Al-Shabab

Formed2004
DisbandedGroup is active.
First AttackSeptember 18, 2006: A suicide bomber in Baidoa attacked TFG President Abdullahi Yusuf. He failed to kill the President, but killed the President's brother and ten other bystanders. The use of a suicide attack was noteworthy because it is a tactic attributed to al-Qaeda's influence in the region (11 killed). [1]
Last AttackSeptember 21, 2013: Several small, but heavily armed Al-Shabab teams stormed Westgate Mall in Nairobi, Kenya. They proceeded to separate Muslims from non-Muslims, as well as taking a number of hostages. After four days, President Kenyatta declared an end to the siege (66 killed, 250 wounded). [2]
UpdatedSeptember 30, 2013

Narrative Summary

Al-Shabab, or "The Youth" in Arabic, is the largest militant organization fighting the transitional government in Somalia. [3] The group was previously the military wing of Islamic Court Union (ICU) that controlled central and southern Somalia starting in June-July 2006. In December 2006, competing warlords and UN backed Ethiopian troops drove the ICU out of Mogadishu. [4] In September 2007 the ICU met with other opposition groups in Asmara, Eritrea to form an alliance and reemerged as the Alliance for the Reliberation of Somalia (ARS). However, Al-Shabab refused to attend the conference and denounced the ARS for failing to adopt a global jihadist agenda. [5] Furthermore, Al-Shabab strongly opposed the Djibouti peace agreement, which involved the ARS signing a peace deal with the Somalia's Transitional Federal Government. 

In January 2009, former ICU/ ARS member Sharif Ahmed was sworn in as president of the Somali government, along with one hundred and forty-nine other ARS members. Al Shabab, however, stated that they would not recognize the new administration. [6] Al Shabab refused to engage in the peace process and has since been waging war against Somali government forces. 

The group's attacks have primarily targeted AU forces stationed in Somalia and Somali government officials. The most devastating of these attacks include a suicide-vehicle bombing at the Hotel Medina in Beledweyne on June 8, 2009 and a suicide bombing during a graduation ceremony for a Mogadishu university on December 3, 2009. On July 11, 2010, Al Shabab was responsible for twin suicide bombings in bars in Kampala, Uganda, where people were watching the World Cup, leaving 74 dead; this was the group's first external attack. The week before the detonations, the group's leader Abu Zubeyr accused AU peacekeeping troops of committing "massacres" against Somalis. He warned the world that he would seek revenge against Uganda and Burundi, both of whom make up the majority of peacekeeping troops. [7] In December 2010, Al Shabab stated it will attack the US if President Obama refuses to embrace Islam, a threat which has caused concern due to the group's strong recruitment of US citizens along with other foreigners. 

The group has attracted several fighters from foreign countries, including at least twenty fighters from the United States [8], one of whom is Abu Mansoor al-Amriki from Alabama. Abu Mansoor al-Amriki, who joined the group in 2007, is Al Shabab's leading propagandist. [9] With the help of Al-Amriki, Al Shabab is actively recruiting US citizens, especially from the Minneapolis Somali community. [10] Communities from Canada and Europe have also been targeted.

In August 2011, Al-Shabab withdrew from Mogadishu. Al-Shabab spokesman Rage stated that the withdrawal was a change in strategy so that militants could attack AU and TFG forces with "hit and run tactics." [11]  Al-Shabab's withdrawal is also attributed to its increasing unpopularity with local Somalis after the group banned foreign aid to alleviate the famine that ravaged Somalia in the summer of 2011. 

To date, Kenyan and AU troops have been working to eradicate Al-Shabab. The group has been driven out of Marka, Miido, and in September 2012, the Kenyan Navy attacked Kismayo, Shabab's last stronghold. [12] In January 2012 the AU Peace and Security Council renewed AMISOM's mandate in Somalia until January 2013 because of increased instability. According to a United Nations (UN) press release in May 2013, at least 3,000 of the 17,700-strong peacekeepers sent to Somalia in 2007 have died. [13]

While Shabab was pushed out of Somalia’s major cities by the AU peacekeeping force, it is still able to launch major attacks. In October 2011, the group was responsible for another attack in Mogadishu. In response to this attack, as well as the kidnapping of tourists and aid workers by Somali militants, Kenyan troops invaded Somalia. [14] Ethiopia also sent troops to Somalia to eradicate Al-Shabab, since both Kenya and Ethiopia consider Somalia's instability as a handicap to their economic development. The two states are also concerned about Al-Shabab’s ties to Al Qaeda, a regional threat. [15] The link between the two groups was confirmed in February 2012, when Al-Shabab and Al-Qaeda announced their formal merger through an online video. [16]

Leadership

Al-Shabab's leadership structure takes the form of a Shura Council, and each of the group's leaders is a member of this council. The Shura Council coordinates the group's policies in Somalia, and local leaders are expected to abide by and carry out these central decisions. Recent internal divisions within Al-Shabab, however, are changing the power structure of the group and the amount of power that the Shura Council holds over different local groups and commanders can vary considerably. [17]

