Al Shabaab

Al Shabaab is an affiliate organization of Al Qaeda based in Somalia.

AT A GLANCE

Overview

Brief Summary of the Organization's History.

Organization

How does a group organize? Who leads it? How does it finance operations?

Strategy

How does a group fight? What areits aims and ideologies? What are some of its major attacks?

Major Attacks

What are the group's most famous attacks? What are some key attacks in the group's evolution?

Interactions

What is the group's relationship with the community? How does it interact with other groups?

Maps

What is the group's relationship with other militants over time?

Key Statistics

2006 First Recorded Activity
2007 First Attack
2019 Last Recorded Activity

Contact

mappingmilitants [at] lists [dot] stanford [dot] edu

How to Cite:

Mapping Militant Organizations. “Al Shabaab.” Stanford University. Last modified January 2019. mappingmilitants.cisac.fsi.stanford.edu/profiles/al-shabaab

Overview

Brief History

    Overview
  • Overview
  • Narrative

Overview

FormedDecember 2006
DisbandedGroup is active.
First AttackMarch 26, 2007: A man named Adam Salam Adam used a car bomb to conduct a suicide attack against Ethiopian soldiers in Mogadishu. Al Shabaab claimed responsibility for the bombing, allegedly the city’s first suicide attack. (~73 killed, unknown wounded).
Last Attack

January 15, 2019: Militants from Al Shabaab staged a 19-hour siege of DusitD2, a five-star hotel in the Kenyan capital of Nairobi, killing at least 21 people with gunfire and explosives.

UpdatedJanuary 2019

Al Shabaab, meaning “The Youth” in Arabic, is the largest militant organization fighting to oust the Somali government and the foreign military presence supporting it.[i] The group seeks to control territory within Somalia in order to establish a society based on its rigid interpretation of Shariah law. Although based in Somalia, Al Shabaab also conducts attacks in neighboring countries, notably Kenya. Al Shabaab emerged as an independent organization around December 2006 after breaking away from the Islamic Courts Union (ICU), for which it had served as the military wing. Since the late 2000s, Al Shabaab has had close ties to Al Qaeda and has sought to frame the Somali struggle as part of a global jihadist movement. The group has engaged in bombings, suicide attacks, and armed assaults, especially against Somali government targets, Christians, private civilians, foreign troops, diplomats, and aid or nongovernmental organization workers.


[i] “Who are al-Shabab?” Al Jazeera.  4 Aug.  2009.  Web. 1 July 2013.

 

Narrative

Al Shabaab, meaning "The Youth" in Arabic, is the largest militant organization fighting to oust the Somali government. The group seeks to establish a new Somalian state ruled according to its strict interpretation of Shariah law. Although based in Somalia, Al Shabaab also conducts attacks in neighboring countries, such as Kenya. Al Shabaab emerged as an independent organization around December 2006 after breaking away from the Islamic Courts Union (ICU), for which it had served as the military wing.[i]

Before serving as the ICU’s military wing, Al Shabaab’s origins are somewhat ambiguous. Its first leader was Aden Hashi Ayro, who had earlier joined an Islamist movement called Al Ittihad Al Islamiya (AIAI) in 1991. The AIAI disbanded in 1997. Sometime after 1997, Ayro joined what would be called the ICU, a movement within the Somali court system that sought to establish control over Somalia. Ayro may have led a loose group of AIAI militants before joining the ICU, meaning that Al Shabaab may have existed in some form before serving as the ICU’s military wing. However, Al Shabaab mainly developed as part of the ICU, and Ayro helped recruit and train its fighters. Directed by Ayro, Al Shabaab conducted brutal attacks that drew condemnation from local and international communities as well as much of the ICU leadership, including Hassan Dahir Aweys, another former AIAI member and a top ICU leader who has reportedly served as a spiritual influence for Al Shabaab. Al Shabaab’s early activities allegedly included multiple killings of international workers in Somaliland—the northwestern region of Somalia—between 2003 and 2005 as well as the disinterment of an Italian cemetery in 2005. Additionally, Al Shabaab supported the use of violent retaliation against employees of Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government (TFG) after various ICU members were assassinated in 2005, allegedly by the TFG.[ii]

In mid-2006, the ICU briefly gained control of central and southern Somalia. Ayro argued for connecting the Somali struggle to a global jihadist agenda, but other ICU leaders wanted to focus on nationalist goals and creating an Islamic state in Somalia. In December 2006, United Nations-backed Ethiopian troops—along with TFG forces and competing warlords—drove the ICU out of Mogadishu. The ICU was completely crushed and formally disbanded on December 27, 2006. However, Ayro’s Al Shabaab remained active. The Ethiopian invasion of Somalia was a crucial event for Al Shabaab, stoking resentment against a foreign occupying power and allowing Al Shabaab to become the major force for resistance in Somalia after most ICU leaders—including Aweys—fled. After the invasion, Al Shabaab conducted attacks against Ethiopian and TFG forces using bombs, suicide operations, and assassinations. The group especially focused on forcing the Ethiopian troops, who remained in Somalia after the invasion, out of the country. In March 2007, African Union troops from Uganda and Burundi—forming a contingent called AMISOM—also joined the operation to stabilize Somalia, and Al Shabaab attacks targeted those troops as well.[iii]

In September 2007, former ICU leaders and members met with elements of other opposition groups in Asmara, Eritrea in order to form an alliance, reemerging as the Alliance for the Reliberation of Somalia (ARS). Aweys became a top leader of the ARS.[iv] However, Al Shabaab refused to attend the meeting in Eritrea and denounced the new group for failing to adopt a global jihadist agenda.[v] Although Al Shabaab focused on attacking Ethiopian and African Union forces, the group also attempted to connect its cause to a broader jihadist movement, especially by attracting foreign fighters and promoting a relationship with Al Qaeda. Al Shabaab and Al Qaeda leaders have enjoyed positive relations. The groups have praised each other publicly, and Al Shabaab has offered refuge to Al Qaeda members in the region.[vi]

Beginning in 2008, Al Shabaab strengthened its relationship with Al Qaeda. In May 2008, Ayro was killed in a U.S. missile strike, and Ahmed Abdi Godane—also called Mukhtar Abu Zubeyr—became Al Shabaab’s top leader. He published a statement that praised Al Qaeda and explicitly casted the group’s struggle in Somalia as part of a larger global jihad. Under Godane, Al Shabaab aligned itself more closely with Al Qaeda in ideology and tactics. It began to target civilians through suicide attacks much more frequently, and the organization’s leadership began to include many Al Qaeda members. Al Shabaab leveraged its relationship with Al Qaeda to attract foreign fighters and monetary donations from Al Qaeda’s supporters, and Al Shabaab members traveled abroad to train with Al Qaeda.[vii]

In 2008, Al Shabaab launched a violent campaign in revenge for Ayro’s death, focusing on attacks against U.S. and UN targets in Somalia. Among other attacks during that campaign, Al Shabaab simultaneously executed five suicide attacks against UN and government targets in October 29, 2008.[viii] Throughout 2008, Al Shabaab continued to use guerrilla and terror tactics against Ethiopian troops, gaining control of most of southern Somalia and some of Mogadishu by early 2009. Later that year, Al Shabaab released a video formally pledging allegiance to Al Qaeda.[ix] The group officially became an affiliate of Al Qaeda in 2012.[x]

In January 2009, Ethiopian forces withdrew from Mogadishu in accordance with a 2008 UN-backed agreement between the TFG and the ARS, which also stipulated the deployment of UN peacekeepers.[xi] Al Shabaab claimed that it had succeeded in expelling the Ethiopians from Somalia and turned its attention on forcing other foreign soldiers from the country. Its attacks particularly targeted TFG and AMISOM troops. After the Ethiopian withdrawal, the ICU’s former leader, Sheikh Sharif, became the TFG’s president. Sharif’s ascension provided some stability in the country, and he vowed to implement Shariah law. After Sharif became president and Ethiopian troops left the country, Al Shabaab lost some of its basis for popular support. The group’s goal to force out the Ethiopians was complete, and its efforts to implement Sharia law were taken up by Sharif. In an attempt to remain relevant and undermine the TFG, Al Shabaab established its own governing structures in the territories under its control. Through these structures, the group provided social services and collected taxes.[xii]

In 2009, Aweys returned to Somalia as the leader of Hizbul Islam, a newly-formed rival of Al Shabaab. Fighting between the two groups ultimately led to the weakening of Hizbul Islam and its absorption into Al Shabaab in 2010. As a result, Aweys rejoined Al Shabaab.[xiii]

