The faction loyal to Sheikh Abdulqader Mumin was targeted by US drone strikes last week in the first US operation targeting Daesh in the Horn of Africa, US Africa Command said.
In the report, the UN monitoring group for Somalia said the Daesh faction, which was estimated in 2016 “to number not more than a few dozen, has grown significantly in strength” and may “consist of as many as 200 fighters.”
Phone records from Mumin showed he was in contact with a Daesh operative in Yemen who acts as an intermediary with senior Daesh leaders in Iraq and Syria “though the exact nature of this contact is unclear,” said the report.
Former members of the faction who defected in December said the Mumin group received orders as well as financing from Iraq and Syria, the report said.
The group captured the town of Qandala in Puntland’s Bari region in October 2016, declaring it the seat of the Islamic Caliphate in Somalia before being pushed out two months later by Puntland forces backed by US military advisers.
In February, Daesh gunmen stormed a hotel in Bosaso, the economic capital of Puntland, and in May the faction carried out its first suicide attack at a police checkpoint near Bosaso, killing five people.
“The group showed signs of increasing tactical capabilities during its first attack target a hotel,” said the UN monitors.
The UN report raised concerns that the Bari region could become a potential haven for foreign Daesh fighters as the extremists are driven out of their strongholds in Syria and Iraq.
Daesh in Somalia “presents (a) more natural appeal to foreign terrorist fighters than Al-Shabab,” it added.
Al-Shabab, another militant group, is affiliated with Daesh’s global rival Al-Qaeda.
The Bari region has attracted a limited number of foreign fighters including Sudanese national Abu Faris who is on the US terror list for recruiting foreign fighters for Al-Shabab.
While the faction is expanding, its fighters appear to be poorly paid or not paid at all. Unmarried fighters receive no salary, while married militants receive $50 per month plus $10-$20 per child, depending on the age.
The report estimated that the salary payments were between $3,000 and $9,000 per month, allowing Daesh leaders “to fund its insurgency on a limited budget.”
UN monitors said the faction will likely face frequent defections from poorly paid fighters, a problem that also affects Al-Shabab.
On Saturday, the US military said it has carried out a new drone strike against the Al-Shabab extremist group in Somalia, killing “several” militants.
A statement by the US Africa Command said the strike was carried out Friday night in Lower Shabelle region, about 20 miles north of the capital, Mogadishu. It came a day after another strike in the Bay Region, about 100 miles west of Mogadishu.
Friday’s airstrike was the 23rd the US military has carried out this year against the Al-Shabab and the far smaller Daesh group in Somalia. The Trump administration earlier this year approved expanded military operations against extremists in the Horn of Africa nation.
The latest US drone strike was carried out in coordination with Somalia’s government, the US statement said.
Al-Shabab, the deadliest extremist group in Africa, has been blamed for the massive truck bombing in Mogadishu last month that killed more than 350 people. It was Somalia’s worst-ever attack and one of the world’s deadliest in years.
While Somalia’s president has vowed a “state of war” in response to last month’s attack, concern is growing about the gradual security handover that has begun from a 22,000-strong African Union (AU) force to Somali national forces.
The AU this week announced the beginning of its withdrawal from the long-chaotic and still heavily fractured nation, saying it will cut 1,000 troops by the end of the year. The AU pullout is set to be complete by the end of 2020.