The Islamic State (IS) offshoot in Somalia has extended its presence in Puntland state in northeastern Somalia following several clashes with its primary rival, al-Shabab, according to a new report.

The Emirates Policy Center report stated that since early 2023, the two sides have engaged in numerous clashes, with the fiercest occurring in March 2023, leaving 46 dead, including leaders from both sides.

The IS group announced that it had expanded its presence in the Bari region after taking control of the Al-Miskaad mountains from al-Shabab, leading to the deaths of 50 fighters, including key commanders in April 2024. Over the last eight years, al-Shabab has struggled with IS for control over this strategic region, intensifying efforts to expel the group.

According to the Emirates Policy Center report, local sources in Puntland confirm that IS has regained the upper hand in the Al-Miskaad mountains and the broader Bari region, underscoring the evolving dynamics in a state that has enjoyed relative stability compared to the middle and south of the country.

Puntland holds increasing strategic and military importance, especially in the mountainous regions of Bari, notably Al-Miskaad, Galgala and the Golis mountains in the disputed Sanaag region with Somaliland. The emergence of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in late 2014 had profound effects on the internal structural and ideological coherence of the Somali Al-Shabab Movement.

The report added that the expansion of IS in Puntland provides the group with logistical advantages, including access to the sea, opportunities to impose taxes and conduct financial operations, and contact with the IS offshoot in Yemen.

The report highlighted that IS benefits from the growing activities of Somali pirates, which bolster its propaganda efforts, attract foreign fighters, and enhance its standing within the global organization and its relationship with the leadership of the Islamic State-Khorasan Province in Afghanistan.

On October 26, 2016, Somali IS briefly captured the coastal town of Qandala, 75 kilometers east of Bosaso city, the major port and commercial capital of Puntland state before being expelled by the state’s territorial forces in December 2016. Despite this setback, IS has maintained a permanent presence in semi-remote areas of the state, especially around urban centers in the Bari region such as Balli Dhiddin, Turmasaale, and Iskushuban in the Galgala and Al-Miskaad mountains.

However, a day ago, Somalia’s Deputy Minister of Information, Abdirahman Yusuf Al-Addaala, announced the defeat of Al-Shabab in Galmudug and Hirshabelle, forcing the militants to regroup in the Puntland region. He told VOA Somali radio that the federal government launched an attack against Al-Shabab, which was planning attacks on the people of Puntland, killing 20 militants, including top leaders.