In August 2011, Al Shabaab withdrew from Mogadishu, claiming that the move was a tactical retreat. The Somali government, however, asserted that its own troops, together with AMISOM, had forced Al Shabaab into retreat. After its expulsion from Mogadishu, Al Shabaab lost territory, most notably access to major seaports, which it has not been able to regain as of 2019.[xiv] The control of port cities, principally Kismayo, had allowed the group to gain revenue from smuggling and taxing overseas shipping.[xv]

As it lost physical territory, Al Shabaab accelerated its high-profile attacks on civilians and security personnel both within Somalia and abroad .The group’s first attack outside of Somalia occurred on July 11, 2010 during the final match of the FIFA World Cup. The group carried out suicide bombings at a restaurant in Uganda that killed seventy-four people.[xvi] Al Shabaab also conducted operations in Kenya in an effort to pressure Kenyan troops to withdraw from Somalia. Al Shabaab militants attacked Kenya’s Westgate mall in 2011, sparking a four-day siege in which at least sixty-eight people were killed. In April 2015, Al Shabaab militants attacked Kenya’s Garissa University College, killing at least 147. Al Shabaab claimed that its attacks in Kenya were meant to force Kenyan troops to withdraw from Somalia.[xvii] Some analysts point to the 2014 death of Al Shabaab leader Ahmed Abdi Godane as the catalyst for a fragmentation of the organization’s previously hierarchical structure, proposing that since then, Al Shabaab may have divided into sub-groups focused on attacks in Somalia and in Kenya, respectively.[xviii]

In 2016 and 2017, Al Shabaab continued to launch high-profile surprise attacks with the goal of forcing foreign troops out of Somalia, especially those of the Kenyan armed forces and the African Union Mission to Somalia (AMISOM).[xix] Al Shabaab militants attacked both military and civilian targets in Mogadishu and across northern and southern Somalia, usually in public places with high visibility.[xx] In January 2016, militants killed over 100 soldiers at a Kenyan AMISOM base in one of the deadliest attacks on the mission since its inception in 2007.[xxi] The next year, in what many Somalis consider to be their country’s 9/11, Al Shabaab detonated two truck bombs in downtown Mogadishu, killing over 500 bystanders.[xxii]

As of June 2018, countries participating in AMISOM were preparing to withdraw completely from Somalia by 2020 due to their own domestic security concerns and a lack of funding. Analysts are concerned that the Somali government will be unable to counter Al Shabaab after this troop withdrawal, enabling the militant organization to capture swaths of territory as it has done in the past.[xxiii]

Under President Donald Trump, the U.S. has stepped up its campaign against Al Shabaab. In 2018, the U.S. conducted 47 drone strikes against Al Shabaab, compared to 37 in 2017. In December 2018 alone, 62 militants were killed by U.S. airstrikes. Trump has also changed the rules of engagement for the U.S. military in Somalia to allow for preemptive strikes against members of Al Shabaab, resulting in the deaths of over 300 militants. Al Shabaab has claimed that its January 15, 2019 attack on a five-star hotel in Nairobi, Kenya, was in retaliation for the increase in U.S. military activity in the region. Analysts have indicated that U.S. airstrikes, rather than impeding Al Shabaab, may in fact have little effect on the group’s operations and may facilitate the recruitment of militants. The January 2019 hotel siege, occurring on the three-year anniversary of Al Shabaab’s devastating strike on a Kenyan AMISOM base, may have been intended as a demonstration that increased U.S. military engagement in Somalia has failed to curtail Al Shabaab’s ability to conduct sophisticated attacks. Al Shabaab also announced that the attack was retribution for the Trump administration’s move of the U.S. embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem in May 2018.[xxiv] Given the length of time elapsed between the move of the embassy and the hotel siege, some analysts assert that the attack was rather part of Al Shabaab’s broader campaign to end Kenyan military intervention in Somalia.[xxv]

In late 2017, Al Shabaab leader Ahmad Umar was bedridden due to a prolonged illness, triggering a leadership crisis within Al Shabaab. It is unclear when his health problems began; as of June 2018, he is believed to be near death.[xxvi] The cost of his medication has diverted funds meant for Al Shabaab’s operations.[xxvii] Umar’s failing health and its drain on Al Shabaab’s resources are believed to have weakened his control over the group, spurring a power struggle.[xxviii] Meetings of Al Shabaab’s eight-member Shura council of senior leaders have reportedly ended in deadlock, unable to coalesce around a single figure to succeed Umar as emir.[xxix] Analysts believe that financial administrator Hussein Ali Fiidow is the most likely successor. Fiidow has experience networking with clan elders and has served in leadership roles in both finance and regional operations.[xxx] According to Kenyan intelligence sources, Fiidow allegedly attempted to organize a coup (presumably unsuccessful) during the first half of 2018.[xxxi]

Analysts are divided in predicting the effects of the leadership struggle on Al Shabaab’s operations. Some hold that would-be successors to Umar will stage dramatic attacks in order to prove their qualifications as potential leaders of the group, while others believe that AMISOM and the Somali government will be able to exploit Al Shabaab’s internal political divisions and seize back territory occupied by the group.[xxxii]


[i] Masters, Jonathan, and Mohammed Aly Sergie. “Al-Shabab.” CFR Backgrounders, Council on Foreign Relations, 13 Mar. 2015. Web. 20 Aug. 2015. Pate, Amy, and Michael Jensen and Erin Miller. “Al-Shabaab Attack on Garissa University in Kenya.” Background Report, National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism, Apr. 2015. Web. 20 Aug. 2015. Curran, Cody. “Global Ambitions: An Analysis of al Shabaab’s Evolving Rhetoric.” Critical Threats Project, American Enterprise Institute, 17 Feb. 2011. Web. 20 Aug. 2015.

[ii] Dempsey, Thomas. “Counterterrorism in African Failed States: Challenges and Potential Solutions.” Strategic Studies Institute, Apr. 2006. Web. 20 Aug. 2015. Page, Jacqueline. “Jihadi Arena Report: Somalia - Development of Radical Islamism and Current Implications.” International Institute for Counter-Terrorism, 22 Mar. 2010. Web. 20 Aug. 2015. Harnisch, Christopher. “The Terror Threat from Somalia: The Internationalization of Al Shabaab.” Critical Threats Project, American Enterprise Institute, 12 Feb. 2010. Web. 20 Aug 2015. Masters, Jonathan, and Mohammed Aly Sergie. “Al-Shabab.” CFR Backgrounders, Council on Foreign Relations, 13 Mar. 2015. Web. 20 Aug. 2015.

[iii] Harnisch, Christopher. “The Terror Threat from Somalia: The Internationalization of Al Shabaab.” Critical Threats Project, American Enterprise Institute, 12 Feb. 2010. Web. 20 Aug 2015. Page, Jacqueline. “Jihadi Arena Report: Somalia - Development of Radical Islamism and Current Implications.” International Institute for Counter-Terrorism, 22 Mar. 2010. Web. 20 Aug. 2015.

[iv] Masters, Jonathan, and Mohammed Aly Sergie. “Al-Shabab.” CFR Backgrounders, Council on Foreign Relations, 13 Mar. 2015. Web. 20 Aug. 2015. Page, Jacqueline. “Jihadi Arena Report: Somalia - Development of Radical Islamism and Current Implications.” International Institute for Counter-Terrorism, 22 Mar. 2010. Web. 20 Aug. 2015.

[v] Gartenstein-Ross, Daveed. “The Strategic Challenge of Somalia’s Al-Shabaab: Dimensions of Jihad.” Middle East Quarterly 16.4 (Fall 2009): 25-36. Web. 2 July 2013.

[vi] Page, Jacqueline. “Jihadi Arena Report: Somalia - Development of Radical Islamism and Current Implications.” International Institute for Counter-Terrorism, 22 Mar. 2010. Web. 20 Aug. 2015.

[vii] Wise, Rob. “Al Shabaab.” AQAM Futures Project Case Study Series, Center for Strategic & International Studies/Homeland Security & Counterterrorism Program Transnational Threats Project. July 2011. Web. 20 Aug. 2015. Harnisch, Christopher. “The Terror Threat from Somalia: The Internationalization of Al Shabaab.” Critical Threats Project, American Enterprise Institute, 12 Feb. 2010. Web. 20 Aug 2015.

[viii] Ibrahim, Mohammed, and Jeffrey Gettleman. “5 Suicide Bomb Attacks Hit Somalia.” The New York Times, 29 Oct. 2008. Web. 10 Oct. 2015. “Deadly car bombs hit Somaliland.” BBC News, 29 Oct. 2008. Web. 10 Oct. 2015.

