WASHINGTON - The Ethiopian military has captured an undisclosed number of suspected Islamic State members operating in the country, officials said Wednesday.
General Berhanu Jula, deputy chief of staff and director of military operations in the Ethiopian armed forces, confirmed the arrests but did not specify how many extremists were detained or in what part of the country they were apprehended. He said security forces continue to monitor other suspected IS sympathizers.
"We are watching what they are doing, where they're moving, whom they're meeting with and what connections they have," he said in a statement published in Amharic by Addis Zemen, a government-funded newspaper.
Berhanu played down the threat of IS gaining ground in Ethiopia, saying the group doesn't have support there and any statement implying they are gaining strength is "psychological warfare."
Still, he said, security forces will stay vigilant.
"We won't sleep, day and night, because of the heavy responsibility that we have to protect our country and our people from any danger," he said.
Last month, IS militants in Somalia said they had plans to release extremist recruitment material in Amharic, one of Ethiopia's primary languages. The group released a three-minute video that included IS chants in Amharic.
Matt Bryden, an Africa analyst with Sahan Research, told VOA's Somali service that IS may be attempting to recruit Ethiopian Muslims disaffected by ethnic and political turmoil in the country.
"I think ISIS sees in Ethiopia a potential opportunity. We know the group has been expanding its influences and its activities across Africa quite aggressively — so far with small results in much of the continent, but they are persisting," Bryden told VOA.
Ethiopian journalist Zecharias Zelalem said the group has been trying to recruit Ethiopians for at least five years.
Addis Standard: Ethiopian security forces say they've apprehended members of an ISIS sleeper cell planning attacks in the country. No information about the attackers except that they were under surveillance for some time before their capture. https://t.co/obh4NmYVDM— Zecharias Zelalem (@ZekuZelalem) September 11, 2019
Efforts have included launching Amharic-language propaganda pages on Facebook. One page amassed 10,000 likes before it was deleted and its administrators were arrested in 2016, Zecharias said.