Although Al-Shabab appears as one group, it is unclear how unified the organization actually is. Some Somali experts, such as Ken Menkhaus explain, "Al Shabaab faces multiple internal divisions...Each unit of Al-Shabab is led by individuals who must combine their ideological aims with pragmatic considerations of different clan-based agendas." [18] For example, discrepancies over loyalty, strategies, and policies such as whether or not to ban international aid groups, have been noted by affiliates of second in command, Abu Mansoor. [19] A dispute between Mansoor and Abdi Godane erupted after a failed Ramadan offensive in which a disproportionate number of Mansoor's troops were killed, including the killing of Shaykh Aryub by troops loyal to Godane.  Consequently, Abu Mansoor withdrew his troops from Mogadishu, demanding that Godane resign as leader and that aid agencies be allowed to run freely in Somalia. [20] Even though Abu Mansoor eventually returned his troops to Mogadishu and made several speeches in October 2010 denying a rift in Al Shabab's leadership, Godane's absence from the front lines and his ban on humanitarian aid agencies from Somalia highlight some of the ideological differences between the group's senior leaders. [21] Moreover, tensions between the two leaders arose when Al Shabab absorbed a rival Islamist group, Hizbul Islam. Stratfor contends that the tensions revolve around "nationalist and internationalist elements."[22] Godane's group works closely with foreign jihadists from Al Qaeda and is responsible for pursuing Al Shabab's global jihadi agenda, while Abu Mansoor is more closely aligned with national elements of the struggle. Godane was opposed to negotiations with Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys, Hizbul Islam's leader, because he believed that Aweys would side with Abu Mansoor and interfere with Al Shabab's transnational agenda. [23] Soon thereafter, Godane was replaced as group leader by Ibrahim Al-Afghani, an ally of Abu Mansoor; however, Godane retained a strong presence in the leadership council. [24] According to some sources, Al-Shabab's incorporation of Hizbul Islam and change in leadership signaled a victory for the nationalists and the potential decline of transnational elements of Al-Shabab. [25] In June 2013, Al-Afghani was killed by fellow Al-Shabab members, following a power struggle within the organization. Abul Hamid Hashi Olhayi, another central Al-Shabab commander, was also killed in this attack. [26]

Divisions within Al-Shabab leadership increased towards the end of 2011, particularly over differing visions of the future of the organization; some commanders wanted to join with al Qaeda and support their mission of global jihad, while others are more focused on the creation of an Islamic state within Somalia. [27] Experts believe that the group has broken up into three factions: one led by Omar Hammami aka Abu Mansur Al-Ameriki, who is allied with Godane, another led by Berjawi, and a third Kenyan group led by Ahmed Iman Ali, who was appointed by Godane. [28] In the past year, tensions have been exacerbated between the factions, since Godane is accused of being involved in Berjawi's death, reportedly by a drone strike in January 2012. [29]

More recently, Al-Shabab has been plagued by an internal power struggle that has pitted forces loyal to its leader Ahmed Abdi Godane against those who are against the organization's affiliation with Al Qaeda and global jihad. In June 2013, Al-Shabab members loyal to Godane killed two of the group's leading commanders and founding members: Ibrahim Haji Jama Mead, known as "Al-Afghani" and Abdi Hamid Hashi Olhayi. [30] Another senior Al-Shabab member, Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys, was arrested by government forces in Mogadishu, although it is still unclear whether he defected from Al-Shabab or surrendered. [31] Sheikh Aweys, who is on both the US and UN terrorist sanction lists, was a leader of Al-Itihaad Al Islamiya and the Islamic Courts Union. He was also the founder of Hizbul Islam in 2008-9 and joined Al-Shabab following the merger of the two groups. [32] 



  1. Ali Mohamed Rage, aka Ali Dhere (Unknown to Present): Spokesman[33]
  2. Issan Osman Issa (Unknown to Present): Field commander in Bay/Bakool regions.[34]
  3. Hassan Andillahi Hersi 'al-Turki' (Unknown to Present): Field commander in the Juba Valley.[35]
  4. Shaykh Mumhammad Abu Fa'id (Unknown to Present): Saudi national and top Al Shabab financier and “manager.”[36]
  5. Faud Shongole, known as Sheikh Faud Mohamed Khalaf (Unknown to Present): Head of mobilization.[37]
  6. Muhammad Abdy Fa'id, a Saudi citizen (Unknown to Present): Top financier and al-Shabab "manager."[38]
  7. Mohamoud Mujajir (Unknown to Present): Sudanese Al Qaeda operative serving as head of recruitment of suicide bombers.[39]
  8. Adan Hashi Ayro (Unknown to May 2008): Former military commander, former group leader. Was killed in a US missile attack May 2008.[40]
  9. Saleh Ali Nabhan (Unknown to September 2009): Former Al Shabab and al Qaeda leader, trainer. Was killed September 2009 in a US raid.[41]
  10. Sheikh Daud Ali Hasan (Unknown to 2010): Senior commander of Al-Shabab. Killed March 2010 near Kismayo.[42]
  11. Fazul Abdullah Mohammed (Unknown to June 8, 2011): Al Qaeda commander served as former al Shabab intelligence official, former top Shabab military leader. Killed at a Somali government checkpoint in June 2011, although it is suspected that he was betrayed by fellow Al-Shabab members. [43]
  12. Bilal al-Barjawi, aka Abu Hafsa (Unknown to 2012): Former Al Qaeda linked commander. Killed by a drone strike outside Mogadishu in January 2012. [44]
  13. Abu Mansoor al Amriki (2007 to September 16, 2013): Half-Syrian U.S. citizen who serves as Al Shabab military commander, recruiter, financier, and propagandist. Reportedly killed by his rivals in Al-Shabab in September 2013. [45]
  14. Sheikh Muhktar Robow Ali, aka Abu Mansoor (2008 to Present): Senior deputy and spokesman.[46]
  15. Sheikh Mukhatar Abdurahman, Ahmed Abdi Godane, known as Abu Zubeyr (May 2008 to December 2010): Former leader, current commander.[47]
  16. Abu Musa Mombasa (2009 to Present): Pakistani Al Qaeda operative serving as chief of security and training.[48]
  17. Hassan Dahir Aweys (2010 to Present): Senior member and former leader of Hizbul Islam.[49]
  18. Ibrahim Haji Jaama, known as Al-Afghani (December 2010 to June 2011): Former leader, former field commander in Somaliland/Puntland regions. Killed by fellow Al-Shabab members in June 2013. [50]
  19. Sheikh Iman Ali (2012 to Present): Shabab leader and coordinator in Kenya.[51]