[ix] Harnisch, Christopher. “The Terror Threat from Somalia: The Internationalization of Al Shabaab.” Critical Threats Project, American Enterprise Institute, 12 Feb. 2010. Web. 20 Aug 2015. Wise, Rob. “Al Shabaab.” AQAM Futures Project Case Study Series, Center for Strategic & International Studies/Homeland Security & Counterterrorism Program Transnational Threats Project. July 2011. Web. 20 Aug. 2015. Houreld, Katharine. “Somali militant group al-Shabaab formally joins al-Qaida.” The Guardian, 9 Feb. 2012. Web. 10 Oct. 2015.

[x] CNN Wire Staff. “Al-Shabaab joining al Qaeda, monitor group says.” CNN, 10 Feb. 2012. Web. 10 Oct. 2015.}} {{Berger, J.M. “Al Qaeda’s Merger.” Foreign Policy, 15 Feb. 2012. Web. 10 Oct. 2015. Lahoud, Nelly. “The Merger of Al-Shabab and Qa’idat Al-Jihad.” CTC Sentinel 5, no. 24 (Feb. 16, 2012) Web. 31 Oct. 2015.

[xi] Somalia Business Law Handbook, Volume 1: Strategic Information and Laws. Washington, D.C.: International Business Publications, USA, 1 Jan. 2012. Print.

[xii] Harnisch, Christopher. “The Terror Threat from Somalia: The Internationalization of Al Shabaab.” Critical Threats Project, American Enterprise Institute, 12 Feb. 2010. Web. 20 Aug 2015.

[xiii] Roggio, Bill. “Hizbul Islam joins Shabaab in Somalia.” The Long War Journal, 19 Dec. 2010. Web. 10 Oct. 2015. Bryden, Matt. “The Reinvention of Al-Shabaab: A Strategy of Choice or Necessity?”. Center for Strategic & International Studies, Feb. 2014. Web. 10 Oct. 2015.

[xiv] Felter, Claire, Jonathan Masters, and Mohammed Aly Sergie. “Al-Shabab.” Council on Foreign Relations. 16 Jan. 2019. Web. 30 Jan. 2019. <https://www.cfr.org/backgrounder/al-shabab>.

[xv] Fanusie, Yaya J. and Alex Entz. “Al-Shabaab: Financial Assessment.” Foundation for Defense of Democracies. June 2017. Web. 30 Jan. 2019. <https://s3.us-east-2.amazonaws.com/defenddemocracy/uploads/documents/CSI....

[xvi] Bryden, Matt. “The Reinvention of Al-Shabaab: A Strategy of Choice or Necessity?”. Center for Strategic & International Studies, Feb. 2014. Web. 10 Oct. 2015.

[xvii] Iaccino, Ludovica. “Kenya Garissa University massacre: Five worst attacks by al-Shabaab terrorists.” International Business Times, 8 Apr. 2015. Web. 20 Aug. 2015. “Kenya families mourn loved ones after Garissa massacre.” Al Jazeera, 3 Apr. 2015. Web. 10 Oct. 2015. Karimi, Faith, and Steve Almasy and Lillian Leposo. “Kenya mall attack: Military says most hostages freed, death toll at 68.” CNN, 23 Sept. 2013. Web. 10 Oct. 2015.

[xviii] Cannon, Brendon J. and Martin Plaut. “Why al-Shabaab targets Kenya and how to stop the attacks.” Quartz. 16 Jan. 2019. Web. 24 Jan. 2019. <https://qz.com/africa/1525710/nairobi-hotel-attacks-why-al-shabaab-targe....

[xix] West, Sunguta. “Increased Attacks Suggest al-Shabaab Resurgence.” The Jamestown Foundation. 12 October 2018. Web. 26 Nov. 2018. < https://jamestown.org/program/increased-attacks-suggest-al-shabaab-resur....

[xx] West, Sunguta. “Increased Attacks Suggest al-Shabaab Resurgence.” The Jamestown Foundation. 12 October 2018. Web. 26 Nov. 2018. < https://jamestown.org/program/increased-attacks-suggest-al-shabaab-resur....

[xxi] Oladipo, Tomi. “What happened when al-Shabab attacked a Kenyan base in Somalia?” BBC News. 22 Jan. 2016. Web. 27 Nov. 2018. <https://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-35364593>.

[xxii] Sullivan, Emily. “Mogadishu Truck Bomb's Death Toll Now Tops 500, Probe Committee Says.” NPR. 2 December 2017. Web. 25 November 2018. < https://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2017/12/02/567985077/mogadishu-t....

[xxiii] Blaine, Seth. “Al-Shabaab Preparing for New Leadership.” Center for Security Policy. 19 June 2018. Web. 26 Nov. 2018. <https://www.centerforsecuritypolicy.org/2018/06/19/al-shabaab-preparing-....

[xxiv] Bearak, Max. “Deadly Nairobi attack comes as U.S. military ramps up airstrikes against al-Shabab in Somalia.” The Washington Post. 17 Jan. 2019. Web. 17 Jan. 2019. <https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/africa/deadly-nairobi-attack-comes-....

[xxv] Ward, Alex. “Al-Shabaab’s Kenya attack proves the terrorist group is still deadly.” Vox. 16 Jan. 2019. Web. 24 Jan. 2019. <https://www.vox.com/world/2019/1/16/18185182/nairobi-kenya-hotel-attack-....

[xxvi] Blaine, Seth. “Al-Shabaab Preparing for New Leadership.” Center for Security Policy. 19 June 2018. Web. 26 Nov. 2018. <https://www.centerforsecuritypolicy.org/2018/06/19/al-shabaab-preparing-....

[xxvii] Blaine, “Al-Shabaab Preparing for New Leadership.”

[xxviii] West, Sunguta. “Hussein Ali Fiidow’s Challenge to al-Shabaab Leadership.” The Jamestown Foundation. 6 June 2018. Web. 26 Nov. 2018. < https://jamestown.org/brief/hussein-ali-fiidows-challenge-to-al-shabaab-....

[xxix] West, “Hussein Ali Fiidow’s Challenge to al-Shabaab Leadership.”

[xxx] Blaine, “Al-Shabaab Preparing for New Leadership.”

[xxxi] Blaine, “Al-Shabaab Preparing for New Leadership.”

[xxxii] Blaine, “Al-Shabaab Preparing for New Leadership.”

 

Organizational Structure

Leadership, Name Changes, Size Estimates, Resources, Geographic Locations

    Leadership
  • Leadership
  • Hassan Dahir Aweys (Unknown to Unknown)
  • Aden Hashi Ayro (Unknown to May 1, 2008)
  • Ahmed Abdi Godane (2008 to September 1, 2014)
  • Ahmad Umar (2014 to Present)
  • Mukhtar Robow (Unknown to 2017):
  • Hussein Ali Fiidow (unknown to present)

Leadership

This section describes various leaders, their deputies, and other important officials in the militant organization.

Hassan Dahir Aweys (Unknown to Unknown)

Aweys is sometimes referred to as the spiritual leader of Al Shabaab, but his exact relationship with Al Shabaab is unclear. Aweys led the militant wing of an Islamist movement called Al Ittihad Al Islamiya (AIAI), which disbanded in 1997. He later joined the ICU and became one of its top leaders, and he reportedly authorized Ayro to lead Al Shabaab as the ICU’s militant wing. However, Ayro’s harsh tactics sparked condemnation, and Aweys believed that Ayro was uncontrollable. The two also conflicted because Aweys argued for a focus on nationalist goals rather than global jihad. Aweys fled the country after Ethiopian forces invaded in 2006, leaving Ayro to run Al Shabaab without oversight. Aweys became a leader of the Alliance for the Reliberation of Somalia (ARS), which was opposed by Al Shabaab. Aweys later led Hizbul Islam, a rival group to Al Shabaab, but his group’s defeat led to its absorption into Al Shabaab. Aweys reportedly then rejoined Al Shabaab in some capacity. He was arrested by the Somali government in June 2013, at which time he was widely referred to as an Al Shabaab leader. In 2014, Aweys was transferred from prison to house arrest.[i]


[i] Masters, Jonathan, and Mohammed Aly Sergie. “Al-Shabab.” CFR Backgrounders, Council on Foreign Relations, 13 Mar. 2015. Web. 20 Aug. 2015. Page, Jacqueline. “Jihadi Arena Report: Somalia - Development of Radical Islamism and Current Implications.” International Institute for Counter-Terrorism, 22 Mar. 2010. Web. 20 Aug. 2015. Roggio, Bill. “Shabaab confirms 2 top leaders were killed in infighting.” The Long War Journal, 30 June 2013. Web. 20 Aug. 2015. Bryden, Matt. “The Reinvention of Al-Shabaab: A Strategy of Choice or Necessity?”. Center for Strategic & International Studies, Feb. 2014. Web. 10 Oct. 2015. “Former Hizbul Islam leader taken from prison to house arrest.” Somali Current, 30 Jan. 2014. Web. 31 Oct. 2015.

