Al-Shabaab: The New Al-Qaeda?

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MOGADISHU, Somalia–If the world had not heard of Al-Shabaab before fall of last year, they mostly likely heard of them following the two devastating attacks they launched. Al-Shabaab is an Islamist militant group that has been stealthily growing and organizing for years. According to a report by the United Nations Monitoring Group, they have upwards of 5,000 members, and are primarily situated in the southern region of Somalia. They have proven connections with Al-Qaeda, and carry a similar fundamental vision of spreading Islam.

About three years ago, the African Union Mission to Somalia (ANISOM), which is a unit made up of troops from mainly Ethiopia and Kenya, was avidly combatting Al-Shabaab and came close to decimating the group in its entirety. ANISOM was able to drive Al-Shabaab out of Somalia’s capital, Mogadishu, and they started to lose influence and recruiters.

After 2012, however, ANISOM shifted focus away from Al-Shabaab, which gave the clan the opportunity to rebuild and gain back territories. This also allowed for the militant group to organize and plan attacks that would help exponentially span their control across borders.

The first attack that put them back under scrutiny was on Sept. 21, 2013. Al-Shabaab attacked shoppers in the middle of an afternoon at the Westgate Mall in Nairobi, Kenya. It was a calculated and eerie attack that was executed by only four Al-Shabaab affiliates. These gunmen were subsequently shot down by Kenyan police, but not until after they murdered over 60 people and injured hundreds more.

Before people could get over the horrors of the attack at Westgate Mall, there was another assault, this time against U.S. SEAL Team Six, who were the soldiers that were responsible for carrying out the covert operation that killed Osama Bin Laden. On Oct. 4, 2013, they entered a house in Barawe, Somalia, which was supposedly occupied by leader Abdulkadir Mohamed Abdulkadir and other followers. Al-Shabaab fighters were there to meet them and fighting ensued until, unfortunately, the SEALs left without succeeding in their mission to terminate Abdulkadir.

In addition to these two massive attacks, there have been a number of incidents in Mogadishu. Specifically, Al-Shabaab fighters have been executing suicide attacks against government figures. The most recent act of violence occurred last month on Feb. 21. Members of Al-Shabaab attacked the presidential compound and ultimately killed 17 people. Their primary motive behind the direct target on government officials includes gaining absolute power over Somalia, of which they already control a vast amount. Al-Shabaab fighters also targeted a UN convoy with a car bomb, which did not harm any UN officials but did leave seven Somali citizens dead.

The recent rise in attacks committed by Al-Shabaab also coincides with new information regarding weapons shipments from foreign countries to Somalia, which have been seized by Al-Shabaab militants. This is precarious, as these fighters seem to be gearing up and appear ready to forcefully drive away those who do not comply. Somalia is also a poverty-stricken nation, and thus more susceptible to takeover by terrorist organizations.

These attacks have created urgency for the obliteration of this dangerous clan before they execute any other acts of violence. The U.S. has been training teams that are meant for targeting Al-Shabaab fighters from a military base in Djibouti. From this base, the U.S. has initiated drone strikes, specifically aiming for Al-Shabaab as well as Al-Qaeda commanders. A recent task force created by the Pentagon called the East Africa Response Force (EARF) is also there to work alongside regional militaries.

This is similar to a task force that the U.S. created called the Combined Joint Task Force Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA) about 12 years ago. Its mission was to obstruct Al-Qaeda members and intercept attacks. The fact that the U.S. is addressing the issue of Al-Shabaab in a similar way that Al-Qaeda was confronted raises concern for the level of danger associated with this terrorist organization.

In fact, lately it seems that Al-Shabaab may be inflicting more fear than Al-Qaeda does. Efforts need to focus on Al-Shabaab, since they are rapidly growing, frequently launching terrorist attacks and acquiring more weapons.

Al-Shabaab has a fundamentalist mission, and they try to incite terror in those who stand in the way of it. A statement was made in a eulogy for Bin Laden by Al-Shabaab, which stated, “So, let them (U.S.) rejoice for a few moments, since they will cry much afterwards, because the lion Osama left behind him huge armies of mujahedeen.”

Danielle Warren

Sources: San Francisco Gate, Somaliland Sun, Voice of America News
Photo: WCVB

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McKenzie Templeton

BORGEN Magazine is an initiative of The Borgen Project.

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