Ideology & Goals

Al Shabab's overarching goal is to topple the Somali interim government and establish an Islamic Emirate in Somalia that adheres to their own strict interpretation of Shariah law. [52] Al Shabab's original military leader, Adan Ayro, was trained in Afghanistan and modeled Al Shabab's principles after the Taliban. [53] Al-Shabab has demonstrated its commitment to a Salafist interpretation of Islam by carrying out punishments such as amputating the hands of thieves and stoning women accused of adultery. The group has also banned music, videos, shaving, and even bras in the areas it controls. [54] In an effort to rid the country of foreign influences, Al-Shabab shut down the BBC and banned its broadcasting in Somalia, while accusing the station of "broadcasting the agenda of crusaders and colonialist against Muslims." [55] Furthermore, many elements within Al-Shabab uphold a global jihadist ideology, believing that their regional conflict is part of a broader struggle. [56]

Al-Shabab has called for jihad against Ethiopia for extricating the ICU government and backing the Somali Transitional Government. It has also supported jihad against Kenya, accusing the country of training Somali troops. [57] Al-Shabab has also threatened Djibouti, Eritrea, Ghana, Sudan, Israel, and the US. [58] However, as a stated by a senior American intelligence official, the group's "number one goal is not to win the global jihad, it's to turn Somalia into a Shabab-ville where strict Islamic law rules everything." [59]

Size Estimates

Designated/Listed

The group was also listed as a terrorist organization in Australia under the Rudd government on August 21, 2009 under subsection 15 (19) of the Charter of the United Nations Act 1945 of a Commonwealth Gazette statement. [62]

Resources

As far as manpower, Al Shabab is suspected to have several thousand members. However, since Al Shabab partakes in forced recruiting, it is unclear how many fighters actually believe in the group's ideology; experts predict the number of hardcore ideologues to be around three hundred to eight hundred members. [63] Numerous examples exist of foreign jihadists traveling to Somalia to join Al-Shabab, including Somalis from the United Kingdom and the United States.  For example, Abu Mansoor al-Amriki, whose real name is Omar Hammami, was born in the Untied States. [64] Al-Amriki grew up in Alabama but left for Somalia to join Al Shabab in 2007, becoming one of the group's leading propagandists. [65] Two other American citizens, Mohamed Mahmood Alessa (20) and Carlos Eduardo "Omar" Almonte (24) were arrested at New York's John F. Kennedy Airport for intent to travel to Somalia and join Al-Shabab. [66] According to American court documents, 20 young men left Minneapolis between September 2007 and October 2009 to travel to Somalia and train with Al-Shabab. [67] A 26-year old Somali American named Shirwa Ahmed, the first known American suicide bomber, was among these men. [68] Sources such as NBC state that up to fifty American citizens could be fighting with the group in Somalia. [69] In addition, Al-Shabab attracts fighters from other states such as Canada and the Scandanavian countries, where large numbers of Somali refugees reside. [70] 

In addition to foreigners, hundreds of Somali soldiers trained by American advisors have deserted the Somali transitional government to join the insurgency after not receiving their monthly wage; an unknown number of these deserters have joined Al-Shabab, who pay their fighters with cash and promises of martyrdom. [71] The US believes that Al-Shabab is able to carry out a portion of its attacks because of an influx of money and training from foreign jihadists linked to Al Qaeda. [72] In addition, the group obtains funds from the Somali diaspora overseas, though the amount is unclear. On August 2010, fourteen Americans were accused of supporting and fundraising for Al Shabab. [73] One of those accused, Ms. Ali, raised money by deceiving donors that the funds were going to the poor, allegedly sending $8,600 to Al-Shabab. [74]

As Al-Shabab leader Godane has stated, funding comes from a variety of sources, explaining that, "A rich Muslim may wish to fund the jihad for the sake of Allah. We have supporters throughout the world." [75] Al-Shabab has also acquired resources from within its own country. For example, Al-Shabab has looted private media stations for its own broadcasts and to acquire media equipment. [76] It is also accused of looting UN compounds in Baidoa city, stealing emergency communication equipment along with two cars and furniture from the compound in Wajid.[77] In addition, the connection between Al-Shabab and Somali piracy is unclear. Some sources state that Somali pirates have requested weapons and training from Al Shabab in exchange for a share of their spoils.[78] However, other sources contend that they do not have a strong relationship because Al-Shabab considers piracy to be un-Islamic. [79]