 

Aden Hashi Ayro (Unknown to May 1, 2008)

Ayro was Al Shabaab’s first leader, commanding the organization since its beginnings as the ICU’s military wing in the early 2000s. In 1991, Ayro had joined AIAI, which disbanded in 1997. In the late 1990s, Ayro received training at Al Qaeda camps in Afghanistan and reportedly met with Osama bin Laden. Some time later, Ayro returned to Somalia and joined what would be called the ICU. Ayro may have led a loose group of militants before joining the ICU, which suggests that Al Shabaab may have existed in some form before serving as the ICU’s military wing. However, Al Shabaab mainly developed as part of the ICU, and Ayro helped recruit and train its fighters. Directed by Ayro, Al Shabaab conducted brutal attacks that drew condemnation from local and international communities as well as much of the ICU leadership. Ayro argued for connecting the Somali struggle to a global jihadist agenda. He began shifting Al Shabaab toward that agenda after the group became independent from the ICU, which disbanded in 2006. Ayro was killed in a U.S. airstrike on May 1, 2008.[i]


[i] Sengupta, Kim. “Aden Hashi Ayro: Militant Islamist leader in Somalia.” Independent, 3 May 2008. Web. 20 Aug. 2015. Page, Jacqueline. “Jihadi Arena Report: Somalia - Development of Radical Islamism and Current Implications.” International Institute for Counter-Terrorism, 22 Mar. 2010. Web. 20 Aug. 2015.

 

Ahmed Abdi Godane (2008 to September 1, 2014)

Godane, also called Mukhtar Abu Zubeyr, assumed leadership of Al Shabaab after Aden Hashi Ayro was killed by a U.S. missile strike in 2008. Under his leadership, Al Shabaab strengthened its ties to Al Qaeda. The group pledged its allegiance to Al Qaeda in 2009, though this pledge was not formally accepted by Al Qaeda until 2012. Godane was killed in a U.S. air strike on September 1, 2014.[i]


[i] Sengupta, Kim. “Aden Hashi Ayro: Militant Islamist leader in Somalia.” Independent, 3 May 2008. Web. 20 Aug. 2015. Chothia, Farouk. “Ahmed Abdi Godane: Somalia’s killed al-Shabab leader.” BBC News, 9 Sept. 2014. Web. 10 Oct. 2015.

 

Ahmad Umar (2014 to Present)

Umar, also called Abu Ubaidah, was named as Al Shabaab’s new leader in September 2014, shortly after Ahmed Abdi Godane was killed in a U.S. air strike. There is little available information about Umar.[i] As of June 2018, Kenyan intelligence reports indicate that Umar may be approaching death following a long illness, leaving potential successors to jockey for power.[ii]


[i] Iaccino, Ludovica. “Who is Sheikh Ahmed Umar, Al-Shabaab’s Ruthless New Leader?”. International Business Times, 8 Sept. 2014. Web. 10 Oct. 2015.

[ii] Blaine, Seth. “Al-Shabaab Preparing for New Leadership.” Center for Security Policy. 19 June 2018. Web. 26 Nov. 2018. <https://www.centerforsecuritypolicy.org/2018/06/19/al-shabaab-preparing-....

 

Mukhtar Robow (Unknown to 2017):

Formerly a founder, spokesman, and second-in-command of Al Shabaab, Robow defected in 2017 and now pledges his loyalty to the Somali federal government. In 2018, he announced his candidacy for a regional presidency. The U.S. has withdrawn its $5 million reward for Robow’s capture, yet he is still the subject of sanctions imposed in 2008 when he was labeled a “specially designated global terrorist.”[i]

 

Hussein Ali Fiidow (unknown to present)

Currently a financial administrator for Al Shabaab, Fiidow has generally avoided public appearances. Analysts have identified him as the most likely successor to Umar. According to Kenyan intelligence reports, he allegedly attempted to stage a coup in early 2018.[i]


[i] Blaine, Seth. “Al-Shabaab Preparing for New Leadership.” Center for Security Policy. 19 June 2018. Web. 26 Nov. 2018. <https://www.centerforsecuritypolicy.org/2018/06/19/al-shabaab-preparing-....

 

    Name Changes
  • Name Changes
  • Size Estimates
  • Resources
  • Geographic Locations

Name Changes

Al Shabaab has not changed its name since its founding.

Size Estimates

  • 2008: 6,000-7,000 (Stratfor)[i]
  • 2013: 5,000 (United Nations)[ii]
  • 2015: 7,000-9,000 (BBC)[iii]
  • 2017: 7,000-9,000 (State Department)[iv]
  • 2019: 7,000-9,000 (The Washington Post)[v]

[i] “Somalia: Al Qaeda and Al Shabaab.” Stratfor, 5 May 2008. Web. 10 Oct. 2015.

[ii] United Nations Security Council. “Letter dated 12 July 2013 from the Chair of the Security Council Committee pursuant to resolutions 751 (1992) and 1907 (2009) concerning Somalia and Eritrea addressed to the President of the Security Council.” 12 July 2013. Web. 10 Oct. 2015.

[iii] “Who are Somalia’s al-Shabab?” BBC News, 3 Apr. 2015. Web. 10 Oct. 2015.

[iv] “Country Reports on Terrorism 2017.” U.S. Department of State. 2017. Web. Accessed 12 November 2018. <https://www.state.gov/j/ct/rls/crt/2017/282850.htm>.

[v] Herbling, David and Mike Cohen.”Who are the Al-Shabaab Militants Plaguing Kenya?” The Washington Post. 16 Jan. 2018. Web. 17 Jan. 2019. <https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/who-are-the-al-shabaab-militants....

 

Resources

Al Shabaab has allegedly received funds and training from Al Qaeda-linked foreign jihadists.[i]  The group has also obtained funds from Somali diaspora communities, including in the United States. In August 2010, for example, fourteen Americans were indicted for lending material support to and fundraising for Al Shabaab.[ii] The U.S. and Somali governments have also accused other countries of supporting Al Shabaab by providing resources (see “External Influences” below).

Inside Somalia, Al Shabaab has stolen equipment from various organizations. It has looted private media stations, for example, to acquire media equipment and to conduct its own broadcasts.[iii] Al Shabaab has also allegedly looted UN compounds in the city of Baidoa, stealing emergency communication equipment as well as furniture and cars.[iv] In November 2011, Al Shabaab banned the presence of nongovernmental organizations and other aid groups in Somalia, seizing their offices within its territory. Al Shabaab reportedly took control of sixteen NGOs and six UN compounds in eight regions. Militants ordered office personnel to leave and confiscated their equipment.[v]

Before 2012, Al Shabaab militants controlled Kismayo, an important port city from which the group received massive profits in charcoal exports. However, in 2012, Al Shabaab was forced out of Kismayo and several other major cities. As a result, the group lost key sources of revenue. In the territories that it does control, Al Shabaab has collected protection fees and taxes from businesses and other organizations. Other sources of revenue for Al Shabaab have included profits from the ivory and sugar trades.[vi] The group also capitalizes on illegal production and export of charcoal, a trade believed to be worth $10 million per year.[vii]


[i] Wadhams, Nick. “Could Al-Shabab Topple Somalia’s Government?”. TIME, 26 Aug. 2010. Web. 20 Aug. 2015.

[ii] “Cash and Compassion: The Role of the Somali Diaspora in Relief, Development and Peace-building.” Chatham House, 7 Mar. 2012. Web. 10 Oct. 2015. Miller, Greg. “U.S. charges 14 with giving support to Somali insurgent group.” The Washington Post, 6 Aug. 2010. Web. 10 Oct. 2015. “US rounds up ‘al-Shabab backers.’” Al Jazeera, 5 Aug. 2010. Web. 10 Oct. 2015. Caulderwood, Kathleen. “Al-Shabab’s Finances: The Militant Group Gets Funding From Local Businesses, Sources Abroad.” 4 Sept. 2014. Web. 10 Oct. 2015.

[iii] Dickinson, Emily. “Inside al-Shabab’s media strategy.” Foreign Policy, 3 Sept. 2010. Web. 8 July 2013.

