The Islamic State Greater Sahara
Group financing profile
Throughout the last few decades, terrorist group activity in the Sahel region of Africa has surged and devastated Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, and Niger, amongst other nations. One of such groups attacking civilian and military targets is an Islamic State affiliate – the Islamic State Greater Sahara (ISGS). ISGS is a relatively small IS affiliate and has faced recent losses, including the death of its leader, Al Sahwari, after he was killed by French counterterrorism forces in 2021. Nonetheless, the group’s linkages and ability to form alliances with other groups, including the larger Islamic State West Africa Province and even Al Qaeda affiliates, make ISGS an important player in the region. While counterterrorism efforts against the group have largely been kinetic in nature, disrupting the financial activities of ISGS is a measure worth exploring.
Origins and Operations
The Islamic State Greater Sahara (ISGS) formed in May 2015 after splitting from Al Mourabitoun, an Al-Qaeda affiliated organization. Adnan Abu Walid al Sahrawi founded the group when he swore allegiance to the Islamic State. Upon switching loyalties, Al Sahrawi and his followers began conducting attacks in pursuit of IS goals. However, the pledge was not formally accepted by IS core until April 2019 for unknown reasons. Now as an official IS affiliate, ISGS has between 400 and 1000 members, according to 2022 UN estimates.
Since its inception, ISGS has operated in the African Sahel Region – namely in Mali, Niger, and Burkina Faso. It is headquartered around Menaka in Mali and has focused military activity in the areas sharing borders with Burkina Faso and Niger. ISGS is one of the many groups contributing to the violence and instability in the area that are targeted by several local and international counterterrorism forces. The group’s tactic of mobile ambushes in the rural desert has stretched Sahelian security force capacity and made counterterrorism efforts challenging. ISGSs’ ability to conduct these attacks is based in part on the resources that the group is able to raise.