Another potential source of funding comes from Eritrea. In August 2009, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warned Eritrea to stop supporting Al Shabab militants, threatening that the US would otherwise take action. [80] Somalia's President Sharif Sheikh Ahmed told reporters, "We know for sure that the majority of the weapons in the hands of insurgents are coming from Eritrea." [81] Eritrea has denied these allegations. The UN claims that several African and Middle Eastern countries are also aiding the Islamic militants by providing them with  machine guns, missiles, and training, in violation of the 1992 arms embargo imposed on Somalia. These countries include Djibouti, Iran Syria, Libya, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Hezbollah in Lebanon. [82]

In November, 2011 Al Shabab banned the presence of NGO's and other aid groups in Somalia, overtaking their offices. According to the NSP, 16 NGO's and 6 UN compounds had been overtaken by Al Shabab in 13 locations in 8 regions. Al Shabab ordered office personnel to leave and confiscated their equipment. [83] 

External Influences

Countries that have sent AU troops and aid to Somalia are worried about Al-Shabab's external influence. Both Burundi and Kenya, which are training Somali government forces, have large ethnic Somali populations and are concerned about infiltration by Al-Shabab. [84] Recently, Al-Shabab has had a growing impact in Kenya. The group has infiltrated mosques in Somali communities in Nairobi neighborhoods such as Eastleigh, where radical Imams preach for Somalis to return and fight in the jihad. [85] Al-Shabab recruits students from schools, offering them money and free cell phones. The group also controls restaurants and other local places in Kenya. [86] The presence of Al-Shabab in Kenya, however, has also created a backlash, and some community members are trying to build moderate Islamic schools in retaliation. In 2011, Al-Shabab increased attacks in Kenya, resulting in the issuance of travel warnings by the US and the UK to tourists destined for Kenya's Somali border or coastal regions. [87] The US Embassy in Kenya stated that it has received, "credible information of an imminent threat of terrorist attacks directed at prominent Kenyan facilities and areas where foreigners are known to congregate, such as malls and night clubs." [88] The increase of kidnappings and attacks perpetrated by Al-Shabab prompted Kenya to deploy troops to Somalia in 2011. 

Many foreign countries are increasingly worried about the group's ability to carry out attacks abroad. After the 2010 World Cup bombings in Kampala, Uganda, Al-Shabab's spokesman Sheik Ali Mohamud Rage vowed that the group would continue to attack Uganda and begin attacks in Burundi if both countries did not withdraw from Somalia. Al-Shabab leaders have also considered exerting their influence abroad to ignite a global jihad. For example, in a 2008 propaganda video, an Al-Shabab fighter exhorted Muslims abroad to, "stand up and resist the oppression of the kuffar (infidels)…fight the kuffar and their apostate puppets." He also attacked Denmark for depicting the Prophet Mohammad in the form of a cartoon stating that the group will "never forget their mockery… So, sleep with the thoughts of our swords dripping with your blood." [89] The recruitment of foreigners and funding from abroad leaves countries such as the US, the UK, and Canada concerned about the possibility of their citizens training with Al-Shabab in Somalia and returning to carry out an attack in their country of origin. [90] Cases of foreign recruitment have also surfaced in Australia; in early August 2009, five men with alleged links to Al Shabab were caught planning suicide attacks on an army base near Sydney. [91] In January 2009, the New York Times reported that Somali extremists were conspiring to explode bombs in crowds at the National Mall during President Obama's inauguration. [92] In December 2010, Al Shabab's Faud Mohamed "Shongole" Qalaf threatened to attack the US, stating that, "We tell the American President Barack Obama to embrace Islam before we come to his country." [93]

Geographical Locations

Al-Shabab is divided into three geographical units: the Bay and Bokool regions, which are controlled by Abu Mansoor, south-central Somalis and Mogadishu, and Putland and Somaliland. A fourth region called Juba Valley is led by a man that is closely aligned with Al Shabab, Hassan Andillahi Hersi "Turki." [94] However, these regions "appear to operate independently of one another, and there is often evidence of friction between them, according to a December 2008 UN Monitoring Group report. [95]

Targets & Tactics

Al-Shabab is structured loosely so that senior commanders are not integral to the survival of the group. Senior leaders "give broad direction but leave day-to-day operations to individual commanders who control groups of around 100 fighters," making it a difficult group to combat.[96] As for tactics, the group conducts suicide bombings and uses remote controlled improvised explosive devices (IED), tactics which some believe are "distinctively Al Qaeda- not Somalia." [97]  

Like Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, Al-Shabab implements the latest technology to achieve their goals. In order to bolster recruitment of foreign fighters, Al-Shabab's spokesman Abu Mansoor launched an online "news" channel called Al Kataib. [98] The creation of this channel was announced on July 26, 2010 along with a statement that described the media war as "one of the fiercest battles and most important in the war against the infidel Zio-Crusade." [99] Its programming contains sophisticated graphics, an on-screen Al Kataib logo, and live coverage of jihadis fighting on the "frontlines of Mogadishu."  [100] While Al-Shabab utilizes the Internet and broadcasts to reach distant audiences, the group also uses more traditional tactics such as propaganda to local communities. This includes visits to madrassas, giving lectures at mosques, and workshops. [101]

Political Activities

Al Shabab refused to be part of a peace process that joined elements of the Islamic courts into the interim government in 2009. [102] However, some militants have defected to the Somali transitional government due to internal disagreements over interpretations of Islam and other issues. [103]