[iv] The Associated Press. “Islamic insurgents loot UN compounds in Somalia.” CBC News, 20 July 2009. Web. 4 July 2013.

[v] “Somali group bans aid organizations.” Al Jazeera, 28 Nov. 2011. Web. 5 July 2013.

[vi] Caulderwood, Kathleen. “Al-Shabab’s Finances: The Militant Group Gets Funding From Local Businesses, Sources Abroad.” 4 Sept. 2014. Web. 10 Oct. 2015.

[vii] Felter, Claire, Jonathan Masters, and Mohammed Aly Sergie. “Al-Shabab.” Council on Foreign Relations. 9 January 2018. Web. 25 November 2018. <https://www.cfr.org/backgrounder/al-shabab>.

 

Geographic Locations

Disclaimer:

This is a partial list of where the militant organization has bases and

where it operates. This does not include information on where the group conducts

major attacks or has external influences.

Disclaimer: This is a partial list of where the militant organization has bases and where it operates. This does not include information on where the group conducts major attacks or has external influences.

As of October 2018, Al Shabaab exerts substantive control in large areas of Somalia’s southern and central regions, as well as a pocket of northern Somalia.[i] Between 2006 and 2011, it controlled the capital city, Mogadishu. While Al Shabaab no longer exercises direct control over Mogadishu, it frequently conducts attacks in the city.[ii] Prior to 2011, Al Shabaab controlled swaths of coastal territory including the port of Kismayo, which provided the group with supplies and significant revenue. However, most of this land was lost by the end of 2012.

Beyond its activity in Somalia, Al Shabaab has conducted attacks in Kenya, Uganda, and Djibouti. The group was also implicated in a failed bombing in Ethiopia.[iii] Since 2014, Al Shabaab’s operations have been concentrated in Somalia and northeastern Kenya; from 2015 to 2018, the group did not stage any high-profile attacks outside of this limited region.[iv] In January 2019, Al Shabaab attacked a hotel in the Kenyan capital of Nairobi, located in the southern part of the country, again displaying its ability to operate in a wider geographic range.[v]


[i] Barnett, James. “Al Shabaab Area of Operations: October 2018.” Critical Threats. 5 Oct. 2018. Web. 30 Jan. 2019. <https://www.criticalthreats.org/analysis/al-shabaab-area-of-operations-o....

[ii] Blaine, Seth. “Al-Shabaab Preparing for New Leadership.” Center for Security Policy. 19 June 2018. Web. 26 Nov. 2018. <https://www.centerforsecuritypolicy.org/2018/06/19/al-shabaab-preparing-....

[iii] Bryden, Matt. “The Reinvention of Al-Shabaab: A Strategy of Choice or Necessity?”. Center for Strategic & International Studies, Feb. 2014. Web. 10 Oct. 2015. “Al-Shabaab.” Counterterrorism Guide, National Counterterrorism Center. Web. 20 Aug. 2015.

[iv] “Country Reports on Terrorism 2017.” U.S. Department of State. 2017. Web. Accessed 12 November 2018. <https://www.state.gov/j/ct/rls/crt/2017/282850.htm>.

[v] Bearek, Max. “Survivors recount nightmarish siege in Nairobi hotel attack that killed 21.” The Washington Post. 16 Jan. 2019. Web. 17 Jan. 2019. <https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/standoff-at-nairobi-hotel-attack-st....

 

Strategy

Ideology, Aims, Political Activities, Targets, and Tactics

    Ideology and Goals
  • Ideology and Goals
  • Political Activities
  • Targets and Tactics

Ideology and Goals

  • Islamist
  • Salafi
  • Jihadist

Al Shabaab's primary goal is to topple the Somali government and establish an Islamic emirate within the country guided by a strict reading of Shariah law.[i]  The group’s first leader, Aden Hashi Ayro, received training in Afghanistan, and he modeled Al Shabaab's principles after those of the Taliban.[ii]  In the territories under its control, Al Shabaab has carried out punishments such as amputating the hands of thieves and stoning women accused of adultery. The group has also banned items and activities such as music, videos, shaving, and bras.[iii]  In an effort to rid the country of foreign influences, Al Shabaab shut down the British Broadcasting Corporation’s (BBC) transmissions in Somalia and banned its broadcasting in 2010, accusing the station of promoting an anti-Muslim colonialist agenda.[iv]

Al Shabaab opposes the presence of foreign troops in Somalia, chiefly the African Union’s peacekeeping mission, known as AMISOM, which is supported by the United Nations and European Union.[v] As part of its quest to establish a Somali state based on Islamist principles, Al Shabaab seeks to dislodge AMISOM and other foreign military interventions from the country.

In addition to its domestic goals, Al Shabaab has increasingly framed the Somali civil war as part of a global jihadi movement. Al Shabaab has launched international attacks, including in Kenya and Uganda, and it has issued threats against other countries, such as the United States, the United Kingdom, and Canada.[vi] The group’s close relationship with Al Qaeda, especially beginning in 2008, significantly influenced the broadening of Al Shabaab’s ideology.[vii]

Analysts have remarked on Al Shabaab’s apparent commitment to environmental protection, including a ban on single-use plastic bags in territory under its control, condemnation of Somalia’s logging industry, and criticism of U.S. President Barack Obama’s record on climate change.[viii]


[i] “Who are al-Shabab?”. Al Jazeera, 4 Aug. 2009. Web. 5 July 2013.

[ii] Adow, Mohammed. “Somali fighters undeterred.” Al Jazeera, 27 Jan. 2009. Web. 8 July 2013.

[iii] James, Randy. “al-Shabab.” TIME, 7 Dec. 2009. Web. 5 July 2013.

[iv] Greste, Peter. “Somalia Islamists al-Shabab ban BBC transmissions.” BBC News, 9 Apr. 2010. Web. 5 July 2013.

[v] Tisdall, Simon. “Somalia attacks signal escalation of al-Shabaab offensive” The Guardian. 29 February 2016. Web. Accessed 13 November 2018. <https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/feb/29/somalia-attacks-signal-esc....

[vi] Karimi, Faith, and Ashley Fantz and Catherine E. Shoichet. “Al-Shabaab threatens malls, including some in U.S.; FBI downplays threat.” CNN, 21 Feb. 2015. Web. 10 Oct. 2015.

[vii] Wise, Rob. “Al Shabaab.” AQAM Futures Project Case Study Series, Center for Strategic & International Studies/Homeland Security & Counterterrorism Program Transnational Threats Project. July 2011. Web. 20 Aug. 2015. Harnisch, Christopher. “The Terror Threat from Somalia: The Internationalization of Al Shabaab.” Critical Threats Project, American Enterprise Institute, 12 Feb. 2010. Web. 20 Aug 2015.

[viii] Sommerlad, Joe. “Al-Shabaab: Who are the East African jihadi group and what are their goals?” The Independent. 16 July 2018. Web. 24 Nov. 2018. < https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/africa/al-shabaab-who-africa-te....

 

Political Activities

While some members of Al Shabaab have reportedly been open to negotiations with the government, the group as a whole has never engaged in peaceful political activity.[i] Further, Al Shabaab has assassinated peace activists who sought to encourage negotiations and reconciliation.[ii]


[i] Elmi, Afyare Abdi, and Abdi Aynte. “Negotiating an End to Somalia’s War with al Shabaab.” Foreign Affairs, 7 Feb. 2012. Web. 10 Oct. 2015.

[ii] “Country Reports on Terrorism 2013.” Bureau of Counterterrorism, United States Department of State, Apr. 2014. Web. 10 Oct. 2015.

 

Targets and Tactics

To further its goals of toppling the Somali government and expelling foreign troops, Al Shabaab has targeted government officials and AMISOM forces. Al Shabaab also works to destabilize the national Somali government by disrupting democratic elections and eroding public support for international peacekeeping missions.[i] The group has targeted police, journalists, peace activists, international aid workers, businesses, diplomats, and other civilians. Driven by Salafi ideology, militants have directed violence towards so-called “enemies of Islam” including Somalia’s Christians and Sufi Muslims.[ii]

Al Shabaab has engaged in kidnappings and vandalism, and it has used bombings, shootings, and suicide attacks to inflict violence on civilians and soldiers alike. Al Shabaab’s use of suicide attacks has risen since 2008. Analysts attribute the increased use of this tactic to the group’s close relationship with Al Qaeda.[iii] Al Shabaab has especially made use of car and truck bombs to maximize civilian casualties in its attacks in major cities, such as Mogadishu (see “Major Attacks” below).

