamic State (ISKP) in Khorasan Province, which killed 13 American soldiers (muqdeesho online, February 5). Al-Sudani had been on the US radar since 2012, when the US government sanctioned him for allegedly recruiting foreign fighters for al-Shabaab in Somalia.pmnews27 January).

In 2016, US-trained Somali special forces and Puntland state troops attempted to capture al-Sudani because intelligence officials viewed him as the most senior foreign ISS leader in Somalia at the time.somalilandsecurity, February 6). The success of the operation to kill al-Sudani this year was a major boost in the fight against jihadists in Somalia and abroad.

The culmination of 15 years of terrorism in Somalia

At the center of operations against al-Shabaab are the US-backed Somali Army and the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), which was recently renamed the African Union Transitional Mission in Somalia (ATMIS). The movements of these troops have been boosted by US air support and drone strikes. Along with the attacks, the US has provided other forms of assistance, including weapons, equipment, training, advice, and intelligence. For example, in January 2023, the US donated $9 million in weapons to the Somali military, including light and heavy machine guns, support and construction vehicles, explosive ordnance disposal kits, medical supplies and maintenance equipment (Somali GuardianJanuary 8, 2023)

The most recent period of US military activity in Somalia began in 2007 when US forces conducted raids, drone strikes and launched ship-based missiles against jihadist targets. The attacks intensified during the tenure of former President Donald Trump, but in late 2020 he announced the withdrawal of 700 US troops based in Somalia. Nevertheless, nearly a year later, President Joe Biden redeployed an estimated 500 troops to support the government of new Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamad. At the time al-Shabaab intensified attacks, the number of incidents of violent activity increased from 1,771 to 2,072 by 2021–2022 (acssJanuary 24, 2022).

Al-Shabaab is estimated to still have 7,000 to 12,000 fighters, and spends a quarter of its budget on weapons, explosives and drones (, July 28, 2022). Although it has lost key territory and strategic population centers to Somali forces and ATMIS troops, al-Shabaab still controls large swaths of land in central and southern Somalia (africa news, December 31, 2022). The arrival of the ISS in Puntland (which is still not fully ejected) in 2015 was expected to spark a rivalry with al-Shabaab. However, the latter group still decisively maintains the larger footprint of the two in Somalia (africa news27 January).


While al-Sudani’s death is seen as a major blow to the ISS, it has been seen as a boost to the fight against terrorism in the Horn of Africa and other regions where al-Sudani’s influence has expanded. is also seen. It also highlights the extent of the financial and logistical services of the ISS which helped to grow the influence of the Islamic State (IS) in sub-Saharan Africa. The operation to kill al-Sudani also underscores the risky nature of efforts to counter IS militants in Somalia. That being said, while al-Sudani’s death drew attention to IS’s influence in Somalia, the “big prize” still remains al-Shabaab.

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