Despite its refusal to participate in the official political activities of the Somali government, Al-Shabab acts as a political entity in the areas it controls. In 2009, the group expelled international aid entities, such as CARE, International Medical Corps, Doctors Without Borders, and the UN World Food Programme. Al Shabab has instated its own judiciary system that involves "mobile Shariah courts," and issued decrees regulating people's haircuts, banning women from wearing bras, and forbidding the teaching of science and English lessons in schools. The group has functioned as a government by building roads, organized markets and operating an Office of Zakat (charity). [104]

Major Attacks

  1. Unknown: Al-Shabab launched a suicide attack in a restaurant frequented by government employees. Two members of parliament were amongst those injured. (15 killed, 34 wounded).[105]
  2. September 18, 2006: A suicide bomber in Baidoa attacked TFG President Abdullahi Yusuf. He failed to kill the President, but killed the President's brother and ten other bystanders. The use of a suicide attack was noteworthy because it a tactic attributed to Al Qaeda's influence in the region. (11 killed).[106]
  3. March 23, 2007: Al-Shabab shot down a Belarusian Il-76 cargo aircraft supporting AU peacekeeping forces right after takeoff from Mogadishu Airport. (11 killed).[107]
  4. February 2, 2008: Al-Shabab was behind twin bombings in the port city of Bosasso, injuring at least 70. (25 killed).[108]
  5. March 13, 2008: The group beheaded a Somali soldiers and killed two other soldiers in an ambush along a road from Mogadishu to Baidoa, a week after Al-Shabab threatened to begin beheading soldiers at checkpoints. (3 killed).[109]
  6. April 14, 2008: Two British along with two Kenyan teachers were murdered by Islamist fighters with believed links to Al Shabab in Beledweyne, a town near the Ethiopian border. (4 killed).[110]
  7. May 22, 2008: Al-Shabab claimed an attack in Mogadishu against Ethiopian solders. (57 wounded or killed).[111]
  8. August 25, 2008: The group posted on several messages on extremist forums taking credit for a serious of attacks that include the killing of thirty-five militia members of a local warlord in Kismaayo, seven Ugandan peacekeepers in Mogadishu, five Ethiopian soldiers in Beledweyne, three Somali police, attacking Somali soldiers and the Presidential Palace in Mogadishu. (at least 50 killed).[112]
  9. September 10, 2008: Al-Shabab claimed responsibility for shooting Somali Legislator, Mohammed Osman Maye, as he was leaving a mosque in Baidoa. (1 killed).[113]
  10. October 29, 2008: Al-Shabab carried out three suicide attacks in Hargeysa, the capital of Somaliland at the UN Development Program Office, the Ethiopian Consulate Office, and the President's palace. Similar attacks were carried out in Boosaaso, the Puntland capital, against the Puntland Intelligence Service. (30 killed).[114]
  11. January 2009: Al-Shabab was behind a suicide car bomb targeting African Union peacekeepers in Mogadishu, however 12 of those killed were civilians and 1 was a police officer. (13 killed, 20 wounded).[115]
  12. January 2009: Al-Shabab seized control of the Somali parliament building and presidential palace in Baidoa. They captured five members of parliament, forced them to publically surrender and later released them. (0 killed).[116]
  13. February 22, 2009: Al-Shabab conducted a suicide car bomb attack against African Union soldiers in Mogadishu. (11 killed, 15 critically wounded).[117]
  14. April 13, 2009: Al-Shabab claimed responsibility for attacking an aircraft carrying US Congressman Donald Payne who was departing from Mogadishu airport after visiting the Somali President. (0 killed).[118]
  15. June 8, 2009: The group conducted a suicide-vehicle bombing against the Hotel Medina in Beledweyne. Among the dead were the Somali security minister and Somalia's former ambassador to Ethiopia. (20 killed).[119]
  16. August 2009: Five men in Australia were convicted of plotting a suicide attack against an army base in Sydney. Officials believe these men of Somali and Lebanese descent were linked to Al-Shabab. (0 killed).[120]
  17. September 17, 2009: Al-Shabab suicide bombers penetrated the African Union in Mogadishu. Among the dead was the deputy African Union commander along with 16 other peacekeepers. (21 killed).[121]
  18. December 3, 2009: The Somali government blamed Al-Shabab for a suicide bombing during a graduation ceremony for a Mogadishu university. Among the dead were three Somali cabinet ministers, medical students, doctors, and journalists. (22 killed).[122]
  19. January 10, 2010: A 28-year old Somali with reported connections to Al Shabab attempted to assassinate Denmark cartoonist Kurt Westergaard. (0 killed).[123]
  20. July 11, 2010: Al-Shabab claimed responsibility for twin bombings in Kampala, Uganda during the World Cup final. (74 killed).[124]
  21. August 24, 2010: Two Al-Shabab fighters disguised as security forces opened fire before blowing themselves up in a Mogadishu hotel close to the presidential palace. Among the dead were eight members of parliament, five government soldiers and twenty-two civilians. (35 killed).[125]
  22. September 9, 2010: Al-Shabab fighters attacked Mogadishu International Airport in a suicide assault. (5 killed).[126]
  23. February 22, 2011: Al-Shabab carried out a suicide bombing, loading a van with explosives and detonating it at a police checkpoint on the streets of Mogadishu. Half of those killed were civilians, while the other half were police. (20 killed).[127]
  24. September 11, 2011: Two British guests at a resort at a remote Kiwayu Safari Village were attacked by armed men who burst into their cottage. David Tebbutt was shot dead while his wife Judith was abducted and taken across the border to Somalia. Somalia's Defense Minister, Hussein Arab Issa, accused Al-Shabab of conducting the attack. (1 killed).[128]
  25. October 1, 2011: Somali militants kidnapped Marie Dedieu from a beachfront bungalo on the island of Manda. Marie, a French citizen, had lived on the island for years. She was taken without her wheelchair or medication and died in captivity. According to Lamu Police, at least 10 sailors were shot while trying to rescue Marie. Al-Shabab was accused for their involvement, but the group denied their responsibility for the attack. (11 killed).[129]
  26. October 4, 2011: Al-Shabab was behind an attack against Somali ministry buildings and the Somali public. A truck packed with explosives was driven into a crowd of students and parents waiting to find out the results of a Turkish scholarship. Militants claimed the attack was a warning that Al Shabab has not left Mogadishu and that "big broad blows are to come against the infidels." (100 killed, 100 wounded).[130]
  27. October 14, 2011: Al-Shabab was blamed for kidnapping two Spanish doctors from Dadaab refugee camps in Kenya. The doctors were working with the organization Doctors Without Borders. (0 killed).[131]
  28. October 18, 2011: Al-Shabab blamed for a car filled with explosives that was detonated by a government building as Kenyan ministers visit the capital. The suicide bomber was amongst the dead. (5 killed, 10 wounded).[132]
  29. November 6, 2011: Al-Shabab sympathisers blamed for throwing a grenade into a Pentecostal Church in Garissa Kenya, a town near the Somali border. Meanwhile, another bomb was thrown targeting Kenya Power's transformer, but failed to impode. (2 killed, 3 wounded).[133]
  30. March 14, 2012: Al-Shabab carried out a suicide car bombing attack at a restaurant frequented by government employees an high ranking officials. The group claimed responsibility for the attack via Twitter. (11 killed).[134]
  31. April 4, 2012: An Al-Shabab female suicide bomber detonated herself amidst a crowd gathered at Mogadishu's Natural Theater where the Prime Minister and government officials gathered to celebrate Somali TV's one year anniversary. (6 killed).[135]
  32. July 1, 2012: Al-Shabab attacked churches in Garissa, Kenya, a town located near the Somali border. (15 killed).[136]
  33. June 19, 2013: An eight-person suicide assault team attacked the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) compound in Mogadishu. At least 15 people were killed in the attack, including all eight Al-Shabab attackers. (15 killed).[137]
  34. July 3, 2013: Al-Shabab and Somali government forces clash at a government base in Somalia's Bakol region. While large parts of Bakol remain under the control of Al-Shabab, government forces have been gaining control over some towns. (10 killed).[138]