Additionally, Al Shabaab has allegedly committed rape and extensive acts of violence against women, and it has engaged in the forced recruitment of fighters, including children.[iv] In territories under its control, Al Shabaab is known to enforce a strict code of behavior for women; those who breach its provisions are often stoned to death.[v]

Al Shabaab has frequently targeted Kenyan citizens in high-profile attacks in visible locations, such as the Westgate Mall in 2013 and the DusitD2 hotel in 2019. It is thought that by pursuing these tactics, the group hopes to erode support for the Kenyan government’s military intervention in Somalia.[vi] Some analysts have also proposed that Al Shabaab’s increased attacks in Kenya are aimed at provoking a crackdown on Somalis living in that country with the goal of facilitating militant recruitment.[vii] Researchers have noted that Al Shabaab targets Kenya much more frequently than other East African countries participating in AMISOM and theorize that this is due to Kenya’s strong tourism industry and independent media, which provide soft targets and international publicity, respectively.[viii]

In addition to acts of physical violence, Al Shabaab also seeks to control the information environment in Somalia. In an effort to rid the country of foreign influences, Al Shabaab shut down the transmissions of the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) and banned its broadcasting in 2010, accusing the station of promoting an anti-Muslim colonialist agenda.[ix] In the same year, Al Shabaab set up the Al Kataib News Channel—in Arabic and English rather than in the Somali language—through which the group has attempted to recruit foreign fighters, threaten nearby countries, and discourage support for AMISOM.[x] Al Shabaab also makes use of Internet outlets to share graphic videos and propaganda promoting the group’s strength, especially to counter claims that the group may be losing ground in its war against AMISOM and the Somali national government.[xi] Al Shabaab attracts recruits through the release of videos on social media; notably in 2016, the group utilized footage of then-presidential candidate Donald Trump calling for a ban on Muslims entering the U.S. in a nearly hour-long film critiquing the West.[xii]


[i] Tisdall, Simon. ”Somalia attacks signal escalation of al-Shabaab offensive” The Guardian. 29 February 2016. Web. Accessed 13 November 2018. <https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/feb/29/somalia-attacks-signal-esc....

[ii] Sommerlad, Joe. “Al-Shabaab: Who are the East African jihadi group and what are their goals?” The Independent. 16 July 2018. Web. 24 Nov. 2018. < https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/africa/al-shabaab-who-africa-te....

[iii] “Country Reports on Terrorism 2013.” Bureau of Counterterrorism, United States Department of State, Apr. 2014. Web. 10 Oct. 2015. Wise, Rob. “Al Shabaab.” AQAM Futures Project Case Study Series, Center for Strategic & International Studies/Homeland Security & Counterterrorism Program Transnational Threats Project. July 2011. Web. 20 Aug. 2015. Miller, Erin. “Al-Shabaab Attack on Westgate Mall in Kenya.” Background Report, National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism, Sept. 2013. Web. 20 Aug. 2015.

[iv] “Country Reports on Terrorism 2013.” Bureau of Counterterrorism, United States Department of State, Apr. 2014. Web. 10 Oct. 2015.

[v] Sommerlad, Joe. “Al-Shabaab: Who are the East African jihadi group and what are their goals?.” The Independent. 16 July 2018. Web. 26 Nov. 2018. < https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/africa/al-shabaab-who-africa-te....

[vi] Ward, Alex. “Al-Shabaab’s Kenya attack proves the terrorist group is still deadly.” Vox. 16 Jan. 2019. Web. 24 Jan. 2019. <https://www.vox.com/world/2019/1/16/18185182/nairobi-kenya-hotel-attack-....

[vii] Bearak, Max. “Deadly Nairobi attack comes as U.S. military ramps up airstrikes against al-Shabab in Somalia.” The Washington Post. 17 Jan. 2019. Web. 17 Jan. 2019. <https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/africa/deadly-nairobi-attack-comes-....

[viii] Cannon, Brendon J. and Martin Plaut. “Why al-Shabaab targets Kenya and how to stop the attacks.” Quartz. 16 Jan. 2019. Web. 24 Jan. 2019. <https://qz.com/africa/1525710/nairobi-hotel-attacks-why-al-shabaab-targe....

[ix] Greste, Peter. “Somalia Islamists al-Shabab ban BBC transmissions.” BBC News, 9 Apr. 2010. Web. 5 July 2013.

[x] Harnisch, Chris. “Al Shabaab’s First ‘News’ Video: An Effort to Recruit Westerners and Expel Peacekeepers.” Critical Threats Project, American Enterprise Institute, 5 Aug. 2010. Web. 10 Oct. 2015.

[xi] Gettleman, Jeffrey. “Shabab and East African Front Militants Compete for Notoriety.” New York Times. 12 April 2016. Web. 27 Nov. 2018. < https://www.nytimes.com/2016/04/13/world/africa/militant-groups-compete-....

[xii] “Somalia's al-Shabaab militants use Donald Trump in recruiting film.” The Guardian. 2 Jan. 2016. Web. 27 Nov. 2018. < https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/jan/02/somalis-al-shabaab-milit....

 

Major Attacks

First Attacks, Largest Attacks, Notable Attacks

Major Attacks

Disclaimer: These are some selected major attacks in the militant organization's history. It is not a comprehensive listing, but captures some of the most famous attacks or turning points during the campaign.

  1. January 15, 2019: Three years to the day after Al Shabaab’s devastating attack on an AMISOM base in Kenya, militants besieged the five-star DusitD2 hotel in Nairobi, Kenya for 19 hours. The group claimed that the attack was retaliation for U.S. President Donald Trump’s increased airstrikes in Somalia and move of the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. (21 killed, unknown wounded)[i]

 

  1. November 9, 2018: Al Shabaab claimed responsibility for an attack with coordinated car bombs on the headquarters of Somalia’s Criminal Investigations Department and the Sahafi Hotel, a locale frequented by government officials. The bombs were timed to go off around 4 pm when pedestrians and traffic flooded the streets.[ii] (53 killed, unknown wounded)[iii]

 

  1. April 1, 2018: Using two suicide car bombs, Al Shabaab militants attacked a base of Ugandan peacekeeping forces in the town of Bulamarer. (46 killed)[iv]

 

  1. October 14, 2017: In what many Somalis consider their 9/11, two truck bombs exploded in busy districts of Mogadishu. Entire buildings and streets were severely damaged in the attack, thought to be the deadliest in Somalia recent memory. Al Shabaab did not claim the attack, but the Somali government attributed responsibility to the group. One of the bombs is believed to have been destined for Mogadishu’s airport but was detonated early by gunfire. (512 killed, 312 wounded, 62 missing)[v]

 

  1. January 15, 2016: Roughly 200 Al Shabaab militants attacked an AMISOM base in el-Ade, Somalia, beginning with a suicide bomb attack and continuing with an assault by gunmen. The Kenyan military has resisted releasing information on the extent of the attack, one of the country’s greatest military defeats since its independence in 1963. Al Shabaab quickly released propaganda materials to trumpet the alleged success of its offensive, which observers have deemed a “massacre.”[vi] (141 killed, unknown wounded)[vii]

 

  1. October 7, 2015: Al Shabaab militants ambushed a car carrying two passengers, killing both. The victims included the nephew of Somali president Hassan Sheikh Mohamoud. (2 killed, unknown wounded)[viii]

 

  1. April 2, 2015: Al Shabaab gunmen attacked Garissa University College in Kenya, targeting non-Muslim students. (~151 killed, unknown wounded)[ix]

 

  1. November 22, 2014: Al Shabaab militants attacked a bus with sixty passengers traveling from Kenya’s Mandera to Nairobi. The militants executed passengers who could not recite Koran verses as well as those who resisted the attack. (28 killed, unknown wounded)[x]

 

  1. June 16, 2014: Al Shabaab gunmen attacked several targets in the Kenyan town of Mpeketoni, including a police station, a bank, several hotels, and a hall in which people were viewing the World Cup. The next day, gunmen also conducted an attack on the nearby village of Poromoko. (49+ killed, unknown wounded)[xi]

 

  1. February 21, 2014: Al Shabaab attacked Villa Somalia, the presidential palace compound, with a car bomb before entering the compound to engage in a gunfight with guards. (14+ killed, unknown wounded)[xii]

 

  1. September 21, 2013: Al Shabaab gunmen attacked the Westgate Mall in Nairobi, Kenya, triggering a four-day siege by government forces. (~68 killed, 175 wounded)[xiii]

 

  1. April 14, 2013: Al Shabaab bombed court buildings in Mogadishu and then conducted an armed assault inside the buildings. On the same day, Al Shabaab bombed a convoy of Turkish aid workers. (30+ killed, unknown wounded)[xiv]

 

  1. July 11, 2010: Al Shabaab conducted two simultaneous suicide bombings in Kampala, Uganda. One took place at an Ethiopian restaurant, while the other occurred at a rugby club during the FIFA World Cup final. A group spokesman warned that any country sending its armed forces to Somalia would face similar attacks.[xv] (74+ killed, 85+ wounded)[xvi]

 

  1. October 29, 2008: Al Shabaab conducted five simultaneous suicide car bombings in the cities of Hargeisa and Bosasso, targeting UN and government buildings. (29+ killed, 36+ wounded)[xvii]

 

  1. March 26, 2007: A man named Adam Salam Adam used a car bomb to conduct a suicide attack against Ethiopian soldiers in Mogadishu. Al Shabaab claimed responsibility for the bombing, which allegedly was the city’s first suicide attack. (~73 killed, unknown wounded)[xviii]


[i] Bearek, Max. “Survivors recount nightmarish siege in Nairobi hotel attack that killed 21.” The Washington Post. 16 Jan. 2019. Web. 17 Jan. 2019. <https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/standoff-at-nairobi-hotel-attack-st....

