Al-Shabaab’s Zone Of Terror

Team SNI New Delhi 18 January 2019

Al-Shabaab which means ‘The Youth’ in Arabic is a fundamentalist group which emerged an off-shoot of Somalia’s Islamic Courts Union (ICU). The ICU itself was an alliance of sharia courts, which is no longer in existence.

Since its early formation as the militant arm of the Islamic Courts movement in Somalia, Al-Shabaab has morphed into an independent group linked to Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, the Boko Haram and others.

In 2012, Al-Shabaab declared that it owed allegiance to Al Qaeda. Following Wahhabi Islam, Al-Shabaab’s main
objective is to establish an Islamic state in the highly impoverished, war-torn Somalia.

The Islamist outfit is currently led by Ahmed Umar who also goes by the name of Abu Ubaidah. He succeeded Ahmed Abdi Godane who was killed in 2014 in a U.S. drone strike. According to the U.S. Council on Foreign Relations, the outfit’s membership ranges between 7,000 and 9,000.

To attain its objective, the group enforces its own interpretation of sharia law which includes stoning and
amputation for adultery and theft, respectively, ban on sources of entertainment such as music and dance in areas under its control. The outfit has also prevented aid from humanitarian agencies reaching the needy.

In 2006, Al-Shabaab wrested control of capital Mogadishu—it was later pushed out by Ethiopian forces—and vast areas of Somalia’s rural hinterland.

While the extremist group no longer holds sway over Mogadishu or the more populated areas of Somalia, it continues to carry out terror attacks in Somalia and in countries in the neighbourhood like Kenya, Uganda and Djibouti. The latest such attack was carried out in a
hotel-cum-office complex in the Kenyan capital of Nairobi on January 15, killing 21 people.

An even worse attack in Nairobi occurred in 2013 when the extremist group struck the Westgate shopping mall,
killing 67 people. Two years later, Al-Shabaab struck yet again, this time at the Garissa University in Kenya killing 147 persons, a majority of them students.

Kenya and other eastern African nations have been targeted by Al-Shabaab as they have been part of an African Union-led military offensive under the umbrella of the African Union Mission in
Somalia (AMISOM).

The United States too has been carrying out a military campaign to counter the extremist group apart from
providing logistical support to AMISOM. It has deployed special forces in Somalia and has also been carrying out regular drone strikes against Al-Shabaab.

But the deadliest strike so far by the extremist group was in October 2017 when explosives on board a truck were detonated in Mogadishu, leaving over 500 people dead.

Uganda was targeted by the group in 2010 when 74 people were killed in a suicide bombing attack.

The group is believed to be funded by Al Qaeda but also realises money through extortion, intimidation, abductions and even piracy.

They have funding from other terrorist groups, state sponsors (Eritrea, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Syria and Yemen have all been accused but deny this), and from crimes such as piracy, kidnapping and extortion of local businesses and farmers.

The UN Security Council in November last year adopted a unanimous resolution that expressed concern about Al-Shabaab’s involvement in illicit charcoal trade—revenue from this is believed to be a major source of funding for the outfit.


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  • The recent attacks in Somalia came after the new government threatened to renew efforts to tackle radical Islamic terror in the region and the US military stepped up its focus on the extremist group.

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