By Conor Gaffey
A military court in a semiautonomous region of Somalia reportedly sentenced two men to death Sunday for alleged membership of the Islamic State militant group (ISIS).
The chief of the military court in Puntland, Colonel Abdifitah Hajji Aden, said that two other men were sentenced to life imprisonment for the same crime, according to private Somali website Shabelle Media Network. The news was also reported on social media by several prominent Somali commentators.
ISIS has a small, but apparently growing, presence in Somalia and recently seized control of the small Puntland port town of Qandala, the first time it had held territory inside Somalia.
The group is headed up by Abdiqadir Mumin, a former commander in Al-Shabab, Somalia’s biggest Islamist group. Mumin and a small band of fighters split from Al-Shabab in 2015, pledging their allegiance to ISIS and reportedly locating themselves in the mountainous regions of Puntland.
Al-Shabab, which is aligned with al-Qaeda, has conducted purges of members suspected of sympathizing with ISIS, ordering for fighters who sow division in the group to be executed.
A November 17 report by the International Crisis Group said that Mumin’s ISIS faction was taking advantage of the disorder created by local clan fighting and regional conflict between forces in Puntland and Galmudug, another semi-autonomous territory in Somalia that lies south of Puntland.
The report warned that the faction’s expansion along the Puntland coast gave it strategic links with Yemen, which lies just tens of miles across the Gulf of Aden and where ISIS factions have been reportedly operating.
Somali Prime Minister Omar Abdirashid Ali Sharmarke recently told Newsweek that ISIS could constitute “tomorrow’s reality” in Somalia unless it was dealt with urgently.