[ii] Ombuor, Rael. “Car bombs rock Somali capital, killing at least 20 in attacks claimed by al-Shabab.” The Washington Post. 9 Nov. 2018. Web. 24 Nov. 2018. <https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/africa/car-bombs-rock-somali-capita....

[iii] Associated Press. “Toll rises to 53 dead from bomb blasts in Somalia’s capital.” The Washington Post. 10 November 2018. Web. 25 November 2018. < https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/africa/toll-rises-to-53-dead-from-b....

[iv] Burke, Jason and Abdalle Ahmed Mumin. “Al-Shabaab attack kills dozens of Ugandan soldiers in Somalia.” 1 April 2018. Web. Accessed 13 November 2018. <https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/apr/01/al-shabaab-attack-kills-ug....

[v] Sullivan, Emily. “Mogadishu Truck Bomb's Death Toll Now Tops 500, Probe Committee Says.” NPR. 2 December 2017. Web. 25 November 2018. < https://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2017/12/02/567985077/mogadishu-t....

[vi] Oladipo, Tomi. “What happened when al-Shabab attacked a Kenyan base in Somalia?” BBC News. 22 Jan. 2016. Web. 27 Nov. 2018. <https://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-35364593>.

[vii] Kriel, Robyn and Briana Duggan. “Kenya Covers Up Military Massacre.” CNN 31 May 2016. Web. 27 Nov. 2018. <https://edition.cnn.com/2016/05/31/africa/kenya-soldiers-el-adde-massacr....

[viii] Reuters. “Somali militants kill president’s nephew in ambush.” 7 Oct. 2015. Web. 10 Oct. 2015.

[ix] Levs, Josh, and Holly Yan. “147 dead, Islamist gunmen killed after attack at Kenya college.” CNN, 2 Apr. 2015. Web. 10 Oct. 2015. Karimi, Faith, and David McKenzie. “Kenya attack victims: Vigil mourns 147 slaim by terrorists in Garissa.” CNN, 10 Apr. 2015. Web. 10 Oct. 2015.

[x] “Kenya bus killings claimed by Somali group al-Shabab.” BBC News, 22 Nov. 2014. Web. 10 Oct. 2015. Karimi, Faith, and Christabelle Fombu. “Police: Islamist militants hijack bus in Kenya at dawn, kill dozens.” CNN, 22 Nov. 2014. Web. 10 Oct. 2015. Khalif, Abjata, and Mohamed Sheikh Nor. “Kenyan Bus Attack by al-Qaeda Militants Kills 28 People.” BloombergBusiness, 21 Nov. 2014. Web. 10 Oct. 2015.

[xi] Saul, Heather. “Kenya attack: al-Shabaab militants kill 10 in second raid near Mpeketoni.” Independent, 17 June 2014. Web. 10 Oct. 2015. “Kenya attack: Mpeketoni near Lamu hit by al-Shabab raid.” BBC News, 16 June 2014. Web. 10 Oct. 2015.

[xii] “Al-Shabab attacks Somali presidential palace.” Al Jazeera, 22 Feb. 2014. Web. 10 Oct. 2015.

[xiii] Karimi, Faith, and Steve Almasy and Lillian Leposo. “Kenya mall attack: Military says most hostages freed, death toll at 68.” CNN, 23 Sept. 2013. Web. 10 Oct. 2015. Miller, Erin. “Al-Shabaab Attack on Westgate Mall in Kenya.” Background Report, National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism, Sept. 2013. Web. 20 Aug. 2015.

[xiv] “Somalia: New Al-Shabaab Attacks are War Crimes.” Human Rights Watch, 16 Apr. 2013. Web. 10 Oct. 2015. Ibrahim, Mohammed. “Coordinated Blasts Kill at Least 20 in Somalia’s Capital.” The New York Times, 14 Apr. 2013. “Somalia supreme court attack kills at least 20.” The Guardian, 14 Apr. 2013. Web. 10 Oct. 2015.

[xv] Felter, Claire, Jonathan Masters, and Mohammed Aly Sergie. “Al-Shabab.” Council on Foreign Relations. 9 January 2018. Web. 25 November 2018. <https://www.cfr.org/backgrounder/al-shabab>.

[xvi] “Al-Shabaab.” Counterterrorism Guide, National Counterterrorism Center. Web. 20 Aug. 2015. Rice, Xan. “Uganda bomb blasts kill at least 74.” The Guardian, 12 July 2010. Web. 10 Oct. 2015.

[xvii] Ibrahim, Mohammed, and Jeffrey Gettleman. “5 Suicide Bomb Attacks Hit Somalia.” The New York Times, 29 Oct. 2008. Web. 10 Oct. 2015. “Deadly car bombs hit Somaliland.” BBC News, 29 Oct. 2008. Web. 10 Oct. 2015.

[xviii] Harnisch, Christopher. “The Terror Threat from Somalia: The Internationalization of Al Shabaab.” Critical Threats Project, American Enterprise Institute, 12 Feb. 2010. Web. 20 Aug 2015.

 

Interactions

Foreign Designations and Listings, Community Relations, Relations with Other Groups, State Sponsors, and External Influences

    Designated/Listed
  • Designated/Listed
  • Community Relations
  • Relationships with Other Groups
  • State Sponsors and External Influences

Designated/Listed

  • U.S. State Department Foreign Terrorist Organizations: March 18, 2008[i]


[i] “Foreign Terrorist Organizations.” U.S. Department of State. <https://www.state.gov/j/ct/rls/other/des/123085.htm>.

 

Community Relations

Since the early 1990s, Somalia, one of the poorest countries in the world, has been engulfed in civil war.[i] The deteriorating economic and political conductions allowed Al Shabaab to originally win support from the public by promising to bring stability to a country in turmoil.[ii] Al Shabaab has established its own governing structures in the territories under its control, providing social services as well as collecting taxes. It has attempted to gain popular support through the construction and maintenance of infrastructure as well as the collection of money for distribution to the poor.[iii]  Additionally, members of Al Shabaab’s leadership prioritize the building of relationships with clan elders, the backbone of Somali society, to strengthen recruitment and gain access to territory.[iv]


[i] Felter, Claire, Jonathan Masters, and Mohammed Aly Sergie. “Al-Shabab.” Council on Foreign Relations. 9 January 2018. Web. 25 November 2018. <https://www.cfr.org/backgrounder/al-shabab>.

[ii] Sommerlad, “Al-Shabaab: Who are the East African jihadi group and what are their goals?”

[iii] Page, Jacqueline. “Jihadi Arena Report: Somalia - Development of Radical Islamism and Current Implications.” International Institute for Counter-Terrorism, 22 Mar. 2010. Web. 20 Aug. 2015. Harnisch, Christopher. “The Terror Threat from Somalia: The Internationalization of Al Shabaab.” Critical Threats Project, American Enterprise Institute, 12 Feb. 2010. Web. 20 Aug 2015.

[iv] West, Sunguta. “Hussein Ali Fiidow’s Challenge to al-Shabaab Leadership.” The Jamestown Foundation. 6 June 2018. Web. 26 Nov. 2018. < https://jamestown.org/brief/hussein-ali-fiidows-challenge-to-al-shabaab-....

