Theterror group Aal-Shabaab (the youth) known in full as HarakatShabaab al-Mujahidin/Mujahideenis based in Somalia in eastern Africa. This terrorist group isaffiliated to the larger global terror group al-Qaida. The groupwhich started as a militant group in 2007 aims to eject foreignforces in the country and establish an Islamic state in Somalia basedon sharia law (Hansen 2013). Therefore, the group fights governmentforces, neighboring countries with forces inside Somalia and allnon-Muslims and Muslim moderates in the name of Jihad.
Thegroup has its origins in the Islamic Courts Union which was anamalgamation of Somali sharia courts in 2004 to mid-2012 that foughtto form a parallel government in Somalia. In 2012, ICU split intoseveral groups with one of them being the al-Shabaab under theleadership of Moktar ali Zubedy Godane of the Isaaq clan (Masters2014). The leader quickly sought support from the al-Qaida through apublicly aired video where he expressed support and offered hisservices and that of the group to al Qaida leader Osama bin Laden inSeptember 2008 (CNN). With such support, the group targeted desperateand poor youths from Kenya and Somalia and indoctrinated them to thegroup and Salafi Islamism. As of 2013, the group was estimated to be4000-6000 strong with several suspected British and American citizensin their ranks. The group has also targeted non-Somali ethnic tribesin the region as they are less suspicious to security authorities(Szoldra 2014).
Duringthe early years of its existence, al-Shabaab comprised almost solelyof ethnic Somali youths based in Somalia. Initial membership into thegroup was largely based on clan affiliation but it is no more. Thegroup was under the leadership of Moktar ali Zubedy Godane of theIsaaq clan who was formerly the secretary general of the ICU. Beforehe was killed in a US airstrike earlier in 2014, he was credited withtransforming al-Shabaab from a rag tag militia group to aninternational militarized terror group which he accomplished byassociating the group to al Qaida. He also established a propagandaTV channel named Al-Kata`ib. After his death, Ahmad Umar aka AbuUbaidah took over the leadership of the group (Masters 2014). Asignificant player who has featured strongly in recent events is aBritish female citizen Samantha Lethwaite aka White Widow who isrumored to have died in Ukraine recently fighting alongside IS forcesthis month (Chasma 2014).
Thepartnership with al Qaida has been very beneficial to the group.Al-Shabaab obtains funding and training the organization forefficiency. Prior to 2008, al-Shabaab was not known beyond Somaliavillages. With the resources the al Qaida has, several al-Shabaablieutenants have undergone training in military and guerilla tacticsinside Somalia and abroad (Maclean 2014). Al Qaida also provides theneeded sophisticated weapons. In the case of former leader ZubedyGodane, he is rumored to have received military training inAfghanistan with several other al Shabaab key leaders. It is alsobelieved that al Qaida trained the new organization about leadership,military tactics fundraising and piracy activities (Masters 2014).Al-Shabaab has also moved to sophisticated weapons. They have on anumber of occasions used suicide bombers, improvised explosivedevices (IED), grenades and guns. In several occasions, grenades havebeen hurled at public gatherings for maximum impact. Inside Somalia,IEDs planted on vehicles have been used to attack governmentinstallations such as the national parliament. Random public shootingevents have also been staged though there are marked dates or eventsto trigger attacks except for Ramadan period. Terror and harsh sharialaws are used to suppress local Somalis and aid organizations wherethe group is active (ibid)
Followingrecent al Shabaab attacks in the region, eastern African forces underthe African Union (AU) joint forces entered Somalia to force out alShabaab. By then, al Shabaab was controlling several southernvillages and the sea town of Kismayo. The group had been involved innumerous kidnap-for-ransom activities and murders. In most cases, thegroup targets foreigners working in Somalia for aid organizations andKenyan tourists especially along Kenyan coast which borders Somalia.The African forces only deposed al Shabaab from major towns where itwas practicing Sharia law and imposing hefty taxes on the locals tofinance it operations. It is also noted that the group controlled avery lucrative charcoal trade between the east African coast andYemen. This has so far been stopped (Maclean 2014).
Thegroup has also gained international recognition through itsactivities. Piracy and drugs trade as sources of funding have beenvery conspicuous. As recently as 15thNovember this year, an Australian naval ship guarding the IndianOcean off coast of Somalia intercepted a boat with over 300 kgs ofheroin worth millions of dollars. The authorities linked this drughaul to al Shabaab which has been actively facilitating drug tradebetween Afghanistan and Europe and using the coast of Somalia as atransit point. This year in May, a similar operation by theAustralian naval ship HMAS intercepted over 400 kg of heroin worth$132 million (Cheer 2014). The United Nations Office on Drugs andCrime say that over the last 18 months, over 4200kg of heroin havebeen intercepted and that the proceeds from these drug activities arefunding the terror war in east Africa and elsewhere (Parker 2014).
AHouse committee on Homeland security back in 2011 heard that thegroup is actively recruiting Americans in the terror war. The groupplans on reposting the American citizens back to the US to causeterror (Cheer 2013). However, their activities are not limited tothat. The group has launched persistent attacks against the Somaliagovernment killing hundreds. Late last year, the group attacked ashopping Mall in Nairobi Kenya leaving 67 people dead among them 19foreigners (Masters 2014). The group is also responsible forlaunching attacks in Uganda that killed over 50 people. A recentattack on 22ndNovember killed 28 non-Muslim Kenyans travelling on a bus in thenorth of the country. These attacks are meant to force the eastAfrican countries to withdraw their forces from Somalia (Guled 2014).
Theorganization, the leadership and the sheer brutal killing force thatdefines al Shabaab indicate that this group is lethal than previouslythought. The claims that the group has recruited some foreignfighters from some western countries can only indicate that the groupposes a greater threat not only to east African countries but theworld at large. The vulnerabilities of Kenya and other east Africancountries expose western installations and the people in the regionto terror attacks. These countries should be aptly funded to protectlife and fight the common enemy.
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