KINSHASA (Reuters) – An Islamist rebel group in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo received money from a financier linked to Islamic State, suggesting tentative ties between the Congo insurgents and other jihadists in Africa and beyond, a report said on Thursday.
Islamist “financial facilitator” Waleed Ahmed Zein paid the Allied Democratic Forces at least once, said the report from New York University’s Congo Research Group and the Bridgeway Foundation that cited U.S. sources and an ADF defector.
Zein is on a U.S. government sanctions list and was arrested in his home country of Kenya in July for links to Islamic State. The payments were made in recent years but it was not clear when, how much was paid or how the money was used.
The Congolese government blames the ADF for a series of massacres in the last two years in the east of the country where violence around the city of Beni has hobbled efforts to contain an Ebola outbreak.
The ADF was set up by Ugandan Muslims in the 1990s purporting to fight for the rights of the Tablighi Jamaat sect, although it turned to banditry after crossing Uganda’s western border with Congo.
The Congolese and Ugandan governments accuse the ADF of links with jihadists like al Qaeda but has offered little evidence to back up these claims.
The payment was made as the ADF seeks to align itself with Islamic State, Nigeria-based Boko Haram and al Qaeda and other groups.
“The ADF appear to be … becoming more interested in broadcasting their messages to a wider … audience and are attempting to present themselves within a broader setting of radical jihadi groups,” the report said.
Links between the ADF and other groups are not yet strong, it said. Reuters was unable to independently verify the findings of the report.
To reach a wider audience, the ADF has made propaganda videos which feature a flag similar to Islamic State’s and broadcast in Luganda, Arabic, French, Kinyarwanda and Swahili, the region’s most widely spoken language. They call for martyrdom and violence against infidels, the report said.
Rival militia groups control parts of eastern Congo, long after the official end of a 1998-2003 war in which millions of people died, mostly from hunger and disease.
Rights groups say the army is responsible for at least some of the recent killings in eastern Congo.
(Reporting By Giulia Paravicini; Writing by Edward McAllister; Editing by Tim Cocks and Matthew Mpoke Bigg)