Relationships with Other Groups

Somalia has been considered a failed state for the past 20 years. The lack of an effective national government and constant fighting has created conditions for Al Qaeda to foster connections with Somali militant groups. Since 2007, Al-Shabab openly claimed affiliation with al Qaeda [139] and has been accused of hosting terrorist training camps, as well as Al Qaeda cells in 2002 while they were planning twin attacks on Israeli targets near the Kenyan resort of Mombasa. [140] The US upholds that Al Qaeda militants who planned the 1998 attacks on US embassies in Dar es Salaam and Nairobi fled to Somalia. [141] Many Al-Shabab leaders have also trained in Al Qaeda camps, such as Al Shabab leader Ibrahim Haji Jama, who trained with Al Qaeda in Afghanistan, and Tariq Abdullah who was Al Qaeda's leader in East Africa and is suspected to be the financier for its African operations. [142] Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan, a senior Al Qaeda leader who was killed in a US raid in September 2009, is also purported to have trained terrorists in Somalia and took the lead in consolidating relations between the two groups. [143] According to the New York Times, Adan Hashi Ayro, the first leader of Al-Shabab, was, "long identified as one of the Al Qaeda's top operatives in East Africa." [144] In 2007 al-Zawahiri, Al Qaeda's second in command, and Bin Laden praised Al-Shabab and issued statements to, "call on the international mujahideen to rush to the aid of their Muslim brothers in Somalia." [145] Al-Shabab has also expressed their support for Al Qaeda and on January 29, 2010, announced that, "jihad of the Horn of Africa must be combined with the international jihad led by the Al Qaeda network" and that they "agreed to join the international jihad of Al Qaeda." [146] 

In October 2011 Al Qaeda, al Zawahiri stated that Al Qaeda was eager to help suffering Somalis who are dying from starvation and thirst. Powdered milk and food was distributed in sacks marked, "Al Qaeda campaign on behalf of Martyr Bin Laden. Charity relief for those affected by the drought." [147] Al Qaeda's charity efforts led critics of Al-Shabab to denounce the aid, stating that "they want to take advantage of the hungry people, in order to get child recruits." [148]  

Up until early 2012, the strength of the connection between Al Qaeda and Al-Shabab had yet to be confirmed, although it was clear that the two organizations supported each other through financing and training. In February 2012, however, al Zawahiri announced that Al Shabab had officially joined the ranks of Al Qaeda. In a video statement, al Zawahiri stated, ""I will break the good news to our Islamic nation, which will... annoy the crusaders, and it is that the Shabab movement in Somalia has joined al-Qaeda." One of Al Shabab's senior leaders, Godane confirmed the allegiance, stating to Zawahiri in the video, "We will move along with you as faithful soldiers." [149] Some elements in Al-Shabab, however, are against this merger. The Brookings Institute stipulates that, while some do support Al-Qaeda, others, "within the movement -- probably the majority, in fact -- oppose the foreigners' control, with some even publicly condemning terrorism and even working with international humanitarian relief efforts." [150] Such differences over the extent of Al Qaeda's relationship with Al-Shabab have led to disagreement and in-fighting within the group. 