 

Relationships with Other Groups

Al Shabaab interacts both with domestic and transnational militant groups. In Somalia, Al Shabaab’s relationship with the short-lived Hizbul Islam alternated between alliance and rivalry, although it tended toward the latter. In 2010, Al Shabaab defeated and absorbed Hizbul Islam.[i] Ahlu Sunna Wal Jamaa, another Somali militant organization that was established to protect the country’s traditional form of Sufism, began to fight Al Shabaab in 2008 after the group started destroying Sufi sacred sites.[ii] A third Somali militant group, the Ras Kamboni Movement, was allied with Al Shabaab in the late 2000s. Divisions within Ras Kamboni led one faction to officially merge with Al Shabaab in 2010, and the remainder of Ras Kamboni has since allied with the Kenyan government to fight Al Shabaab.[iii]

In addition to these interactions with domestic relationships, Al Shabaab holds ties to militant groups abroad. Since its early years, Al Shabaab has built connections with Al Qaeda and has shared its long-term interest of establishing one Islamic caliphate to unite all Muslims. Al Shabaab and Al Qaeda leaders have trained and fought together.[iv] The Al Shabaab-Al Qaeda relationship was strengthened after Ahmed Abdi Godane—also called Mukhtar Abu Zubeyr—became Al Shabaab’s top leader in 2008. As emir, Godane published a statement that praised Al Qaeda and emphasized the struggle in Somalia as part of a global jihad, a shift from Al Shabaab’s previous rhetoric. Al Shabaab also aligned itself more closely with Al Qaeda in ideology and tactics. It began to target civilians through suicide attacks much more frequently, and the organization’s leadership grew to include many Al Qaeda members. Al Shabaab leveraged its relationship with Al Qaeda to attract foreign fighters and monetary donations from Al Qaeda’s supporters.[v] In 2009, Al Shabaab officially pledged allegiance to Al Qaeda, though this was not officially acknowledged by until Al Qaeda 2012.[vi]

In 2015, the Islamic State (IS) released a video encouraging Al Shabaab, as East Africa’s most prominent jihadi group, to pledge allegiance to IS. Al Shabaab’s leadership rejected the offer and reaffirmed its affiliation with AQ, a decision that provoked a schism among its membership, spawning a rivalry between AQ and IS sympathizers in Somalia.[vii] Militants supportive of IS splintered from Al Shabaab and founded a new group allied with IS, Jahba East Africa (also known as the East African Front), in early 2016. This group actively recruits from the ranks of Al Shabaab.[viii] Al Shabaab and Jahba East Africa are thought to compete for supporters and territory in Somalia.[ix]

As of 2016, Somali government officials have attested that Al Shabaab has backed Boko Haram. Its support for the Nigerian militant group has included training in suicide attack methods, the use of weaponry, and other tactics and capabilities. This collaboration took place despite conflict among the groups’ diverging mother organizations: Al Qaeda, which supports Al Shabaab, versus IS, which backs Boko Haram. Both Al Shabaab and Boko Haram share a similar goal: the imposition of strict Shariah law in Somalia and Nigeria, respectively.[x] Al Shabaab is also believed to coordinate in a similar fashion with Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), which operates primarily in Algeria.[xi] In addition to these collaborations, various affiliate groups have sworn allegiance to Al Shabaab, including the Kenyan militant organization Al Hijra (also called the Muslim Youth Center).[xii]

An Islamist militant group operating in Mozambique since late 2017, founded under the name Ahlu Sunnah Wa-Jama (“Followers of the Prophet”) is often called “Al Shabaab” by locals, but no link to the Somali group of that name Is known.[xiii]


[i] “Somali Islamists al-Shabab and Hizbul Islam ‘to merge.’” BBC News, 20 Dec. 2010. Web. 10 Oct. 2015. Roggio, Bill. “Hizbul Islam joins Shabaab in Somalia.” The Long War Journal, 19 Dec. 2010. Web. 10 Oct. 2015.

[ii] “Ahlu Sunna Waljama’a (ASWJ).” Terrorism Research & Analysis Consortium. Web. 10 Oct. 2015.

[iii] McGregor, Andrew. “Sudanese Security Forces Raid Islamist Training Camp in National Park.” Terrorism Monitor 10.23 (14 Dec. 2012). Web. 10 Oct. 2015

[iv] Harnisch, Christopher. “The Terror Threat from Somalia: The Internationalization of Al Shabaab.” Critical Threats Project, American Enterprise Institute, 12 Feb. 2010. Web. 20 Aug 2015.

[v] Wise, Rob. “Al Shabaab.” AQAM Futures Project Case Study Series, Center for Strategic & International Studies/Homeland Security & Counterterrorism Program Transnational Threats Project. July 2011. Web. 20 Aug. 2015. Harnisch, Christopher. “The Terror Threat from Somalia: The Internationalization of Al Shabaab.” Critical Threats Project, American Enterprise Institute, 12 Feb. 2010. Web. 20 Aug 2015.

[vi] Houreld, Katharine. “Somali militant group al-Shabaab formally joins al-Qaida.” The Guardian, 9 Feb. 2012. Web. 10 Oct. 2015. “Al-Shabaab joining al Qaeda, monitor group says.” CNN, 10 Feb. 2012. Web. 10 Oct. 2015. Berger, J.M. “Al Qaeda’s Merger.” Foreign Policy, 15 Feb. 2012. Web. 10 Oct. 2015.

[vii] Sommerlad, Joe. “Al-Shabaab: Who are the East African jihadi group and what are their goals?” The Independent. 16 July 2018. Web. 24 Nov. 2018. < https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/africa/al-shabaab-who-africa-te....

[viii] Dearden, “Isis: New terrorist group Jahba East Africa pledges allegiance to 'Islamic State' in Somalia.”

[ix] Gettleman, Jeffrey. “Shabab and East African Front Militants Compete for Notoriety.” New York Times. 12 April 2016. Web. 27 Nov. 2018. < https://www.nytimes.com/2016/04/13/world/africa/militant-groups-compete-....

[x] Busari, Stephanie. “Boko Haram sought terror training in Somalia, security chief says.” CNN. 26 February 2016. Web. 25 November 2018. <https://edition.cnn.com/2016/02/25/africa/boko-haram-al-shabaab-somalia/....

[xi] “Who are Somalia’s al-Shabab?” BBC. 22 Dec. 2017. Web. 26 Nov. 2018. < https://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-15336689>.

[xii] “Muslim Youth Center/al-Hijra - Kenya.” Terrorism Research & Analysis Consortium. Web. 10 Oct. 2015.

[xiii] “Suspected Militant Attack Kills 12 in North Mozambique.” VOA. 25 November 2018. Web. 28 November 2018. <https://www.voanews.com/a/suspected-militant-attack-kills-12-in-north-mo....

 

State Sponsors and External Influences

Al Shabaab has allegedly received support from several African and Middle Eastern countries, most notably Eritrea. The U.S. and Somali governments have accused Eritrea of supporting Al Shabaab through weapons and funding, although Eritrea has denied these allegations.[i] While the Eritrean government does not share Al Shabaab’s ideology, it is believed to have supported the militant organization as a means to counter Ethiopian influence in Somalia.[ii] In 2017, the U.N. Monitoring Group on Somalia and Eritrea concluded that there was insufficient evidence to prove a link between Eritrea and Al Shabaab.[iii]

The U.N. has also claimed that Djibouti, Iran, Syria, Libya, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia have provided Al Shabaab with machine guns, missiles, and training. Hezbollah, an armed group operating in Lebanon, is also believed to have given aid to Al Shabaab. This support from both states and militant organizations violates the 1992 arms embargo imposed on Somalia.[iv]


[i] “Clinton threatens Eritrea action.” BBC News, 6 Aug. 2009. Web. 5 July 2013. “President Sharif Sheikh Ahmed accuses Eritrea of arming rebel Islamists.” France 24 International News, 28 May 2009. Web. 5 July 2013.

[ii] Joselow, Gabe. “Q&A: Who's Supporting Al-Shabab?” VOA. 3 November 2011. Web. 25 November 2018. <https://www.voanews.com/a/qa-whos-supporting-al-shabab-133240378/159135.....

[iii] Soloman, Salem. “UN Group Recommends Dropping Inquiry into Eritrea’s Ties to Al-Shabab.” VOA. 13 November 2017. Web. 25 November 2018. <https://www.voanews.com/a/un-group-recommends-dropping-inquiry-into-erit....

[iv] Reynolds, Paul. “Threat of regional conflict over Somalia.” BBC News, 16 Nov. 2006. Web. 5 July 2013.

 

Maps

The project develops a series of interactive diagrams that “map” relationships among groups and show how those relationships change over time. The user can change map settings to display different features (e.g., leadership changes), adjust the time scale, and trace individual groups.

Evolving Militant Interactions

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