Former Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) members accused of the recent suicide bombings in the Ugandan capital of the rebels said that organizations associated with the Islamic State have used fear to keep their recruits in order.
“The organization follows Islamic law. If you steal, you will lose an arm. If you rape a child, you will die. If you lie to someone and be found out, you will die,” Peter, his The name has been changed to protect his identity, told the BBC.
In our conversation, he laughed threateningly—as if to get rid of the trauma he had endured.
The young man was forcibly recruited and spent two years as an activist, witnessing amputations and beheadings-sometimes his comrades-in-arms.
The fear caused by this, as well as the Islamic ideology and the ties established with the Islamic State (IS) organization, make ADF a threat to Uganda again.
For many years, the Ugandan government has said that the ADF is a defeated army, but this does not seem to be true anymore.
A series of violent incidents that have occurred since October, including two suicide attacks in the center of Kampala, have killed at least 8 people, including 3 militants, and injured more than 40 people.
ADF was originally established in the 1990s by Jamil Mukulu, and its followers are Ugandans who are dissatisfied with the government’s treatment of Muslims.
It was destroyed and evacuated from its base in the Rwenzori area in the western mountains, where soldiers had been attacking villages and burning schools in the early 2000s.
The remnants crossed the border and fled to the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
According to a United Nations report in 2011, initially, the ADF rebels there collaborated with the local community to start businesses, which made them popular with many people around the town of Beni.
But when they started attacking the local Christian community, the situation changed.
Deceived into the rebels
It was after this time that Peter, who lived in Uganda, decided to go to the Democratic Republic of Congo to find a job. Someone told him that money could be made there.
When armed men emerged from the bushes during a deep trip in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and ordered him to march, he realized the real reason why he was lured to cross the border.
At gunpoint, Peter was recruited to the ADF-although the organization now calls itself the Madina of Tauheed Wau Mujahedeen (MTM), which means the city of Monotheism and Holy Warriors.
“I didn’t have time to understand what was going on. Before arriving at the training camp, we took several modes of transportation, including boats,” he told the BBC.
“When you arrive, they will read the rules to you: if you try to escape, you will be beheaded, if you refuse to train, you will be beheaded.”
Peter said that under the leadership of Abu Bakr Baghdadi, MTM had sworn allegiance to IS.
He rose to fame in 2014, announcing the establishment of a “caliphate” in Iraq and Syria-and leading the organization until his suicide in a US military operation in 2019.
“We won’t do anything until we receive a high-level order, such as attacking military camps,” Peter said.
“All fighters know that one of their leaders is the leader of the Islamic State. They are the army of Allah.”
“Fearless” child warrior
He said planning to escape is tricky because it is impossible to work with anyone without fear of being reported, he said
However, according to Peter, over time, many of them began to devote themselves to this cause, viewing the AK-47 as “part of their body.”
He said that some of the most dedicated fighters are children between 10 and 15 years of age.
“Those people quickly volunteered for the mission. They are fearless because they believe in the teachings of going to Janaah [heaven]Many are Congolese children who were taken away from their families when the village was attacked,” he said.
An investigation by the United Nations Joint Human Rights Office revealed that between January 2019 and June 2020, the Allied Democratic Forces killed 1,066 civilians and recruited 59 children in North Kivu and Ituri provinces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
When Musa Baluku, a Ugandan in his 40s, inherited leadership, ADF transformed into a group with a more global vision.
His predecessor was arrested in 2015 in Tanzania, adjacent to the Democratic Republic of Congo and Uganda, and extradited to Uganda for trial.
“Although Mukulu established ADF with the purpose of returning to Uganda to establish an Islamic government that is the envy of like-minded militants around the world, Baluku hopes to position ADF as part of a broader global movement,” said a recent report from George Washington University. The extremist project said.
In a video released by Mujahideen TV last year, Baruku declared: “There is no more ADF. Allah is willing, ADF ceased to exist a long time ago.
“At present, we are one province, Central Africa province, which is one of the many provinces that make up the Islamic State.”
It is said that under his leadership, the organization obtained funds through the IS financial network.
In addition, between 2016 and 2017, ADF posted more than 30 videos on IS’s social media platform, highlighting the MTM logo, indicating that it is now part of the international jihadist movement.
When the Kanbay prison in Beni was attacked in October 2020 and more than 1,000 prisoners were released, both ADF and IS stated that they were behind the scenes.
Baruku was included on the UN Security Council’s sanctions list in August 2020 and seems to attract fighters from the Great Lakes and other regions.
“The goal of the organization is not just Uganda,” Peter said.
“Their goal is for Islam to rule the entire world. There are Tanzanian fighters, Kenyans, Rwandans, Burundians, Somalis and even Arabs,” said the former militant.
After the recent attacks, it is not clear whether these suicide bombers crossed the border or whether they were recruited, trained and armed inside Uganda.
The authorities stated that they have successfully destroyed what they call domestic terrorist organizations across the country-from Ruwenzori to slums in Kampala, which shows that there is a widespread threat.
In the crackdown following the attack last week, the government arrested more than 100 people and killed 7 suspects.
It also tries to induce radicals to stay away from violent life.
Peter finally escaped a few months ago and was officially pardoned by the Uganda Amnesty Commission, one of the 23 former ADF combatants who have sought amnesty since 2019.
He received a small placement package worth about $100 (£75).
But he did not receive any psychological support or rehabilitation, and it was difficult to find a permanent job.
These problems will make it more difficult for the authorities to dismantle the bold and aggressive network.