Less than three weeks after Al-Shabab announced its merger with Al Qaeda, the group also merged with Galgala Militia in Puntland. The militia in Galgala fights the Christian government in Puntland and is led by Yassin Khalid Osman (Yassin Kilwe) who has declared allegiance to Al-Shabab and Al Qaeda. Sheikh Atom, an arms dealer from Galgala and a close associate of Fazul (whose death was linked to Godane), was absent from the merger announcement. Experts believe his absence signals a potential power move by Godane to strengthen Al Shabab and rid the group of potential opposers such as Atom. [151]  

Within Somalia, a moderate Sufi group named Ahlu Sunnah, strongly opposes Al-Shabab. Ahlu Sunnah, also called Ahlu Sunnah's Waljama group, is led by Sheikh Omar Sharif Muhammad. Sheikh Omar had expressed hope for defeating Al-Shabab after signing the Framework for Cooperation Agreement on March 15, 2010. [152] This agreement signaled the group's pledge to cooperate militarily with the government in Mogadishu to bring a resolution to the Somali conflict. Sheikh Omar noted that Ahlu Sunnah does not support Al-Shabab's recruitment of youth to become suicide bombers, as he considers it a  disgrace to Islam. According to Sheikh Omar, "Al-Shabab are not even humans. They're desecrating our culture, and destroying our sovereignty and our religion." [153] 

While Ahlu Sunnah opposes Al-Shabab, Hizbul Islam has been a long-time ally of the group in fighting the Somali transitional government. Recently, however, the relationship between the two groups has suffered due to differences in leadership and political agendas. [154] In July 2010, Al-Shabab members killed 6 members of Hizbul Islam. [155] In December 2010, Al-Shabab attacked Hizbul Islam forces in Buur Hakaba, after demanding that the group cease taxing public transport vehicles on route to the Al-Shabab controlled Baidoa. Members from both sides were killed in the subsequent gunfire, after which Al-Shabab took over the town. In December 2010, the two groups merged, allowing them to control most of central and south Somalia and much of the capital. [156] In September 2012, however, Hizbul Islam split from Al-Shabab, citing differences over tactics, the killing of civilians, and Al-Shabab's merger with Al Qaeda. [157] 

In February 2010 a faction of the Ras Kamboni Brigade, another Islamist terrorist group in Southern Somalia, joined Al-Shabab. [158] The Ras Kamboin brigade was founded by a former senior leader in the Islamic Courts and defected from its alliance with Hizbul Islam to join Al-Shabab. In early 2010, The Long War Journal estimates the group consisted of between 500-1,000 fighters. [159] Another faction of Ras Kamboni, however, is now fighting Al-Shabab with aid from the Kenyan Defence Forces (KDF). [160] The leader of this faction, Sheikh Ahmed Mohamed Islam, has since founded the Ras Kamboni Movement, a political party. [161]   

In July 2011, the Quillaim Foundation released a report claiming that Al-Shabab has been seeking to exert international influence on other jihadist group in the region. According to the report, Al-Shabab has been cooperating with Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and with new jihadist groups in Libya. [162] In addition, the group has strengthened ties with militants in Yemen, sending Al-Shabab fighters to Yemen to help Al-Qaeda in Yemen (AQY) retain its stronghold over the population and/or to evacuate Al-Shabab troops from Somalia to evade air attacks. [163] Al Qaeda leader Abu Al Zubeir admitted to the existence of direct contact between Al-Shabab and Al Qaeda in Yemen (which merged with Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, AQAP). He claimed that AQ wishes to strategically assimilate itself into the population by offering services, much like Al-Shabab has done in Somalia. Al-Shabab has also made contact with Anwar Awlaki, another central AQAP figure currently based in Yemen. Exchanges of weapons and communication between Al Shabab and AQAP has been carried out through men like Ahmed Abdulkadir Warsame, a Somali currently facing terrorism charges in New York after traveling between Yemen and Somalia. Another AQAP leader, Qasim al-Raymi, is also thought to have have played a pivotal role in tightening ties after his escape from a Yemeni prison. [164] In February 2012 Al-Shabab spokesman Sheikh Raage officially stated that Al-Shabab is connected to Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. “We will work with other brothers of AQAP in Yemen, Saudi Arabia and elsewhere in the world and we are part of them. We are the branch of AQAP in Somalia." [165]


Al Shabab also has ties with Boko Haram, a terrorist group whose goal is to institute Shariah law over Nigeria. Boko Haram's members have reportedly trained in Somalia with Al-Shabab. [166] 

Community Relationships

Al-Shabab was first created to fight criminal gangs in Mogadishu and purge the city of its kidnapping rings. [167] In 2008, the group implemented a public outreach program to sustain and expand its jihadi efforts. The group worked to win the support of local communities by providing services the government has failed to provide. Al-Shabab began visiting towns, talking to local clan leaders, handing out food and money to the poor, and providing law and order through "mobile Shariah courts," where were used to settle local disputes. [168] It has entrenched itself in local communities by providing infrastructure, clearing roadblocks, repairing roads, and organizing markets. [169] In addition, before taking over Southern towns, Al-Shabab would meet with local leaders to assure them of their goodwill. Al-Shabab has used their involvement in the community as propaganda; their video production "Breezes from the Winds of Victory," portrayed Al-Shabab members handing out books, money, and prizes to children who won a competition, and distributing gifts before Eid al-Fitr prayers. [170] Al-Shabab has attempted to craft an image that it values public opinion and, in turn, distancing itself from bombings with high civilian death tolls to avoid popular outrage. [171]  

Even though civilians in southern Somalia generally credit Al-Shabab with bringing some stability to the region, many still view Al-Shabab as an extremist group. For example, women activists celebrating International Women's Day in Mogadishu on March 8, 2010 criticized Al-Shabab for its recruitment of underage children. [172]  Furthermore, some Somalis do not support Al-Shabab's forceful implementation of Salafi Islam. For example, one man complained that Al-Shabab killed his brother for selling phone cards to Ethiopian troops, which according to Time has led the "repressive Al Shabab to be viewed by most Somalis with disapproval and fear." [173] In 2008, Al-Shabab sentenced a 13-year old girl, Aisha Ibrahim Duhulow, to death for adultery after she was gang-raped by three men. None of the men accused of rape were punished. [174] In addition, Al-Shabab men expect women to be covered from head to toe even when they are farming, a practice considered alien to rural Somali women. [175]  

Another point of contention revolves around local cinemas and entertainment. Al-Shabab has closed down these establishments, punished anyone who dissented, and branded those who have refused to stop using these cinemas. Overall, the group's extreme practices have clashed with the moderate more tolerant version of Islam held by many Somalis and "there is no history of widespread support for radical religious movements in Somalia."[176] Ultimately, the group's harsh treatment of women and severe punishments have dissuaded new recruits from joining Al-Shabab.

Sufis in Somalia are also under attack by Al-Shabab. Al-Shabab views Sufism as anathema to their strict interpretations of Islam. After taking over large parts of southern Somalia, Al-Shabab worked to destroy Sufi mosques and graves of important religious leaders. The large majority of Somalis practice Sufism and this idelogical clash is a major point of contention between local populations and Al-Shabab. [177]  

In February 2010 Al-Shabab banned the World Food Program (WFP) operations in Somalia. It accused the organization of disadvantaging local farmers, as well as being politically motivated. Al-Shabab stated that its ban of the WFP was in response to complaints from Somali farmers that expired WFP food aid was causing people to fall ill. [178] In July 2011 Al-Shabab lifted the ban because of severe famine and drought conditions in Somalia. Al-Shabab's spokesman Rage claims that they now allow "all Muslim and Non-Muslim aid agencies whose objective is only humanitarian relief ... to operate in our area," while urging them to also operate in conjunction with Al-Shabab's drought committee. [179] In July 2011, the Quillium Foundation also released a report explaining Al-Shabab's relationship to Somali society, in which the group presents itself as a "force multiplier" for tribes rather than as a rival." Al-Shabab has gained clout because it identifies with national struggles, such as the national movement to protect Somalia from Ethiopia. In return for protecting the national sovereignty of Somalia, Somali tribal leaders have donated capital, weapons and tribesmen to the group, and also allowed them to operate in tribal territories. [180]  

Towards the end of July 2011, Al-Shabab re-imposed their ban on food aid during one of the harshest famines and droughts in Somalia's history. An Al-Shabab spokesman accused relief agencies of having political aims. In addition, he denied the severity of the situation, admitting to a drought but claiming that reports of the famine were, "utter nonsense, 100% baseless and sheer propaganda." [181] By August 5, 2011, 29,000 children under the age of five had died of malnutrition. [182] Al-Shabab's unwillingness to address the famine has aroused anger amongst Somalia's population. [183] This lack of community support may have contributed to Al-Shabab's withdrawal from Mogadishu in early August 2011. 

In November 2011, Al-Shabab banned 16 aid groups from operating within Somalia. These aid groups included half a dozen UN agencies, UNICEF, the World Health Organization (WHO), UNHCR, the Norwegian Refugee Council, the Danish Refugee Council, German Agency for Technical Co-operation, Action Contre la Faim, Solidarity, and Saacid and Concern, all of which were major providers of famine relief. [184] Al-Shabab accused these aid groups of spying on Al-Shabab and undermining Al-Shabab's implemenatation of strict Islam. [185] According to the UN, the bans came at a time when 250,000 Somalis faced immediate risk of starvation. [186] Al-Shabab's reputation was greatly damaged by "its criminally negligent handling of the famine. Blocking aid into famine zones, denial of the famine itself, and preventing famine victims from fleeing for help appalled Somalis and the world."[187]

Al-Shabab's local support has also been waning due to increased pressure from Kenyan and Ethiopian troops. According to the BBC, Al-Shabab has alienated the local population by forcing young men and boys to fight in the group's ranks. With weak ties to the organization, many of these forced fighters have defected from Al-Shabab to join AU forces. [188]


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